Hawkesbury Literature Festival Two!

The First Venue: The Fox Inn

This year’s Hawkesbury Literature Festival (the second, and expanded, version) has spawned a whole host of author blogs: so where to begin? As we drove West to the Cotswold village of Hawkesbury Upton, rain lashed down from a uniformly grey-ed over sky. It didn’t look promising. It continued raining steadily as some us gathered at the Methodist Hall to help lay out the pop-up cafe and display our books. Outside the Fox Inn the marquee, put up for the children’s art and writing activities, stood in the downpour.

But the weather’s total turn-round overnight meant Saturday promised a wonderful day. Moving between the Fox, the tent, the Methodist Chapel and the Hall, authors, visitors, and volunteers enjoyed  blue skies, bright sunshine, and attractive gardens full of spring flowers.

My home-made Lemon Drizzle Cake: already a quarter gone!
My home-made Lemon Drizzle Cake: already a quarter gone!

If there was anything wrong with Hawkesbury this time it was there was so much to do and to see. The Tent buzzed with children doing art or writing sessions, and adults viewing the illustrators’ work and the colouring books, the cafe buzzed with Tea-and-Coffee drinking, cake-eating, cheese-tasting the Cornish Yarg, chatting and book-browsing. (That’s the Yarg, in the bowl at the front of the photo, and William Fairney’s book title? Fifty Shades of Yarg … you get it?)

Performance poet Dan Holloway kicks off the poetry reading session

And there were sessions on poetry, (one beginning ‘I stubbed my toe on a  hedgehog ...) and on ‘Writing with or from Difference’, besides last year’s Fiction category, divided into several sections, and all featuring in both Readings and Panel discussion categories.

As a participating author, this year I enjoyed my first experience of being on a discussion panel (two: ‘Contemporary Fiction: Write What You Know – or Not?’, and ‘What’s the Point of Poetry?’).

It’s always interesting to learn how other people ‘work’, their motivations and their approach to creative activity. A number of us on the Fiction panel go for the ‘get the story all down, then edit’ method, and one at least said she doesn’t usually know how the book will end when she is at the beginning. I’m actually not usually that kind of writer: I’m apt to begin a writing session with a bit of editing on the last bit I wrote, it seems to get the creativity going. We all agreed that whether or not you set out to ‘write what you know’, research will enter you life as you turn your well-known environment (Jackie Kabler’s is working as a TV journalist/presenter) into the settings your plot.   Lynne Pardoe’s stories come straight from her experiences as a social worker – and have happy endings. Ali Bacon continues to experiment with how far or not she writes what she knows, and enjoys producing short stories. Jackie set her story within the TV Newsroom but someone had murdered her boss … which she certainly hasn’t witnessed … and Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn told us how her editor had suggested that although she had researched Venice and knew it well, the enthusiastic  descriptions needed editing down. Nikki Owen’s story features a woman with high-functioning Aspergers Syndrome, which she doesn’t have but obviously found fascinating enough to enter into and create a story. Thomas Shepherd does have Asperger’s, but his story, a fantasy, doesn’t feature this. Some find the research time a necessary evil: others really enjoy digging into what they don’t know. And we seized the chance to enlighten our audience about how much writing what we know is autobiography: no, it pretty much always isn’t.

So with sessions on contemporary, historical, sci-fi and fantasy, and writing fiction from a point of ‘being different’, what was the most popular with the audience? It was this one: the skill of writing about your or another’s difference or disability: making the ‘difference’ work for your writing, overcoming  by your  writing, sharing what it is like to be inside what counts as difference. Read Thomas Shepherd’s blog about participating in this discussion here.

Debbie Young, Festival Organiser, with Dan Holloway and ShIrley Wright, poets

At the same time, learning more about other authors, how they work, why they write, is tremendously unifying: books are the bottom line, and within that, a huge diversity of interests, styles, attitudes, and lifestyles.

Recently, we’ve hosted, as a City, the huge Blackwell’s Oxford Literary Festival – a chance for celebs and well known authors to be gathered into one place and for audiences to hear them speak and have them sign copies of their books.

Blackwells Oxford LitFest Festival Marquee … parked near the Sheldonian Theatre

A small Festival like Hawkesbury has a totally different feel: a chance to interact with readers, and fellow participants. Hawkesbury aims to be inclusive: we were a mixture of Indie and ‘trade published’ writers, of amateur and professional poets. None of us could claim ‘celebrity’ status, and this makes for a truly festive and for-the-people feel, offering a ‘platform’ to everybody and aiming to give exposure to new names in the writing business. And so back home, and to writing Love You to the Moon …

Find my books at Hodge website, or on Amazon here and here …

Photos of Hawkesbury Literature Festival with thanks to Joanna Penn, author and very active member of ALLi (the Alliance of Independent Authors), photo of Blackwell’s marquee and the Baby, Baby/The Labyrinth Year publicity card my own. 

Writers’ Homework: Go to the Ant and 2 Reviews

There’s an ants’ nest in the compost bin, and all the worms have disappeared.

Our compost bin

Hopefully, they’ve moved to the apartment below, leaving the ants with the penthouse. But can I be sure? And what gets the ants to find fault with their new home, and move out, taking their vile offspring – their eggs – with them? Which won’t kill the friendly compost-processing worms?

All this before the writer’s had a moment to do the shopping and settle at the desk. Procrastination it is not. We love our compost bin, we want to be eco-townies, it’s our contribution to recycling everything possible, because there is no ‘away’.

And in the cause of neighbourliness, today there is the monthly coffee meet-up for all of us in the road who work at home, or are retired…

So, is it now Go to the ant, thou sluggard …?

Social interaction is always necessary and often productive to the busy contemporary fiction writer. So, no, not first to the ants – or to writing. Though I’m not about to ‘put you in my novel’, you and you and even you keep us writers in touch with what’s new on the street (sometimes literally). All of us writers are curious students of human interactions, and contrary to popular belief, not all of us are introverts. Whether just quietly listening, or energetically joining in, social activity sparks ideas.

Besides making sure we don’t lurk in an ivory tower, writers need to keep reading. Friend and fellow ALLi member Debbie Young (she who organised the HULF LitFest), recently urged and reminded us that writers should exercise their minds by not just reading books  but writing reviews. (http://authordebbieyoung.com/2015/04/12/why-authors-should-review-books-plus-my-latest-book-review-for-vine-leaves-literary-journal/ ). Having a cold recently justified time off and I read 2 1/2 novels, all Indie published and available on Kindle. And all in the rather nebulous genre where my writing also fits.

A fish in water: covers sell books!

First off: A Kettle of Fish by Ali Bacon. After meeting Ali who was introducing our short readings at the HULF, (URL), I bought her book. From its cover, I guessed this would be a fun read. It was obviously neither crime  nor sci-fi fantasy.  Those legs, testing water, indicated it might be

A covers which draws you in …

quite thought-provoking. A slow start where I wondered where we were going to go to, but soon the story began to intrigue: Ailsa and her friends, just leaving school, and heading to Uni really ‘because it’s what you do next’, hang out in typical YA fashion. As Ailsa decides to buy fish for supper,and worries whether she should move to Edinburgh when she starts Uni or travel in daily from her home, we realise that her family life is distinctly dreary. She is a young carer for her Mum. And Dad took off years ago.

The book then swings into action. Ailsa’s compass points for finding meaning in life are distinctly wobbly. The story follows her bumpy ride through grabbing some life for herself, falling into relationships, and discovering her best childhood memories could be nastily tainted.

Indeed it’s a detective story without the bodies and the crime. Or is it? Throughout, Bacon keeps us guessing, while evoking painfully this stage of life: a three-some day out, your perceptions of who people are.

Here we begin to see more clearly how Bacon’s older characters have been weaving a ‘tangled web’ of deceit which now impacts  down the years. And how she leads us towards a satisfactory conclusion…

Finding writers like  me

Setting out, I hoped to introduce you to the next one I read: newly published Chasing Down the Night by Francis Guenette, third in the ‘Crater Lake’ series.  A great page turner, similarly featuring a group of young adults finding their feet … I love these books for the realism and the conquering of some tricky hands which life had dealt the characters. I am encouraged by these writers, to know that there are others who are tackling the tough questions about finding meaning, a place to be and people to be with and respecting their characters in stories told without sentiment, problems sorted while an easy life is not promised. I feel kind of proud to be writing in a genre which though not wildly popular at present, is deep and thoughtful and life enhancing.

Blueberry cake for the class reunion

For today, I’m having to leave Francis Guenette’s book, along with Nancy Freund’s Rapeseed, for another time … I have some icing to put on a cake …  As for the usefulness of the coffee morning …a good chat about rising house prices and changing neighbourhoods … and somebody mentioned cloves. Apparently scattering ground cloves on an ants’ nest will send the ants scuttering off to find an alternative home.

Here’s hoping the des res down the garden is soon vacated.

A Kettle of Fish by Ali Bacon available from the usual on-line stores … or order a copy from your local bookshop and support booksellers!