Books in the Castle – Newark Book Festival

On Saturday night I jumped over a MASSIVE hurdle, which will hopefully open up more opportunities in the future.

I was part of an actual session at an actual real life book festival. Books in the Castle was the first ever book festival hosted in Newark (in the castle grounds not surprisingly) and for once the weather was on side.

Image Credit > empedia

The line up included speakers such as the blooming AMAZING Margaret Dickinson (who I’ll talk about more later) and Irma Kurtz and Peter Robinson and Stephen Booth. Not too shabby right? As you can imagine, I was more than a little overwhelmed when after a few emails, it was decided I was to be part of a session. AN ACTUAL SESSION. Not just watching people, BEING WATCHED.

For a month I put it to the back of my mind, editing Mothers Ruined and building up to the end of term. There was also THE 7th birthday of the year, then all of a sudden I looked in my diary and it was ‘this weekend’.

I’m ashamed to say, I nearly chickened out. After all, I had a sleepover the night before which included three extra very gorgeous (but very loud) seven-year-old boys, I was going to be pooped. But Mr. Aimee wouldn’t let me, so I made my lovely friend come with me, and we got on the train with a gin in a tin, a bag of books to sign, and the knowledge that if I totally bombed we were going to Pizza Express straight after.



So there I was, an hour before my session was due to start, in The Secret Garden Café (which in itself is bloody amazing), bricking it. I hadn’t really known what to expect, it was suggested that writing groups coming along to hear hints and tips from five of us, but when I saw this sign I began to hyperventilate.

One of those is me.

HE HADN’T TOLD ME MARGARET AND JUDITH WERE GOING TO BE IN THE SESSION. OH-EM-GEE. Having read quite a few of Margaret’s books, and heard a lot about Judith’s (it’s on the list Judith, I promise, on the growing list) I didn’t really think it was fair on the poor unsuspecting sods who were coming to see them, to have to sit and speak to me for advice.

But then something happened. Margaret walked past my table, and I had a brave moment and spoke to her. She spoke back.

From then on, I knew that whatever happened, it would be ok; I’d pulled off the plaster, and it hadn’t hurt that much. I’d spoken to somebody I wanted to be when I grew up, and she hadn’t laughed in my face, in fact, she’d offered me actual real life advice.

The other authors turned up, and whilst the turn out from the general public wasn’t as much as we would have liked (next year if I’m invited, I expect you all to turn up and I will repay you in gin – or a spirit of your choice) I felt that the event couldn’t have gone better.

We didn’t really speed date, we sat and talked. I sat between Judith Alnatt and S.D Sykes – both amazing authors. I sat opposite Anne Goodwin, and diagonal to Tracey Scott-Townsend. Then, a little bit later Nick Quantrill came for a chat. We talked. A lot. After all, the session was 5.30-7pm. We talked a lot, and I learnt a lot.

The most important thing I learnt was that the writing community is really quite lovely, and very supportive. I sort of knew this from online, I feel very privileged to have so many authors and writers on my twitter feed who have happily offered me advice, I’m over the moon to be part of so many writers groups, for my publishers to also be writers who support me, and to be friends with talented writers who will be honest. But I didn’t think meeting real life OMG writers, they’d be interested in little old me. But actually I could not be all wrong.

Me and Margaret Dickinson

The thing I learnt was that we’re all going through the same thing. Yes our paths, and experiences are different, but where one of us benefits from one way, they may miss out in another.

Tips and general comments that will stick with me always include:

  • Whatever stage you’re at, you still get nervous when you send your book to your editor
  • Once it’s done it’s done – it’s no longer your heart and soul – it’s a product, don’t be afraid to tell people about it.
  • I still struggle to believe it’s happening to me.
  • The men and women divide is still there, and it’s not going away any time soon.
  • A weekly word-count goal is probably less stressful than a daily. You may only write 300 words in one day, but it’s ok the next will probably be 3000.
  • Support each other.
  • Keep. Going.
  • If you want it badly enough, you’ll persevere.
  • Use your life experiences
  • Agents and Editors know the industry. Make sure you trust yours.
  • Self-promotion sucks, but it needs to be done – whatever level you’re at.
  • Get yourself on the talks circuit. WI, I’m coming to get you.

There’s still a massive gap in self promotion, and what a lot of people don’t realise is the minute you get an agent or a publishing deal, you don’t automatically get everything taken over. These days, there are so many different levels and areas that actually with the exception of the actual book production and edits, you’re pretty much left to your own devices. Marketing spend comes with sales, and author photos and websites? A lot of the time, that’s up to you.

I did know this, but it was so interesting to hear others talk about it, and I felt very lucky to be geek enough to know how to do a few bits. I spent a lot of time talking to others about self promotion and how different social channels can impact sales. My inner geek was LOVING it.

So what now? Now I’m going to make it through the holidays, I’m going to survive Larry’s first week of school (DO NOT TALK TO ME ABOUT THIS) and then I’m going to get my arse in gear, because Dottie is in for a rather rocky year, and I want the first draft done by Christmas.

I’m also keen on pushing creativity and literature in Lincolnshire and the surrounding areas. There are so many talented people here and we don’t shout about it enough, we’re not just a town of farmers these days, and it’s about time we started to shine.

Pass the gin readers – I’m GOING IN.


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