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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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From disco-y wetlook to virgin Brazilian

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In homage to Americanah’, a spot more hair business.  There was actually a sign in a local hairdresser advertising Virgin Brazilian hair.  We weren’t sure if the adjective was being applied to the donator or the hair itself.  I’m afraid I was too much of a coward to ask.

Anyway, it makes the days of wetlook and gericurl seem so much more innocent.

 

Meeting my hero, Eileen Browne

20130709_174128 They say ‘don’t meet your heroes’.  I beg to disagree.

Last year, I was lucky enough to work with the illustrator and writer, Eileen Browne, on a project to promote literacy in prisons.  Even though my daughter is now 14, we still flushed out her old copy of ‘Handa’s Surprise’, to get it signed.  However, it was the books about Jo, a child with a black mother and white father, just like my daughter, that I am grateful for.  According to the vast majority of children’s picture books, families like ours didn’t exist.

 

Wait And See Tony Bradman & Eileen Browne

 

Eileen delivered a workshop on writing for children to young fathers in a London prison.  Many of these men were not accessing the prison education service and approached the workshop with great caution.  The impact was considerable and many saw the workshop and the stories it inspired in them as a way to link with their families and children.

Now Eileen, along with other writers, is challenging the publishers on gender.   There is is still a perception that while girls will follow protagonists of both genders, boys are only interested in boys.  Better get Katniss on to that.

‘The Lonely Londoners’ – Radio 4 Book at Bedtime

‘The Lonely Londoners’ – Radio 4 Book at Bedtime

Don Warrington is definitely doing justice to Sam Selvon’s book!  Sir Galahad, Tante and the journalist, Brixton…  Yes, it was a struggle for families coming from the Caribbean, but this book is very funny and Don Warrington’s accents and voices brings out the humour.

And with a spot of Lord Kitch bookending it too.  Great!