This month has been all about the Huddersfield Literature Festival – bringing words to life between 4th-19th March. With over fifty events it’s been bigger than ever and I feel privileged to even say I play a small part in the organisation of such, being Festival Secretary and all. I’ve written before about how rewarding working for the Festival has been for me, and I would encourage any one (writer or reader) to seek out local festivals of any kind and join in where they can.
Literature Festivals are all about the writer, regardless of the written form; novels, short stories, poetry, flash fiction, non-fiction – anything goes. And by no means do I mean the writers who feature at the events. No, I also mean us, the public, those people who attend to hear more about the writing craft, who crave the success stories of debut authors and lap up the longevity of long-time, career writers. Personally, I sit in the audience and secretly wonder what it would be like to be on the other side; looking out over a sea of faces eager to hear more about my journey to becoming a published author. And this, I have discovered, is a very worthwhile motivator.
But it’s strange, because I know if I ever do get the chance to sit on the other side of that audience, all waiting for me to tell them how I got published, why this story, and why these characters – I know I would pass on the same cliches that we often hear today:
- You have to finish the novel before you can look for an agent
- The story surprised me, I didn’t plan for it to be this way in the beginning
- My characters took on a life of their own, they did things that were unexpected
- I couldn’t force my characters to do something; they would resist by ruining the writing I was trying to make happen
- It takes hard work, determination and persistence to get published
- I received lots of rejections before finally finding an agent who believes in me
All of these things are true. They will also all be likely to remain true so long as traditional publishing is the main route to publication. Many of them apply even without the push to enter mainstream publishing; true of independent publishing and even some of self-publishing too. You can’t follow a formula for writing a best selling novel first time around, but you can count on the above being just as applicable for one author as much as another in the end.
The true value of a Literature Festival, though, lies in how you approach the events: you have to be a participant, not just an observer. Ask questions, take notes, speak to the people who are there. This is where you can network and meet like-minded writers and readers who will be thirsty for your stories, who will listen to your novel pitch with enthusiasm and interest, and possibly even highlight where your explanations needs expansion or clarification.
I spoke to a lot of people – some of them writers, others who were readers – and they were all complimentary when I told them I was a writer myself. I received encouragement from the authors I spoke to too: tips for getting back into writing, for carrying on through rejection, for simply being a part of the Festival itself. I got to drink with Ian Rankin in our local pub (he was particularly pleased after he bought a round for seven of us and still had change from a £20 note!). I met authors of books I might not ordinarily have read. And – this is important – whenever I attended an event I made an effort to buy the book. It’s important for me to demonstrate my support for the author in this way. Though I should say the Festival pays all of our authors to attend events, regardless of how established or popular they may be; being a debut author at Huddersfield Literature Festival does not mean you have to appear for ‘free’ because it might allow you to sell some books. We know how tough it can be and we are committed to supporting their success as an author.
By doing this – buying a copy of each of the novels of the events I participate in – I get to discover new authors, and read books I am invested in because I’ve heard the journey of the writer and how hard they worked to shape this novel or story or poem. I’ve discovered stories I absolutely love – Calling Major Tom by David Barnett, or Margot and Me by Juno Dawson. But, it also fuels my own imagination and makes me realise that I want this too. So, once I’ve signed off this post, perhaps after a cup of tea, I’m going to sit back down and write. I don’t know what, but I am going to write something; because if I don’t write, how can I call myself a writer?