This is Part 2 of my interview with Barbara Large, MBE, founder of the Winchester Writing Conference as it was known. Now known as the Winchester Writers’ Festival, it is recognised as one of the major writing events of the year.
Despite stepping down from running the conference in 2013, Barbara is as busy as ever running workshops, leading tours around the CPI production plant at Chippenham for those interested in self-publishing and having her own creative writing consultancy – Creative Words Matter.
Barbara also founded the Hampshire Writers Society, which invites a wide range of speakers to give talks to fans and aspiring writers at the University of Winchester.
And, last but by no means least, Barbara runs the creative writing classes in The Dovetail Centre on a Wednesday evening and Thursday morning. I should add this is just part of what Barbara does!
Continuing then with a fascinating discussion with Barbara, here is the second part of the interview.
7. What would you love the new classes and those who attend them to achieve?
I would love all of those attending the classes to become published writers and most do. Four attending my classes have now published their own book – The Secrets of Chandler’s Ford.
My classes discuss how to launch and market books as well as how to write them. It takes months of preparation to organise a launch.
Writers develop all the time. Then there are developments such as print on demand and self publishing. The latter gives writers control over marketing and design. It is crucial though for self-publishers to have a cover designer and a good editor. The finished book must be a quality product.
Anne Wan is a student of mine. Her Secrets of the Snow Globe is aimed at 6 to 8 year olds. She pitched the book to Oxford University Press but in the end decided to self publish. She sold 130 copies in 2 hours. She set up a nice display about how she put the book together. She went to the CPI group.
8. What does every writer need?
All writers have to read to learn how to write. It is crucial to read in the genre in which you want to write so you understand what publishers are looking for. Publishers have to know they can sell what you are offering them.
You must have discipline to write at a prescribed time at a prescribed place for a prescribed audience. You have to agree with yourself that you will write and get on with it.
There is no magic muse. Anyone can be a writer regardless of age, circumstance etc. What matters is having the discipline to commit to it.
Virginia Woolf is renowned for remarking that for a woman to write she has to “have a room of her own”. My favourite writing tip comes from P.G. Wodehouse who advised would-be writers to “apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair”.
If you want to write, especially for publication, you need to accept it takes time to (a) write and (b) make your work as near to perfection (from a publisher’s viewpoint) as possible. You should ask yourself what would make them (publishers and readers) want your book. Even if you self publish, you still have to do this.
9. What do you think is the proudest achievement of the Winchester Writers’ Festival?
Publication but I have also loved seeing people go on to write a series of books. That first book is only the starting point. I am also proud to see new students develop pride in their work. Two have recently been awarded poetry prizes by the Hampshire Writers’ Society. This kind of success encourages the rest of the group. It is very much a case of “if they can do it, so can I”.
I have found a little vindication (i.e. someone completely independent from you has found your work worthy of publication) goes a long way and encourages you to produce more and better work.
10. What is your favourite part of writing? The initial setting down of the ideas or the editing to shape the work?
I love the creativity of it all and being moved by your own writing. In reacting like this, whether it is laughing or crying, you know you will reach out to other readers.
11. What is your least favourite aspect of writing?
Trying to find the right tone for the work. Also in trying to find the right voice when putting work out to a commissioning editor. You need to study the person you are sending work to, as you can’t do a sales piece to ten different people in exactly the same way for each. People will react differently. You must think about who is receiving your work. Are you coming across in your covering letter in the right way for that person?
12. What are the most common mistakes new writers make?
Assuming that having written something once, there is no need to edit. People are not prepared to put the work in for a particular market. You have got to target well. You must study the market. Then you can write a good covering letter that reaches out.
Will they be interested in taking material you’ve written? You need to know how to get a book picked up by distributors and people like Waterstones. Check everything out.
13. Do you prefer to read and/or write long fiction or short?
The wonderful thing about writing (and reading) is there is an eclectic choice. I turn to non-fiction for information. For example I’ve been reading In Siberia and learning how you travel in that terrain. But I also want to be entertained when I read so I read romantic fiction too.
14. What would you most like to see happen in the “world” of writing?
For more to support the Society of Authors. They are currently beefing up their Management Committee and acting as a proper trade union for writers. I am so pleased with that. The Society is the only place aspiring and published writers can go for support on contracts. The publishing industry needs a lot of understanding. It is huge. Most companies now are controlled by Hachette. The book industry in the UK has shrunk dreadfully. Most book production is now done for the UK in China and India.
The Society helped me avoid being caught out by a vanity publisher. It is always worth checking contracts out with them.
15. What defines a good read for you?
A good read has to hook the reader’s attention within the first 1-2 pages. It should develop a timeless theme. It should draw well defined characters.
16. Character -v- Plot can be an endless debate in writing circles. What is the most important to you?
Character, unquestionably, as there is no plot without it. Look back to the Bible and Aesop’s Fables. The plots have been used up so characters are the key. Plot is merely the clothes you put on your characters to make a good story.
17. Which author has inspired you the most and why?
Charles Dickens – for his settings and atmospheres.
Thank you so much for your time, Barbara. One of things I love about writing is you never stop learning – how to improve work, marketing ideas and so on. If you never stop learning, you will always develop and that has health benefits. Writing really is good for you.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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