Winchester Writers’ Festival

The Guest List

Caitlin O’Sullivan

The Winchester Writers’ Festival is an event to help aspiring authors develop their talents, and for wise writers to share their knowledge in panels, lectures, and one to one sessions. My time there, however, was not spent in the talks but rather at the student accommodation just outside the fallout radius, shepherding the festival goers to their bedrooms. In an offensive yellow t-shirt, and nails to match, I made my own sun in the unpleasant drizzle of the following days.

One woman I remember in particular; a travel writer with a successful past, hobbled along slowly with her walking stick and requested an en-suite room on arrival. I trekked to the top floor, and she handled her smart phone confidently, excited to skype her son who had moved to Bulgaria with his family. I spoke to her more over the course of the weekend and found out she was seeking advice for two books. She’d lived everywhere, been everywhere, and was now writing a memoir.

Another woman I met was an incredible fashion icon. She must have been nearing 80, but told me how she refused to use a cane, instead relying on handsome young men to help her around. She wore fancy knee-length dresses, a heap of makeup, and envy-inducing heels. I’m not kidding, this woman had the most amazing shoes in the world, and changed them twice a day. My favourites were the neon pink and orange suede court shoes with pointed toes, and the outrageously high, purple strappy heels. I told her she’d come to the right place when she said she was writing a book about Jane Austen. Apparently she tried to visit the writer’s house but couldn’t manage the cobbles, and I could tell she’d rather break her ankle than wear more sensible footwear.

Many of the guests were pretty important, publishing representatives with cases of books, agents and editors, famous writers, and somehow the only mistakes happened to these people. Of course they weren’t major mistakes, but when you’ve got 50 documents to read over before you can sleep, having travelled all day, and your key isn’t in the hands of the people you were told it would be, you’re bound to get pissed off.

I was working with another volunteer, who despite insisting he knew the way to the rooms spent most of his time leading guests on a completely silent scavenger hunt across West Downs. I suggested that next time he take a map, the map on which I had circled the buildings we’d be guiding them to, the map I had talked him through only five minutes before. He said he would, but did not.

Repeat.

I also told him that if we get anyone in guest accommodation, as opposed to West Downs, he should wait for me to return since the room is tricky to find. Of course he tried anyway, and after failing to find the room returned to me with the guest. I immediately took her there. Obviously this was my fault, since the volunteer was clearly too focussed on trying to seduce me; awkwardly leaning on pillars and trying not to fall over.

These people were here for a good time, to learn and improve and enjoy themselves, or to teach others. For them this was a very important weekend, perhaps making life-changing connections, meeting the novelist that would make their career, meeting an editor, or a new boyfriend. I wondered if the other volunteer realised that we were the first faces these people saw, that they would read our interactions as good or bad omens, that a bad first impression could put them in a bad mood and ruin a one-to-one. Then I wondered if I was taking this too seriously. But no, being friendly is never too much trouble, and the volunteer had probably never spent this much time alone with a woman anyway so of course he was distracted.

Besides the lighter photo, I wasn’t able to take any pictures, it was a job after all (and since Winchester uni doesn’t sell logo lighters, I made my own). Instead, I leave you with a joke that the bus driver, Jamie, told me about my flip flops: “Do you know who invented those shoes you’re wearing? I’ll give you a hint, he lived in France. Phillipe Floppe.”

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