The value of Literature Festivals

HLF2017 Logo with datesThis month has been all about the Huddersfield Literature Festivalbringing 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.

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Loved this pic by @DavidMBarnett with Ian Rankin

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?

 

 

 

 

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What can you give back to your local Literature Festival?

Search for ‘Literature Festival’ on the internet and your engine of choice will no doubt list hundreds of thousands of results. As a writer then, how many do you attend? It wasn’t until I started getting serious about my writing – prioritising it and aiming for publication – that I actively sought out events featuring authors and other creative professionals. And I have to say, now that I know what’s out there, I feel spoilt for choice.

In 2013 my parents highlighted a number of activities going on in my home town of Huddersfield that they thought I’d be interested in. They were advertised under the banner of the Huddersfield Literature Festival: something I’d never heard of before. Suddenly, I was hooked. I must have attended half a dozen or so different events – some that cost a small amount and others that were free. And, during one event I met the Festival Director.

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Our Brochure for HLF 2015

Michelle’s passion for the Festival shone through and her enthusiasm was catching; “I’d love to help out next year,” I offered – neglecting the fact that I wasn’t yet fully recovered from my CFS/ME. But that didn’t stop me, and before I knew it I’d had a few exchanges with Michelle and discovered that their committee was in need of someone familiar with Arts Council funding applications (my role at The Manchester Museum is supported by AC). For the last two years Huddersfield Literature Festival has successfully raised increasing funds to support the Festival from the University of Huddersfield, Kirklees Council, Arts Council and local sponsors. Not only that, but I was also able to offer my skills as an Evaluation Officer (another role I used to have at the Museum) and my training in areas of Child Protection and Risk Assessment.

I’m not sharing all this to demonstrate how generous and skilled I am – but to remind those out there that there are ways of getting involved in Literature Festivals other than being one of the authors. Whatever skills you have I’m pretty certain that such festivals can make use of them whilst also developing your experience and providing you with some potential contacts for when you are published. Not to mention how great it would look on a writing C.V.

I won’t lie – it takes time and, depending on how active a member you are, it can also be hard work; as a result it does take your attention away from writing. Yet, the benefits (in my eyes) far outweigh the efforts I put it. Not only can I be proud of contributing to a cause that encourages people to read and write, provides opportunity to local, upcoming practitioners and writers and brings revenue to the area; but I get to meet authors, chat with them and even make suggestions of who we might try and attract for the future. Last year I was fortunate enough to sit next to the delightful David Barnett, whose novel Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl I had been intending to read for far too long! I, of course, rectified this immediately and I’ve now become a huge fan of the Gideon Smith novels and the various short stories David has written to accompany them.

On top of all this, I’ve been inspired to get on with my own work because in meeting all of these authors and agents and editors I’ve begun to realise that my dream is achievable. It doesn’t just happen to other people; it happens to people I’ve met and people I like; some of whom, it seems, have become supporters of my own – such as the lovely Rosie Garland who I met at the Museum whilst she was appearing in the Manchester Literature Festival. I’ve been to so many of her events now she knows who I am and often asks how I’m getting on in my writing. Sometimes I even get a personal invitation to her gigs – which is a wonderful touch, making Rosie one of my favourite authors of recent times.

lit fest memeI might never have had such fortunate opportunities  had I not taken an active interest in my local literature festivals, nor volunteered myself to help out where I could, when I could, how I could. It’s an immensely rewarding experience that makes me eager to complete my novel so that I might finally be able to take part in one myself, as an author – just to see things from the other side.

One day, soon perhaps.

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For more information on the Huddersfield Literature Festival, happening 5-15th March 2015 (with lots of Library events and a family day leading up to it) visit the website: www.litfest.org.uk

To find a UK Literature Festival near you, check out this handy list.