I had the great joy of meeting Barbara Large at the Winchester Writing Conference (as it was known) many moons ago. Now known as the Winchester Writers’ Festival, this three day writing event was started by Barbara in 1980. She led the conference until 2013.
Barbara is as busy as ever and runs workshops.
There is her Creative Words Matter consultancy, she regularly gives lectures, and she leads tours around the CPI production plant at Chippenham. This is for would-be self-publishers to gain a better understanding of what is involved by discovering the actual production process for a book.
Barbara also founded the Hampshire Writers Society, which invites writers from a wide range of backgrounds to give talks at the University of Winchester. All are welcome to these. Details of how to join the Society are given in the website link. Barbara also runs workshops at Winchester’s Discovery Centre.
And of course Barbara is running the creative writing classes in The Dovetail Centre on a Wednesday evening and Thursday morning.
Many thanks, Barbara, for not only agreeing to the interview but for all of your amazing support for writers over the years.
1. Why choose Chandler’s Ford for the new writing classes?
The Dovetail Centre in Chandlers Ford, ideally located behind the Methodist Church on Winchester Road, offers a quiet venue on the ground floor with free parking for our keen writers. We have been enjoying this space for several years, meeting with one group on Wednesday evening 7-9 pm and the other group meeting on Thursday morning 09:15-11:15.
Our writing groups welcome emerging writers and poets who are eager to learn the processes of writing toward their goals of excellent, pleasing completed projects that are publishable.
The classes are structured to include explanations of the various writing techniques and accompanying notes to show how to develop memorable characters, create settings and the accompanying atmosphere, structure plot, create tension and choose the correct ending that completes the denouement.
In addition, we read and analyse poetic forms and blank verse to understand iambic rhyme and rhythm. Each session includes short writing exercises followed by critiquing the written work., which is then published in the termly anthology.
2. What made you begin the Winchester Writing Conference?
The Winchester Writers’ Conference (now renamed Festival), began at the University of Southampton, where, as a tutor, I recognised the opportunity to draw local and regional writers together to listen to such literary giants as the late Sir Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Dame Beryl Bainbridge, and other major favourites, Lady Antonia Fraser, Graham Hurley, Colin Dexter to name just a few.
Emerging writers benefit by learning from the very best practitioners. Learning who you are as a writer and what you can say in an entertaining and original style is basic to becoming a publishable writer.
Learning the craft of writing, revision and editing your work is vital: step one. Marketing and publishing is a completely different set of skills.
3. What was the hardest thing about organising the Festival? What are its aims?
Organising the funding was the hardest thing to do. I had to apply for grants and other financial support from Hampshire County Council, the Arts Council, Winchester City Council and local grants and trusts (found via the Society of Authors). Filling in all these forms took an enormous amount of time and there was never any guarantee the grants would be awarded.
The Festival aims to encourage writers to have the confidence to invest in themselves so they develop as writers. It reaches out to people at different stages of their writing career (and whether they write fiction/non-fiction, for publication, cathartic reasons or just for their own pleasure. These are all valid reasons for writing and the Festival, and my workshops, are all about helping people to discover what they can do and to give a helping hand).
Everyone has a creative bone and we can learn how to explore that. All writers need to learn how to structure and frame their work. Writers develop confidence in their ability when they read out work drafted at the Festival and workshops.
I first went to the Conference as a new writer wondering what I was doing there. By the end of it, and thanks to the warmth of the welcome, as well as what I learned, I realised I should have gone long before! The Conference was pivotal in encouraging me to realise I could write but needed to put in the time and discipline and not fear rejection. As for reading work out, I was nervous when I first did this (everyone is!) but I received such useful feedback. Sharing writing experiences with others at events such as Winchester is invaluable.
4. What is your proudest moment as a writer?
I have always felt my reward has been in helping others to reach out and to realise their potential. 157 people have been published as a result of the Festival.
5. Who helped you on your way as a writer?
I was brought up in Eastern Canada and my grandfather was probably the one who helped me most. He was 6’3”, wore a fedora, had a soldierly bearing and looked a bit out of place when every Wednesday he would meet me at the school gate. He was very much the English gentleman. My grandfather and I would go to the library. We would spend hours talking about books and choosing some to take back with us. At my grandparents’ home, after I enjoyed my ketchup sandwich (prepared by my grandmother), I would then read with my grandfather. At the age of 6 or 7 I was discussing the works of Dickens with him. The biggest thing that can help children discover a love of books is for parents/grandparents etc to take them to the libraries, to read to and with them, to buy books for them.
6. Who are your own favourite authors and why? Name your top 5.
Some of my favourite books and authors include:-
The Taxidermist’s Daughter – Kate Moss. Kate Moss excels in atmosphere and setting.
Graham Hurley – who writes Portsmouth based crime fiction. He was published by Orion but is now self publishing. In his seventh book, One Under, he uses the Winchester Conference as a setting. Chapter 7 begins with his detective, DI Joe Faraday, going into the Broadway and then coming to my house to question me when someone who attended the conference is found dead. I even offer the detective tea! This is a great example of being able to write about anything.
Sarah Moosey – Young Adult fiction writer. She is published by Hodder and Stroughton and writes about dragons. Her Here be Dragons is set in the Welsh mountains.
Judith Donaldson – best known for The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo’s Child. I nominate her because she came into writing by playing the guitar! She developed a rhythm for poetry thanks to knowing the rhythm of songs.
Publishing is not just about the book itself but anything that can be marketed with it. Publishers do look for money spinning opportunities.
The Gruffalo is a great example of this. I’ve seen toys, socks and other merchandise associated with the book and it goes down very well with the target audience.
Part 2 of my interview with Barbara will appear next week and looks at what she would like her creative writing classes in Chandler’s Ford to achieve. Barbara also discusses what all writers need if they hope to make progress with their writing.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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