RNA New Writers' Scheme member, Linda Chamberlain, writes:
I’ve set my goal. I’m going to find out which writers’ conferences are worth attending. It’s a tough assignment but I’m inspired and up for the task having just returned from the Women’s Fiction Festival in Matera, Italy.
Putting aside the issue of its fabulous location, the WFF is a good one. It’s small and intimate, ideal for new writers looking for that first break into publishing and with enough informative sessions to be of interest to more seasoned scribes. About 60 people came this year, mainly from Italy, also from France, Germany, Austria, USA and Britain. It’s an international conference, there is a team of interpreters for the multi-lingual talks and there are plenty of agents and editors giving talks and looking for new talent.
This is the crux. The one-to-one appointments. The dragon’s den. You have 15 minutes to pitch your book, your idea or simply ask for advice from a galaxy of publishing experts. They give it generously, without soft frills, whether they like your work or not. You may not like their opinion, you may feel knocked back or turned down; but, there again, you may ignite a new relationship. In other words, you may find your future agent or publisher.
At the WFF you can get a lot of appointments. I had six, others had more. That’s an hour and a half devoted to me and my work. That’s a lot. By the time I reached the final appointment with an editor on day three, my pitch was gaining in confidence and I was coming out with a smile on my face. Chatting to new friends and acquaintances it was clear that others were going through the same process. Many were being asked to send samples of their work. Ah, the joy of email.
Being new to this industry (I’m unpublished), one thing surprised me. Publishing is very international. US agents are looking for British writers and Germany in particular has a massive appetite for foreign books. The economy may be suffering but the need for books is healthier than ever.
The conference is in its youth, this is its sixth year, and was set up by American-born writer Elizabeth Jennings. She was an interpreter who, like many, longed to be a novelist. Love, marriage and motherhood had their first claim on her life and took her to Matera, Italy’s best-kept secret, and her husband’s home town. What a place for a writer to be based! It’s a town with a 7,000 year history, perched above a rocky gorge and blending almost seamlessly with thousands of caves. It’s a UNESCO world heritage site, has a Biblical flavour and is probably one of the few places you can enjoy breakfast in a cave.
Elizabeth, not surprisingly, wanted to bring other writers to this troglodyte haven. She considered setting up a retreat but the idea gave birth to this conference. As in writing, these things have a life of their own. She proudly says that Matera has featured in more than one novel on the bookshelves and many new writers have found their publishing break here.
The downside? Matera is hard to get to. The WFF will never be a massive conference, a zoo, as Elizabeth describes them. It won’t attract thousands of wannabes, just a neat handful. Perfect, really.