I promised so many people I would report back on this inaugural festival of Women’s Fiction. My apologies for not doing it sooner, but here we go:
The first Womens Fiction Festival was held over two days in early October. It was a celebration of popular women’s fiction and the line up of authors was very impressive. This was women’s fiction in many of its forms – historical, feel-good and rom-com, to name a few.
The weather decided to do its worst. Rain disrupted trains and flooded roads that weekend, but it didn’t deter a great many women’s fiction fans from making their way to Morningside. They turned up in force to listen, learn and enjoy the varied programme put together by the organisers.
Scotland’s capital city was impressive, too, despite the rain.
My route to the conference venue was through Gardner’s Crescent and then along a stretch of canal.
A lovely walk in daylight, but I admit it lost some of its charm walking back through the rain on Friday night!
The event took place in Morningside United Church. Morningside is a lively area, full of small independent shops and mouth-watering restaurants
We really were in a church! It felt a little odd at first to be sitting in pews, but the atmosphere was warm and friendly.
The Edinburgh Bookshop (which is literally just next door) provided a well stocked book table which attracted a great deal of interest.
On Friday evening the audience gathered, everyone chattering and excited about what was to come.
Jane Anderson was an excellent host. She started the proceedings by welcoming everyone to the first session, then we marked the official start to the festival with a piper.
Well, this is Scotland, what else?
And after the first talk, the organisers held an opening night party for speakers, sponsors and patrons at McLarens on the Corner, just across the road.
History of Women’s Fiction
Authors Sara Sheridan and Kim Sherwood discussed the history of women’s fiction. They introduced to us a number of women writers who are virtually unknown today, but were bestsellers in their time. In fact, their researches have shown that many of these women influenced male authors who went on to be famous.
Writers like Susan Ferrier, who was a friend of Sir Walter Scott.
The discussion left us with many ideas to ponder, including whether Scott was indeed the inventor of the Historical Novel.
Saturday, and despite the rainy weather, there was a large audience for the first session of the morning, Catherine Hokin and Sally Hinchcliffe talking to Jenny Brown about Secrets and Settings in Historical Fiction. Catherine maintains that secrets are the lifeblood of books, but also the biggest cliché. Sally likes to leave a trail of clues, often inserted during the re-drafting.
The second session was a lively and highly entertaining discussion of Feel-Good Fiction, ably conducted by Simon & Schuster editor Sara-Jade Virtue. Taking part were Milly Johnson, Eva Verde and Jackie Fraser.
They all agreed readers need to connect with the characters. Other important ingredients for this type of fiction are hope and a cosy feeling, but also dark moments. These are important for balance. Characters & readers can be side-swiped by sadness. Milly admitted she doesn’t mind making her readers cry in the darker moments, as long as there is a strong happy ending. Each author read a passage from their book before a short Q&A, where Sara-Jade stressed how important it is for writers to understand the publishing process.
They discussed the rise in popularity of witch-related fiction. They also mentioned their sources, the oral traditions of witchcraft and the documented evidence, which often repeats these traditions in the “confessions” extracted from the accused. Both authors are careful to write historical fiction, not horror.
Another lively panel with Fiona Gibson talking to Niamph Hargon, Nina Kay and Lily Lindon about Rom-Com fiction. “A way to de-stress,” “feel-good,” “optimistic,” “enjoyable.” That was how the three authors summed up Rom-Com, but they agreed it could be challenging, creating the perfect couple who do not believe they are right for one another.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST
Jenny Colgan and Mike Gayle in Conversation was the final session of the event. Kristin Pedroja hosted these two best-selling novelists, who have been good friends for many years and there was no shortage of conversation! After a short reading from both of them, the topics ranged from storytelling (“pile misery on your character”), to why they write romance (“people find solace in these books”).
In the Q&A that followed, Jenny C was asked for one piece of advice for anyone starting to write. Her answer? Find a gang who are in it together.
ALSO ON THE MENU…
There was time for questions after most of the discussions and the authors were available for a book signing at the end each session. The organisers also turned the spotlight on new authors. Flora Johnston, Emma Steele, Sam Canning, Zoe Richards and Claire Daverley read from their debut novels before the Saturday sessions. There were also several workshops taking place in the smaller rooms at the back of the church.
There was so much more going on than I have been able to record here. The conversations were wide-ranging and between each session there was time for the audience to get to know one another, exchange views or browse the bookstall. The cost of attending was very reasonable and each of the sessions was interesting and thought-provoking. For patrons and speakers, there was a bar and “green room” in MacLarens (which was also a great venue for dinner or lunch!)
It was strange to go to an event where there were so few familiar faces, but this was primarily aimed at readers, although a show of hands on the Saturday revealed that a large number of the audience were in fact writers, and the questions to the panellists tended mainly towards writing and publishing matters.
Everyone I met was enjoying themselves, and impressed by the speakers. I am sure I am not alone in suddenly finding my TBR pile has grown considerably larger!
Occasionally the sound was not quite right, a mixture of church acoustics and microphone glitches. But this was only a minor problem and didn’t distract me too much from what was going on. Possibly because of lack of space or perhaps to keep costs down, there were no refreshments, but there was a coffee shop nearby, and plenty of places in Morningside serving lunch.
I found it slightly disconcerting to have people wandering through to the workshops while we were listening to the speakers. However, the seating was comfortable and the sightlines good.
To sum up, I found this festival stylish, stimulating and decidedly un-stuffy! Well done to the organising team, this was a glorious celebration of women’s fiction and I shall definitely come again (PS the next is set for 27th/28th September 2024).
PS from Joanna:
Sarah is away at the moment and forgot to mention that her latest book will be published on 23rd November and is on pre-order right now. Either scan the QR link in the header to this blog or use the shortlink to get to Snowbound with the Brooding Lord. Enjoy.