Writers’ Workshop Festival of Writing, York, 2013

This weekend I spent 52 hours immersed in discussion of the technical (and human) aspects of writing. The Writers’ Workshop team provided an excellent selection of workshops at York, as well as opportunities to discuss a sample of your work with agents and book doctors. This year I attended sessions presented by Allie Spencer, Jeremy Sheldon, Julie Cohen, and Jo Unwin. If you get a chance to hear any of them speaking, seize it.

Packing so many thought-provoking exchanges into the weekend was head-spinning. On the Sunday a few of us who’d met at York in 2012 were discussing whether we could justify returning the next year. It was that point in the weekend where the rigours of the student lifestyle were biting, hard. We’d managed to catch the workshops we’d missed last year. We might get stuck in a loop of diminishing returns. The weather this year was cold. Our time might be better spent just getting on with the writing and taking our chances with the slushpile. For some reason we were all busy ignoring the elephant in the room at that point: preparing for the one-to-ones gives you an external deadline to work to if you’re writing on spec. One you can’t rearrange if you have a slow week.

Anyway, the elephant shuffled off to commune with the geese* while we trailed in to the very last workshop. There were all sorts of ideas being batted round the room about which POV to use for a story. My sleep-deprived backbrain was noodling away on an issue readers had raised concerning one of my characters. And someone near the back of the room asked a question about a character’s hidden flaw. Cue the light-bulb moment to end all light-bulb moments. Only bigger. Think lightning strike on a dark night: the kind that illuminates every contour of the landscape, refracts off mist in the hollows and outlines trees on the horizon. Think celestial choirs … Well, no. It was more of a head/desk interface moment. An issue I’d never quite pinned down because I’d been so busy staring at it but not seeing it. Moments of clarity like that are priceless.

The thing is, after being off-colour and getting stuck in an editing rut where I felt I was making everything worse, I so nearly bottled out of going to York at all this year. If it had rained on Friday morning that would have been all the excuse I needed. I’m so glad it didn’t, or I’d have missed an exhilarating weekend. Props to the team at Writers’ Workshop for all the work they put into organising the event.

* The fabric of space and time would be damaged beyond repair if the geese at York university campus didn’t get a look in.