The day dawned, dull and drizzly, on the Chipping Norton Literary Festival last weekend. Armed with a brolly and and brand new, untouched notepad, I drove up to the beautiful Oxfordshire town to see what all the fuss was about.
I began my day with a panel discussion, chaired by Jane Wenham-Jones, on Contemporary Women's Fiction. Katie Fforde, Jill Mansell, Veronica Henry and Fiona Walker made up the table, and shared their thoughts, suggestions and tricks on how to make it as a writer in Contemporary Women's Fiction.
From there, I was 'thrust' into another world with the incomparable Julie Cohen's workshop on writing sex scenes, which (I'm very glad to tell you) actually covered writing sex scenes. You might think this is unsurprising, but after trekking down to the Bath Literature Festival while heavily pregnant only to discover that their workshop on writing sex scenes included only those authors unwilling to speak about sex (and some of whom don't even include it in their novels), I was pleasantly surprised. Julie didn't hold back, and I can definitely see why her other workshops are held in high regard. She was fab. My favourite bit was probably when she read two excerpts from her work - one from an erotica book about a woman sharing a special moment with a blue robot and the other from a women's fiction book that was slightly more intense and emotional. It's fantastic to see someone work succesfully in more than one genre.
Saturday ended with Emma Lee Potter's Freelance Writing session, which gave some good, solid advice for becoming a freelance writer. All you need is a great hook, a compelling subject, a convincing pitch, and a well-written article, preferably with photographs. Right. Good then.
On Sunday, I awoke a little reluctant to make the hour-long drive north, so I convinced my husband to drive up there and partake in a rather delicious bagel from Number 24 Cafe on the Chipping Norton High Street while I learnt about short story writing and unconventional novels.
Angela Huth- most famously the writer of Land Girls - gave a very interesting talk on writing short stories. Her career has spanned decades, hundreds of stories and dozens of publications, and she spoke persuasively about letting one's imagination go and writing about absolutely anything at all. Her key rules were to be concise, show character through behaviour, avoid adverbs, and stick to one mood. As she is someone who has been published by the New Yorker, I'm inclined to listen.
And finally, on to one of my favourite authors of all time, the one and only Jasper Fforde. His talk covered the strangeness of all his ideas leading to his wonderful books such as the Thursday Next series and the Nursery Crime Division series, and how to set yourself narrative challenges (eg, a man looks out the window in Surrey and sees a gorilla up his tree. Explain it all away). Loved it.
Chipping Norton, you've done yourself proud. For a first ever literary festival it was beautifully put together. The authors were fantastic, the volunteers helpful and the town simply lovely.
Where can I book my tickets for next year?