UL winter school, day 4

Wednesdayish: it’s a bit like the Big Brother house here. I’m not 100% sure what day it is, or how long I’ve been at the winter school. Because all the guests in Hotel Doolin are winter schoolers, it feels cosy and safe, more like someone’s welcoming country house than a business with public spaces. I also feel like I’ve had a thousand conversations, all of them interesting, many of which have been left midway because of some interruption. Writers really do know how to keep you hanging on for the next installment.

How and when to pitch

We started the morning with a topic that had spilled over from yesterday, how and when to pitch work to an agent. I’m still far away from this stage at the moment, but it was interesting to get an insider view. I have attended talks by agents before on what they look for, but the information often differs because every agent has their own submission requirements and preferences. What’s important is to do your research – find out what kind of work agents represent and don’t send your graphic novel about a tractor to an agent who handles writers of bodice rippers, for example.

Agent Jo (l) and editorial director Helen (r) during yesterday’s Q&A on how to pitch a novel

Yesterday we were also encouraged to try our hand at writing a pitch for our WIP, which Jo Unwin and Helen Thomas were willing to give us feedback on. It took me a while to get anywhere with this (4am to be precise) because I’m still thrashing out my novel, but I found I knew more than I realised. Plus it helped me see a few key areas I need to develop in writing the story itself.

Plot and structure

In the afternoon, Sarah and Helen led the workshop I’ve been waiting all week for – plot and structure. Hallelujah! These are my downfalls, and they made many helpful suggestions. Again, everyone works differently so there’s no one formula that you should or indeed have to follow.

We were all getting pretty fatigued from the intensity, and a brisk walk would  have been beneficial, but my goodness  Storm Diana was taking her own fine time to pass over us. Instead, I prepared for my nemesis – the Open Mic. I often talk on this blog about how much the open mic opportunities at Fiction at the Friary in Cork have helped me get over my public speaking phobia, with the kind hand-holding of Danielle McLaughlin and Madeleine D’Arcy. If you have a similar fear and you’re near the Cork area, do consider giving it a go.

Final evening open mic session

God, the talent on show at this evening’s event. There were 21 speakers, reading a mixture of novel extracts, poetry, flash fiction and non-fiction, so many wonderful works in varied ways. I was far down the running order in the second half of the evening, and it became ever more daunting to even consider following such class acts.


There was also a thank you for organiser Sarah Moore Fitzgerald, an incredibly special person, who has put together something extraordinary and unique. I heard the words life-changing and game-changing amongst the attendees more than once tonight.

As for me?

I didn’t pass out.

I didn’t throw up.

I didn’t cry.

Job done.

Read Day 5 here

Photos: Annie Q Syed; Hotel Doolin

3 thoughts on “UL winter school, day 4

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