There will rightly be many tributes to the late Barbara Large, who founded what is now known as the Winchester Writers’ Festival. She will be much missed by many writers, including me.
Barbara’s gift was the knack of knowing how to encourage writers. As for her drive in getting the Winchester Writers’ Conference (as it was first known) up and running and then keeping it going for so many years, that was simply incredible. The Winchester Writers’ Festival is one of the most renowned writing conferences and it is all thanks to Barbara’s drive and vision. In my view, it is her finest legacy but what exactly does that mean?
All writers know how much hard work can go into producing a piece of work, submitting it for publishing, and, in the case of books, marketing them.
We all know the setbacks of rejection. We all know how difficult it can be to get an agent and/or publisher. How do you meet people like that especially if you’ve got no connections to the industry? How can you get feedback on a piece of work you’re thinking of submitting? This is where a good writing conference comes into its own, of course, by giving opportunities to meet people and to get much needed advice. And you can share tales of writing woes and joys with other writers over teas, coffees and lunches too!
One of the biggest problems for any writer is confidence. There has to be a certain amount of self belief you can write and, along with that, acceptance of the need to learn ways of improving what you do and get it to publication standard. Conferences such as the Winchester Writers’ Festival have a massive impact on that (and you need someone with the vision to come up with things like the Festival!).
Nothing Worthwhile Ever Comes Easily
The amount of work needed to set up a whole writing conference would have been (and still is) incredible (not least of which would have been the fundraising necessary to get it off the ground in the first place).
Then to keep the conference going year on year, persuading guest speakers to come, ensuring there was a good balance of courses available, Barbara made it look effortless. I learned a long time ago, no matter what the situation is, when someone makes something look easy, that same someone has worked very hard, often over years, to get to that point.
It is hard to think of anyone else who has shown so much dedication to the cause of writing as Barbara did for decades. Her MBE for services to writing was very much merited.
Over my time at Winchester, I have learned so much from the courses and talks I’ve attended. (I’m looking forward to learning more at this year’s event too). I’ve learned how to network and chat with other writers. For a newbie, that can be a nerve-wracking experience. Having somewhere like Winchester where other writers will understand what you are trying to do is so helpful.
Pride of place on the wall by my writing desk is a signed certificate from Barbara. I received a Commended Certificate for an entry of mine in the Winchester Short Story Competition some years ago. It was a proud moment receiving that. It may only to be a bit of paper but to me its value is incalculable. Why? Because it shows someone else who was well established in the profession thought your writing had merit!
And I was always impressed, when Barbara was running the show at Winchester, how she made time to talk to delegates to find out whether they were enjoying the conference and so on. She must have had so many things to do but taking time out to talk to people like that is greatly appreciated. Always leaves a good impression too.
I am glad to share further on the links to the interview I carried out with Barbara on CFT a little while ago and I am glad the creative writing classes she ran here in Chandler’s Ford were successful too. Classes like this can reassure writers they are not alone in wanting to produce something of value in the form of a story or a piece of non-fiction and are a lifeline, given by their nature, full conferences have to be annual events. Classes can and do keep people going.
Barbara told me she was glad I’d carved out a space for writers to be via the author interviews and other items of interest to writers I put on CFT.
There is a certain amount of truth in the saying what goes around comes around. Why? If you are encouraged on your writing path, as I was by Barbara and the Winchester Writers’ Festival, it is, to me, only logical to share that encouragement to others.
It is a great joy when you yourself make a breakthrough in writing. It is just as great a joy to see others make that breakthrough. Why? Because you are adding to the fantastic world of writing out there. Writing that entertains, makes people think, and, as part of the overall creative arts in this country, adds depth and richness to life. That is such a good thing.
Encouragement helps you realise you are not in competition with other writers, even if they write in the same genre as you. We all have our own writing voice. And all of us writing, contributing stories, non-fiction articles etc, are doing our fellow man a huge service by encouraging reading (and thinking for ourselves. Many a great message has been communicated very effectively via stories!).
King Alfred was a man ahead of his time for reading and collecting books. He has a close link with Winchester and the Winchester Writers’ Festival is held at the University of Winchester which was King Alfred’s College years ago.
Benefits of a Good Writing Conference
The benefits of a good writing conference are:-
1. You learn from the courses and talks.
2. You learn how to network with other writers (and get to make friends, invaluable when you need support for those times when all you seem to receive are rejections).
3. You often get opportunities to have one-to-ones with agents and publishers. Barbara was always proud (and rightly so) of how many people were published as a direct result of the Winchester Writers’ Festival.
4. Good conferences often run their own competitions. Being shortlisted in one looks good on the writing CV and can help you build your profile.
5. You’re generally at a desk on your own when writing so to know you’re not the only one inventing your own characters and worlds can be reassuring.
I don’t know how many writers have passed through the doors at Winchester since Barbara founded the event but it must run into thousands. Every single one of those writers will have taken away something useful from the Winchester Writers’ Festival.
The Festival also gave me the chance to listen to a fascinating talk by one of my literary heroes, Terry Pratchett, which I loved.
Hampshire Writers’ Society
As if all of that was not enough, Barbara founded the Hampshire Writers’ Society where speakers, across a wide range of genres, give insightful talks. It was a great privilege and pleasure to be a guest speaker there myself last year talking about flash fiction.
Barbara worked most recently with children’s writer, Anne Wan. Barbara’s last book was Scrumptious Recipes Shared with a Pampered Patient. (This is available at Lloyds Bank in Chandler’s Ford and Winchester and also in P.G. Wells Booksellers. Proceeds from the book are going to the Nick Jonas ward at the Royal County Hospital. Please do continue to support this).
So Barbara Large then brought people together, all united in a love of words, writing, books, stories etc. That’s quite a legacy to leave behind I think.
Many thanks, Barbara, and my deepest condolences to her family, friends, and colleagues.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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