One of the worst things about the Winchester Writers Conference is that it clashes with Glastonbury festival, always a big date on the calendar for anyone living in Frome - most of the town decamps to the fields of Worthy farm in some working capacity - and the prospect of five hours in a windowless room giving one-to-ones didn't have the allure of sunshine, Faithless, and Florence & the Machine. And then when I arrived at the university, after two diversions and town centre gridlock, I decided another worst thing was my room, at the far end of the top floor of an antiquated residency with that pallid aroma of scented puke that lingers in student accommodation. All grumpiness evaporated with my first workshop: a sparky, utterly delightful, group, and by Saturday morning as the jazz band played us into the Stripe for Terry Pratchett's plenary speech, I knew this would be a good conference. Barbara Large, who conceived and mothers this vast 'family of writers', is inspirational and held in deep affection by all the delegates. Organisation is sometimes erratic but always refreshingly egalitarian - no hierarchy or status, just writers sharing their enthusiasm and experiences. And it was great meeting up with old friends (like Chris Coleman, above) and making new ones.
"I write serendipitously - I've never yet plotted a book" Terry Pratchett confided. He recommends the 'Valley of Clouds' theory: "you can't see the way ahead so you have to find out by making the journey." His top tip was reading 'till you overflow': Books like The History of False Teeth and Anecdotes of the Great Financiers can be a treasury of ideas and fascinating social insights, apparently. Sir T's rambling speech was warm, funny and totally charming, and received the longest and loudest applause I've ever heard at this or any other conference.