Harrogate 2019 – What’s Theakston Crime Festival REALLY like?

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!

One terrified writer, one HUGE literary festival, one big mistake?

Over the past year I’ve been asked to speak at several events, some big, some small, but all have one thing in common – I’ve said no. I think I can pinpoint exactly when and why my phobia of public speaking started, but knowing that, understanding that, hasn’t made it any easier to cope with. On the occasions I’ve tried, I’ve ended up in such a state I’ve not been able to sleep or eat in the weeks preceding and have been physically sick and unable to talk on the day. Shaking, dry mouth, fainting, you name it, I’ve suffered with it.

Althorp Literary Festival is in its 14th year and when an email dropped into my inbox I assumed it was asking me to buy tickets as I’ve attended most years as a guest. Instead, it was an invitation to take part in a panel event. I felt equally honoured and disappointed. There’s no way I could possibly take part, or could I?

Unusually, I didn’t rattle off a polite ‘thanks, but no thanks’ straight away. Althorp is a very dear place to me. I grew up 10 minutes down the road and have many happy childhood memories of our Sunday afternoon drives through the beautiful grounds after a roast lunch, my parents in the front of the car, me playing eye-spy in the back with my sister, ending with tea and cake and the more I let the memory cover me like a blanket, the more it grew – the urge to say yes. My fingers hovered over the keyboard before I quickly punched out an acceptance. And then I cried. And then I set about finding a solution, painfully aware I wouldn’t just be representing myself but also the festival, both my publishers and my agent. No pressure then. My google research resulted in me booking a course of hypnotherapy. I genuinely enjoyed every second of my talk and I’ve since signed up for various events and I honestly can’t wait. Next week I’ll be interviewing my hypnotherapist, Carmen, and she’ll share her thoughts on why public speaking is such a common phobia and give her tips on giving a great performance and I’ll be talking about the things that worked for me. (You can now read that post here).

Today though I want to share my memories of what was an amazing weekend.

On arrival I was escorted to the Green Room, the library. The sight of all those books was instantly calming, admittedly so was the sight of the gin…

It felt so surreal at first and I had to remind myself to focus and pay attention to the other panellists as initially I was sitting there thinking ‘I’m on a stage at Althorp! How did this possibly happen to me?’

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There were books everywhere and at my first official signing I had a touch of anxiety I’d scratch the beautiful desk. I didn’t, and chatting to readers was one of the highlights of my weekend.

Umm there’s always one, lowering the tone, photographing the food. That would be me…

The grounds are absolutely stunning.

And no festival would be complete without a champagne bus. thankfully the sun shone and it became open top. 

I met some amazing people, caught up with old friends and made some new, and whether I’m invited back as a speaker or not, I can’t wait for next year’s event.

Huge thanks to everyone involved in putting together such an amazing festival and leaving me with memories I shall always treasure.

Derby Writers Day

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Q -What is better than a day spent hanging out with other writers?

A – A day spent hanging out with other writers in a venue that makes the best scones I have ever tasted (and I have tasted a LOT).

 

The first annual Derby Writers Day on Saturday, at The Quad, was slickly run, meticulously organised with a huge variety of talks on offer. A huge thanks to Alex Davis of Boo Books for all his hard work.

There were three talks happening simultaneously every hour and it was really hard to choose between them. My day kicked off with a talk on crime and thriller writing by Stephen Booth, Niki Valentine and Steven Dunne. All panel sessions were a blend of author talks and audience questions; the atmosphere relaxed and informal. I love to hear published authors talk about their novel writing process.

Julia Murday was next on  my list. Her talk on promotion and marketing at Penguin Books was really insightful. So much happens between an agent submitting a book to its publication date.

Man Booker Prize nominee, Alison Moore shared her perspective on the life of a full-time writer. I managed to catch up with Alison later in the day where she gave me some valuable advice on transitioning between novels. I’ve ordered her books from Amazon on paperback, they sound so beautiful I feel they deserve to be read properly (sorry Kindle, I do still love you).

Alison Moore, Alison McQueen and Niki Valentine explained what the term ‘literary fiction’ means to them.

The day was rounded off with Alex Davis leading an interesting panel session discussing whether writers are thriving or surviving.

I love events like these, meeting other readers and writers is inspiring and I always come away, armed with new knowledge, new friends, raring to get back to my keyboard.