Monday, 31 July 2017


 Last month, I went to an interesting workshop on Plotting, tutored by Alexandra Sokoloff, based on her book STEALING HOLLYWOOD: Screenwriting Tricks for Authors.  

The day – the first SCBWI event I'd ever been able to attend – was very enjoyable, so many thanks to everyone involved in the day’s organisation.  However, I’m not writing about the workshop content just now (as there's still too much to think about) but about a couple of reactions to the location.

The day was held at Heslington Campus, the University of York and writers came from Birmingham and the Midlands, as well as Newcastle, Lancashire, Manchester, Leeds, the Yorkshire coast and other places in the north. My own forty-minute drive was slight in comparison, even if Harrogate’s Crime Festival was the only reason why Alexandra was in the area and could run the York workshop day.

Afterwards, after the comments and praise on Facebook, some people wished the day had been held in London or asked that it could be. I really understood why that suggestion had been made, but I did not sigh with sympathy as greatly as I should. From where I am, so very much seems to take place in that magic land of the South. 

London, with all its publishing houses and events, seems to be the central hub but one can also imagine a golden triangle, with the important writing community stretched between three fixed points. One line stretches out west from London to the spires of Oxford while the other golden line runs straight to Edinburgh. 


Are these three the magical literary locations where the book things happen and the three pathways along which news is spread –  or does it only seem like that to those “outside?”

Of course, I know there are other bright geographical points: there are the clusters of Manchester and of Winchester, with their famous writing and children’s literature courses, as well as Cambridge with its prestigious Illustration Course, or Bath with its Book Festival, or even a skip and a hop further across to Hay on Wye. Other places do try  to stand up for themselves: York hosts its own Festival of Writing, and Newcastle has its own Seven Stories hub, and there can’t be a city in Britain that doesn’t celebrate its writing heritage.  All find and good.

But London is London and where publishing happens. Isn’t it?

It’s much harder, time-wise, if you live three hours away from the capital, to call in on your publisher and casually chat about things - “I’ll be in town that day so shall I drop in . . ?”  as I know some authors do.

The choice is even more complicated when there’s a substantial train ticket cost to cover, or the knowledge that an evening meeting or publisher’s party will involve the cost of overnight accommodation.

Although the travel and the contacts might be worth the cost of a journey to the Great Wen, convincing oneself isn’t easy when times are tight, fees are flat and confidence may not be soaring. Or is all this just my cranky nature and crotchety imagination?

Does where a writer lives have any impact?  

Does location actually matter in the age of the internet?  

What do you think? 


Joan Lennon said...

I have definitely sometimes wondered how much difference being a visible face on the London book scene might make, though that could just be MY cranky nature and crotchety imagination! (I hadn't heard the expression "the Great Wen" before and it made me snigger in my coffee! Thanks for that!)

Penny Dolan said...

Thanks, Joan. Glad I'm not alone in my cranky ponderings on such matters.

The Great Wen is a term I've been aware of for years, probably from having lived there as a child. Used by the radical pamphleteer William Cobbett in the 1820's, says wikipedia.

Pippa Goodhart said...

Its so hard to tell what difference proximity to London might make. If I go to a publisher party, I usually start off by wondering why I've bothered to come all that way and I don't enjoy shouted conversations where I can't properly hear what's being said (I'm not deaf, its just that they tend to be LOUD!), but every so often you find yourself talking to somebody you'd never have met otherwise, and that chat just might lead to something. But I'd say that gatherings such as the FCBG conference are the best of all for that sort of thing, though, and they move around the country from year to year. If you ever need a bed a shorter ride from London than Harrogate, you're welcome here, Penny!

Penny Dolan said...

I'd agree it's hard to tell whether London's central role affects writers opportunities, especially younger authors from beyond the capital who can't nip up there easily for an evening gathering.

However, the longer events such as the various book and writing conferences do give authors a chance to pick up information through publisher displays, and to meet all sorts of people involved with writing and illustration at an easier and quieter pace.

By the way, the FCBG Conference next year is their 50th Anniversary, so that weekend should be well worth going to for all the speakers - and I've found that SCBWI* British Isles runs events in a variety of places and regions, as well as a November Conference.

There's also SCOTSWRITE Conference in September near Glasgow, run by the Society of Authors in Scotland which takes a wide view - to quote - of "Everything a Writer Needs". I suppose you have to choose what and where to spend your money and time, assuming there's some available.

I totally agree with your description of the acoustics of many publisher parties - and thanks, too, for your kind offer, Pippa.

*SCBWI = Society of Children's Writers and Illustrators, which anyone with an interest in children's books and writing can join for an annual fee.

Sue Purkiss said...

Can certainly identify with that, Penny. It's feasible to get up to London from where I live for the day, but not for an evening event - I have people I can stay with overnight, but then you have to lug a case about with you, and it all takes such a time. Must look up the FCBG Conference!

Rowena House said...

There's so much in London, I wonder if people living there don't actually get swamped with it all sometimes, and feel under pressure to attend every event going. I pack a lot in whenever I go up, and certainly one event alone won't justify the travel costs. But maybe that restriction is a good thing, like the way having a day job forces one to concentrate on writing in the limited time available. Starting out, I found SCBWI regional events hugely worthwhile, as were Winchester's two events (SCBWI in Nov and the big one in June) as well as the York University-based conference. Now I allow myself one event per year for continued professional development, and pick & chose carefully for value for money. Last one was SAS in Peterborough, next Arvon in Devon. So maybe there are benefits to living outside the capital: we're more inclined to look about for what's on offer since nothing is on our doorsteps!

Penny Dolan said...

That's a really positive approach, Rowena, and I agree that restrictions can be useful - and also that you need to pick and choose to make any London (or other) trip really worthwhile.

I think the informal, subconcious "London effect" was what interested me, with questions such as
- whether a manuscript is read more positively by someone you've met face to face? - do authors with strong London connections - even if they don't live there now - hear of new initiatives and opportunities more quickly?
- are reviews more easily gathered and events publicised when there's a central focus?
Not expecting answers, really. Just musing.
Look forward to meeting you at an SAS event one day.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

As someone who lives in the heart of London... not more than 5 minutes from the V&A and 10 minutes at a push, from the Soc of Authors I have to claim that although it is great to have so much on my doorstep, I would never dream to email my publishers and say 'Oh I'll be walking around Holborn today' or 'I'm passing through Angel tube, shall we meet?' In fact I'm ready to bet that writers who live out of town have a far better chance of setting up a meeting with their publishers than Londoners... just because they are normally far away. Publishers probably steer clear of locals in case they are inundated!
Yes its good to go to gatherings and contacts are sometimes made but generally if one is honest, their is a feeling that you need to go because you should... not because you necessarily want to.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

ps 'there' not 'their' in that last line!