I had the great joy of being at the Winchester Writers’ Festival on Saturday 15th June and a lovely time was had by all. As ever, I learned a great deal from the courses I attended. I also loved chatting to friends, old and new, including Scottish crime writer, Val Penny, author of the Edinburgh Crime Mysteries, who I interviewed for CFT a little while ago.
At the end of the main talks and courses on Saturday, there was a celebration of the life of the late Barbara Large, MBE in the beautiful chapel at the University of Winchester at 6 pm.
It was lovely hearing so many people share their memories of a lady who did so much to foster writing, encourage writers (especially nervous newbies including me), and who promoted writing/education/reading as much as was humanly possible. It was also nice to meet up briefly with Anne Wan and Mike and Brenda Sedgwick after the simple but stylish celebration.
Barbara Large’s Legacy
The legacy Barbara has left behind is such a positive one. For one thing, many writers have found their agent/publisher thanks to the Winchester Writing Conference she founded. Writers further on in their careers have had the opportunity to lead courses at the Festival, as it is now known. People new to writing have discovered a whole world to explore and, from there, discover where their talents lie.
Information about competitions and markets is freely and generously shared but you need a hub, such as the Festival, where people can go to have the benefit of that. You need someone with the vision and determination to see this and see it through so it happens and then keep doing it. The amount of work and drive needed for this can’t be overstated.
The Hampshire Writers’ Society, also founded by Barbara, has given local writers opportunities to meet other writers on a monthly basis. I enjoyed my guest speaker slot there last November and was pleased to shed some light on the joys of flash fiction.
Writing has been, and continues to be, a great joy for me. It stretches me, challenges me, sometimes frustrates me, keeps my brain and imagination active, and feeds the creative side of my nature. It is my belief that everybody has a creative streak in them somewhere. It is a question of discovering what it is and then enjoying it to the full.
Writing has enabled me to make friends I would never have met any other way, read my own work in public, develop storytelling skills, give talks etc. Had you asked me if I’d been doing any of that ten years ago, I’d have given you a very funny look. Me? Give talks? Really?
So part of Barbara’s legacy then has been in the writing development of each and every writer she has met and encouraged along the way. There is no definitive figure, to the best of my knowledge, but given how long she ran the Festival for, it has to run into at least three figures, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it ran into four.
This is to say nothing of those she encouraged via her creative writing classes in Eastleigh, Chandler’s Ford, and her Pitstop Writing Weekends at Shawford. Each and every writer helped in any way by Barbara, including me, will have/still are achieving things with their writing that they could not envisage on starting out. All of that is her legacy to us as individual writers and to writing in general.
(Some of) The Joys of Writing
Having said that, not every writer wants to write for publication and that’s fine. What is crucial for each and every writer is to make the most of their writing. It is up to them to define exactly what that means. For many, writing is a satisfactory means of self expression and they leave it there. What matters is striving to make what you write the best you can make it, whether you seek to sell it or not.
Creative writing can and has been used as therapy. It draws people out of themselves. I believe it can encourage empathy too. Why? Simply because to create a character who is believable, you have to draw on your own experiences of (a) people and (b) what humans are capable of. You have to understand why your character is acting the way they are. They don’t “just do it” for the sake of it. No reader will ever buy that.
I had a friend who could never see the point of fiction. He just wanted facts. But fiction can show us truths about ourselves that aren’t expressed any other way, come across better in the medium of story anyway (no preaching!), and can sometimes be the type we don’t really want to face up to. (It doesn’t make them any less true for all that!).
Incidentally Barbara was all for non-fiction writing too. It is writing when all is said and done and it should not be seen as the poor relation to fiction.
I went into writing partly because I’d always loved composition, as it was known when I was at school, and my only regret is I should’ve started a lot earlier than I did. You have no idea how much you have to learn when you begin. Writing conferences open your eyes here but also show you paths you can go along too.
What a Good Writing Legacy Should Be
The legacy of good writing for writers and readers then can be summed up as:-
1. Unforgettable stories that make you think.
2. Unforgettable stories that entertain you. (Being able to be entertained and relax is in itself a form of therapy. How many over the years have “lost” themselves for a while in a good book and then found that time out helped them with whatever stressful situation they were facing? It’s certainly true for me.).
3. Non-fiction that teaches you and ideally in a way that keeps you gripped. (That does so much to encourage more reading and more learning. Education for its own sake is a very good thing indeed).
This leaves aside the benefit of the creative industries to the country in terms of finance coming in etc. There are writers in those creative industries. Someone has to produce the output!
What came out of the celebration was Barbara’s kindness to so many, her determination not to let anything get in her way when it came to the well being of writing itself and writers, and the many authors who have been published thanks to what they have learned from her directly and via the Festival. It is a fantastic legacy to leave behind. It is also a challenge to us as writers to think about what legacy we’d like to leave behind us.
Writing changes over time, fashions in reading come and go, but the need for stories (fiction) and facts (non-fiction) will not leave us. The way in which we take these things will change. After all, we have gone from monks laboriously copying things out by hand to massive printing presses to Print on Demand. We have gone from writing in pen and ink to writing on computers/laptops/phones etc.
What has not changed is the need for writers who communicate thoughts and ideas well via fiction or non-fiction or both. With that comes the need for people like Barbara to encourage those writers in what they’re trying to do and give pointers as to the direction to take. We need more like Barbara, which is why her loss is felt keenly.
So what is the legacy writers should aim to leave whether they’re published or not? I think these are:-
1. To produce a body of work you are proud of and which you enjoyed writing.
2. For that body of work to be to the highest standards you can manage.
3. For you to be able to look back and see how your work has improved. Working at the craft takes time. There are no shortcuts.
Good luck with your own writing journey. There will be plenty of hard work but may it also be a fun one!
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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