Monday 1 September 2008

CWIG Conference Cambridge

It was good, as ever, to spend a few hours with other writers. It helps to counteract the isolation and paranoia. It was also good to put names to faces of all those people you correspond with in email forums, and even to remind yourself of what those people you do know look like.

The venue was pleasant, with beautiful gardens and Cambridge is such a delightful place anyway. The food was copious, well prepared and well presented. The company was, of course, exquisite.

The first plenary session, Fantasy and Reality, introduced us to William Nicholson. He is an excellent speaker. He told us about how his life as a TV writer actually enhanced his novel-writing, which he considered to be his real work. He’s faced rejection and criticism, just like the rest of us. He pointed out that criticism is actually useful. He did this all as well in such an entertaining way.

Julia Eccleshare and Nicolette Jones gave us some insights into how books come to be reviewed. Of course they can’t review every book sent to them. There was a also some discussion about the difference between a critical review, as they offer, and the lay review such as the ones you get on Amazon. It made me think about my own reviewing process. Yes, I review for Troubadour ( magazine about self-published books) and Armadillo, Mary Hoffman’s on-line magazine. I jut review what I’m sent for those. On my own site, I put details of anything which has really impressed me and try to work out why.

I attended parallel sessions on time-management (Mary Hoffman) and writing historical fiction (Celia Rees). Mary’s session reminded me of how many other activities, apart form sitting in front of the computer, are actually writing. I was very impressed with the note books Celia keeps as she fills in details about the settings of her historical novels.

On Sunday, there was the debate about age-banding took up the second part of the morning. I agree with much of what Philip Pullman says. It is actually a little surprising how many authors are now beginning to waver and think it might not be such a bad idea. Interestingly, Chris Powling also picked up the theme when he reviewed some books on Classic FM, which I listened to on the way home.

It is clear we have a few battles to fight to preserve the book and therefore our livelihood. We also need to look forward. The e-book and e-book reader are well on their way, and we need to take care that we do not face the same problems which crippled the music industry. Alan Gibbons has started a “Charter for the Book” campaign, and naturally my name is on it, though I do also welcome the new technology. And do note, I came back with more books than I had intended to buy.

The conference ended with Michael Rosen, our children’s laureate. He was a joy. However, it is clear that the fragmentation caused by the Literacy Strategy and SATs still exists. Children seem to be being processed, rather than being allowed to develop naturally. Reading is taught thorough phonics now. Well they used that when I learnt to read. But they also read stories to us. Ah, I’d better not get into that too much – that is a whole article, a letter to the minister, a letter to Michael Rosen and comments on Wordpool, SCBWI and NIBWEB.

A great conference, despite the worries, and there were also several causes for optimism.

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