That shouldn’t be my first concern. But as I pack for my week as Writer In Residence to Sherborne Literary festival – that’s from Wednesday 14 to Sunday 18 October – it’s what I’m thinking.
The answer? Black! With yellow as an alternative.
Comfortable shoes are a must. So I put my heels in my bag and wear flats up the hill to the Digby Hall in Sherborne. I used to do this as a teenager, as I couldn’t totter to a pub but could nip into the Ladies before anyone saw me and change shoes there.
Princess Michael is one of the speakers at this prestige Litfest: also Victoria Hislop. I plan to squeeze into both of these – one of the lovely elements of WIR is that you can get into events free. The other fantastic bonus is choosing anything you like from their gorgeous café. Last year I’d eaten three hand made chocolate eclairs by 11.a.m most days. The café - yes, they do wine - is run by Sue Adams, sister of the late author of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
My drop-in writing clinic is open each day. You can email work ahead- up to 2000 words – for a critique and make a booking if you want. The festival charge £5 for the one-to-one clinic consultations. It’s money well spent! Several of my previous clinic students have been published. Already I’m working my way through ten pieces of work already submitted. Topics range from spy thrillers to sci-fi to playscripts to nature writing and more.
I try to avoid dealing with poetry, as I can never think of anything to say about it.
I’m always in awe of the gifted beginners, the talented writers who have never had any training, yet are intuitive about skilful management of words. Also the many writers who complete a whole work without any promise of publication; just relying on their own faith in their work and their market research. This is one of the signals that mark out the real writer, I think – the discipline to keep going. To finish.
Many good writers succeed on the words side, but haven’t quite worked out the plot or the structure of their material. It’s structure which counts. Your words can be perectly fluent, your descriptive abilities exemplary – but if you haven’t a story, you’re clobbered.
Also basic “holes” in plots can trip you up. Like a daily newspaper journalist, you have to check every fact, ensure that situations are credible. I find that writers often don’t care for this bit. Some fall down on targeting their reader. Writing a novel that has no reader or niche is a bit like creating a product – let’s say edible bow ties at £50 - for a market that doesn’t exist. Maybe that’s not the best example.
My first task as WIR is to set up my room. Most Litfests are run by volunteers, and the more you can do to help them, the better. This includes setting up chairs, clearing space, putting up your posters, meeting and greeting. Although the clinic is billed at 15 minutes per person, most chats go on much longer – if there’s no one waiting I’m happy to do that.
I may have seen students work ahead – or they may really drop in, with ideas. Often what I do is confidence boosting. It’s so easy to lose heart when you’re a writer! Plus, it’s a lonely job and family aren’t often sincere about their interest.
|Dianna with Sue Adams
sister of the late Doug ( Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)
Go to sherborne literary society for more details
I prepare handouts, booklists and critiques ahead ready for the students. I think it’s essential to have something “to take away” – if they’ve been nice enough to come to see me, I want to give them as much as I can in return.
The atmosphere at Sherborne is energetic (Director is the amazing Judith Spelman) and the talks inspiring. Most events are booked solid: the stage, IT and acoustics are very well organized, which isn’t always the case at some Litfests.
Some of my drop-ins are returning students, many have achieved some success and need advice on the next step – or they may have hit a roadblock. Winning a big award and then not winning anything for ages can be hard, even lead to depression. It’s a bit like going from MD to office junior. All I can say is to keep trying – if you’ve been successful once, you will be again. That question “What am I doing wrong?” haunts all one-time winners whose success is followed by a long period of rejection. The answer is – you’re not doing anything wrong! “They” are!
Why do we always think it’s us?
I work right through the day and never turn anyone down – if I can’t fit them in instantly, I’ll make a slot for them later. It would be so depressing to drop in at a writing clinic and find there’s no room for you. The advice I give tends to be practical: I can’t bear writing advice that’s too precious. For example, the question: what IS a short story? followed by an hour of heavy academic theory. I sat through one of these once, longing for a Haribo.
In the evening I may go to Litfest events, and do some work for the next day – I now have an Android. I absolutely love being invited out for a drink. And it’s wonderful not to have to put out the bin bags. Though I often forget anyway.
It's not to late to visit the Sherborne Literary festival
Wednesday 14 to Sunday 18 October.
And there's still time to mail Diana for an appointment.
What to wear?