Random Musings: Ending my literary event hiatus

I last attended a literary event in April last year. Prior to that, for several years, I had been averaging around one event a month. I kept an eye on the author talks happening in Bath and Bristol bookshops. I would treat myself to the occasional trip to London. I enjoyed immersing myself in the rarefied literary world – a mostly invisible audience member who made sure never to put their hand up during the final Q&A to make ‘more of a comment than a question’. My fear of attracting the contempt of participants resulted in me keeping thoughts to myself until my write-up.

I became aware of this contempt from following authors on Twitter and reading their blogs. They would post mostly humorous but still biting opinions on aspects of their publicity tours – from the unflattering high stools they were required to perch upon to the boringly repetitive questions they would be asked: where do you get your ideas from? are your characters based on real people? what is your writing process?

Lengthy journeys to previously unknown locations, the loneliness of a strange town, the need to perform – all would be recounted as an adventure yet also a trial. While empathising I began to wonder if authors wanted to take part at all.

And yet, authors write that going to events is a great way of supporting them as they don’t wish to read to empty rooms.

Perhaps there should be audience guidelines as we don’t always know what behaviour is acceptable. Regulars will audibly sigh when a question becomes a monologue. There will be people attending who are genuinely interested in how a writer creates their work, who don’t yet understand there is no formula, and that finding the right words then putting them in the right order can be tantamount to magic. Aspiring authors are eager to feed off success, to learn how this writer got published that they may do the same. I have observed so many audience members who could be fans but obviously covet the literary achievement.

Audience members will not always know what questions have likely been asked before, sometimes ad nauseam.

There are other aspects of events that have unspoken rules. I still cringe when I think of the author I asked to sign my copy of his book before the event, who hadn’t been provided with a green room to shelter in. I regret not taking the opportunity to chat to an author I admire who remained sitting at his little table after the long signing queue had been dealt with. I had forgotten to bring my copy of his title and didn’t feel I could approach him without being able to prove I had made the purchase. Maybe he was happier to be left in peace.

I still don’t know if asking an author to sign a proof copy is frowned upon.

Benjamin Myers recently wrote a fine article on the pressures, sometimes self inflicted, that authors suffer and the difficulty of saying no to promotional work (you may read it here). He is not alone. The last couple of times I made plans to see Joanna Cannon in Bath she couldn’t make it due to health issues. Authors cannot always cope with the demands made of them to promote their work.

I have been lucky enough to meet Ben at a couple of events and he comes across as friendly and genuine – a joy to chat to. Other authors are more obviously performing. Some exude warmth, others remain distant. They are individuals and, in the context of our encounters, are working.

Many writers talk of being introverts. Prolific readers, those of us with an interest in literary events, are often introverts too. Acceptable social etiquette is not always obvious and we will dwell on perceived indiscretions.

There is another side to this coin. Bookshops often rely on the revenue from author events to keep their business going. It is for this reason that I am planning to end my hiatus. I want to support the authors and their publishers. I also want to keep the oasis that a bookshop represents in existence on the high street.

To start with though I am attending a publisher’s roadshow where they introduce the media and booksellers to authors with new work to promote. Events such as these come with few expectations other than to engage and then consider supporting the books. I am looking forward to an enjoyable evening amongst those who share my passion for a variety of literature.

I prefer small, more intimate events to large capacity gatherings. I wonder which of these authors favour – as they hope to sell their books I am guessing the latter.

And here I also encounter a dilemma. One of my prerequisites to attending a literary event is that I have read the author’s work that I may better understand where they are coming from. I write up my impressions within a few days and can add more depth if I am familiar with the book being promoted. I will often still buy a copy on the night, but this is not always a given. I ponder if this makes me welcome at all.

On being a judge for Not The Booker Prize 2017

Not The Booker 2017.

I nominated, voted, tweeted regularly to encourage other readers to participate. When the shortlist was announced I read each book carefully, posted my reviews, commented BTL as Sam Jordison’s thoughts were published on the Guardian news site. And then, after all titles had been assessed, dissected without anaesthetic, and one had even withdrawn, I received an email inviting me to be a judge. I agreed. How could I turn such an opportunity down? I was delighted, excited, and somewhat daunted that I was to appear live on national media.

The judges meeting was to take place via a Google Hangout – I had no idea what this involved. I do not use Skype, rarely even telephone, preferring written to spoken word. I live in a rural location as far from the box of tricks that supplies our village internet as it is possible to be. The chance of user error, or an unavoidable technical hitch, was high.

Unusually for me I didn’t think too much about any of this until the morning it was all to happen, 4am in the morning to be precise – ah the joys of an anxious mind.

Naturally I got my equipment and location set up hours in advance of need. I tried to keep busy until the appointed hour that I would not get in a tiz. It transpired that everyone else encountered last minute technical issues, everyone except me.

With laptop and mobile phone at the ready, crib notes prepared and taped at eye level, I donned my son’s gaming headset which he had kindly set up for my machine. And then I awaited my promised hangout invitation. With just a couple of clicks I was connected to London, live and available for public viewing.

This is how the judges meeting went.

Many congratulations to Winnie M. Li for winning the public vote and that of judge Hannah, thereby securing the prize for Dark Chapter. Both Yvain and I chose Man With A Seagull On His Head by Harriet Paige. I also commended Not Thomas by Sara Gethin, and Yvain talked highly of The Threat Level Remains Severe by Rowena MacDonald. All of us agreed it has been a strong year, better than the previous, and that reading the shortlist has been a pleasure.

Would I agree to judge a literary prize again? Despite my nervousness at appearing in public like this, yes please.

 

Gig Review: Headline’s 2017 Blogger Night

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(photo credit: Georgina Moore, taken from Twitter)

Yesterday I travelled up to London, always a major undertaking for me, to attend a gathering of authors, publicists, bloggers and other book people, organised and hosted by Headline Publishing. It was held on the top floor of their riverside headquarters, Carmelite House, and was my second visit to the building. On this occasion the bitterly cold weather kept everyone inside enjoying the warmth and ambience rather than braving the views from the rooftop terrace.

I had taken my daughter, Robyn (@LeFailFish), as social events can make me anxious and I valued her support. Having collected our name stickers from Jenny (@jrharlow) in the foyer we made our way up to the sixth floor.

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The always lovely Georgina Moore (@PublicityBooks) ensured throughout the evening that everyone felt welcome and included. She introduced us to several of the authors whose books we were able to take away.

I chatted to Alison Weir (@AlisonWeirBooks) about her fascination with the Tudors and the medieval period and now look forward to reading my proof of her latest installment in the Six Tudor Queens series, Anne Boleyn, due out in May. New insights and secrets are promised although Alison ensured that only teasers, not spoilers, were shared last night.

I had a lovely conversation with Gemma Todd (@GemTodd) before realising that this personable librarian is also the author of Defender, which I had spotted early on the book table and eagerly popped into my bag for future reading. This was a popular choice for many attendees.

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Felicia Yap (@FeliciaMYap) and I discussed our love of Belfast where I was raised and now enjoy returning to as a tourist. Visit Belfast (@VisitBelfast) should totally get Felicia to write a piece for them as her enthusism for the city was infectious. Felicia’s debut, Yesterday, is due out in August and I will be hoping for a proof when available.

Copies of Pendulum were also tempting readers on the book table and I had been advising everyone to pick up this taut thriller, a proof of which I read last summer. I was therefore delighted to meet the author, Adam Hamdy (@adamhamdy) and tell him how much I enjoyed his work. He was chatting to a group of bloggers about setting and how he visits each place featured in his story rather than relying on long distance research.

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Meeting other bloggers is always fascinating as we all write for the love of books but often have different perspectives on what we do and how we are recieved. I was particularly pleased to meet Linda (@Lindahill50Hill), Tina (@TripFiction) and John (@Thelastword1962) all of whose reviews are worth checking out.

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Adam, John, Linda and Tina (photo credit: Georgina Moore, taken from Twitter)

There were many other authors, bloggers, publicists, librarians and book sellers enjoying the company and the freely flowing wine. I could have stayed on to pick up writing tips and share book recommendations but, as ever with my trips to the capital, I had a train to catch if I was to make it home. The roads around our village are very dark at midnight – perhaps I read too many thrillers…

Thank you to the team at Headline for inviting me and for organising such a friendly, welcoming event. Also for my goody bag and the opportunity to add even more titles to my tottering TBR pile. Book people are the best.

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Note: hen is my own. In discussing recognition from Twitter pictures I had told John I would bring it to the evening. Next time he wants a live one.