Wednesday 16 August 2017

The Open House Festival...........A riveting review panel!

This year I was lucky enough to be asked by the lovely Lesley Allen (The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir) to take part in The Open House Festival. Lesley, as well as being an amazing author, is also one of the festival organisers. The Open House Festival is an arts festival that runs in my home town of Bangor in Northern Ireland from 1st- 31st August. The range of events is amazing and Lesley and her team do an amazing job, bringing a real buzz to the town. Find out more about the festival HERE. Come stay in Bangor and attend the events. There's something for everyone.

Lesley asked if I would like to be part of a book review panel, reading and reviewing 3 books, but with focus being on one of the 3. So, of course I agreed. Then I had a panic attack! Ha! The 3 books that the panelists had to read were -
  • Days Without End by Sebastian Barry - read my review HERE
  • The Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart - read my review HERE
  • Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent. - read my review HERE
My main focus book, which I did a short reading from was The Boy Made of Blocks. So, I devoured all 3 books and made some notes about all 3 like a maniac! I was going to be prepared.

So, on 9th August, the night of the panel I met up with the other panelists for dinner. The lovely Stephen Walker, BBC reporter and writer who was our chair, Susan Feldstein, literary agent and Hugh Odling-Smee, writer and theatre producer.  I had such a blast during dinner with some discussion about the books and some sharing of funny stories. I felt like I was out with old friends rather than people I had just met for the first time. My nerves started to disappear the more I laughed.

After dinner we made our way to the venue, a lovely old auction house which had been set up with tables and fairy lights.  And, the event was completely sold out! No pressure then not to cock the whole thing up!

Photos © Open House Festival 2017 / Lesley Allen
The event was brilliant fun! Stephen had a chat with the audience members about the books and then each of us in turn presented a book and chatted about it. The audience were fantastic and really got into the discussions about the books. Stephen managed to keep us panelists in line and the whole thing, I feel went really smoothly! Sitting there in front of a room full of strangers was initially terrifying but actually I calmed down by reminding myself that this was a room full of fellow book lovers and this was the chance to talk about books! What could be more perfect! I had warned all family and friends not to attend as I wasn't sure I could do it with people I knew watching! Stupid I know.   Here's a photo of me looking very serious! And yes that is wine in front of me and I did drink it!

Photo © Open House Festival 2017 / Lesley Allen
Massive thanks to all the organisers of the event, particularly Lesley. As per usual with all the events in the Open House Festival it was expertly organised and was enjoyed by many. The dedication of the team to bring such wonderful events to our little town is amazing. If your town runs similar events please do go and support them. 

Photo © Open House Festival 2017 / Lesley Allen

Tuesday 18 July 2017

A Conference Newbie!

For those who don’t know, The Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) hold an annual conference bringing together a number of romance writers both published and yet to be published together. Some authors are independently published while others are traditionally published. It was lovely to see some men there who write in this genre. Throw into the mix some people enrolled on the New Writers’ scheme due to submit manuscripts for critique and worrying themselves into a frenzy (me). Over all there’s a pretty mixed bag of writers. And, as if that wasn’t enough there’s also some industry professionals! Attendees even had the opportunity to book 1-1 sessions with agents and editors. I wasn’t brave enough this year but definitely next year!

I attended the conference, held at Harper Adams University in Newport, UK  from 14th – 16th July although there was an option to arrive on the Thursday too and leave on the Monday. Other commitments though didn’t allow me to do that but I was more than happy with the number of events I attended during the duration of my stay.

Harper Adams University

View from my room

Arriving at Harper Adams University on Friday I was a little nervous. This was the first conference I have attended as I’m a relatively new member of the RNA, only joining this year as part of the New Writers Scheme. After checking in and finding my accommodation on the university campus I was really thrilled to pretend to be a student again and staying in halls. The accommodation was more than adequate with lots of lovely friendly people in my block.

the lovely Laura James looking all sparkly!

After a stroll around the beautiful grounds and bumping into the lovely Laura James who I’d met previously at the Festival of Romance a few years ago, I made my way to collect my name lanyard and goody bag from The Weston Centre on campus where the talks and panels would be taking place during the conference. I was warmly greeted by lots of lovely people and I immediately felt right at home! One of the first people I did get to chat to was the lovely Lynda Stacey as I helped her deposit some promo materials into approximately 250 goody bags!
Lynda and I getting to know one another better!
Lynda and I had never met before, but have been online friends for a while now. We became firm friends during the conference and she just took me under her wing for which I will be eternally grateful. I know I can be a bit gobby online but I’m actually pretty shy!

can you tell I'm excited?

On Friday I attended a really interesting talk given by Felicity Trew on the role of an agent and how to write the prefect submission letter. Felicity, an agent herself really gave me food for thought and I hope to someday put her advice into practice. They do say first impressions last and from what Felicity was conveying, that submissions letter definitely needs to make a first good impression. After tea and coffee came the official welcome talk with a lovely welcome from Nicola Cornick, the RNA chair and Alison May Vice Chair. There then followed a very interesting panel discussion on the State Of The Industry which was chaired by Nicola and included Rosie de Courcy (Fiction Publisher at Head of Zeus), Isobel Dixon (Agent), Broo Doherty (Agent), Sam Missingham (founder of Lounge Books) and Emily Yau. (Commissioning Editor at Ebury). Although I’ve been involved in the bookish world for a number of years now, coming at it from an author’s perspective has really opened my eyes and I found this talk very interesting.

The wonderfully mad Annette Hannah!
So, after an informative afternoon it was time for drinks and dinner. Thanks to John Jackson for inviting me to sit down in the beautiful evening air and partake of a lovely drink with some equally lovely people. The evening was spent getting to know lots more people, particularly the other newbies in a nice little get together hosted by the wonderful Kate Thomson before heading back to the accommodation block for lots of laughs and standing outside chatting like a load of teenagers and cackling like witches! You know who you are Annette Hannah and Jenni Keer! Then, an early night before exhaustion totally floored me!

On Saturday after breakfast Imogen Howson hosted a lovely get together for those of us on the New Writers’ Scheme. It was lovely to hear my dear friend John Jackson, a recent graduate from the scheme and due to release his first book in October, chat about how much the scheme helped him. John has just secured Crooked Cat as his publisher and I’m very excited for him. He gave some great advice and Imogen’s talk really helped put my mind at ease about submitting my manuscript (I have until the 31st August to do this so eeeek!)

After tea and coffee Bella Osborne and Alison May gave a brilliant talk on Plotter Vs Pantser and the different approaches we all have to writing. It was such a fun session and extremely enjoyable. I’m in team Bella and I’m 100% a Plotter. Sorry Alison!

This was then followed by a talk by Joanna Maitland and Sophie Weston from Liberta on adding sparkle to your manuscript! I’m not altogether sure I got the exercises they gave us right! Even though I wrote almost something identical to Annette Hannah’s we didn’t copy off one another. Honest!

The RNA open discussion was really interesting as everyone was given the opportunity to take part in a chat about the future of the RNA and what changes might be coming in the future. It was great to find out a little bit more about the organisation and who is involved. I’m already in love with the RNA and love everything about it!

Tea and coffee again (yes there is a foody theme) and it was straight into a talk given by Fiction Editors Emily Ruston and Jenny Hutton from Ruston and Hutton on the theme of Deconstructing The Revisions Letter. I know as part of my critique I’ll be receiving suggestions for revisions in the next few months once I get my finger out and actually submit my manuscript to the New Writer’s Scheme but this talk actually did take some of the fear out of it all for me and helped me understand a little bit better what some of the jargon means.

After a really exhausting but enjoyable day it was time to go get beautified for some drinks and the gala dinner! We all certainly scrubbed up well and had a wonderful meal followed by the announcement of the Elizabeth Goudge award runner up (Ruth Long) and winner (Imogen Howson). Lots of congrats and happy tears for these two lovely ladies. As with the conference up to this point, everything ran like clockwork and the meal was not only delicious and catering for us vegetarians but the waiting staff were simply lovely. Then, it was time for the famous kitchen parties in the accommodation blocks. Thanks to Milly Johnson, Chrissie Bradshaw and Lynda Stacey for hosting and ensuring that I laughed until I cried. Oh and on the stroke of midnight everyone sang happy birthday to me!

Me, Chrissie Bradshaw, Lynda Stacey, Ros Rendle & Milly Johnson on our way to dinner!

Dressing up time!
John Jackson and Jenni Keer lurking in the background!
Fun with Chrissie Bradshaw
Sunday saw me up bright and early with the wood pigeons (Not!), packed up my case and headed for breakfast. It was of course my birthday that day but there was no chance of keeping a low profile as lots of lovely birthday wishes were given. Then I hot footed it to a very informative talk on dialogue given by the lovely Liz Harris. Another extremely informative talk that left my head buzzing with ideas.  Tea and coffee (again) and then I attended a talk given by Fiona Harper about building characters from the inside out. Fiona was able to offer lots of top tips and provided us with really useful tool to help build and develop characters. I’ll definitely be using this!

And then, my big debut. I was part of an industry panel alongside Julia Silk (Agent ) and Julia Williams (Editor) and hosted by the ever lovely Alison May. I’m pretty sure those attending could see my knees shaking with nerves. But, Alison quickly put me at ease and I really rather enjoyed it. I did have one heart stopping moment when the floor was open to questions and Jill Mansell put her hand up for a question directed at me. THE wonderful Jill Mansell wanted to ask me a question! She did of course want to know where I’d bought my sandals! Thanks so much to Jill for totally helping me relax even further into the session. It was the best question of the day! By the end of it all I could have carried on chatting the rest of the day! I loved it! It was great to chat to authors about the best way to approach book bloggers and how to work with them better. I am going to write a separate post about this more in depth so keep an eye out for that. Hopefully people will find it useful. I’ve received some positive feedback about the panel and that has really boosted my confidence.

Me pretending to know what I'm talking about!
Alison May, Julia Silk, Me, Julia Williams

After lunch, I had one last talk to attend with the wonderful Mandy Baggot who decided to sing us through some technical difficulties while we waited for her presentation. That girl can sing! It was very interesting to hear about Mandy’s journey from self-publishing to traditional publishing. Lots of food for thought!

And so, with heavy heart my conference time had come to an end. I was totally gutted to be leaving all my friends behind. The RNA conference has been the highlight of my year and has been an invaluable experience to help me grow as a writer. I’m still not sure what path my career will take or how the journey will progress but I do know that chatting to other writers and attending the talks has left me feeling a lot more confident and so inspired. I cannot wait to get stuck into my manuscript again and send it off for the critique. I think I’m prepared for the notes that will come with it but I’m not as frightened as I was before the conference. 

goody bag and name lanyard!

The conference was one of the best organised things I’ve ever attended. Everyone was provided with an information pack a few weeks prior to the conference and this proved invaluable to me as it was loaded with information about the speakers, panelists and the schedule for each day. It even had a campus map! Each day of the conference ran with military precision and the atmosphere was one of support, friendship and lots and lots of laughs. Every single person there was warm, friendly and welcoming and so supportive of one another. I know I’ve made some lifelong friends and I can’t wait to share their successes!

Tuesday 30 May 2017

Someone call my social secretary!

The last few months have been very busy for this little book blogger and wannabe writer and are going to keep getting busier! Don't you just love it when book events start to take over other things in your life! I'm so happy! 

On the 22nd April I nervously boarded the train to Dublin to go and meet up with the Irish Chapter of the RNA.  The journey took about 2 hours and it was 2 hours well spent writing. My laptop goes everywhere these days! When I arrived at the venue I was nervous because I'd never actually met any of these lovely writers before, only having spoken to a few online. However, I needn't have worried because I was made to feel so welcome. 

It was lovely to hear everyone chatting about their writing and what they were currently working on. To be honest though, I did feel a bit of a fraud not having a published novel in the world while all these very talented women around the table were 'out there' and so knowledgeable in all things bookish and publishing! I'm still a mere book blogger and I was a little bit scared and wondering if I'd ever get to the point they are all at! However, lots of reassurance and lots and lots of laughs left me feeling so glad I'd decided to come to the meet up. I heard lots of positive things that day about the New Writer's Scheme which has made me very excited to be a part of it!  

The one thing I continue to find in the bookish world is that everyone involved in writing and publishing all appear to share one common trait..............they offer the hand of friendship willingly and easily. I've never once felt unwanted or been made to feel stupid because I am such a newbie. The craic was mighty in Dublin that day and I thoroughly enjoyed the train journey home with wonderful writer Gemma Jackson who I could listen to all day! That lady has some fascinating stories to tell. Gemma very kindly gave me permission to use one of her photographs from the day. Here we all are! Don't we look fab?

June is going to be a busy month too with a Writing Conference in Dublin to attend. I'll be hopping back on that train again with my trusty laptop! I attended this conference last year and found it so interesting! I'm really looking forward to it again this year although will only be attending one of the days. I might even get a night in Dublin all by myself! You can check out the details about the conference and book yourself a place HERE! June is also the month of The Belfast Book Festival and I've booked myself into quite a few events including short story workshops, panels and book discussions with agents, publishers and authors. Its going to be such a busy month. Check out the programme for the Book Festival HERE!


And in other news...................I'm so thrilled to have been asked to take part in not one but TWO panels at a couple of events! The first of those is at the RNA conference in July in Shropshire! I'll be appearing on the panel with the lovely Alison May, Julia Silk and Julia Williams talking about the best ways a writer can help the professional team around her. When I was asked if I'd like to be part of the panel I immediately said  yes...........then felt like I needed to go hyperventilate into a brown paper bag! As a book blogger and tour coordinator I'll be expected to know what the hell I'm talking about! Eeeek! No pressure then! I'll be appearing alongside....... This will be my first RNA event and I'll certainly be jumping in at the deep end! I must get that damn manuscript submitted to the New Writer's Scheme asap! Nearly finished it! I'll definitely have it done before the conference..............I hope! Just look at the amazing venue for the conference! To say I'm excited is an understatement! I'm going for 2 nights and spending my birthday there (16th July just in case anyone wants to give me the bumps!)

The second event I've been asked to be part of is a Book Club panel as part of The Open House Festival in my lovely hometown of Bangor, Co. Down.  I'll be appearing on a panel discussing three books that were chosen for the panel - A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart, Lying In Wait by Liz Nugent and Days Without End by Sebastian Barry. I have to read all three books but I will be asked to discuss one of the books in particular.............A Boy Made of Blocks. This book is about a boy with Autism and of course those who know me know this is an area of special personal interest to me. My fellow panelists will be Hugh Odling-Smee (founder of the Belfast Book Festival), and Susan Feldstein (Literary agent) and the Chair will be Stephen Walker (author and BBC political correspondent. Check out the full programme HERE.

©Open House Festival

When the lovely author Lesley Allen (read her book The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir....amazing!!) asked me to be part of the festival I was so excited. Its fantastic to be involved in something local and really be a part of a brilliant festival that Lesley and her colleagues work so hard to put together each year.  I'm immensely proud of my hometown and think that the festival is an amazing event, bringing together creatives from all over and showcasing local talent. Some of the members of my writing group have threatened to come along and heckle from the back! I may need a bouncer on the door! Ha! Actually they are a supportive lot thank goodness!

When I take part in bookish events I really do start to feel part of the writing community and I feel inspired. These events are such great opportunities to make new friends, network, get some fantastic advice and support from established writers. And, if I'm honest its a great opportunity to get the word out about Brook Cottage Books. Not to make tons of money (that never happens anyway!) but because I am immensely proud of the site. I work very hard to make it successful and a useful service to authors and bloggers alike. That being said, I spend way too much time on it and not enough time writing! Still trying to get that balance right!

So, there you have it. A weirdly wild, scary and exciting few months ahead for little old me. I hope I'm up to the challenges. I just need to get more writing done!