Northern Lights Writer’s Conference 2015

As the boundaries between different forms of writing continue to blur – theatre, performance, spoken word, poetry increasingly overlap and draw on each other – the novel stands out as a separate form.  True, there are stage adaptations, most notably the Curious Incident and Let the Right One In.  And the Royal Exchange’s 2016 season draws heavily on the novel as a starting point.  So it was with interest that I joined the 2015 Northern Lights Writer’s Conference at Sale Waterside.

First up was a panel discussion with writers Kerry Hudson, Emma Jane Unsworth and James Varney.  There were fascinating comments that supported the idea that writers must be better able to cross genres – ‘a storyteller working across mediums’, ‘need to diversify as a writer’, ‘say yes to everything’.  The final point is interesting; driven presumably by the need to earn money, nevertheless this leads to writers doing diverse projects and developing new skills.

Keynote speaker was Louise Doughty.  To describe your seventh novel as your ‘breakthrough’ is to give hope to everyone in any genre that in the end you can make it.  But Louise is clearly a talented and tenacious writer – ‘I was even more a writer before I became published’ – and her accounts of the ten years prior to success made fascinating listening.  As she put it, you have to hone your talent in those early years.  Equally fascinating was her assertion that you know the novel is coming together when you ‘interpret everything through the prism of the novel’.  So it is when I write plays.

A fascinating afternoon session brought together three people who had worked on the same novel – writer Kerry Hudson, agent Juliet Pickering and editor Susannah Otter.  The process was interesting, but the key message is that you need to find people that understand each other in order to make everything fit together; you need people with similar visions for your work.

A workshop session with Rosie Garland discussed how to read your novel to an audience.  Of course the written word is meant to be read not spoken.  Unlike performance poetry, or plays.  But it was fascinating to consider how you translate the written word into the spoken word, how to keep your audience engaged, and how the text needs to be changed – omitting those parts that slow the pace or detract from the central story.

Manchester has a vibrant literary and spoken word scene, and this is a valuable part of it.


Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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