Ten Things I’ve Learnt from Literary Festivals …

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So, two weeks into freelance life, I’ve spent the last three weekends travelling to or at literary festivals.

The thought of being on a panel at lit fests had always felt overwhelmingly exciting. I’d see them advertised in the broadsheets with the slow reveal of authors I’ve read and enjoyed. Then at last! the invitations started coming my way.

I have worked out that in the last 18 months, I have participated in:

  • two Young Adult Literary Conventions (YALC)
  • two Hay Festivals
  • two Edinburgh International Book Festivals including two Booked! outreach festivals
  • one Brighton Literary Festival
  • one Oxford Literary Festival
  • one Bath Literary Festival
  • one Cheltenham Literary Festival
  • one YA Shot
  • one YA Xtravaganza
  • one ArchWay With Words
  • one South Bank YA Literary Weekender
  • one Deptcon
  • one Stoke Newington Literary Festival

And still pending this year …

That’s a festival or two.

I’ve been invited to talk primarily about Orangeboy and Indigo Donut, but also to promote the A Change Is Gonna Come anthology published by Stripes Publishing.  This is what I’ve learnt so far.

Contemporary YA is a tough sell in mainstream literary festivals. The targeted readers rarely come to events. (Personally, I can remember most gigs I went to as a teenager, but I did not step foot in a single literary festival.)  For my type of book, school outreach is the most effective way to directly engage with the young people I write about and who I hope will be our future writers. Steph at ArchWay with Words persuaded the local school to bring their students. They were impressively interested bearing in mind it was 5pm on a Friday. And two young women were so delighted that I’d heard of Wattpad that it made my day.

However, SCBWIs rule. Wherever there are Scoobies, they will come out to support you. Special thanks to the Scottish crew and their families who came to my Edinburgh public event with Jared Thomas.

Thankfully, festivals appear to have ditched the diversity panel. I loved this year’s YALC panel theme of unconventional romances. At Stoke Newington, I was on a light-hearted mixed genre panel chatting publishing experiences. At the South Bank Festival in a couple of weeks time, the panel focuses on truth – a wonderfully topical subject. The Deptcon panel though sort of about families, was a beautifully laidback chat about everything.

Green Room #1: The idea of prosecco on tap is not just a metaphorical concept. It exists in reality in Stoke Newington.

Prepare for book signing with a month long intense meditation course.  At YALC, the signing table is very long as are the queues. But – um – not for me. The second year wasn’t so bad, but it’s hard not to feel like the small part players in 1980s obscure sci fi films sitting beneath their posters in the Comicon below. But these days I feel confident enough to have invested in appropriately coloured Sharpies. And I love chatting to people – Manga, Fall Out Boy and Guns N Roses have featured in some particularly enjoyable conversations.

Green Room #2: It’s hard not to be starstruck. The sight of Mary Berry signing an Everest of books could turn anyone’s head. I was also slightly discombobulated by Benedict Cumberbatch’s ear at Hay.

You may wish to stay quiet if you haven’t read Harry Potter. I have disclosed this to authors and publishing folk a couple of times and been met with stunned silence followed by gasps of incredulity big enough to blow my earrings out. Or nearly. This is not a reflection on the books – I love the films and deeply admire the author. However, I was born 1967. When Philosopher’s Stone came out, I was just finishing my third year as a mature student studying English and History of Art. A whole new world of reading, some of it deeply pretentious, had been opened up to me. But I had also discovered Stuart Hall, bell hooks, James Kelman and Earl Lovelace.  And I was still discovering London. If it was a choice between Metalheadz in Hoxton Square or Hogwarts – SORRY, HOGWARTS!

Green Room #3: Even if starstruck, you can meet your heroes. At my first YALC, I walked into the Green Room and felt terror. Everyone seemed to know each other and I knew no one.  And then I saw Malorie Blackman. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have written about black families. Should I say ‘hello’? She saw me, greeted me by name and we sat down and chatted. And chatted. I also met Nadiya Hussain at Cheltenham. I was very happy. So was my daughter and my mum. It’s very rare that three generations of Lawrences are in synch like that. 13613658_10153677842416373_5902497029742774633_o

You get to meet the people who are bigging up your book. YALC, especially, is a big event for bloggers who were so encouraging and enthusiastic when Orangeboy came out. They read books for the joy of it and help push it out into the word if they like it. As a debut writer, this is invaluable.

I am still excited by hotels. I’ve been lucky enough to travel from quite an early age, but we often stayed with family in Italy or Trinidad. So pottering around a room that someone’s paid and booked for you still makes me grin. At the hotel in Dublin, they refreshed the room while I was out and left a chocolate on my bedside table. Life can’t get any better than that.

 

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Who needs security? Aka Swapping a life of employment to be a freelancing writer.

Today is the first day of the rest of my life. As is any day, to be honest.  For the generation before me, I am at the age when you should be counting down – ten years, nine years, eight – to claiming your state pension.  Whereas I am embarking on a life of insecurity, hustle and potential impecunity.

Friday was my last day at the wonderful Spread The Word, in Deptford, working with London’s writers. (If you’re ever short of a writing prompt, can I recommend Deptford Market? The clash of bike speakers between the Rasta guy cycling by booming dub and the old white guy blasting Rainbow’s ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’ is a play waiting to happen.)

From tomorrow, no more Pay As You Earn tax deductions. No more prepaid National Insurance. No more contractual hours.

Why am I doing this? It’s time. I have wanted to write all my life, but only now feel able to be a writer. Nearly every job I have had since teenage years has fed into my writing, from a two-week stint cleaning St Francis psychiatric hospital (previously Brighton County Borough Asylum) where my parents, stepdad and virtually everyone else I knew worked to my jobs in London with families involved with social services or affected by imprisonment. St Francis

The stint in Brook young people’s sexual health clinics was particularly insightful and rather useful for Indigo Donut

But also, I’ve had a chance to reflect on Orangeboy and the potential for Indigo Donut. I wrote about subjects I care deeply about and they have given me a springboard and platform to explore those topics in different ways with young people – creative, innovative and knowledgeable young people, that never fail to impress me.

So what’s next?

The pragmatic stuff – sorting out income and expenditure spreadsheets, being way more rigorous about keeping and storing receipts and organising an effective invoicing system. Oh, the excitement.

I need a proper website. I’ve been putting that one on hold for a while. A horrible amount of while. But at the moment people contact me in different ways – via my agent or Sarah, my publicist, at Hachette. Some come directly via Twitter, Facebook or email. It’s hard to keep up. I need to be way more strategic.

Hachette have offered to help me put together a school leaflet. It’s time, it’s time.

And this week – up to Bath tonight for two school events in Bath and Bristol tomorrow supporting the Bath Literature Festival. Then a meeting on Tuesday with the fabulous Hackney Museum to talk about how Orangeboy, a Hackney-set book about a young, black geeky guy who gets pulled into an underworld, can be used as a discussion point for a project with local men. 20170629_084127.jpg

There’s a meeting with my agent, Caroline Sheldon, to discuss freelance opportunities – we are both excited about the possibilities that lie ahead. And a rather wonderful opportunity to talk Black writing and activism in Writing in the Age of Black Lives Matter at Brixton Library on 4th October with Patrick Vernon and Jackee Holder.

I also need to do a bit of writing …

So, come on this new journey with me! I’ll be keeping you posted.

Patrice x

 

 

Orangeboy – A year on in pictures.

Well – it has been an interesting few months. My second book, ‘Indigo Donut’, is published on Thursday. Time to have a look back.

My debut novel, ‘Orangeboy’, was shortlisted for the Costa Children’s Book Award, won the Waterstones Children’s Book Award for Older Fiction and The Bookseller YA Prize. It was nominated for the Carnegie Medal and shortlisted for regional awards.

I’m sitting hear on a Sunday morning, listening to Gemma Cairney on BBC 6 Music, writing these words and it still feels like someone else’s story.

But I have proof it happened. And lessons have been learnt. Here they are in pictures.

1. Launches are ace! I was lucky enough to have two.

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Launch number 1: Sharing a moment of pride with Caroline Sheldon (my agent and dress twin) and Emma Goldhawk, my editor.

And if you ask folks casually if they’ll wear something orange – they do!

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Launch 2: The youngest guest sports  a top t-shirt.

2. It’s surprising who will help promote your book, if you ask nicely.

‘Orangeboy’ is set locally in Hackney. Here are my two local MPs. And Reggie Yates. There’s also an army of book bloggers who spread the word for free, because they love books. They have my eternal gratitude.

3. Schools research you.

I am grateful my partying days were pre-camera phone and speedy upload.  Though it’s also like an unexpected archive of hairstyles past.20161202_091427

4. Folks from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) are the peer support I didn’t realise was possible.

They look out for you. They’ve got your back. They come to and take pictures at your launch. They summon up cake toppers.

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Whooo! Cake toppers!

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Writer, actor and You Tube dance stars Odette Elliott and Don

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Authors Tania Tay and Peter Bunzl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 It’s searingly lovely sharing a table with authors you admire.

It’s an odd feeling going into bookshops, seeing authors’ names and realising that you’ve stood next to them drinking wine.

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Fen and Kerry from Letterbox Library with a selection of wonderful reads from Chitra Soundar, Candy Gourlay, Catherine Johnson, Malorie Blackman and many more

6. And, you get to meet your s/heroes. Forget the old adage. Meet them. Seriously, MEET THEM.

 

7. Ben Bailey Smith AKA Doc Brown does a wicked Yoda.

My daughter, my editor and I sat in on the recording session. Up until then, I’d only heard Marlon’s voice in my head. Suddenly, his words were coming out of someone else’s mouth. And they sounded like how Marlon should sound. As you can gather, he was also very funny. Find out more about the Audible book here.

 

8. You make fantastic friends.

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Me (coming perilously close to manspreading), Sue Wallman, Eugene Lambert, Kathryn Evans, event chair, Michelle Toy and panel originator, Olivia Levez.

Writer, Olivia Levez, had the wondrous idea of assembling a panel of debut authors to tour the country to chat about publishing, editing, writing and buckets of self-doubt. One of me happiest memories is  the last twelve months, is sitting in a Premier Inn room next to a roundabout in the outskirts of Liverpool, quaffing fizzy wine and realising that the Lost and Found panellers are wonderful people. They are also SCBWI folk. So it figures.

9. Sometimes second hand shops, including over-priced ones in Brick Lane, East London, call you in at the right time.

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10. Finally, one of the happiest day’s of my life, was when my daughter was born. This young person who has inspired me so much was standing next to me when my name was called out at Waterstones.

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A very, very happy day!

Indigo Donut, my second book with young adult protagonists, is published by Hodder on 12th July 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book tour! First stop with the Lost and Founders

The debut of the debutantes – five writers, five books, an appreciative audience and a statue of a bull.

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The Lost and Found tour kicked off in the ENORMOUS Birmingham Waterstones – that’s it below, the tall building being faced down by the famous Birmingham Bull of The Bull Ring.

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It was busy, first they moved our room to a bigger space, then they had to bring in more chairs – Thanks Midlands , you rock ( and thanks Cousin Clare whose photo’s I have stolen)!

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Michelle Toy was a brilliant chair but then, she knows her books being a brilliant book blogger on Tales of Yesterday

We had so much fun!

All credit to our awesome audience who asked some fantastic questions – a real mix of readers and writers. I think it went pretty well!   Author Juliet Clare Bell said:

I genuinely thought that was one of the best authors-talking-at-an-event I’ve ever been to. Just great.

Come and see us at our next stop!

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And don’t…

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Whose World? World Book Day and the £1 selections for 2017

Beautifully written, though it feels like a never win.

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an_eye_for_an_eye_by_malorie_blackman Blackman’s Eye for an Eye was a World Book Day selection in 2003, but there are no BAME authors on the 2017 list.

Last week, the World Book Day selection committee in the UK announced their titles for 2017—and they have spent this week defending them.

The event, for those who don’t know, is held yearly in the UK, and originally started as a parallel event to UNESCO’s World Book and Copyright Day, held annually on Shakespeare’s birthday (23rd April). The UK event has since been moved to March, but it continues to promote reading through offering several choices of £1 books (for which most school children are given a book token anyway, making the books free for many). The choices are at various reading levels (so, this year there are pre-school choices and choices for KS1, KS2 and KS3 level readers) but otherwise are quite random; one of…

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Orangeboy – the cover design

I’ve been lucky. My debut novel, ‘Orangeboy’, has often been found with its cover facing out on tables and shelves in bookshops, from the Foyles on the London Southbank to Waterstones, in Bath. This is down to the splendid cover by Michelle Rochford, an in-house designer at my publishers, Hachette.

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How did Michelle create such a striking image?

Firstly, the designers read the book. We can all read the same story but settle on different details. Likewise, with designers. This is Michelle’s crib sheet – and one, there are spoilers and two, I was immensely flattered by the comparison!

Orangeboy cover designer's notes

Orangeboy cover designer’s notes

Michelle was particularly caught by the references to the brain.  My protagonist, Marlon, has a brother with a brain injury and is, himself, fascinated by how the brain works.  Marlon’s brain is also full of music, shaped by the records his father used to play.  I write about the soundtrack to ‘Orangeboy’ in my blog for WHSmith.

The next stage, was scooping up the inspiration.  The book was originally called ‘Last Man Standing’, but the publishers felt that the title didn’t do justice to the YA genre.  Once it had flipped to ‘Orangeboy’, it freed up ideas.  The mood boards below show the gathering of visual ideas, some more obvious, some tangential.  It’s like putting together a novel from fragments of conversation and half-formed plots.

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The challenge was to design a cover that was attractive across gender. Although the main protagonist is male, this is also a story about women – Sonia, D-Ice’s mum, Marlon’s mum -whose lives are devastated by others’ destructive choices.  There was one other worry for me.  Marlon is a young man of Caribbean heritage who ends up carrying a knife – but – this is a story about families, how we can end up hurting each other even while we try and protect each other.  It was incredibly important for me that the cover stayed clear of potentially stereotypical images.

Some more ideas…

In the mood boards, orange features, but other primary colours dominate too, with strong, stylised imagery and distinct text.  Can you spot the most obvious influence?

What did the research spark off?  I didn’t see these at the time, so I’m quite intrigued. Lemon, orange, silhouettes, the shape of thoughts.Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 16.59.57

Which led to these…

Orangeboy_VisualsBack in October 2015, came the cover reveal.  Emma, my editor, said: ‘I think it’s arresting, and intriguing, and beautiful, but has an urban edge’. It takes the craziness inspired by Gnarls Barkley  and the street art of Banksy which had popped up across the walls of east London.  She also pointed out the importance of its impact not only on the shelf, but at thumbnail size for internet shoppers.  Orangeboy_B_PB[1]

And finally, the finishes.  Emma said:  ‘Michelle and I are proposing adding a gloss varnish on the titling and the image, possibly on that ‘soft touch’ matt background, which will make the gloss pop.’  This has meant a very tactile cover where the main image and title catches the light.  There were a few other decisions to make too – where to add the generous quote from Jenny Downham, imagery for the back and inside covers (me in full scowl mode), the blurb at the back…

Other than that, there was one other thing.  Music is important to Marlon’s life.  My partner suggested an important addition to Marlon’s explosion of thoughts.  Spot the (vinyl) difference!

What songs shape your stories?

20160205_095020I was asked to write a blog for World Book Day Teenfest, by coincidence on the day it was announced that Maurice White had died. I know some Earth Wind and Fire songs, but Marlon, in ‘Orangeboy’, is one of their biggest fans. So I wrote the blog about the music we inherit and the music pass on… (It is also a snapshot into hairstyles past.)

Check out the blog here.

What are your inheritance tracks?