Darlene Foster's Blog

Winchester Writers’ Festival

Posted on: September 9, 2018

In November of last year, I was a guest on Sally Cronin’s blog where I was asked to list two things on my personal bucket list. One of them was to attend a writers’ conference in Europe. A writer/blogger friend, Mary Smith, suggested I check out the Winchester Writers’ Festival, which I did. In June I attended this 38-year-old festival held at the University of Winchester with 300 other attendees, providing 50 talks, readings and workshops. I had a great time and thought I should share what I learned while there.



Entrance to the University of Winchester

I arrived Friday evening in time for dinner where I met other authors over stimulating conversation. Later I attended a talk by James Aitcheson who discussed researching and writing historical fiction which was interesting.

I stayed on campus and found my little room to be comfortable. I felt every bit a student.


My digs for the weekend. My room was on the second floor.

The next morning, after a good sleep and a hearty breakfast (there were even vege sausages!), we listened to the keynote address with Patrick Gale interviewed by Judith Henegan, Director of the Winchester Writers’ Festival. This prolific writer of 15 novels and counting, spoke about “A Life in Writing”. He offered some great advice and this is some of what I took away from the entertaining and informative discussion.

  1. Write in ink first
  2. Use setting as a character
  3. Place defines a person
  4. End with a glimmer of hope and leave some things unanswered
  5. Remember the reader in the second draft. (are they seeing and feeling what you want them to?)
  6. Children are good to have in a novel as they disrupt, are indiscreet and honest
  7. Readers respond to recognition
  8. Cut out unnecessary stuff, remove anything that reminds people that they are reading
  9. Learn to write by reading
  10. Time is a good editor
  11. Dialogue is good but can slow down the action. It’s OK to use reported speech sometimes
  12. Readers rewrite the book when they read it

I bought his book, “A Place Called Winter” and he signed it for me. He was very interested in the fact that I was raised near the area in Canada where the story takes place.

IMG_20180616_095652 (2)


For the remainder of the day, I attended a number of workshops. One by children’s author, Patrice Lawernce, on “Whose Voice is it Anyway”. She discussed making your characters sound authentic by listening to how people talk and being perpetually curious, knowing their backstory and culture and getting under the skin of your characters.

Another workshop on “Creating a Picture Book”, was facilitated by Andrew Weale. He explained that you have to think visually as you write, write a lot, then pare it down to a few words as you let the pictures talk. Picture book stories can be generated by asking unusual, quirky questions.

“Twitter For Writers” by Claire Fuller gave me a few more ideas on how to maximize my time on Twitter. “Myth, Mystery and Magic” with Sarah Mussi reminded us that goodness wins in the end with examples through the ages. The hero should have a flaw, even if it is a good flaw like being too kind etc. The excellent dinner came with a guest speaker, Helen Dennis, who gave an animated talk about her route to success as a children’s author.

Sunday was an all-day workshop, “Casting the Spell of Place”, with Lorna Ferguson. I loved this as we were given prompts with time to write and share our work. A few points I took away with me.

  1. Cut out unnecessary details of description to avoid making it sound like a travelogue
  2. Don’t make lists
  3. Think of the reader and what effect you want to create
  4. Setting can create mood and atmosphere and help with plotting
  5. Location often takes the character out of their comfort zone
  6. It should transport the reader out of their ordinary world (armchair travelling)
  7. It should create a perception of the culture
  8. Description needs to be broken up with dialogue and action
  9. Be careful of information dumping, it will pull the reader out of the story
  10. If it doesn’t work, try a different setting!

Another point that came up which was very helpful for me and my stories is that a character can’t always have someone help them. They need to solve their own problems, sometimes in an unfamiliar location.

We were given a list of quotes. I love this one. Place is paramount. Annie Proulx

I also had two one to one appointments with authors who looked at the first chapter of Amanda in Holland and gave me great feedback.

With limited luggage space, I only bought two books, (amazing for me!) and an Elizabeth Bennet tree ornament to remember my time.


Elizabeth Bennett Christmas tree ornament


Charming bench on the grounds of the university


One of the many great buildings on site, the Business School

Staying in a historic city, meeting other writers and learning more about the art of writing made this a perfect break for me and just what I needed to continue with my writing. Thank you so much, Mary Smith, for this suggestion. Check out her interesting blog and wonderful books.



52 Responses to "Winchester Writers’ Festival"

Ah lovely. Only a few miles from where I was brought up. Glad you enjoyed it

I know. How fortunate to have lived in such a wonderful area. I thought about that as I read your book.

Several of us went for the Saturday at the Winchester conference years ago- the most intense writers’ thing I have been to. I think it would be even better to sleep there and get the total experience and find your way around first so you can plan the dashing between talks!

I have been to similar writers conferences in Canada so was well prepared for the dashing between talks. It was not the largest I have been to but certainly was close. I’m so glad I stayed on campus as it added to the experience. (and I could go back for a nap if needed.)

I’m so glad you enjoyed it Darlene. It’s always a bit worrying to make a suggestion in case the person doesn’t have a good experience. I’m really pleased you did. Thanks for the shout out, too 🙂

I believe it is up to the person to make it a good experience! Thanks again for the suggestion as I would have never known about it. I love that area too and by adding a couple of extra days and staying with friends, I got to explore more of it. So it was all worthwhile. xo

Thank you for distilling the keynote into 12 points, including one I never thought of: “Readers re-write the book when they read it.” That gave me cause for pause. Based on suggestions from my current editor, that could mean that the writer has provided takeaway, a universal theme readers can adapt to their own lives.

A great blog post, informational AND entertaining, Darlene!

I’m glad you enjoyed the post. It is always good to share what you have learned. I really liked the 12th point as well. We all see and experience things through our own perception. Thanks for your kind words.

Lucky you. Thank you for sharing your wonderful experience at the University of Winchester. What an outstanding writing conference! So glad you went.

I am so glad I went as well. It was money well spent. A great experience.

Your going to the writers’ conference was marvelous. Thanks for sharing the things you learned.

No point learning all these things and not sharing. It was a marvellous experience for me.

What a wonderful conference, Darlene. I am green with envy. You share a lot of great tips on writing, one I’ve heard before and suffer in my own writing (the lists). You remind me to work harder on that point!

It was great and I learned a lot. I too am guilty of lists and overdoing the descriptions so it sounds like a travel brochure. Two of the speakers mentioned cutting out the unnecessary stuff so I need to pay attention.

What an interesting and busy conference experience. Glad you had a great time at the University of Winchester. Thank you also for sharing all those wonderful writing tips.

Writer’s conferences can be very busy and exhausting by the end of the day but so worth it. Pleased you enjoyed the tips. Always worth a reminder!

Fantastic Darlene..just up the road at the moment house sitting and I used to work in Winchester.. lovely place. so pleased your enjoyed.

It was great. Thanks to you for the opportunity to get the word out. This blogging stuff is pretty cool.

Thank you for sharing your experience Darlene. It sounds like a great conference. 🌼

You are so welcome. Happy to share the experience and knowledge I gained.

Sounds wonderful. I must do this one year. 🙂

This sounds so incredible, DArlene. I have put it on my bucket list too.

That’s great. We may even meet up there one day!!

A great place and terrific talks … a perfect weeeknd for a writer! Many thanks for sharing both with us! Wow, what a wonderful opportunity to meet and listen to Patrick Gale, I love his books!

It was a perfect weekend. I enjoyed the book I bought and will certainly be reading more of Patrick Gale’s books. He is a very good writer and a very nice person.

Attending a conference of writers festival has been something I have been looking at for a while. You made it sound accessible and not pompous at all Darlene so thank you. Next stop its a writers festival for me.

You will love it. Writers, in my experience, are all the same, whether successfully published or just starting out. If you can find one near you, it can save on the cost of travelling. On the other hand, it is nice to be in a new environment too. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Ellen.

Love to pop over and you enjoy being specially chosen for Esme’s wonderful Monday share. #ShareEScare #SIPB

Thanks, Darlene. The experience sounded a valuable one. There’s always so much more to learn… xx

Always! Thanks for the comment.

Thanks for sharing these brilliant pearls of wisdom for other writers to learn and develop.

Rachael | https://rachaelstray.com

Pleased you found this post helpful. Thanks for stopping by.

Oh, I loved this Darlene. What a terrific conference. Your list of 10 things you took away was spot on. Thank you so much for sharing your writer’s conference!

Thanks, Jennie. We are never too old to stop learning. I was happy to share what I learned with my followers.

You are welcome, Darlene. And you are so right!

This sounds like a really worthwhile conference. I’ve always wanted to attend one in England. I especially liked Patrick’s tip on using setting as a character. I’ve never thought of settings that way, but it makes sense. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

I was missing the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, which I used to attend, so decided to find one close by. This was a good choice. Patrick’s tips were excellent. Glad I took notes.

What a great adventure–and some pretty good advice for writing!

I was pleased that a number of the speakers talked about setting as you and I both use setting to carry our stories. Always good to get writing advice!

Wow Darlene! I’ve never been to a writer’s conference, but it certainly looks like you got your money’s worth in Winchester. Your bullet-point summaries are a great way to summarize the tips. And here I thought that an English writers’s conference might be nothing more than a bunch of authors in the pub all day. 🙂 Obviously, I was wrong. Thanks for a look at something totally new for me. ~James

Glad you enjoyed this. A group did go to the pub later but I’m afraid I was too tired to join them after the info overload. Age does that to you eventually. Sigh.

It sounds as if there was something for everyone at that festival. Good on you for going and taking so much away from it. I can imagine it was inspiring and motivating to be amongst all those other writers and get so much food for thought. The little Elizabeth Bennett ornament will be a nice reminder for you at Christmas. 🙂

Isn’t it a lovely ornament. I guess I should have bought the Mr. Darcy one to go with it. Perhaps next time. It was an inspiring event and I’m so glad I went.

That would have been brilliant, to have the pair. A good excuse for another visit.

Gosh Darn I wish I’d been with you on this writers’ conference. It sounds amazing. And FULL. I like the fact that there were so many different lectures to attend. So much to learn and share! Thank you for helping me feel like I was there with your descriptions of the place and what you learned. (As James said – I like your bullet-point summaries.) Information overload though, yes, I get that! 🙂 You inspire me by your courage to attend this conference where you knew no one, and were willing to sleep in a dorm room. 🙂

It would have been so great to have you there with me. I find it’s important to step outside that comfort zone from time to time. I’m so glad I did. Only problem is it’s hard to decide which workshop to attend. I think I picked some good ones for me.

Darlene what excellent tips! Glad that you were able to fulfil your dream of attending a writer;s workshop in Europe. It seems like it was more than a worthwhile experience.

Thanks, Sue. It was definitely worthwhile.

Again…you succeeded as a writer….your blog took me along on the conference. I was truly hanging on every word and loved your takeaways…I have a deep appreciation for writers (took journalism and creative writing courses both in high school and college). Excellent post and thanks for sharing…some really great points!!

Thanks, Kirt. So pleased you found this post interesting and useful. Happy to have you along.

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