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At JLFBelfast 2019

JLF image

Described as Simon Schama as “the most fabulous literary love-fest on the planet,” the Jaipur Literature Festival is a global phenomenon which came to Northern Ireland for the very first time this month. In the festival organisers’ own words, JLF ‘brings together a diverse mix of the world’s greatest thinkers, humanitarians, politicians, business leaders, sports people and entertainers on one stage to champion the freedom to express and engage in thoughtful debate and dialogue.’

notebookYou can imagine, then, how delighted I was to be involved with the festival as an official blogger for the weekend, after entering their recent blogging competition. Although I was unable to attend the opening night celebrations due to other work engagements, I did get along to several events which took place at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast and the Seamus Heaney Homeplace in Bellaghy on Saturday, June 22 and Sunday, June 23. I managed to cover three events on Saturday and two on Sunday and my blogs for those will be published on the JLF website in due course. This blog, however, is all about my experience of the festival and what it was like taking part as official blogger…

JLF at the Lyric TheatreLyric stairs

As soon as I entered the Lyric Theatre on Saturday, I was greeted by the friendly welcome team, who promptly tied a little colourful bracelet with bells on around my wrist. At the time, I thought it was just a lovely gift – which it was – but I later found out that it was also a much nicer equivalent of a festival wristband. Even better, as everyone was wearing one, the air was filled not only with excited chatter, but also the gentle undertone of tinkling bells, which only added to the overall atmosphere. When speakers were applauded during events, the bells also added a further layer of appreciation and were a constant reminder, to me anyway, that we were all taking part in something extremely special.

giftsThe welcome desk, I should say, also had JLF bookmarks, bindis and sparkly elephant keyrings for guests and of course, further on inside, Belfast’s best independent bookstore, No Alibis, had tables groaning under the weight of all the wonderful books the authors in attendance had written (ready to be bought and signed!).

The JLF team had also bedecked the space with beautiful gossamer fabrics, dream catchers, bells and other colourful decorations, bringing a real flavour of India to the venue.lyric ceiling

My key contact as JLF blogger was Vidushi Khera (and also, our own Belfast author, Paul McVeigh), who quickly gave me a tour of all I needed to see. After travelling down from Bushmills I was a little peckish, so I made the most of the spread of snacks on offer, grabbing a coffee and muffin from the authors’ area upstairs before heading to my first event of the day. This was a discussion between authors David Park (from Belfast) and Patrick Gale (from the Isle of Wight), facilitated by Elaine Canning (author and executive officer of Swansea University’s International Dylan Thomas Prize).

with David Park

With David Park.

After the event, I then dashed upstairs to write my blog in the authors’ lounge (being very anti-social I’m sure, tapping away on my laptop!), so I didn’t do my usual ‘buy the book and get it signed’ afterwards. However, once I’d finished writing, I popped into the dining area and lo and behold, there was David Park sitting with a variety of other speakers, finishing his lunch. I had about 10 minutes to grab a bite and of course, didn’t want to disturb him, but as he was leaving he caught my eye and recognised me as the JLF blogger (which did surprise me!) and was quite happy to have a few words and pose for a photograph. (Readers, it had to be done. I do like a photo with my favourite authors and I love David Park’s writing, so I always ask! ūüôā )

I’m not a food blogger, so I won’t go into detail about the culinary delights on offer, but suffice it to say, the Lyric had put on a lovely selection of delicious muffins, scones and whatnot, along with tea and coffee in the authors’ upstairs retreat. The lunch was also lovely – I had some sort of vegetarian dish with rice and the staff were very friendly and helpful in encouraging me to tuck in!Lyric flowers

My next event was just an hour after the first (my first, that is – there were a couple of morning events that I sadly missed) and this was a panel discussion on the subject of foremothers. (Again, these blogs will be put onto the JLF Belfast website, so I won’t share my thoughts here). After that, I had an hour-and-a-half to go over my first blog and write the second (I’m a bit of a perfectionist so I do like to check things meticulously!), so I had a bit more time before my last event of the day. I’m not a multitasker when I write, so I wasn’t partaking in the background chatter in the room, but with a busy programme, most of the speakers were just enjoying some downtime and gathering their thoughts for the next event, so it was all very relaxed.

Jan

Jan Carson (R)

The third and final event that I attended and blogged about was a ‘myth and memory’ themed discussion and one of the writers involved with that was East Belfast author, Jan Carson (who recently won the EU Prize for Literature in Ireland with her novel, The Fire Starters). I’d bumped into Jan earlier in the day and also ran into one or two other familiar faces, including events organiser Hilary Copeland (recently appointed as acting director of the Irish Writers’ Centre) and of course, David Torrans from No Alibis Bookstore. As I was literally attending an event, then going upstairs to write about it, I didn’t mingle as much as I would have if I’d been attending as a regular audience member. However, I like to be busy, so I enjoyed having something proactive to do in-between times and liked seeing behind the scenes. As a journalist, I’m used to covering events but normally, I’d write everything up the next day, so that was one thing that was a bit different for me – writing immediately after the event ended. It made for a slight bit of stress, but who doesn’t enjoy a bit of adrenaline?!

JLF at Seamus Heaney HomeplaceHomeplace outside

Sunday, for me, was a more relaxed day as festival blogger as I was to cover two events back-to-back and then write them up at home and send to the team later. So for one thing, I didn’t have a laptop in tow, and for a second, I wasn’t dashing off between events to blog.

With colourful bunting outside and more decorations once again inside, SH Homeplace was a hub of activity when I arrived at lunchtime. After checking in with Vidushi I found myself having lunch beside Patrick Gale, award-winning poet and conservationist Ruth Padel and a short while later, was joined by Jan Carson, Bee Rowlatt (journalist, writer and broadcaster) and Salil Tripathi (author and chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee). Definitely one of the perks of helping out at a festival is getting to mingle up close and personal with the speakers.

Tara Gandhi

Tara Gandhi Bhattacharjee (centre)

My first event on Sunday was a discussion with Gandhi’s granddaughter, Tara Gandhi Bhattacharjee (as inspirational and interesting as it sounds!), followed by a discussion on Yeats and Tagore. In between these, I picked up a couple of books from No Alibis and, upon discovering that Patrick Gale was sitting behind me in the events, happily got him to sign his latest novel for me afterwards.

Colouring the air with words

All in all, my experience of JLF Belfast 2019 was one of fascinating discussions, impromptu author meetings, great food and a wonderful atmosphere. What stood out for me was the fact that everyone seemed so full of energy and genuinely delighted to be there. The speakers all spoke passionately on their subjects, the audience members were fully engaged and the programme was packed with variety across the weekend.

with Patrick Gale

With Patrick Gale.

There was a real sense of shared passions and of people discovering new-found interests, as well as a general celebration of literature and an overarching sense of fun. (We had Glenn Patterson singing in the hallways of the Lyric Theatre and unplanned musical performances in some of the events, which only added to the richness of what was being delivered.)

I think the programme (NB JLF Belfast was curated by Teamwork Arts, who produce the ZEE Jaipure Literature Festival) really succeeded in bringing a flavour of what Jaipur Literature Festival is all about to Belfast and Bellaghy – vibrant, inspirational and fun – and I for one, look forward to the next time!

homeplace decor

 

 

 

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Writerly reflections…

I think this month I’ll begin with the most recent bookish happenings and work my way back to when I last blogged. We’ll see how that goes, anyway…

Giant’s Causeway Book Club

First up, we enjoyed another Giant’s Causeway Book Club meeting last night at the Causeway Hotel. It was dark, rainy and a little bit windy – with some unexplained noises floating along the hallways – so the perfect place to discuss our October read,¬†The Haunting of Hill House¬†by Shirley Jackson!

Although, for me and most of the group, I’m afraid Ms Jackson just didn’t spook us quite enough, as we gave this book an overall rating of 6/10 and really would have liked a few more scares. General consensus, bar one, was that it had an interesting premise but didn’t deliver on the frightening front – and a few would have liked a clearer ending with all loose ends tied up. I personally found it very funny and a bit of light relief after reading Josh Malerman’s¬†Bird Box¬†before I turned to this. (PS If you do want a spooky read, then¬†Bird Box¬†is my recommendation).Nov book front

Anyway, our November book choice is a non-fiction title:¬†Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race¬†by London-based journalist, Reni Eddo-Lodge. I’ve heard this spoken about a lot on Book Tube and I know many people recommend it, so we’ll see what our book club thinks in a few weeks’ time! We have five weeks until then, however, so we’re also going to have a quick chat about Anna Burns’¬†Milkman,¬†which just won the Man Booker Prize, as I know a lot of people in Northern Ireland especially are reading this right now and I don’t think we can skip over it. I’m really looking forward to reading both of these books myself. ūüôā

Crumlin creative writing course

CW classSince we last spoke, I’ve enjoyed delivering four of my eight creative writing workshops in Crumlin, to a great group of scribblers.

We’ve been looking at various techniques to help improve your writing, and doing all sorts of exercises and whatnot, so it’s going well and will hopefully help them craft those words the way they want them when it comes to writing their stories and novels.

National Trust ‘Meet the Makers’ DayKids pic with MM

I also enjoyed taking part in the National Trust’s ‘Meet the Makers’ Day on October 6. The Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre invited a variety of local crafters/makers who have their products stocked in the centre to come along and show customers what they do and have a chat with them.

I had a table full of¬†Magical Masquerade¬†and had a great time meeting visitors¬† (mostly from the US!) and signing books for them. It was lovely to see who was buying the book and to have a conversation with them, as normally, you don’t know who’s picking it up. Hopefully all recipients enjoy the story!

Phantom Phantasia book launch party

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And finally… October began with the launch of book number two,¬†Phantom Phantasia,¬†at the Portrush Coastal Zone and I’m delighted to say that it went swimmingly! There was a wonderful turnout, including lots of younger readers, which was lovely to see, and I think they all enjoyed searching for the little gossamer party bags the fairies had hidden around the centre for them to find…

We enjoyed refreshments in the form of elderflower cordial and other fizzy delights, as well as some homemade star-shaped shortbread and top hats and, of course, a celebratory cake, which was brought out after the bookish chat. For that, Denis McNeill kindly interviewed me and then I gave a short reading before signing lots of books. IMG_2774

It was great to meet everyone who came along, and to chat to the kids about their writing and the books they like to read. It was a bit of a whirlwind really, but a very good evening. (PS I have almost 200 photos of the launch so if you want a nosy then pop on over to my FB page, which is linked to the right of this post!)

The question is – now that it’s all over, just what will I write next..?!

In the meantime, I have a school visit pending after Hallowe’en, which I’m looking forward to, along with the remainder of my creative writing sessions. There’s also another secret bookish project in the pipeline so we’ll see how that progresses in the next few months too!

More as I have it. ūüôā

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Crowd-editing: Yay or Nay?

Flying lettersWith many musicians now turning to crowd-sourcing (or crowd-funding) to finance their latest album, it was only a matter of time, perhaps, before writers got in on the act. True, with singers and bands, it’s mostly the newbies who are making the most of this creative way of getting their music out there sooner rather than later, but more established artists are also catching on.

Essentially, you ask your fans to contribute towards the recording of your album or EP and as you go along, these contributors receive little perks, such as a signed copy of the album when released, previews of the music and other merchandise, depending on¬†how the artist has decided to reward you. I know people doing this and it’s working really well. It helps them to fund their work and the ‘crowd’¬†is basically just buying what they’d be buying anyway, but at an earlier stage. It requires a certain amount of faith on behalf of the supporters, but the amounts paid don’t have to be huge.

Now, what’s this got to do with writers, I hear you say. Have authors started to charge people for bits of their books before they’re even published? Well, no. Actually, I don’t know – perhaps some writers, somewhere, are. But what I’m referring to is… Advance Editions.IMG_1982

This recently launched website is an initiative by my old friends at Book Drum, which I previously contributed to (check out the link –¬†it’s a great resource for really delving into books!). Anyway,¬†Advance Editions allows contributors to download the first half of an edited book for free. Their task then is to read the book and subsequently make any suggestions they have about it to the author – such as areas which could be refined, plot problems and the like.

If the reader wants to read the entire book, they can then buy it at a 60% advance discount. Meanwhile, the authors will revise their books and if they include your suggestion, you get a mention in the paperback and ebook when it comes out.

It’s an interesting idea and, as we’re told on the site: ‘This is a revolutionary time in publishing’.

I’m interested (as I’m sure Advance Editions are) to know what readers and writers think of this. Sure, we sometimes do it for friends (maybe!) and we may do it for work, but do we want to do it like this? I think the answer may, for many, be yes. The first two books on the site have already garnered a good bit of feedback and has also attracted the attention of The Guardian newspaper.

As the digital era pushes onwards, it’s good to try new things, see what works and what doesn’t. Traditional publishing is more than aware that the book world is changing, so we’ll see how crowd-editing works out.628px-The_Sun_by_the_Atmospheric_Imaging_Assembly_of_NASA's_Solar_Dynamics_Observatory_-_20100819

My thoughts? I think it will be good for:

  • Plot improvements/tidy-ups
  • Insights into what your specific readers want
  • Unique expertise on subjects (although… research!)

I think it might be unhelpful because:

  • Readers aren’t always writers
  • Everyone has an opinion and they ain’t generally¬†all the same!
  • If you’re a new author, you may be put off by a multitude of ‘helpful’ comments re potential changes

Okay, I’m just thinking aloud here, but I’m intrigued to see how this goes and may well delve in myself at some point. I think the idea isn’t to get ‘expert advice’ but, rather like a writer’s group, to ask for useful feedback, and I think that the majority of people who’ll take the time to contribute, will take the time to be insightful and helpful to the author.

What do you think…?

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The art of engagement

This week I read a funny book.

That’s great, I hear you say. But no,¬†wait – it was a really funny book. It was the sort of book that made me laugh out loud and believe me – that doesn’t happen a lot. That’s a gift. To make someone who is, admittedly quite cynical and (whisper it) critical, laugh out loud takes a real talent. Especially if said person isn’t initially in the mood to be laughing.

The author is someone who¬†I can’t for the life of me remember how I know of. I’ve now read three of his very witty books and¬†recognised him enough as someone I liked,¬†to buy the first one in a bookshop, whilst the¬†others just caught my eye in a¬†charity store and at the used books table in my local Co-op.

I know from the books that he was a radio presenter for years.

I have never heard him on the radio before and he’s just recently given it up, so it’s not that.

I also know from the books that he pops up from time to time on odd TV programmes… Well, ok, it might be that. I have watched quite a few odd TV programmes in my time.

Anyway, suffice it to say, I have now enjoyed enough of his writing to make me think that perhaps I should not rely on serendipitous sightings of his second-hand books (seriously Рwho gave those away?!), and just go out and !buy them. Because (and I may have already mentioned it  Рthis guy is funny).

He writes about his life! It’s personal to him and yet to all of us! He uses italics quite a lot! He does strange and sometimes random things! And… he uses exclamation marks a lot!

But somehow, this does not make him annoying – just someone you’d quite like to have as your mate.

He has two novels out, both of which have received great reviews from ye olde critics – neither of which I have read, but intend to do so At Once.

He writes with wit, makes it look incredibly easy and… is a great example of a writer who engages with his readers and quite frankly – could act as a great catalyst for non-readers to pick up a book.Q (As long as it’s his – to start with).

Who is this man of wit? This maverick of words? This impossibly funny person who I may be building up a little bit¬†too much…?

Why, it’s Danny Wallace – didn’t you know?

And he’s an excellent speller.

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