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“Connecting to the city’s literary ecosystem”: Comma Press and Manchester Met host the 2022 National Creative Writing Industry Day

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Featured image: Kim-Moore by Lorna Elizabeth

The largest conference for aspiring writers in the North returned in-person this month, providing aspiring writers with a full day of creative workshops and panel events at the 2022 National Creative Writing Industry Day.

Hosted by Comma Press and The Manchester Writing School at Manchester Met, the event featured two panels dedicated to supporting up-and-coming writers in the North of England and gave an insight into how to excel in the publishing industry.

The ‘From Print to Publication’ panel featured writers Vanesa Onwuemezi and Kim Moore, joined by agent Julie Gourinchas of Bell Lomax Moreton and Genevieve Pegg, and publishing director of HarperNorth, the Manchester-based imprint of HarperCollins.

The second panel, ‘Writing Through the Climate Crisis,’ was led by creative and nature writing experts, and brought together broadcaster Anita Sethi, Manchester Writing School lecturer Anjum Malik, writer Nicola Penfold and poet Emily Oldfield.

‘From Print To Publication’ panel. Photography: Rebecca Yeadon

Participants were also presented with a choice of eight workshops, including ‘Writing a Synopsis’ with Joe Sedgwick, and ‘Marketing’ with Isabelle Kenyon. They were given the valuable opportunity of two one-to-one meetings with an agent, either to seek advice on their journey or to pitch their creative writing.

James Draper, Manager of the Manchester Writing School, said: “The event is part of our bigger picture of what we do as a writing school, which is very outward looking, industry driven, and connected to Manchester’s literary eco system in a very practical way.

Draper explained when the event was first launched several years ago, its mission was to bring the publishing industry to the North, outside of London: “There is still, to some extent, a focus on all the major agencies being London based, and if you are a writer in the North or elsewhere in the country, you have to travel to London to meet with [an] agency… This event is designed to address [this barrier] and create more opportunity and easier access to the industry.”

He added: “We are very pleased to help Comma Press and all of the publishing organisations to meet new writers. The thing that surprises us and excites us year by year is that the agencies and publishers are as excited to come and meet the new talent and see who might be out there as much as we are to bring them here and introduce them to our new students and other writers as well.

“People often ask us if anyone has had a deal or found an agent through this event, and yes they have. I have just bumped into someone who has just done their pitching session and said the agent, who they weren’t expecting to be paired with, had told them [their work] sounds fantastic and has invited them to send them a manuscript. So, we have had some good success stories.”

One-to-one agent meetings. Photography: Rebecca Yeadon

The keynote speech came from Vanessa Onwuemezi, author of Dark Neighbourhood (2021) and winner of The White Review Short Story Prize 2019. Onwuemezi was also shortlisted for the BBC Short Story Award 2022 and offered insight into her own journey of getting recognised and published as a debut author.

Onwuemezi said: “The most important thing is what you do when you are not writing. Writing is the tip of the iceberg for everything you do in life. My awakening to literature came from reading Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, it just encapsulated everything I was feeling at the time. It showed me what [writing] could do and how well it could describe someone’s interior life. It can do many other things too, of course, but that’s how it was for me.”

She wrapped up her speech by telling fellow aspiring writers how “writing taught me how to live”. She explained: “It taught me to take responsibility for my own decisions and only taking advice that was right for me. Even looking back now and thinking I should not have done that, at least that mistake was mine. I trusted my interests, my love of poetry and music all fed into the work and my self-confidence, which led me to where I am now.”

Speaking to aAh! after her speech, Onwuemezi emphasised the value of the event: “I think it’s a really great thing to have… You could find another writing ally here because there seems to be time in both the morning and the afternoon to speak to each other.

“As I was waiting to come in this morning, I heard conversations of people who had just met each other introducing their writing to each other and that’s great. Someone who is a supporter can be someone you’ve just spoken to for an hour or spent the day with, it doesn’t have to be someone who’s read your work for years and years.

“I did have a question after the talk about whether it is necessary to be in London, which is interesting because obviously so much of the industry is concentrated in London, but the world has changed. We have just come through the pandemic, and so, I didn’t meet my editor in person. We edited the whole book via Google Docs, we spoke on Zoom and met for a drink once things had opened up”.

Once the keynote speech and panels finished, the afternoon split attendees into different workshops and allotted time to speak directly with an agent.

Attendee Catriona McClean, who works freelance in publishing, attending the event as an aspiring writer: “I think the event is a really good learning opportunity. I am at that stage of my writing career where I have nearly got a finished manuscript, but I have never sent anything out or pitched anything.”

She added: “Learning all these things about how to pitch and how to write a synopsis has been really valuable to me.”

McClean expressed her views on northern accessibility to the publishing industry: “I think the people involved here have so much passion, it will always be there, and it will keep on growing and I think it is really good that publishers are moving up from London, I just would like to see more so that’s it’s not so tokenistic.

“For example, when I see publishers coming up here, but they are only publishing crime novels written by people in the North I just think that is such a niche and it needs to be more. It’s going in the right direction but there is a lot more work that needs to be done.”

The valuable connections and interactions among writers, agents and publishing experts could be visibly seen throughout the day, with the sharing of advice and opportunity being paramount to the success of this event.

For more information about the Manchester Writing School, subscribe to the Manchester Writing School Mailing list.

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Rebecca Yeadon

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