I always wanted to be a writer and, whether it was university essays, short stories or legal pleadings (I’m a lawyer by trade) I have always put pen to paper in one form or another. The idea of writing a novel, though, was rather daunting. As someone who read a lot of novels, it was probably inevitable that sooner or later I would have a go but…well…they’re quite big, aren’t they? And don’t they take a long time to write? Then, after a bit of research, I discovered that all people initially want to see of your novel are three chapters and a synopsis – and that instantly seemed a lot more manageable. So, with an idea in mind and a rough synopsis beside me, I booted up the laptop, opened a new Word document and typed ‘Chapter One’ at the top of the page.
Writing the novel was easier than I’d imagined. The flaw was that once I’d finished it, no-one seemed to like it. In fact, after the blood and – literal – tears sweated over it, the poor thing was roundly rejected by every single agent in the country. One publisher did ask to see the full manuscript but, after due and weighty consideration, they rejected it too. However, I’d been well and truly bitten by the bug and I duly began Book Two. Around this time, I heard about an event in Winchester called a ‘Writers’ Conference’ (now the Festival of Writing). Here, I was told, you could not only attend classes and workshops but you had the opportunity of pitching your work directly to agents and publishers. I signed up for a Saturday session and the most extraordinary things began to happen. I saw an agent and an editor who were both very enthusiastic about Book Two. Crucially, this gave me the confidence I needed to press on, get it finished and begin the submission process all over again. This time, the outcome was completely different: twelve months later, I had secured an agent and, the year after that, I had a two book deal. ‘Tug of Love’ – formerly known as Book Two – went on to win the Romantic Novelists’ Association award for the best debut and was shortlisted for the prestigious Melissa Nathan Award for Comedy Romance.
The Winchester Writers’ Festival, though, is about more than publishing deals. Being an author is a lonely life and it is all too easy to let doubts creep in about your work or for you to feel isolated and unsupported in what is a highly competitive industry. Coming to Winchester allows you to be part of a writing family; a family where people want the best for you and will do what they can to help you succeed. Each Festival I have attended – whether as a delegate or, later, as a tutor – allowed me to come away recharged and enthusiastic. It is about meeting kindred spirits, finding your tribe and, most importantly, it is one of the best ways I can imagine to get your writing journey off to a flying start.