Looking for the ram in the thicket
Bewitched, boggled and... now what?

Fragments of York: the Festival of Writing 2011

This is going to be a rather fragmentary post because, frankly, I'm feeling rather fragmented. Part of me is still back in York, part is enjoying being home, part is eyeing my desk and a very long list of What Needs Doing, and part of me - okay, most of me - is wondering if the only way to glue them all back together is to go and buy cake. Certainly cake, not drink, not after that Gala Dinner. So here are some fragments that I can hold on to, of what the 2011 York Festival of Writing made me think, feel, understand...

Being reminded how nice writers are, even when they're fiercely driven: one writer with a long career in another industry saying how astonished she was at how genuinely supportive writers are of each other: even though in some senses we're in competition, in most ways we're more like colleagues.

At least half the light bulb moments that I heard about were about Psychic Distance. Why does no one seem to talk about this except me? And Debi Alper. And anyone we've ever mentioned it to. Which, hopefully, by now, includes at least half the attendees at York.

That name badges which can be read across a largish room are a huge asset, both for finding someone you're looking for, and being able to greet people whose person, personality and writing you remember well, but whose name you've forgotten

Discovering a new use for the Resources section on This Itch of Writing. Although I'm always astonished at how much you can actually discuss in a Book Doctor session, it is only ten minutes. But so much of what I wanted to say involved things which I've explored in more detail here and it was great to be able to send the writers here.

Having my hand kissed by Patrick Janson Smith. There's nothing like a bit of classy blarney from a top publisher to make a girl feel perky of a (slightly hung-over) Sunday morning. 

Agents: Sitting between two agents, Jane Judd and Piers Blofeld, after we'd judged the Authonomy Live event, and have one say to the other: "Okay, you obviously specially love X so you have him, if you'll let me get to Y first," and them heading off to do exactly that... Piers Blofeld saying that he'd changed from editor to agent because he didn't like how restricted an editor is to working only one on kind of book, both by the in-house processes, and because you just don't get sent others. And I thought it was only authors who felt like that... Another agent saying that although the one-to-one sessions (which so many aspiring writers feel must be the chief reason for going) didn't often show them anyone they'd be interested in, the contacts made in the halls and bars, over coffee and in passing, had found all sorts of promising writers and books... Jane Judd talking about when she was trying to acquire a writer she met at York last year, felt the moment in their meeting when she thought she'd won the writer, and how much she minded when the writer ultimately went elsewhere. I've never had it brought home so clearly to me that agents are gamblers to the core: the kind of gamblers who really know and care about horses, but gamblers nonetheless.

Ducks don't care about writing. They only care about snoozing and keeping warm. Ditto geese. Ditto moorhens. Ditto writers when the alarm clock goes off on the first morning of Summer Time.

The lovely Sally Zigmond saying that the very small, rather drily technical exercises that I set in my workshop on The Writers' Voices had sparked off not one but two stories for her.

Having several professional contacts come along for me, even though that's not what I was in York for at all.

Going to a science fiction/fantasy workshop (because I do encounter it in teaching, and feel rather under-equipped to deal with the specifics of the genre) and admitting that I don't read either, and living to tell the tale un-zapped and un-magicked.

A tiny success as a matchmaker: when I was asked about online writing courses, and my not only remembering that the writer I remembered saying last year that he'd done the UCLA one, was here this year. And then I actually managed to find them both at breakfast on Sunday - among several hundred other faces eating toast or sausages, or gazing wanly at a glass of juice - and introduce them.

Realising why I forgot to introduce myself at the start of my workshop on The Writer's Voices: by noon on Sunday I felt as if everyone sitting there in the lecture theatre was already a friend.

That even an event as delightful as York, as friendly, as positive, as substantial and un-meringue-like  - and not the other side of the world however bad the Tube is on the way home - is still very difficult to recover from. As I was saying last year, the change of gear is like reversing the engines on a cross-channel ferry: a lot of sturm und drang, all to change direction.

Now, what were we saying about cake?