It’s been a spectacular team effort, but we made it! So just as 2017 is closing, it seemed about time to write up my bit about Scotswrite 2017.
The conference was held in September this year and organised by the committee of the Society of Authors in Scotland. It took us a good eighteen months (plus) to organise, and none of it would have happened without the energy and creative input of Linda Strachan and the great team of SoAiS volunteers who make up the Committee – more about us below.
The aims of our weekend conference were to empower writers by enabling them to learn from experts and to expand their knowledge of the craft and the business of writing, and to encourage them to network and share ideas. A key feature of the conference was diversification for writers, enabling them to confront the challenges of finding new creative and financial streams.
Ikigai – which is similar to the concept of wellbeing – represents a number of intersecting themes that worked extremely well as a focus for the entire conference. The themes represent passion, profession, vocation and mission, which link with the four phrases: ‘what you’re good at’, ‘what you love’, ‘what you can be paid for’, and ‘what the world needs’. Our conference programme strands focused on these four different areas, and also included physical and mental wellbeing specifically for writers. We found that this worked very well and the Ikigai themes were appreciated in delegate feedback.
We fulfilled the aim to offer specialist knowledge to our delegates by focusing on a number of key areas: legal rights (in this we were well supported by the legal team from Gillespie MacAndrew), technology (the writing software, Scrivener), the business of writing itself, and a focus on specialist writing skills, like translation (thanks to Daniel Hahn and Ruth Martin for their session – here at the signing panel with Denise Mina!).
In the run up to the conference we had concerns regarding the creative heterogeneity of our delegates (different writing backgrounds and genres, different ages and expectations) but we found that by focusing on diversification in writing, and by using the interlinking Ikigai themes, we were able to turn this into a major strength which was noted by delegates in their feedback.
We offered fifteen breakouts (full programme here) on a wide variety of topics and genres, and feedback from delegates commented on the success of this strategy, offering the possibility to move beyond habitual areas of interest and explore new genres (including radio, TV, and writing for children and young adults). We were also able to include all publishing options, from traditional, small and independent publishers, as well as self-publishing (Joanna Penn’s masterclass and keynote talk on self-publishing were highlights for many delegates). We were all inspired by Joanne Harris‘ opening talk, and by Jane Johnson‘s insights into her own professional and creative story.
We fulfilled the conference aim to encourage networking and the sharing of ideas in a number of ways. The feedback from delegates confirmed that the welcoming and inclusive atmosphere provided excellent opportunities for networking. Our programme was intentionally designed to allow space for networking, and our social events were also appreciated in this respect (not least, the ceilidh!). We were also keen to move beyond the physical constraints of the conference by encouraging delegates to use social media. One feature that worked well in this respect was to offer a prize for the best Tweet. The twitter feed for the conference confirmed the overall impression that the conference had been – to quote Kevin MacNeil – “engaging, illuminating, provocative and friendly. Bravo!”.
Of course funding for this was crucial and Scotswrite 2017 was generously supported by Creative Scotland, with National Lottery funding. Other companies hosted, funding in kind, sponsored sessions, and provided support in many ways.
At a personal level, I and, I’m pretty sure, all the Scotswrite 2017 committee faced the (not unexpected) challenges of taking large chunks of time out of our normal working/writing lives to dedicate to the organisation. We were undoubtedly helped enormously by having a professional coordinator, Jenny Kumar, to guide us, and also in choosing a hotel – The Westerwood, Cumbernauld – whose efficient staff went a long way to making the weekend run without a hitch (barring a couple of missing bathrobes, and the odd hairdryer or two!). And did I mention the excellent food – and the cake?
For the Society of Authors in Scotland, the conference has given both members and non-members a fantastic occasion to network and benefit from the strengths of membership/friendship, as well as the professional experience of Society of Authors itself. The SoA acts as a trade union for writers of all kinds and its leverage can prove invaluable to writers whose interests are all too often dwarfed by those of publishing companies. Delegates were able to learn more about the benefits of membership of the Society and were introduced to the different membership options now available, including student membership.
For those not attending the conference a number of blogs, articles and podcasts are now available, all of which have disseminated the information and discussions held during the conference to the wider community of writers, aspiring writers and readers in Scotland. To mention a few of the many blogs… Kim Sanderson, Claire Wingfield, Sasha Greene, Philip Paris…. and the extensive Twitter feed using the #Scotswrite2017
From another perspective, the London office of Society of Authors was made aware of the strengths of the committee running its Scottish regional group: the Society of Authors in Scotland. We hope that the conference has deepened the head office’s understanding of what its Scottish members expect and how best to meet their needs.
A question frequently included in feedback from delegates was ‘when’s the next one?’ For the volunteers on the committee, the organisation of the 2017 conference was a steep but valuable learning curve. (Ok, you can re-read that as: “extremely hard work, which we won’t undertake again in a hurry, and we wouldn’t have managed anyway without Jenny Kumar!) But we’ve taken some time since the end of the conference, in September, to ensure that the “learning outcomes” (ah, the pleasures of educational jargon…) have been documented and basically a “conference-in-a-box kit” (add a committee… some gin, whisky, and hey presto!) has been filed away which we hope will prove useful in the future.
The overall response from delegates to Scotswrite 2017 showed without a doubt that the conference responded to a number of key needs in the writing community in Scotland. It may not happen for two or more years, but in due course a new voluntary committee will be able to build on the Scotswrite 2017 conference. They’ll bring their own fresh ideas to meet new expectations from writers and to respond to the relevant challenges of the moment.