The QT

Saturday 15 June 2024

Conference brings writers together

A keen demand is expected for the first Newcastle Writing Conference in five years with tickets now on sale, as David Whetstone reports
The Common Room, Newcastle

A full house is expected for this year’s Newcastle Writing Conference for which tickets go on sale today (March 20).

Writing may be a solitary activity but that doesn’t mean all writers are solitary people.

Grace Keane, senior programme manager at New Writing North, says it’s been five years since the conference last took place.

The Covid pandemic scuppered the 2021 edition and then last year’s planned renewal was cancelled due to a train strike.

It was a sell-out, meaning widespread disappointment. Expect a swift take-up, then, of tickets for this year’s conference which is to take place — fingers crossed — on May 18 at The Common Room on Westgate Road.

“So much moved online during the pandemic that I think writers are craving that connection with their peers and industry people,” says Grace.

“We’ve had really positive feedback to the announcement that we’re doing it again.”

A lot of the content is aimed at writers who are trying to break into the industry but haven’t got an agent yet or a book deal.

Grace Keane, senior programme manager at New Writing North

Something new this time will be the presence of students on the publishing MA course run by New Writing North and Northumbria University.

Grace says they have been invited to do stewarding roles on the day and will no doubt be alert to anything that might help them get a toe-hold in the competitive business of writing and publishing.

This year’s conference headline speaker is Janice Hallett whose first novel was published in 2021 when she was in her early fifties, making her something of a late starter as a published writer of fiction.

The Appeal, described in The Times as “a dazzlingly clever murder mystery”, was a bestseller and winner of the Crime Writers’ Association ‘debut dagger’ award.

Janice Hallett (left) who will be talking to New Writing North’s chief executive, Claire Malcolm

But this “modern Agatha Christie” (The Sunday Times) had done lots of things before turning her attention to crime fiction, having been a journalist, screenwriter, magazine editor and speechwriter.

Grace says: “You need a headline speaker who’s going to be really inspiring to delegates, someone with an interesting story or who speaks well about their career journey and craft.

“We met Janice a few years ago at Durham Book Festival and she was really interesting. Her breakout as a novelist came later than some people’s but I think that’s inspiring to people. Being a new writer doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be 18 years old.”

At the conference Janice will be in conversation with New Writing North chief executive Claire Malcolm about her career. Delegates will be hoping for some advice and perhaps an insight into her next novel, The Examiner, which is due out in August.

Grace says the conference is likely to be especially useful to aspiring and emerging writers.

“A lot of the content is aimed at writers who are trying to break into the industry but haven’t got an agent yet or a book deal.

“But because there are various different pathways you can take through the conference it also has value for people who have a book out but are still early on in their career.

“We try to get a lot of agents to the conference because the industry is still very London-centric and it’s good to bring them north.”

Eirinie Lapidaki’s debut novel, The Wives of Halcyon will be published just in time for the conference

A session of particular interest to those yet to see their name in print is likely to be Publishing Your First Book, a conversation between North East writer Eirinie Lapidaki and her editor at Legend Press, Cari Rosen.

Eirinie started writing her debut novel, The Wives of Halcyon, when working as a bookseller at Waterstones. The early chapters earned her a northern writers’ award from New Writing North in 2019. 

Published on May 15, it will be hot off the press when the conference takes place.

Various ‘break out’ sessions throughout the day will cover topics such as marketing and self-promotion (with Lucy Nicol), flash fiction (Désirée Reynolds) and self-publishing (Emma Hill).

There will be general advice offered by agents and delegates will also have the chance to book a one-to-one session.

Karen Powell and Tawseef Khan are on the Conference menu

Before close-of-play networking there will be a discussion about what makes a northern author featuring Karen Powell, whose Fifteen Wild Decembers, re-imagining the life of Emily Brontë, was shortlisted for the Nero Book Awards, and Tawseef Khan whose debut novel Determination centres on the work of a UK immigration lawyer.

New Writing North is taking over The Common Room for the day of the conference.

Situated next door to the Lit & Phil in what many still know as Neville Hall, it is, as Grace says, “a beautiful historic building with lots of different spaces which makes it really good for break-out sessions.”

Anyone can attend the conference (you don’t have to be from Newcastle or indeed the North) but with only 135 places up for grabs, it is expected to be a fairly rapid sell-out.

But if you miss out, you can always attend virtually (capacity: limitless). Places are £79 if you attend in person but a virtual pass can be yours for £35. And there are a few bursary places available for both in-person and live streamed versions of the festival — email [email protected] if this could be a help.

Find full details of the Newcastle Writing Conference on the New Writing North website.


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