‘Daydreams are a place to escape into…’ –Matt Haig
‘Ask not what the writing industry can do you for. Ask instead what you can do for the writing community.’ – Jon McGregor
Organised by Writing East Midlands, the first WEM Writers’ Conference sold out within weeks of being advertised, even without the final programme of speakers having been announced. It’s no secret that Nottingham is a creative city, and this was in evidence by the throng of writers from many walks of life filling the Portland Building at the University of Nottingham. Goodie bags in hand, the delegates were given a vast array of choice in how to structure their visit. Four time slots and a choice of three panels within each one, not to mention a poetry surgery and Agent One-to-Ones made for a packed day.
Community was a key theme at the conference with emphasis made by the Keynote speakers Matt Haig and Jon McGregor on setting up and maintaining creative communities. In the Working as a Writer in the Community panel, proactivity and identification of need were the emphasis in providing writing opportunities to non-writers and those in need of support. Delegates were advised to contact local authority Arts Officers in search of newsletters, commissions and opportunities.
In the clear and concise Finding and Securing Funding panel, writers were advised by James Urquhart to take advice on their applications for funding, which could be for poetry development, live performances, festivals, Indy lit and digital publishing as well as the highly tempting ‘time to write’ scheme. Here, writers were advised to consider the public development angel of their work, and have a track record of interest in their work. If considering applying for ‘time to write’ to develop genre-specific fiction, applicants were advised that they must justify the literary quality of their work-in-progress, as highly commercial fiction would be unlikely to be considered for funding.
The real gem of the choice of panels was the Everything you Ever Wanted to Ask an Agent panel. The room was packed out with writers keen for an insight into the inner workings of the publishing industry. Writers were told to research thoroughly, to ‘wow’ with their words and to avoid writing ‘dear sir’ on cover letters at all costs! There was also an emphasis on the new skills writers need in the digital age. Everything from having a good social media presence to a good knowledge of booksellers was touted as giving an advantage to an author’s success.
With stalls from Five Leaves Bookshop, Arvon and The Writers’ Guild, there was plenty to keep writers busy and engaged throughout the day and with a fabulous piece of performance poetry from Rob Gee to round off the day, the conference was undoubtedly a success. The delegates I spoke to struggled to find any faults with the day as a whole, save for one minor point: there was an overwhelming focus on literary fiction throughout the day. It was commented on by several delegates that commercial fiction was dismissed (particularly during the panel on children’s fiction) and genre-specific fiction hardly mentioned at all. Perhaps if the conference is to take place again, a slot or two could be dedicated to the fantasy, science fiction, horror or crime writers in attendance? Regardless, this is one writer who will be first in the queue for the next event.