A different kind of conference
I was invited to St Hilda's by Kate Charles. We were in a bar and it seemed a good idea. 'The theme's "All in the family". We thought it would suit you,' she said.
I didn't realise then that work was involved. This wasn't the sort of conference where you turn up, sit on a panel and plug your own books. The speakers give a paper relating to the theme, there is thoughtful and intelligent discussion. It is, after all, set in an Oxford college.
I was on last. The worst possible slot just after Sunday lunch. So all weekend I had time to worry and get nervous. And yet I still had a wonderful time. Despite the rain Oxford is a lovely city and St Hilda's sits right on the river - the Sunday morning activity is a strange punting challenge organised by Gillian Linscott.
I tried to decide why I found the conference so relaxing. It should have been intimidating. I dropped out of university after the first year and the place was full of seriously bright people. The smooth organisation helped. Coffee was always ready when it was supposed to be, there were friendly undergraduates to show us to our rooms. All this was down, I think, to the magnificent Eileen. But it was more than that. It's a small and very friendly conference. People go out of their way to be kind to newcomers.
I was seduced by it and I'll definitely go back.
We had another fantastic festival this year. More people, great panels and an extra day - Creative Thursday when 70 aspiring writers came together for workshops and advice from publishers, authors and agents. Having tutors like Val McDermid and Mark Billingham to start you off must have been pretty inspirational. Certainly my group turned in some impressive pieces of writing.
Maybe the thing most people will remember about Harrogate 2006 was the heat. It meant that we could spill out from the bar into the garden, but some of the sessions were sweltering.
As reader in residence I'd been focusing this year on the small independent presses. We supported Comma's launch of the CWA anthology of short stories and the Saturday lunchtime session gave readers from all over Yorkshire the chance to meet editors, publishers and authors who work with the indies. A group of visually impaired readers from Dewsbury were delighted when, after the readers' session, they were drinking tea in the bar and George Pelecanos joined them for a chat.
Next year's panels are already planned. If you want to join us in 2007 make sure you book early.