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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Handcuffs and exploding hands. (Browsing history deleted.)

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Personal data’s been in the news a bit this week.  From Monday to Wednesday, I work for a charity and our office is nestled in the impressive HQ of a much larger charity.  On the ground floor there’s a big cafe showing rolling BBC news so you don’t have to make eye contact with anyone else while you’re microwaving your soup.

This week the story spelled out in hastily typed subtitles was Apple’s resistance to helping FBI officers access data on a gunman’s phone.  The corporation argues:

“The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers.”

Now I’ve started to get rather paranoid about my own browsing history.

I wrote ‘Orangeboy‘ on our main family desk top.  The computer’s currently being repaired having forgotten how to turn itself off and, once unplugged and replugged, sulked at being turned on again. This left my own options for fixing it rather limited.

The plot of ‘Orangeboy’ evolved gradually.  In real speak, this means I had no idea what was going on until several drafts in.  I knew that it was going to be a crime-inspired story – after all, it came to life at an Arvon crime-writing course.  As the story parts were being hammered in place, the extent of my ignorance became startlingly clear.

Some of this was eased through the ‘Seven Degrees’ approach.  As I found out, you’re never a couple of degrees away from a coroner, a lawyer, a senior police officer and someone who gets sick on fairground rides.

Other pieces of research are recycled from books that never happened.  For instance, an east London cemetery has a bit of a star spot.  I felt I owed it to my daughter after making her, aged nine, follow me round City of London Cemetery and Crematorium taking pictures.  The book it was destined for was never published.  But a few years later, a second chance beckoned.

But there was other stuff.

For a start, I have never set fire to a car.  I know people who have but they refused the opportunity to tell me the details while I took copious notes.  But this is core You Tube business.

Mangled hands?  Click.  Gosh.  (But it does have relevance, honest.)

‘Orangeboy’ is a book  that explores choices.  Some of the choices potentially have unpleasant consequences.  I needed to dig out info on getting round those consequences.  And blimey, there are some innovative folk out there, albeit with ambiguous morals.

Though, no doubt the fixer guy hired by Currys PC World has his own view on my morals by now.

So, I’ve pumped friends, and friends of friends up to the seventh degree, for those reassuring details that make a good story plausible.

I’ve also fished in the seething depths of the internet and pulled out all sorts of brow-raising detritus.

But then, there’s the opportunistic ‘ask’.

You see those handcuffs in the picture?

Last September, I was trundling round London on my bike taking in some of the Open House opportunities.  On my way to queue for a basement Roman bath, I passed the Custom House.  No queue and handy railings for my bike.

The Custom House used to be the place which collected levies on goods entering London by boat.  It is still used by HM Customs and Excise.  So rather unexpectedly, I found out about sniffer dogs (how they’re acquired and trained), the range of forbidden animal-related items that are smuggled in (from endangered sturgeon’s caviar to a ruddy great big bear skin) and then, there were the weapons.

The guy displaying the weapons was a trainer.  He helped customs officers involved in raids to stay safe.  I couldn’t help lingering, or asking questions or taking lots of photos. Lots and lots of photos.  he was very helpful.  But he also looked really pleased when someone else showed interest because he moved really quickly away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are you a proper writer?

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Yesterday, I felt like a proper writer.  I felt so proper that I sent a text to a good friend about it, just so it was recorded for posterity.  There are certain things that should generally enhance your writer status.  These include:

Writing stuff.

I’ve been writing stuff since I was about six.  Tellingly, I only have one friend left from childhood.  I wonder if the others fell away under the weight of having to endure endless rhyming couplets about my dog, Jai.  Or the time the coffee percolator exploded.  Or even that special moment when a really big worm slopped on to my mum’s bare foot in Italy.  (Oh, happy days.)

There are other reasons why I could have claimed proper writerliness.  I read out my poem about Romans in Fishbourne at a parents’ evening.  (And believe me, my school was hot on quality control.)  And another poem – is there a pattern here? – won an award at a local arts festival and was read aloud by the only Doctor Who companion who died in situ.   There were the stories published in ‘True Romance’ and the constructive, encouraging rejection from ‘Black Lace’, ‘the first erotic imprint in the UK written for women’.  Apparently, kinky politicians were a bit of a cliché.

Come sixth form, come my crowning achievement –  a reworked pantomime version of ‘The Wizard of Oz’.  Not only did my head of house agree to be a witch and her deputy, rock the stage as Toto, but the production team featured future stars including a model and ‘Emmerdale’ actor and the bass player of a world famous indie band.  Us Haywards Heath folk punch way above our weight.  Or sometimes just punch.  Entertaining nightlife is a bit sparse there.

But did that make me a proper writer?  No.  My rich earnings of £60 and a poem published in the ‘Evening Argus’, did not turn my head.  (I must have had a rich store of poems, though.  I wonder where they are now.  Along with my childhood friends.)

Many years later, I’m preparing for the debut of ‘Orangeboy’, my first novel for young adults.  I’ve arrived here via short stories, screenwriting, comedy writing and a go at radio scripts.  All languishing in a forgotten folder in a forgotten hard drive with ports for cable types that have long been extinct.

I was lucky enough to gain Caroline Sheldon as my agent.  She saw my potential (but thankfully, no poems) and encouraged me to write for a younger audience.  A couple of paying gigs followed – children’s short stories and educational publishers – then by pure accident I was at an Arvon crime writing course and found myself chatting to a 16-year-old protagonist called Marlon.  Orangeboy.

But still… proper writer?  Ummm.

Then yesterday, something changed.  I went in to Hodder to talk publicity, proofs and literary festival panels.  We chatted school events and people of influence. Coming out into the Blackfriars’ sunshine, I thought – goddamn, this is real!  I then whizzed up the District Line for a lunchtime catch up with Caroline.  A lovely hour or so that also happened to feature some rather splendid butternut squash and apple crumble.

So what was it that made me feel like a proper writer?

Was it the lightheaded shock from getting a seat on the Underground for most of the journey from Blackfriars to Notting Hill?  Definitely a contributing factor.

Was it the lunchtime glass of wine?  As, if!

But perhaps it’s finally sunk in – I can do this!  I can write stuff that people want to read.  I can write stuff that people want to sell.  Without a rhyming couplet in sight.

My partner knows a coroner. I never saw that coming. (Notes from a debut YA author.)

Yah!  I have a two-book deal with Hodder!  I have signed on the dotted line for my first young adult novel as well as another stand alone one to follow.   I am actually being paid money for this.  Yay, again!  Last Man Standing, will be published in March 2016, Indigo Donut, (title may change…) in March 2017. This is good news.

Actually, it’s amazingly excellent news.  Such good news that it  made our local paper, as well as The Voice newspaper, the website of a prolific local blogger and our local freebie. I was even interviewed on Colourful Radio, sitting in the corner of a north London park, on a bench between the goats and the deer, on my way to work.

And I have wanted to be a writer since.  Just since.

So, how did this deal come about?  I researched the young adult market – that is, loitered with intent in Charing Cross Road Foyles and scanned my daughter’s shelves.  She’s into manga.  Not helpful.  I also started planning a crime novel set in 1940s Port of Pain, a society still facing up to the impact of the second world war, colonial rule and a programme of de-slumming and emigration.  If you’ve seen Errol John’s play ‘Moon On A Rainbow Shawl’, you know what I mean.  A setting ripe for drama and random poisoning.

I took my collection of ideas to an Arvon crime-writing course, tutored by Dreda Say Mitchell and Frances Fyfield.  About halfway through the week, we were given an exercise to help us hide information – a sentence that had to be embedded within a paragraph or so.  The rest of the group had to guess the sentence.  I was presented with ‘He woke up dreaming of yellow’.  So – what was on my mind?

The obvious.  Mustard.

A few weeks earlier, my daughter and I had used the day of a teachers’ strike to check out Hyde Park Winter Wonderland.  Everything was so pricey that after a couple of rides – her, not me, I’m a coward – we only had money left for one hot dog to share. So – what if?  What if two young people are at a fairground? It’s their first date and the boy is a bit uncertain.  He hates mustard but he’s going to eat that hot dog the girl’s just bought him because it’s a sign.  She’s claiming him.  The date’s going well and then what’s the very worst thing that can happen?  After I wrote that, I just carried on writing.

There was no plan.  Characters emerged from a murky subconscious and vicarious wish fulfillment.  The mother I’d like to be, the 15-year-old I wish I’d been, the big brother I wanted, were all there on the page.  And what was at the core?  The press release mentions gangs, drugs and guns, but that wasn’t what really interested me.  I wanted my protagonist, Marlon, to be a lovely young man, a bit quiet, a bit geeky and with an enduring love for vinyl records.  I was fascinated by what would tip a boy like that over.  Why would Marlon Sunday, who can name every Earth, Wind and Fire album in order, risk destroying his family and his future?

First draft done, after a thorough critique from my writing group, priceless mentoring and the complete removal of a subplot, I was getting there. The book had always been like a jigsaw, but now I had the right number of pieces.  I had to keep trying until the picture looked right.

Caroline Sheldon, my agent, sent it to a number of publishers. My first meeting with Hodder was in an office with a wonderful view and premium biscuits.  I fell in love and eventually it was requited.

So what have I learnt from this so far?

1. My partner knows a coroner.  I honestly never saw that coming.

2. Local newspapers really like good news. So –

3. It’s good to have a couple of decent hi res pics to send off.  My hair is its own lifeform.  In the photos you will see it trying to escape.

4. I somehow have to balance shameless and modest self-publicity.  Haven’t quite worked out that one yet.  However, promotion is vital.

5. The joy of getting to the 300th edit.  There will be more polishing, but I feel that we’re nearly there.  (Aren’t we?  Say ‘yes’!)

6. How pleased and encouraging my friends are!

7. I have a full time job, a teenage daughter, a needy cat and a heavy clad allotment.  I should learn to multitask.

I’ll (try and) keep you posted about book cover selection, promotion and all those new experiences as as we edge towards publication. Px