When I saw the subject line on the email: ‘WINNING ENTRY FOR THE GOAT BURSARY – yes, you!’, I assumed it was just a competition update. But when I opened it and read ‘It is with great pleasure…’ I had to stop for a moment and just breathe. Every writer wants to read those words, and they couldn’t have come at a better time for me.
I’d been promising to return to my novel, Original Sins, which had been sitting in the virtual desk-drawer of my laptop for five years – but life and work and keeping a roof over my head just kept interfering. I’d heard about the Festival of Writing and I longed to attend – but it seemed beyond my grasp. Then the wonderful Jo Cannon and Sue Armstrong came up with the idea of The Goat Bursary. The night I read about it was the night I re-opened that document on my laptop and sat down seriously to reacquaint myself with my novel.
I could go on at length about the advantages of attending FoW, but anyone who reads the programme can see what a brilliant and beautiful thing it is. Add to that the sheer joy of spending a whole weekend thinking about and talking about and learning about writing in the company of other writers, and it’s hard to over-state just how good an experience it is. I’m quite shy and it was a struggle at first just to walk up to people and say ‘Hi!’ But Tor Udall, Nas Rafiq (Bursary runner-up), and the Writers’ Workshop staff prodded, encouraged and at one point took me by the hand and marched me up to people, and I managed to meet some wonderfully encouraging agents and more writers than you could shake a USB-stick at. The best thing about the whole experience was the boost in confidence it provided – not only in terms of belief in my writing, but in gaining the courage to tell people about it. And that, in turn, got me back in the writing chair.
As a direct result of attending FoW, I’ve now signed with an agent (the amazing Broo Doherty at DHH) and yes – I have finished a first draft. I know the hardest work is to come. But I genuinely would not have got this far if I hadn’t been lucky enough to win the Goat Bursary and attend FoW. Jo Cannon attended in 2014, and went on to publish the wonderful The Trouble with Goats and Sheep in 2016. She’s blazing a trail that I hope to follow – and she and FoW have given me the map and compass to do so. (Or the SatNav, if you’re under 40…)
Nikki from Writers’ Workshop calls me her Goatling. It’s a label I’m very proud of and one that, without Jo, Sue and FoW, I could never have won the right to wear.
The Festival of Writing: it does what it says on the tin. Go. You won’t regret it.
Linda Duncan McLaughlin