Snegurochka to Winchester

Dr Judith Heneghan, Creative Writing Senior Lecturer, Programme Leader for the MA Writing for Children and award-winning children’s writer, has returned to the beginning. Her first contemporary fiction for adults, Snegurochka, has been published.

Snegurochka, an English mother’s experiences in newly independent Kiev, is to be published by Salt with a release date of 15 April. Another first for Judith was seeing it for sale on P&G Wells’ stand in the foyer at April’s Hampshire Writers’ Society meeting:’A very special moment for any writer,’ she says.

It was at the Winchester Writers’ Festival that Judith met her editor and publisher. A writer needs to be part of a community, a convergence of like-minded writers, a portal into the world of publishing. Hampshire Writers’ Society is one such community and The Winchester Writers’ festival provides another.

Recently retired as Director of the Winchester Writers’ Festival, Judith intends to concentrate on the activity of actually doing the writing.

Sara Gangai will very capably follow in her footsteps, but before she commenced her talk to us, Sara paid tribute to Barbara Large, founder of both the festival and the Hampshire Writers’ Society. ‘Barbara’s voice, with its feisty nature and inability to say the word “no”,’ Sara said, ‘is a constant in my head, reminding me to be considerate, kind and inclusive to all writers.’ A memorial service for Barbara will be held in the University chapel on the Sparkford Road Campus on the Saturday of the Festival. ‘Barbara’s spirit will be “chuffed” to be there,’ Sara laughed.

The Festival will be held on the weekend beginning 14th June. Enterprising writers will be given the chance to build up a network of writing friends and contacts; ‘People come from all over the world,’ Sara advised us.

Friday sees two panels running along-side each other on both floors of the Stripe.
Let your hair down afterwards at the open mike in the Terrace Lounge right next to the Terrace bar before the knuckle down of Saturday begins.

The day begins with the plenary speaker, award-winning children’s author, Katherine Rundell. Tickets for this event alone can be purchased. The rest of the day is filled with a variety of workshops, tea, cake and an on-tap agony aunt! Seventy or so industry specialists will be in attendance and the opportunity of a fifteen-minute, one-to-one interview with one or two of them will prove invaluable.

Sunday forms a writing workshop, ‘a chance to put into practise everything that you learned on the Saturday,’ Sara tells us.

Tickets are selling fast. The community created by the Festival will be abuzz with writers. It really is a must just to be around so many friendly faces. Please do come along – it will be wonderful to meet you.

Report by Lisa Nightingale

Beverley Birch at Hampshire Writers’ Society

Report by Peter Hitchen

The Society’s April gathering hosted two exceptional women writers, both ideally placed to talk with insight and experience about the very specific nuances and skills involved in the subject of writing for children.

Special Guest: Judith Heneghan

Being the Director of the Winchester Writers’ Festival and a highly regarded and extensively published specialist of children’s literature, Judith Heneghan was ideally placed to open Tuesday’s proceedings.  Judith is a Senior Lecturer and also a Programme Leader on the University of Winchester’s Creative Writing provision where she has taught since 2006.  To date she has written 50 nonfiction books as well as feature articles, novels and shorter fiction for children.  Previously to her role at Winchester, she worked as a commissioning editor of adult nonfiction and a freelance editor of children’s nonfiction.

Judith’s enthusiasm for Winchester’s annual Writers’ Festival was infectious.  She explained that its aims for this year were to build on its past successes and to inspire, encourage, educate and to facilitate learning for all the delegates. Networking opportunities for novice and experienced writers attending this year’s festival will be more extensive than ever, as will the list of contributors from the greater writing world.  Contributors will include luminaries from some of the best known publishing houses and literary agencies in the country as well as the wonderful author and broadcaster, Lem Sissay.  Further information about the planned programme, along with competition and other details can be found here: http://writersfestival.co.uk/

Main Speaker: Beverley Birch

Beverley Birch is a prolific author of critical acclaim having produced in excess of forty books.  Her prodigious output includes picture books, novels, biographies and retellings of Shakespeare.  Her publications have been translated into more than a dozen languages.  They are in the admirable position of being amongst the top ten per cent of books borrowed from UK libraries.

Beverley’s own childhood years were spent in East Africa where the wide open spaces of Kenya afforded the opportunity for formative and adventurous experiences largely free from the interference of adults.  She eventually left Africa for England to study for ‘A’ levels before graduating from Cambridge University with a degree in Economics and Sociology.  After graduation she started to work as an editor and in 1981 she became a full-time writer.

As would be expected of someone with the breadth and depth of Beverley’s professional literary experience, her talk was packed with insights into what being a  writer entails and what writers have to do to produce work of real merit.  Of course, ‘merit’ in writing is a subjective quality but Beverley’s appraisal of what it really means was grounded in a plethora of practical and theoretical examples.  ‘We need to constantly refresh our understanding of why we need to write’ she told her audience and then explained that this writing should be centred on exploring the underpinning themes of the stories that writers create.  All stories, we were told, have specific, fundamental themes that should challenge child readers to see things anew. In doing this, it should enable children to reposition themselves in the light of these new, vicarious experiences.  But what are these themes?  They are many and varied and over her long career Beverley has seen all of the following underpinning the work that she has been involved in either as a writer herself or as an editor for others; love and friendship, loyalty and betrayal, redemption, loss, maturation, power, obsession and corruption are all on the list.

Beverly was at pains to explain that this was by no means a definitive list but that whichever of these themes was at the heart of a story,  they should be rendered in a way that is suitable and accessible for children.  The narrative gravity associated with these thematic issues should be apparent to discerning writers as they produce their work and this in itself is indicative of the fact that ‘writing for children’ is not a euphemism for dumbing down the literary responsibilities of the author.  If anything, these responsibilities should weigh more heavily on children’s authors than they do on those involved in other aspect of producing good writing.  Beverley said that children’s authors should ‘dive inwards in the process of writing and that in doing so they should trust their subconscious to render a story that is both important and transporting for the child’.  She concluded by offering some sage advice for those starting out on their publishing journey.  Writers should not write in order to seek or support the contemporary ‘hullabaloo’ that seems to be endemic in the contemporary literary scene for ultimately that hullabaloo is ephemeral.  Rather, writers should stay true to themselves and produce work that will endure beyond the here and now.

Surely this is what great writing is all about.

Judith Heneghan, Director of the Winchester Writers’ Festival

Report by Lisa Nightingale

When Judith Heneghan is asked to pick out highlights of the Winchester Writers’ Festival, she can’t. ‘It’s all a highlight.’ She exclaims, throwing her hands in the air.WincsWritersFest

The aim of the festival is to bring creative writers of all standards together to connect with many and varied specialists of the writing industry.

The festival takes place between Friday 17, 18 and 19 June this year.

Meg Rossoff
Meg Rossoff

This year’s keynote speaker is definitely a highlight. It is the rebellious Meg Rosoff who now not only writes YA.

Friday evening events are FREE, there is no need to book, just rock-up.

Catherine King speaks to Hampshire Writers’ Society

Report by Lisa Nightingale

Not a Romance Novelist. Catherine King is a Professional Yorkshire Lass and Career Novelist.

Catherine writes (and is contracted to do so) a book a year. ‘It is achievable’, she says, ‘if you are writing full-time.’ Which as this is her career, she does.

Apr 15 Catherine KingChoose your genre and be prepared to stick to it. Eg. Historical Saga for Women.

She researched and learned the genre’s rules. Her heroines meet its criteria – vulnerable and strong. They need to be strong, as she adds with a wicked grin, ‘because I (the writer) am going to make it worse’. But Catherine does relent – she always gives the heroine a happy or at least promising ending.

‘Whatever your genre. Use what you know.’

The North is in Catherine’s blood. So, why go anywhere else? And this is where the Saga comes in. Each of Catherine’s novels is regional.

Having settled on her genre, she needed a period. Victorian times were thrilling and industrial. But, for women times were challenging. This gave Catherine’s characters an important, enticing trait – they had to be resourceful.

Not a Romantic Novelist – Catherine is a scientist!

Being a novelist is more fun.’

Catherine’s education taught her the rudiments of research and what to do with it. Local libraries and museums are teeming with tit-bits. At least three times during her talk she mused; ‘I must revisit that….’ But, she does admit to evidential espionage, a Hampshire health farm which had a beautiful setting was moved up north.

Always be nice. To everybody.’

Network! Catherine cannot stress enough the Importance of Networking. There is luck in publishing, but by Networking, you may increase your chances of netting it. Through a group of novelist friends Catherine was introduced to an agent.

Being a Career Novelist, Catherine endures much input from her publisher. The decision of the title and cover has been relinquished to the marketing department. And the publishers have even, once or twice weaseled the plot line and period to suit what they know will sell. The up-side of this though, is that when a drop in sales does happen – it is not Catherine’s fault. And she can and does play them at their own game. A new slant on a story poo-pooed by the publishers persuades them and her plot is agreed.

All this may sound a little stifling but it is these peoples’ business to know how to get a success and Catherine is successful. Plus being a writer is what Catherine has always wanted and she loves it.

Special Guest, Judith Heneghan, 

Director of the Winchester Writers’ Festival

Apr 15 JudithWriters! Come and Play said Judith Heneghan, Director of Winchester Writers’ Festival. The Festival is a safe environment – a workshop with an experienced lecturer.

Even for those not embroiled in their ‘big work in progress’ the one-to-one meetings are the brazen opportunity to pick the brains of knowledgeable writing doyens. Ask your questions. Gain inspired feedback.

But, there is also Hard Graft. The Festival is somewhere where the writer can find their audience. Perhaps even their agent. Connections have been forged here and will continue to do so. Networking formal or informal at the Festival surrounds the writer with people interested in ‘what we do’.

And after that crazy day’s workshopping and playing, join us for dinner and let the professionals do the work.

Come to see the Keynote Speaker, award-winning, best-selling  author Sebastian Faulks. Take away new friends to sustain you through the rest of the year until you can come to the festival again in 2016.

The festival dates 19th – 21st June 2015. More information about the workshops, talks, competitions, 750 one-to-one appointments can be found on the website. http://writersfestival.co.uk/