Monday, 22 February 2010

On Relativity and Constipation

I suppose a writers' conference seems an unlikely place to gain empirical proof of Relativity?

It wasn't the conference as a whole, of course. Said proof was contained in one – relatively brief (nudge, nudge) – aspect of it.

For the record, that same aspect of the conference kicked an adrenaline rush like the Winter Olympic Skeleton Bob run.



But how to tell it here? I mean, without resorting to hype, how do you relate an experience so extraordinary that anyone not fortunate enough to have been there will glaze-over and walk away muttering 'Oh, yeah?' as soon as you begin? I'll have to mull that question over.

Meanwhile, here's something completely different:

The greatest thing about this blog is that I can say whatever I like, secure in the knowledge that nobody but me – oh, yes, and you, my imaginary friend – will ever read a word of it.

Of course, any 'normal' *snicker* Earthling who has strayed in here by chance (poor unlucky being) is no doubt looking for the exit * in a hurry, convinced of my mental instability. Who knows, I may even be exasperating you, my lifelong fictional friend. I do hope not.

Seriously, if there is anybody here, please do hold on – please.

Look, If you'll stay, I'll make you a promise. No. Better. I'll make you two promises (look into my eyes - not around my eyes - look into my eyes)...

Promise 1): I'm quite sane, honestly (look into my eyes - not around my eyes - look into my eyes)

Promise 2): Every word I write is gospel truth (look into my eyes - not around my eyes - look into my eyes)

There. You feel warm and safe, don't you?

Relax...

Relax...

Oscar is going to tell you about a wonderful day in a magical land....

No. Bollocks to that. This creative stuff is getting on my bits. I'm not going to 'show'. I'm not going to characterise. There'll be no plot or story arc in this piece of... well, in this piece.

Hell, no, Guys, I'm gonna tell it like it was. And you'll just have to take it like – well, take it like whatever's your thing, I guess.

What was that?

Steady on, there.

There's no need to be abusive... I'm not getting paid for this y'know. It's my blog and if I want to say bollocks, I shall, so.

Yes... Yes, and all the very best to you, too, vicar. You'll find the Paypal offertory box by the exit * – scroll down, it's behind the silverware on day two.

Now, where was I? Ah, yes. The truth. The pure, unvarnished truth:

Last Saturday, 20th February 2010, I had an amazing day. This did not come as a total surprise because I was in the company of a great group of writing friends, some friends of long-standing and many more who were new to me. The friends of long-standing were fellow members of Verulam Writers' Circle (VWC) and the newer friends were other delegates and speakers at the 4th annual VWC Get Writing conference, aka: GW10, held at Hertfordshire University's Hatfield Campus.

We, the delegates, received a day packed – and I use the term 'packed' advisedly (perhaps the most impressive aspect of a very special day was the alchemy by which the organisers combined a laid-back experience with militarily precise organisation) – with top notch speakers and workshops together with an opportunity to pitch to some of the foremost agents and commissioning editors in the UK, and we had lunch and refreshments thrown in, and an unbeatable modern venue, and all for the remarkably reasonable sum of only £45.

Our keynote speakers, in the order in which we met them were: John Jarrold and Anna Power, both leading literary agents; Simon Taylor, Editorial Director at Transworld, a division of Random House Group, one of the UK's most successful book publishers; Marlene Johnson, MD of Hachette UK; Adele Geras, author of more than ninety books; Mark Billingham, bestselling author of the Tom Thorne crime novels; Philip Patterson, literary agent with Marjacq Scripts and Imran Ahmad, whose book Unimagined - a Muslim boy meets the West has received accolades and 'book of the year' listings across the world.

When it came to workshops – we had a choice of six – I was fortunate enough to secure a place on 'The Short Road to Success: creating a prizewinning story' workshop run by the charming, talented and extremely knowledgeable Vanessa Gebbie.

You may possibly have gathered by now that I was impressed. Too right. I was.

And then we come to the fascinating subject of Relativity and bowel control, or, as itemized in the conference schedule: The three minute pitches. My reference to Relativity in this connection is semi-serious, as with the famous twins paradox: time varies according to the viewpoint of the observer.

To explain: In a room measuring something like 6m x 12m, tables were set out at the far end. At each of these table sat the 'pitchees', i.e., those to whom we punters (pitchers... or should that be pitchors?) were to be putting our respective pitches. The pitchees were: Simon Taylor, Marlene Johnson, John Jarrold, Philip Patterson and Anna Power, all people with the power to turn a writer's dreams to reality, or poo. We, the pitchors, were duly arranged in an equivalent number of lines-astern at paper marks on the floor - effectively our starting blocks - from which, at a signal, we should each in turn move forward and begin our allocated three minutes apiece to make or break our dreams. No pressure, then? Not many.

The constipation cure began quite early in these proceedings, as you may imagine. The Relativity demo onset, though, was quite remarkably specific. I was third in line to pitch to Simon Taylor. By fine irony, I was pitching a novel based upon a space-time paradox. Two comrades were in front of me. Immediately in front was Cheryl Alleyne, in front of her was Jonathan Pinnock. In the Great War we would have heard a whistle, but in this battle it was RSM Cundell (aka: VWC Chairman) who gave the signal and timed the charge. From where I stood, Jon Pinnock's three minutes lasted at least five, Cheryl's about four, mine of course appeared to be up before I reached the chair to sit in front of Simon T. Well, slight exaggeration, but you get my drift? What did I say to ST? Blowed if I know, but I bet I said it quickly. How did I do? Again, I've no real idea. Will my pitch produce any result? Who knows? I gave it my best shot, time will tell. Was it worth the stress? You kidding me? I got to pitch direct to one of the UK's top commissioning editors, face-to-face. Was it worth it? Too right, it was.

There were many heros on that day, and, as ever, many more unsung whose names were forged not in the heat of battle but in that long corrosive drag of preparation. I shall leave it now to others better placed and worthier to write the list of lists, but let it be recorded here that – so I've heard told – without one Jenny Barden's stalwart work there would have been no GW10. Rock on Jenny!

Naturally, one of the main hopes of anyone attending a writing conference is that they'll pick up those killer tips, the secrets that will lift their writing from the unremarkable to the outstanding. Well, my friend, I'm delighted to report that, on that momentous day, I did discover those secrets. (Look, I heard you whispering: 'It doesn't show', so let me finish. Okay?). I managed to corner an internationally famous, successful and wealthy writer, (can't possibly mention names - lips sealed and all that) we got on famously and I asked the $64,000 question. Are you ready for this?

It turns out there are two secrets. The first secret is this: Never tell anybody everything you know.

Waking up now. Ten, nine, eight, seven, six – you're forgetting everything – five, four, three, two, one. Wide awake!

What? Didn't get it? Shame.

You'll just have to book early for next year, won't you?

Please leave quietly, in an orderly fashion. Thank you.