On the 20th October, Senior Editor Mike French and I pitched up at Luton Library to deliver a workshop on Editing Your Book for Luton's book festival, run in partnership with The View From Here.
Mike explained how the collaboration came about: “We spoke to Waterstones in Luton late last year and agreed that it would be a good idea to pull the different strengths of The View From Here, Waterstones and the library together to try and foster an environment where literature could flourish in Luton. At the moment, the town is really a literary desert and when you look at the strengths and cultural mix of the place there really is no reason for that.
“When we then approached the library they were very keen and said they were hoping to get some funding to run a book festival and so that became the first project to work on together. Unfortunately, shortly after that the Waterstones store fell to the axe leaving the town with no bookshop and just us and the library left to work on the project.”
Thanks to their hard work, energy and enthusiasm, the fledgling festival plans managed to survive and grow into something really quite special with the potential for more to come in the future.
Following Mike's first workshop, Getting Published, earlier that week, a small but perfectly formed group awaited us. Participants ranged from an aspiring writer who hadn't started writing his book to a novelist who had secured his first book deal and was about to enter into the often thrilling, often nerve wracking process of editing his book with his publisher's input. A non-fiction writer and MA graduate were also among the audience.
When one participant spoke of enjoying coming to such events to network with other writers as well as the experts, Mike and I looked over our shoulders to see if Meg Rosoff or Iain Banks had walked in, before realising that the experts he was referring to was us!
I'd practised my presentation and workshop exercises on the train from London, and after a brief, suppressed panic attack, when a member of library staff was sent to look for the AV leads and I wondered what we might do without the pre-prepared safety net on my USB stick, we all settled in and shared ideas, experiences and tips.
I might be a published author used to running writing workshops for The Open University (as well as taking part in a few events over the years for my wonderful local Redbridge Book and Media Festival) but I would never be arrogant enough to refer to myself as an expert! In my experience, humility goes a long way when you are teaching and facilitating learning. After all, we all have something to offer and something to take away.
The experience confirmed for me that an environment of creativity and support can be fostered anywhere that writers meet and talk to one another; writers don't need to rely on the big boys such as Edinburgh and Hay (which can be somewhat daunting to the newcomer) to get their festival fix. And there are new ones popping up all the time. Cue, opportunity for a brief shout out to the Unlit Festival (www.unlitfestival.com), 10-12 November in Norwich, run by Unthank Books, who are launching the Unthology 2 (featuring my short story, Hang Up, as well as unconventional writing from twelve other writers).
Mike says he learnt there is a good chance a number of "hidden" writers are off radar in Luton because of the lack of a literary scene. “We are already planning with the library as to how to find these writers so we can help support them,” he said before adding, “I also learnt that Shanta likes black coffee!”
Our very own TVFH book reviewer and novelist, Megan Taylor, has also been doing lots of events, reading at Nottingham Word of Mouth, as well as being part of WeathervaneLive, which has taken her to New Writers UK, an Independent Press Fair in Leicester, and her local book festival in Lowdham.
Megan says, “These are the most fun because there's support, always someone to step in and rescue me when I lose my thread. And because there's usually wine. :-) We've kind of honed it now though too, so it's pretty relaxed, lots of chatting with the audience alongside the readings. It's the chatting that for me, is the best thing about these things. I think with events generally, I like being in the audience most of all.”
Luton Book Festival carries on until 10 November, with a Short Story Writing workshop with Carole Matthews on 7 November and with fellow TVFH writer and blogger, Jane Turley, running A Beginner's Guide to Blogging workshop on the final day, so if you're within striking distance, do come along and join in! For details click here.
Photo credit: Rupert Ganzer