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Manawatu Writers’ Festival 2018 (Sept 7 – 11)

We welcome our guest blogger Rita Stirling-Vincent…

As a newbie to the “I’m gonna be a writer” gang, I really didn’t know what to expect from the festival. It’s the first I’ve attended. I was prepared to sit in dark, draughty town halls, sifting through the pearls of wisdom scattered by successful writers, published writers, real writers. Now I would get guidance on how to begin this crazy career. There would be illumination of the way forward.


Over the course of a weekend, I discovered that there is no right way to write. You can be a planner a` la Michael Hauge, with your 6-act story structure and a percentage allocation of words to each section. Or you can be a “pantser” – write by the seat of your pants, letting the story and characters take over. It seems both ends of the spectrum and all points between are equally valid. Who knew?

Turns out there were no drear town halls either. The three sessions that I attended were in well appointed, light and comfortable spaces in the pretty town of Feilding.

The first was in the function room of the Amayjen Restaurant with Stephanie Johnson. As we arrived, we were greeted with a warm welcome and an infectious laugh. The workshop was Writing Erotica with Elegance. Seemed a good idea in the comfort of my own home, but the reality of facing a bunch of strangers all there for the same purpose initially felt awkward. A round-the-room introduction of name and home town settled us down until an elderly, white-haired gent joined the group of all women. We applauded his bravery. As this session was a workshop, Stephanie set us a couple of writing exercises and I have to thank the Manawatu Writers Festival team for the provision of notebooks – for free. In fact, the whole festival was free.

My second session was in the Feilding Little Theatre with Lyn McConchie and was billed as NZ Fantasy/Sci-fi. It turns out that Lyn is a pantser. To paraphrase, she nudges her sub conscious for a book then she takes dictation. She is able to produce 3 or 4 books each year and currently has 44 books published. She also ranges across genres and then, using a large network of writers around the world, will write a book and seek a suitable publisher. This was a fascinating talk, from a prolific writer who seems inexhaustible.

My third session was Sunday morning in a quiet nook of the Feilding Library with Romance Writer Bronwyn Evans. Bronwyn cheerfully admitted to being a planner and she had a wealth of information to impart covering such things as the various genres of romance writing, the various tropes that could be used in each of those genres but always concentrating on the Happily Ever After or Happy For Now resolution as this is what defines a romance.

The statistics on who reads romance and how much they consume are staggering. Yes, it is possible to earn 6-figure incomes, but it also takes hard work as well. There is an expectation of a writer who becomes successful to produce a new book every 3 or 4 months. Whew! No pressure.

Bronwyn also covered the difference between publishing in print with a publishing house, self-publishing and e-books. It was a very informative session and I came away with pages of scribbled notes.

Bronwyn’s advice is to write what you love to read and one of her slides was a Venn diagram of

  • What you love to read
  • What readers love to read
  • What’s easiest for you to write

The sweet spot is where those circles intersect.

Full kudos to the Festival organisers, pulling together 46 events over 4 days all of which (apart from the opening session) were free. This meant there were double-ups so hard choices had to be made.

My take-away from this weekend is to read, read, read and to write, write, write. I also loved their appropriate use of the much-maligned apostrophe. Sigh.

Rita Stirling-Vincent was a member of the Upper Hutt writing group known as The Writer’s Plot and has a short story in the last anthology C’est la Vie

The next Manawatu Writers Festival will be held in 2020.

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