Festival of Writing 2012: Reflections on second albums, real people and flip-flops

September 12, 2012

I went to York University last weekend for the Writers’ Workshop annual Festival of Writing.  And, to be honest, I went with a heavy heart – nervous and unsure about why I was going and what I expected to find when I got there.

You see, this was my second time, and last year was brilliant.

This year had all the potential of being the difficult second album or the after-ten-years-in-the-wilderness comeback tour; you shell out good money for it, really want to enjoy it, but somehow, eventually, end up admitting to yourself that it’s actually not very good.  You wish you hadn’t bothered.  But it’s too late; the damage is done, and the memory of the original is tarnished.  You get the idea.  Repeat holidays are the same.  So are school reunions and re-runs of 80’s TV shows.

Part of the reason for the nerves lay in where I was with my writing, working on a difficult scene that has ended up feeling like the shabby hallway I want to rush my visitors through on the way to a beautiful lounge, hoping they don’t look sideways and notice the patchwork walls and bare woodwork.  Put another way, as I near the end of a third rewrite, I wasn’t feeling good about the prospect of mixing with the great and the good of the industry.

Another reason for the uncertainty was the doubt I was feeling about the industry itself.  I’ve seen what it’s meant to a number of my friends to become ‘published writers’, as some reach great success and others wonder why they’ve put themselves on what feels like the most painful of treadmills, juggling tight publishing deadlines with a life already full to the brim.  Coming along to a conference that felt so geared towards traditional publishing seemed to be missing at least some of the point.

But, cutting to the chase, from the moment I arrived, on a sunny Friday afternoon, to the sights and sounds of ducks and geese and writers and agents and publishers and book doctors, I knew it was going to be okay.  And so it turned out to be.

The second album was certainly different to the first.  More assured.  More self-aware.  But filled with just as many great tunes and moments of soul searching as the first, and definitely just as much fun.

A few of the many highlights for me …

  • The Friday workshop with David Gaughran and Talli Roland – an independent perspective that gave great balance to what followed, and prompted some lively (and mostly open-minded) discussion about everybody’s role in the writing business
  • Pretty much everything about Friday evening in the bar, doing the whole ‘what do you write?’ thing with fellow writers, and meeting numerous agents, who, by the end of evening, had become real people and not industry targets to be pitched to and feared… people I felt actually wanted a partnership with their writers, and with whom I felt I wanted a partnership
  • David Gaughran in flip-flops at the gala dinner
  • Julie Cohen‘s ‘Character’ workshop, conjuring ‘real people’ (though on this occasion not agents) out of 2 pieces of paper, a coin and a few simple questions
  • Coming away from one-on-ones with self-belief restored

All in all, I arrived home inspired, ready to write, ready to dig deep and get the book finished and sent off… and ready to sign up for next year’s appropriately named festival of writing.



  1. John Potter says:

    Its very tempting. Do you think the learning and insight at least equalled the time spent networking?

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