There are two great conferences coming up in 2014, and today I’m thrilled to interview one of the organizers of Writing 4 Young People. In the weeks to come, I’ll also talk to the Geneva Writers’ Conference organizers about their upcoming event.
In May 2011, I was invited to teach at the Zurich Writers Workshop. The city has a vibrant writing community and it was a pleasure to connect with other writers. The organizers, three fabulous writers, did an amazing job and I loved every moment of the weekend. Everything was perfect – months of thought and hard work went into the preparation. Today, Jill Prewett, who I met at that workshop, will discuss what it takes to put on a first-rate conference.
Writing under the pen-name JJ Marsh, Jill Prewett is an author, journalist and language consultant. She has published four books, including Zürich-based crime novel Behind Closed Doors.
Based in Switzerland, Jill is European correspondent for Words with JAM magazine, forms part of Nuance Words, co-curates Swiss literary hub The Woolf and pens a regular column for The Displaced Nation.
Jill, what are some of the challenges of organizing a writing conference?
It’s a huge amount of work to organise venue, tutors, advertising, finances, sign-ups and participant guidance. It takes months of hard graft. As Nuance Words, we try to organise one major event a year, alongside several smaller scale activities. The key thing I’ve learned? Absolute clarity regarding expectations. Spell it out. What the attendees will get, what the tutors should deliver, what we want in the sandwiches … even more important in a multi-cultural city like Zurich. Also crucial is balancing the costs versus expenses, because we’re a non-profit organisation. It’s a lot of fun, but incredibly draining. After the last writers’ conference, I crawled into bed and stayed there for 18 hours.
What are the rewards?
Writers meeting writers. Many, but not all, of our regular participants are expats. The experience of relocation can be lonely, and an antisocial pursuit such as writing makes that worse. A whole weekend spent learning, talking, sharing and listening to writers is full of treasures: heads nodding when a tutor explains POV, exchanges of email addresses and promises of coffee, eyes-lighting-up at finding a fellow fantasy writer, two crime writers’ glee at meeting an undertaker, and endless scribbled notes to keep the imagination fed for months. I’ve gained so much in terms of knowledge and even more in terms of friendship.
Why should writers attend a writing conference?
This is what happened to me. Apart from the above, top-quality tuition will stay with you for years. I’ve been to countless events and taken useful ideas from every single one. You need to leave your ego at the door and savour all the criticism. Professional critiques of your work are gold dust. And as well as learning from the tutor, relish the comments of your peers. Those knives whittling your work are not wielded by butchers, but by master carvers. Listen, shut your mouth, and learn.
Tell us about the first conference you attended?
May 2011, the Zürich Writers Workshop, where I was lucky enough to have Janet Skeslien Charles as my tutor! No sycophancy intended, but you pushed me to work harder and convinced me I had the mettle to be a decent writer. My very first blogpost was an excitable rave about the things I’d learned. It was also where I met my current critique groups, found a pool of amazing writers and friends, and discovered the dangers of bolting a vegetarian curry.
What were your goals in attending?
I wanted, and still want, to be a better writer. I got invaluable help to take me several steps further and a host of unexpected benefits: intelligent people, breathtaking writing, unusual angles, a sense of craft and a desire to learn much more. But that curry never featured in my goals, I can tell you.
Tell us about your upcoming conference.
Writing 4 Young People (Saturday January 25, Zürich) is a full-day event looking at trends, parameters, possibilities and routes to readers for anyone who writes for young people. Whether you create children’s colouring books, or pitch your novel at Young Adults with attitude, this is for you. We’ve bagged agent Julia Churchill & editor Sara O’Connor to deliver an intensive workshop on character, storyworld, transmedia, synopses, tone and gatekeepers.
Julia’s article on why agents love writers is here: “Shhhhh … I’ve got a secret”. I’m ridiculously excited about this event and it’s not even my genre.
Check out Jill’s Beatrice Stubbs Series: Behind Closed Doors, Raw Material and Tread Softly, plus controversial short-story collection Appearances Greeting a Point of View. The next book in the series, Cold Pressed, is out early 2014.