Saturday 6th June
More information on the New Writing North website
Review by Charlotte Hall
Writing can be personal yet public, controversial yet ignored, meaningful yet forgotten – basically, it can be anything you want it to be. But despite the lack of boundaries and rules, we all still need a little help and guidance along the way and that’s exactly what the 2015 Newcastle Writing Conference was about: not telling you what to do and when to do it but offering advice to help make the most out of the ideas and the talent we already have.
After filling our boots with hot drinks and biscuits, we were welcomed by New Writing North chief executive, Claire Malcolm, who then passed onto acclaimed novelist, Meg Rosoff. Speaking about the trials and tribulations of her life so far, she took us on her imperfect journey of what adulthood is actually like. From working in jobs that she hated – and being fired from most, if not all of them – to moving to London where she met her husband, to finally, at the age of 45, sitting down and writing her first ever novel, Meg was fantastic. Witty and truthful, her speech was one of my favourite parts of the day, inspiring us all to just forget what we think we ‘should’ be doing and just write what we want to.
We then moved onto the ‘How to Stand Out in a Digital Age’ panel, which featured Ben Willis, head of digital publicity at Transworld; Costa-shortlisted author and social media expert Nikesh Shukla; vlogger and Hotkey Books digital coordinator Sanne Vliegenthart, whose YouTube book vlog, Books and Quills, has over 124,000 subscribers; and blogger Simon Savidge, who runs the influential book blog, Savidge Reads. Talking about the influence social media and blogging now has on the book buying public, as well as their views on the publishing industry in the technologically engaged 21st century; it was so interesting to hear their views, exploring how the digital age has transformed the industry.
There were a number of workshops and each person was able to choose the two that they wanted to attend. As a blogger myself – and someone who uses social media to promote my writing – I chose ‘Websites and Blogging’ and ‘Develop your Online Presence’. I really feel that the writing and the content you produce is, obviously, the most important thing however it was really great to explore how powerful social media can be in engaging your target audience. Both sessions had an informal and relaxed feel; they did a good job at explaining the basics to those that might be just starting out and pointing out the dos and don’ts of all things digital.
The closing panel, ‘What’s Hot and What’s Not’ was my favourite session of the day. The panel consisted of experts within the publishing industry, including Francesca Main, editorial director of Picador (who recently edited the best-selling The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton), Rachael Kerr, the editor-at-large at Unbound; Anna James, book news and media editor of publishing industry bible The Bookseller and books editor of Elle magazine; and Jo Unwin, literary agent whose clients include Nina Stibbe and Jenny Colgan. I really did love listening to them talk about the industry – about books they’ve loved and those they think will do well over the next year or so. I have already ordered two of the books that Anna James raved about – The Bees by Laline Paull and How to be Both by Ali Harris, which I am currently reading and loving.
The 2015 Newcastle Writing Conference’s theme this year was ‘Do It Yourself’ and, after attending this event, I feel inspired and motivated to do just that.