Memo to self: if ever again going to the Winchester Writers' Conference, avoid staying in the halls of residence. How could I have forgetten the stained beige carpets, scratched tan veneer, mattress like knotted coat-hangers, tiny shared bathrooms with illustrated instructions on disposal of used condoms and sanitory towels blutacked to the door - and this year my basin is clogged with matted hair and what looks like cooked spaghetti, presumably predigested...
And yet, soothed by the benign presence of organiser Barbara Large and supported by her amazing energy, the conference always works a certain magic. Four hundred delegates manage to find their way to their personal choices among the 60 talks and 21 workshops on offer, to pitch their work to their targeted agents and editors, to swap website and facebook details, and to have a stonkingly good time. From directors like Patrick Sandford of Southampton's Nuffield Theatre to student entrepreneurs like Jeffrey Sallkild, everyone shares a passion for words. By Sunday noon there's a distinctly after-the-party atmosphere, empty glasses covering the promotions table and festive balloons faltering in doorways, and a benign feeling of let's-do-it-all-again-next-year prevailing. Among many stimulating and talented people I met I'm delighted to include agent Kate Nash, authors Sophie King and Jane Wenham-Jones - and my great workshop group who decisively confirmed that 'Small is Smart'.
Saturday's full-on day began with 'an electric mix': Geoff Holt whose hugely-praised book Walking on Water tells the story of his solo round-Britain voyage, and publisher Barry Cunningham who will forever, despite the success of Chicken House, be introduced as "the man who discovered JK Rowling." Both men spoke of the importance of valour, and humour, in writing as in life. Setbacks and rejections are 'part of the process'. Inspiring words, and a great insight from Barry on the special skill required in publisher's marketing departments: it's fear of the unknown.
Meanwhile Frome is limbering up for festival, and for the first time in eleven years I'm not on the organising team so I'm really looking forward to participating as a punter. There's a terrific programme of music as well as all the Words events - and Nevertheless Productions has teamed up with Bristol's Stepping Out Theatre to bring Lullabies of Broadmoor Upstairs at the Cornerhouse (or the Lamb to those who keep forgetting about the name-change) for a pre-Edinburgh premiere showing.
It's a revival of a double bill The Independent acclaimed as "powerfully performed... a piquant mix of witty Gothic ghoulishness and serious questioning.. absorbing and atmospheric... plays that remind you why intimate fringe venues can touch parts other theatres can’t. Steve Hennessy’s entertaining script revels in macabre surrealism tempered by shrewd psychology and historical research”
All this for just a fiver, starting at 8pm so plenty of time for a drink too. Booking is through the Cheese&Grain (01373 455420, email@example.com) and highly recommended - Rosie and I are delighted to see the first night's nearly sold out already!