There’s an old Van Halen song bouncing around my head and there are feathers everywhere. A small area of the hotel room has been roped off using the drawstrings from the complimentary robes that the Sheraton kindly supplied, and there are small scraps of paper spread on the floor. I pick one up, and in barely legible writing, it says, “it was the best of times; it was the worst of times”. Then it’s crossed out and in different handwriting is written, “been done already, cheater”. The details are coming back slowly. I remember a debaucherous game of “Who can write the best first line”, and a bunch of authors sternly sitting within the roped off area staring each other down. The Van Halen song and feathers conjure up a very different image but I’ll keep that one to myself. It’s Sunday night and the Surrey International Writer’s Conference is over, now it’s time to follow the trail of breadcrumbs back to my car in the parking lot and brave the outside world. Is it Sunday night already? Really?
None of that happened, or maybe it did, but if it did, I wasn’t there. The real highlights for me were actually better than the debaucherous game mentioned above. JJ Lee gave a speech that moved me through a multitude of emotions, and ended with us all on our feet clapping and thanking him. Diana Gabaldon and Susanna Kearsley reminded us why the story is so important. And Donald Mass predicted the future of our industry. The workshops taught us how to write with passion, inject humour, and define rhythm and pacing. And then, there was Surrey Idol.
Idol is the traditional forum at SIWC where a group of agents give advice on the opening page of your novel. Jack Whyte reads each page, without mentioning the author’s name, until the agents on the panel raise their hands signalling him to stop. The idea is to have Mr Whyte read your entire first page without any hands being raised from the panel. An hour and five minutes into the program, my page was blindly picked from the pile. When he started to read my work my heart physically moved upwards and settled in my throat. The sound of it beating was so loud I could barely hear Mr Whyte, yep, that Jack Whyte, reading the words from my story. Somehow I managed to repeat over and over in my head, “don’t put your hands up, don’t put your hands up”. And, they didn’t. The first page of my almost completed novel, that I wrote in the spare bedroom of my house, was read in its entirety, and the audience clapped. Then, I lost the ability to speak. The very nice lady beside me recognized what was happening and helped me sit upright. I somehow managed to raise my hand when Jack asked who wrote it and then I slunked back down in my seat and tried to figure out how to breathe normally.
The prize, as it were, if no hands are raised during your reading, is to have a short meeting with any interested agents. Two very nice young agents spoke to me afterwards. I blubbered nervously about self-publishing my first book, and explained that this was a follow-up novel. They asked to see my first novel and the new unfinished one. The rest of Saturday is blurry from that point on. I’d love to be able to give you details of the workshop I attended after Idol but I can’t. All I know is that on the second day of the conference Jack Whyte praised my work and two agents told me they were going to be fighting over me. I’ve read that first page several times since then and the voice inside my head reading the words is Scottish and afterwards the same voice tells me how much he enjoyed reading it.
Sunday, the last day of the conference, was less eventful but still full of good information. I attended a couple of seminars on the basics of writing-showing not telling, and the rhythm of your writing. Both were filled with good information and made me realize how lucky I’ve been to hang out with Ed Griffin. Ed is the founder of the conference and teaches creative writing courses locally. I took a few of Ed’s classes (one of them I took twice), a couple of years ago, and I was fortunate enough to be part of his writer’s group for a while. Ed knows writing and the information he passed along wasn’t just invaluable in helping me become a better writer, it stuck too.
It was difficult to fall asleep on Sunday night. I ordered a pizza instead of trying to find the buffet line in my kitchen (which wasn’t there). I missed the company of my writer friends, and of course I didn’t have Jack Whyte singing the Hippopotamus song and telling me everything was right in the world. I’ve had follow up emails from each of the agents who requested my work and I’m still in the game, so far. Through Facebook and Twitter I’ve been able to re-connect with other writers that I met at the conference. And, the world is slowly coming back to normal. And, most importantly, in less than a year I’ll be able to do it all over again, and once again, the feathers will fly and the stories will be told. I can hardly wait.