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