At the last Geneva Writers Conference we very nearly got snowed in, but this year we held it a month later and our venue (Webster University in Bellevue) was bathed in glorious sunshine for the duration of the conference 18-20 March.
The conference directors Katie Hayoz and Daniela Norris had put their own writing ambitions on hold for the past few months and single-mindedly focused on getting this event just perfect. And they succeeded brilliantly judging by the many happy faces we saw (thanks also to the selfless help of all the GWG committee helpers and volunteers).
We had a great mix of instructors and panelists to share their insights, encouragement, inspiration and humour with all of us. We had time to mingle and get to know each other on a personal level, catch up with friends who are now scattered all over the world, get ideas for new ways to approach writing or new topics. The bookshop fed our buying addiction, as well as providing a convivial spot where we could get to know our fellow authors. [Thank you to Kathy, Anne-Willem, Pierre-Yves for fascinating conversations and terrific organizational skills, and to Caroline and Kui for helping out at peak periods!] The instructors’ books were very well received and we apologise to all the participants who didn’t manage to buy a copy, as they sold out rather quickly!
There was plenty of food and drink, as well as coffee, to revive our bodies after using our minds all day – thank you Team Santiago for your patience and care! And fascinating conversations at the dinner table on subjects as far-ranging as racing cars at Le Mans (thank you, fabulous Patricia Beckham), TV crime drama (Shaun McCarthy) and autistic heroes in books (Liz Jensen).
As for the workshops themselves, well, what can we say? ‘Awesome’ is an overused word, but let’s not aim for poetic language here!
Participants in Ann Hood’s session on ‘Every Story Is Two Stories’ came out speechless with delight, but hopefully it won’t be long before they regain their power of speech and writing. Liz Jensen showed us the many dirty little tricks of subjugating your readers, keeping them up all night to ‘read just one more page’. Tessa Hadley demonstrated how important it was to stay close to reality and seek to describe it afresh each time, instead of falling back on lazy old expressions and phrases. Here she is in full flow, describing a sprig she brought over from England.
Frederick Reiken explored the paradox why narratives transcribed from actual events often come out flat and ‘untrue’, while Andrea Stuart showed how much even memoir and travel writing rely on story rather than just facts. Her workshop also led to an outbreak of sugar craving (i.e. everyone rushed to buy her book ‘Sugar in the Blood’). Wallis Wilde-Menozzi ran both travel writing and poetry workshops, showing the broad range of her talents, exploring inner and outer worlds through words. Carmen Bugan brought tears to the participants’ eyes not through her cruelty, but by discussing the craft of writing as a process of healing and of preserving key memories in our lives. Shaun McCarthy proved himself a consummate professional wrangling participants of all ages (including teenagers) and getting them to think creatively about performance and how to meet (or challenge) audience expectations. Meanwhile, our very own Susan Tiberghien talked about the responsibility of writers to bear witness to all that is going on around them, as well as a more personal journey of writing towards wholeness.
The panelists were a tremendously talented and articulate bunch as well. They shared (with great generosity and endless patience) their best insights, tips and tricks into the art of writing, publishing and marketing your book. Thank you to Jane Friedman, Jill Marsh, Jason Donald, Richard Harvell, Peter Blackstock, Maria Barry, Hellie Ogden and Kerry D’Agostino. One of my friends enjoyed the panel sessions so much and found them so informative, as well as entertaining, that she feared they might think she was a stalker, because she showed up to all of them!
I cannot even begin to express how much these conferences mean to me. I attended my first GWG Conference back in 2012 and it got me writing poetry again (after a twenty year gap) as well as blogging and reviewing. It really opened up my writing life. The 2014 conference introduced me to new friends and new ideas, really motivating me to take writing seriously. But I won’t allow 2016 to be my last conference, even if I am moving away from Geneva in summer. I’ll be back, as someone famously said, so here’s to waiting impatiently for the 2018 event!