Harrogate is a festival I’ve always avoided, along with all the other festivals, partly because I’m such an introvert that the thought of walking into a throng of people & joining in random conversations is SO daunting, and partly because I have a chronic health condition and while I’m more mobile than I have been in years, standing is more painful than moving & not knowing if there are chairs available is always a worry.
Everything in my head is always a worry.
This year my new publisher HQ Stories, Harper Collins, invited me along to sign proof copies of my forthcoming psychological thriller, The Family. Before the automatic ‘no’ sprung from my lips I hesitated. Each year I see everyone’s happy Harrogate posts and photos online and wish I’d have gone. Always promising myself that the next year I would, knowing that when it came around again I’d once more be at home regretting not taking the plunge.
My husband offered to drive me, knowing that I tire easily, particularly if I have to stand. Super blogger Emma Mitchell promised to look after me.
I said yes.
Emma met me at the entrance (once she’d peeled herself off the floor).
I met Emma after she’d read my debut, The Sister, and contacted me and she’s become one of my closest friends and definitely one of the best things to come out of being published. We speak most days, meet when we can despite the distance between us and the second I saw her I relaxed, knowing I’d have a good time.
And I did.
The first thing to know about Harrogate, particularly if you have limited mobility is that it is SMALL. Crowded, yes, but SMALL. Everything is based in, and around the grounds of, The Old Swan Hotel (the place where Agatha Christie disappeared in 1926). Inside there’s a bar area with sofas and chairs. A tuck shop with table and chairs, hot and cold drinks and food (sandwiches, salads, jacket potatoes – all reasonably priced). Outside is a larger bar, picnic tables and chairs, all undercover and various deckchairs and outdoor seating. There are also multiple tents with (surprise!) bookish things happening and giveaways.
The second thing to know, particularly if you have social anxiety, is that it’s friendly, and if you’re on social media you probably know more people than you think. It was great being with Emma, but plenty of people go alone and EVERYBODY is happy to chat. There’s a really chilled out, relaxed vibe.
The third thing to know is don’t rock up without tickets to the bigger events expecting to buy them there. You won’t. And with speakers like James Patterson, Harlan Coben, and Ian Rankin it’s no surprise everything sells out beforehand. That said, there are plenty of people who purely go to hang out and chat and don’t want to attend any talks or workshops and that’s perfectly okay. You don’t need a ticket to go.
Much to Granger’s delight dogs are very welcome in the grounds.
It was great to catch up with Kim Nash – the Head of Publicity – for Bookouture who did such a fabulous job with my first 4 titles. She was with Miranda Dickinson. I first met Miranda when I went to a blogger/author event before I was published. She came and sat next to me with a pile of her books that someone had asked her to sign. I had sat there, heart racing, palms sweaty – just say hello and tell her you’re a fan – playing over and over again in my head. I was too nervous to speak but now, as we share an editor, I managed to squeak out an ‘I love your books!’ and after Miranda gave me a pep talk on confidence and being your own biggest cheerleader I now love her too.
It was lovely to finally meet Louise Beech who I’ve long been a fan of and she was just as lovely in person as she is online. It was great to say a ‘thank you’ in person to super bestseller Linda Green. I messaged Linda on Twitter a couple of years ago asking her advice relating to the industry and she immediately sent me her phone number and spent a long time chatting through my options and (many) concerns. (Refer to earlier – the writing community is SO friendly).
Meeting the book bloggers I haven’t met before was a definite highlight. I was a blogger long before I was an author so I think we rock… Emma Welton, along with Emma Mitchell, has been a great support since the beginning of my career, always kicking off my blog tours and it was a surprise to chat and find out it was the first time we had actually met – I felt like I knew her so well.
And of course meeting readers. Chris came all the way from Belgium with the Dutch editions of my books for me to sign.
The proof party was crazy. We ran out of copies within eight minutes. I was grateful to all the people who turned up and sorry that not everyone got to go home with a book.
I’m so pleased I went to Harrogate for the first time – it won’t be the last time. If you, like me, have ever sat at home, scrolling through photos, but finding the thought of going too daunting, give it a go. I think you’ll be pleased you did. Granger and I will be there in 2020 – see you next year!