I'm off to the Festival of Writing in York again in September. It'll be my third year.
There's nothing quite like spending a whole weekend in the company of fellow authors and folk who are professionally involved in the world of all things literary. I mean, where else can you hear from best-selling authors about their own experiences? Or get feedback on your writing from book doctors and agents - who might, just might, be interested enough in what you've written to ask to see more? Not to mention meeting up with old friends and having the opportunity to meet others who become new friends, all with a common interest - writing.
There's only one thing I really struggle with at York. Not the late night parties. Not the basic student accommodation. Not the migraine that's bound to strike. Not even the temperature of the teaching facilities. (Last year, certain rooms were FREEZING! This time I shall pack plenty of jumpers, just in case. As a result, there'll probably be a heatwave.)
It's the Friday Night Live competition. The idea is that you submit just 500 words and if you're shortlisted, you read them aloud to an audience of festival-goers. The winner, as voted for by said audience, gets a bottle of fizz and the potential to attract the attention of every agent in the room.
No problem! I've written flash pieces of around that mark; specific mini-stories that have gone down well with readers.
Erm, excuse me. *whispers festival organiser* For this particular competition, you take 500 words from your current work.
Oh. Problem. There's no story arc across 500 words in a novel - it's usually across a scene of several pages, a chapter, the whole flippin' book! So it's incredibly hard to find a suitable chunk to submit.
Then there's the subject matter. Do you go for full-on action? Description? Dialogue? (And then practice all the voices...) A mix of everything?
How much do you edit to make it a self-contained portion that is capable of standing alone? To me, it feels like cheating a bit if you've changed it too much from the original. And it also begs the question if you're editing it that much, how good was the original in the first place? Which opens up a whole new can of worms (and panic!) about the quality of the MS...
I picked out a couple of pieces I thought might work...neither were perfect. Both lacked something. My third piece is looking more promising and I've just read it though again; seen a couple of tweaks that will improve it when combined with some feedback from fellow Random Writers. It's certainly heading in the right direction with action, dialogue, a bit of mystery...
Will I be shortlisted? Who knows. Like all writing competitions, there's the judges' own preferences to take into account as well as the exceptional other writing which will be submitted. I shall try not to build up my hopes.
But it won't stop me practicing reading my 500 words aloud in the meantime...just in case.