Thursday, 10 November 2016

I love hearing of writing success.

I signed up for my first writing class about 10 years ago. The session began with a writing exercise lasting around 10-15 minutes followed by each of us reading their work out if they chose. There was no compunction but most did, which enabled the tutor to give some brief feedback. I recall that I was about third to read my humble effort on my first session. This was the first time I'd ever read my writing to anyone other than my daughter. Thank goodness I was third because by the time we had reached halfway through the class I realized that I was up against some seriously good writers. (I found my piece not long ago and was gratified to see that my writing has improved since then!)

The second half of the class allowed people to read from their works in progress for fuller feedback from the tutor and members of the class. The focus was always positive and supportive but weak writing was criticized with suggestions to improve it. I found it helped my writing to develop and that giving thoughtful criticism was also beneficial for one's own writing.

Members of the class were working on poems, short stories and novels. I loved hearing Barbara's fictionalized memoirs, funny, wry but also heart-breaking. Barbara had visual impairment so she often asked me to read these pieces out. It was an honour to do so. Jane was busy working on a novel in which the indomitable Mrs Maybury and her hapless friend got into all sorts of scrapes. Joyce was writing a novel set in 1976 where she evoked that unforgettable summer with small details - do you recall Aqua Manda? If not, you weren't a teenager in 1976! (Actually it has been revived: Aqua Manda.) Another writer, Rae, a teacher, wrote edgy stories with a dark side including those for young adults.

After 3 years I left the class to move on to setting up Greenacre Writers with Rosie Canning and sadly lost touch with some of that first group - but recently I reconnected with Rae Stoltenkamp, who wrote those edgy pieces. Rae is a passionate supporter of libraries in general and Herne Hill's Carnegie Library in particular.  A former English teacher she remains actively involved in helping people to gain literacy skills. In among her various projects Rae has recently published her novel Six Dead Men. She had already published books for younger readers but this was her first novel for adults. Rae talks about her journey toward independent publication on her blog here. To learn more about Rae and those Six Dead Men read her interview with Chantelle Atkins.
Follow Rae on Twitter @Raedenwrites

It's very easy to think when someone has a writing success that they're lucky. But we all know the work that goes in to those successes - that there will have been graft, doubts, tears, more graft plus persistence and determination. And probably somewhere along the line, cake and wine.

Well done Rae. Here's to your writing success. Wine and cake anyone?

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Finchley Remembered - Part II

In 2002 The Finchley Society published a book of local people's recollections. It was always on the cards that a second volume would follow.

It's taken a while but that has now come to fruition! September saw the launch of Finchley Remembered - Part II at Waterstones bookshop in North Finchley.

I was the book's editor so my task was to comb through the hundreds of anecdotes sent in by past and present Finchleyites recounting their recollections of Finchley. The material in the Finchley Society archives sent in over the years filled several box files. The first volume, Finchley Remembered, covered the early part of the 20th century so I focused on the middle decades. This volume broadly covers the 1930s though to the 70s. We collected a huge number of memories from the war and the fifties, detailing school days and leisure time. Many of today's children would be surprised at the freedom their grandparents enjoyed! The reams of paper from the archives included handwritten recollections, some in beautiful copperplate, many of which had to be double checked as the information sometimes contradicted that sent in by someone else. Memories do not always stick to facts!

One section recalls Finchley's famous folk - including memories of Spike Milligan, Eric Morecambe, Vera Lynn, and of course Finchley's former MP, Margaret Thatcher. One of my favourite anecdotes is when a group of O'level cookery students was asked to prepare canapes for a reception at which the MP would be presiding. 'Canapes! What were they? Posh Tory food? Who knew, and who cared? We were having a day off lessons.'
The Gaumont Cinema (North Finchley)
by Peter Marsh
Pictures selected from the thousands in The Finchley Society archives as well as photos sent in by contributors illustrate the text along with line drawings by two local artists, Peter Marsh and Mari I'Anson, and paintings by two others. My favourite is the drawing of the long-gone Art-Deco Gaumont Cinema, where I remember seeing films. Its former glory days which boasted a Wurlizter Organ and a restaurant had already passed by the time I knew it in the 70s.

The cover of the famous Finchley icon, the Christ's College Tower,  was painted especially for the book by Peter Marsh.

Copies of Finchley Remembered II can be bought at Waterstones N12, Waitrose North Finchley, N12 and directly from The Finchley Society online.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Books from Down Under

Those who follow my sporadic blog will know that travelling and books feature quite often. I haven't achieved my aim of travelling to every country from where I have a read a book, or even managed reading a book from every country I have visited, although I'm working on it.

My next planned trip is to Australia in a few weeks, and at least I can say I have read a number of Australian books. The first, which I read as a child, was my mother's copy of Seven Little Australians by Ethel M Turner. My mother had been a little Australian herself, coming to UK when she was ten years old. I later read Under Australian Skies by Phyllis Power. The former is still hailed as a classic, while the latter is, I suspect, now politically incorrect and has been brushed carefully under the carpet. Then there were, of course, the Lindsay books: The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay and Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay.

My Australian reading continued through my teens to adulthood. I read Colleen McCullough, when The Thorn Birds was all the rage in the late 70s, but much preferred Nancy Cato's All the Rivers Run, another epic. Marcus Clarke's For the Term of His Natural Life took a bit of reading but I was engrossed by it while My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin left me cold! I also read a couple of Peter Carey's novels and two of Bryce Courtenay's.

More recently I read Geradine Brooks' Year of Wonders which I enjoyed, and March, which I wasn't so keen on. I loved Markus Zusak's The Book Thief, but have yet to read his other novels. 

One book that interested me was Murray Bail's Eucalyptus. (You don't get more Australian than that, so much so that my mother planted one, which of course she called a gum, in the garden of my parents' place in Devon where it flourished. Unlike the character in the book, I can't identify the exact species.) 

I like Kate Greville's books, but loathe The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas. It gained critical acclaim, but although I thought the initial premise was an interesting one, I didn't consider the novel delivered anything worth saying and the author missed an opportunity to really examine his theme.  And I'm pleased to say that none of the Australians I have met are as repellent as the characters he created. I would have happily slapped every one of them. I hope I won't encounter them on my trip!

Another disappointment, that I gave up on, was The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham, which I thought poorly written. Clearly others disagreed with me as it, too, received critical acclaim! On the other hand, Graeme Simsion's The Rosie Project and its sequel kept me laughing out loud. His third novel, The Best of Adam Sharpe will be released the day before I set off on my travels and is a book I'll be looking out for.

On my Australian to-be-read list is Tim Winton - but do you have any other Australian recommendations?

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Ten top tips on attending lit fests.

Having helped organize five small literary festivals, we've learned a few things.

I'm sure there are authors who are lost in show-biz - those who demand they sip water sourced only from Fiji, who expect a chauffeur-driven limo to fetch them - but we don't have those sorts of authors at our festival. We have hard working writers who arrive on time, and thank us as much as we thank them for coming to our humble festival. And even one lovely author who requested we put her fee towards our next festival.

No, we're not complaining about authors (we love them.)

The majority of our audience members are great too. They send messages telling us how much they enjoyed the event but there's always one, isn't there? Always one (or sometimes two, or even three.)

So if you'd like to emulate The One, or two or three, follow our simple advice.

1.) Turn up late and keep keep your mobile on with the loudest ringtone you can find.

Yes, I know you'd think that anyone who wants to attend these sort of events would know that but apparently some don't. So I'm reminding them.

2.) When invited to ask questions, ask rambling questions that will confuse everybody so much they haven't a clue what you are asking.

3.) Instead of asking a question when invited, tell the authors about your own writing, because it's probably worth them having a glance at it and putting in a good word for you with their agent.

4.) Turn up to events and ask the organizers if you can read your poem. Especially if it's a very bad poem. Don't bother waiting until there's an Open Mic or consider working on your writing until it gets good enough so you are actually invited to read at festivals.

5.) Turn up to an event early while the organizers are still placing chairs, filling water glasses, greeting authors and doing a hundred other jobs, and start telling them about your friend's idea for a self-published book and ask them if they'd come over to give her a bit if advice right now because she has to go back to LaLaLand tonight.

6.) Fall asleep and snore during the author talk. You could even dribble a bit to make it really special.

7.) Never clap after a reading or talk, but look bored and fiddle with your phone instead.

8.) Tell the organizers the sort of events you think they should do - remember to always preface it with 'what you should have done is...'

9.) Ask the organizers if they will sell some of your books on the book stall, and produce a bagful of them. Even though they haven't a clue who you are.

10.) Leave some of your books on the bookstall - because you have better things to do than hang around a lit fest - and expect the bookseller to sell your books and give you the full amount. Remember to leave a note for the organizers telling them where to drop off the money and the books that are left.

And that, dear reader, is how to be a right pain in the cervical spine. (Like the anatomy/book reference there?)

P.S. Those who wish to adhere to these rules please don't put our next festival in your diary. If you're the rebellious sort of person who chooses to disobey them, then please do.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Finchley Literary Festival 2016. My perspective.

This year's authors are a wonderful bunch: Local writer Amy Bird, Harry Parker, Allen Ashley, another Finchleyite,  Irenosen Okojie, who we are thrilled to welcome back to Finchley, Yvvette Edwards, Catriona Ward, Joanna Campbell, who is judging FLF & Greenacre Writers short story competition; Antonia Honeywell, back for a second visit, our own Rosie Canning, Sunny SinghVaseem Khan and Katharine Norbury. Wow!

I copied that paragraph from my last blog post. And I was right, they are a wonderful bunch!

Each of FLF's event was unique, as authors approached their talks in slightly different ways. I can't pick a favourite because they were all so enjoyable and also because they were so different it's  impossible to compare.

After greeting participants at Anna Meryt's writing workshop on Friday morning, I bought a few festival supplies and met the other organisers at Church End library for our first author event.

Harry Parker
Harry Parker, in interview with Carol Sampson told us how his book Anatomy of a Soldier, came about, drawing on his own experiences of war. Like Captain Tom Barnes in the novel, he was one of the ones who nearly didn't make it. Harry, whose wife and baby daughter came along too, chatted to his audience as if we were all sitting around in someone's living room, rather than in a busy library. He read a brief extract and seemed almost surprised when we all wanted more, and he had to think which bits to read. The last reading was the first chapter - I could have happily had him read the whole book.

Our next talk with author A.L.Bird, was also at the library. Amy took a slightly more formal approach and after an initial reading from The Good Mother told us about her inspiration and a bit about the journey of the book. Several writers were in the audience and we always find this interesting as well as wanting to hear about the book itself. Amy's readings brilliantly evoked the tension in the story which, along with her answers to the questions posed by Carol and the audience, sold it to us!

Later that evening Allen Ashley had a lively audience for the launch of his novel The Planet Suite, and I'm sorry I wasn't able to stay beyond his initial reading as we were setting up the room next door for the main event of FLF. One of our helpers was so intrigued by Allen's work he stayed glued to his seat (earning a very well deserved rest).

Irenosen, Yvvette and Catriona
The following morning we welcomed Yvvette Edwards, Iresonsen Okojie and Catriona Ward to our first event. I knew Yvette and Irenosen had met before but they had not met Catriona. They all left as firm friends and swapped books. Each gave an introduction about her book and a reading.
   We were treated to an array of subjects and styles but there were common threads and these formed the basis of the lively panel discussion with thoughtful questions posed by Carol. The passion of these authors is what makes their talent shine.
   I am currently reading Irenson Okojie's Butterfly Fish (I'd intended finishing it before the festival but I once again I underestimated just how much work goes into the pre-festival week) but now I'm glad I hadn't because her views have given me deeper insights to her story. Yvvette and Catriona's books are a treat yet to come waiting on my To Be Read shelf!

Parallel to this Josie Pearse was busy as Dragon Mistress to a busy Dragons' Pen where writers pitched their writing for instant feedback from Gilly Stern, Antonia Honeywell and Cari Rosen. Having met the dragons before (Gilly and Cari when I entered the same dragons' den two years ago) and Antonia when she discussed her novel The Ship at FLF last year, I knew they wouldn't be too badly scorched. The winner was Matt Bourn who greatly impressed them among strong competition.

Joanna Campbell
The next event was one I had been anticipating for ages on two counts. Firstly I would get to meet Joanna Campbell whose writing I had first read when she entered Greenacre Writers short story competitions. I had followed her writing journey courtesy of Twitter and her blog and was delighted when she had her novel, Tying Down The Lion, published. It was every bit as good as I'd anticipated and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Joanna was an obvious choice to judge the festival's short story competition and here she was to announce the long awaited results.
  Joanna also read and talked about her own work including a story from her new book When Planets Slip Their Tracks. And yes, Joanna was just as I'd imagined, warm, friendly and generous.

Antonia and Rosie
Orphans In Fiction was presented by Antonia Honeywell and FLF's own Rosie Canning. Talking about the representation of orphans in fiction and reflecting on reasons why there are so many fictional orphans, was a topic that could have filled the entire day. Readings from a number of books illustrated their talk in addition to Antonia reading an extract from her new work in progress and Rosie from her autobiographical novel which is part of her
PhD in creative writing. Both sound brilliant.

After a short break I interviewed Sunny Singh about her latest novel Hotel Arcadia. Like all good interviewers I'd read the book and done my research, and re-reading bits gave me more time to think about its complexities. I'd listened to an interview with Sunny on YouTube that she did for Metropolitan University where the questions posed were entrenched in academia, making the questions I'd decided on look rather simplistic but Sunny reassured me they were fine! We were. after all, a lit fest, not a university course. Like other authors she spoke about her influences and a little about the process and gave readings from her unusual and challenging novel.

Baby Ganesh and Vaseem
An amazing elephant (created by 13year old Zaki,) accompanied our final guest of the day, Vaseem Khan, who chatted about his experience of first visiting India and how living in the modern India, so different to that of his parents' and grandparents' generation, gave rise to his Baby Ganesh Detective Agency series, the first of which is The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra. We actually had to persuade Vasseem to read a bit for us! And we loved it.
   I've enjoyed many examples Indian literature since my travels there very many moons ago (just before the period of emergency declared by Indira Ghandi, that Sunny recalled in her interview) so this book is a welcome addition to my shelf.

It was the end of a busy day but more was to come. At ten fifteen next morning I was at Waterstones to help set up for Katharine Norbury who was interviewed by Mike Gee where they discussed her book The Fish Ladder. Part memoir and part nature travelogue Katharine read excerpts which had her audience intrigued and talked about the events that led her on her quest to follow a river from sea to source. Her journeys, many with her young daughter, led her to discover more than she bargained for.

Mike and Rosie then set off with a good number of walkers for the Finchley in Fiction walk, where lots of extracts from books and poems either mentioning Finchley or written by famous Finchleyites, such as Spike Milligan, were read along the way. I didn't accompany them as I needed some serious downtime because work would call tomorrow, but I kept an eye on Rosie's Twitter feed for the pictures I was sure would pop up.

The final event of the festival, held at Cafe Buzz, was the Music and Poetry Palooza organised by Anna Meryt who had opened the festival. Anna teamed up with poets and musicians and the festival was put to bed on a jolly note. (Literally.) All I had to do was shake the bucket for donations and eat red velvet cake and drink a Cafe Buzz cappuccino.

We achieved something great. We always receive such enthusiastic feedback and encouraging support from our invited authors and the audience, and this year was no exception, but I'm sad that more people didn't come along to enjoy and be enriched by the wonderful authors that the Finchley Literary Festival was proud to host.

Thank you all who took part in whatever capacity, and our generous sponsors.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

The fifth Finchley Literary Festival - we're aiming high.

Once upon a time two writers decided to hold a literary festival...

It started as a half day event aimed at promoting the work of members of our writing group, Greenacre Writers. But we knew we had to have speakers with a bit more clout too and so FLF - then called Greenacre Writers Mini Lit Fest - was born in 2012.

We had such great feedback from participants as well as the audience we did it again the following year and included two writing workshops and an Open Mic event. Again, we had positive feedback from our invited authors. Indeed, two from the previous year were in our audience and speaker Alex Wheatle, aka The Brixton Bard, was pleased to be asked to join a panel discussion.

Alex joined us again for the following year in 2014 when we rebranded the event as Finchley Literary Festival. This was to give it an identifiable location and also reflected the participation of other members of the Finchley writing community. Alongside Alex, Emily Benet from the first festival also took part. We were getting something very right!

That year we managed to secure some funding from local sponsors and the festival expanded - 20 events in total. It was a great success, but whew, it was hard work. We vowed the following year would be smaller.

It was three events smaller. We had terrific authors and enthusiastic audiences. We were on a roll. Finchley shines at the end of May! Even if the sun doesn't.

Not quite a hat...
This year owing to something very exciting, for which I needed to go hat shopping, we weren't going to be able to hold the festival in May. I wondered whether we could even give this year a miss. No, we couldn't. FLF is in demand. So we shunted it to the end of June. 24th to 26th June to be precise.

So what makes FLF different or special? Firstly there weren't many (or any) literary events going on in Finchley area so we filled a huge gap. Since FLF's inception, Barnet libraries have two weeks of special literary events in February and the Middlesex University lit fest is now held in nearby Hendon during March. But we were the first lit fest in the borough!

Secondly we aim to support and highlight local authors - from Finchley and nearby, and have found a number of very talented people within a short distance. Some have even included Finchley in their novels. Highgate and Hampstead, our near neighbours with a long literary tradition, need to keep on their toes. But of course we open our doors to authors from further afield too - just not ones who need to be flown in on Business Class!

Thirdly, we're not about focusing on big names, although we have nothing against them - and indeed did try to persuade one such writer by offering him chocolate but he was busy, or didn't like chocolate - but we do attract brilliant authors. Miriam Halahmy and C.J. Flood were both nominated for the Carnegie medal, and Alex Wheatle's first YA novel, Liccle Bit, was on the 2016 Carnegie long-list. Not something to be sniffed at. Tasha Kavanagh, who read last year, from Things We Have in Common is on the Desmond Elliot Prize long-list and was also shortlisted for the Not the Booker Prize (which in my opinion selects far better books than the other lot). Joanna Campbell who is speaking this year was also long-listed on NTB with her debut novel, Tying Down The Lion, (both in my top ten reads of 2015). A number of speakers' books have been listed for worthy prizes including Jemma Wayne who read last year.

Fourthly, FLF embraces diversity in all its gloriousness. I don't think we ever said 'oh let's invite diverse authors,' we simply open our doors to good writers who happen to be a pretty diverse bunch. This gives FLF a wide range of topics, ideas and viewpoints. I know my reading has broadened since reading our authors - and I aim to read something from each one. My pile of books grows ever larger during each festival. (Pity I can't claim new books and a bookcase from expenses but I am not an MP.)

I have read genres I hadn't been especially attracted to previously and have been wonderfully surprised (Mike Carey's Finchley zombies for example.) I've travelled to places and cultures I knew little about, which always excites me.

This year's authors are a wonderful bunch: Local writer Amy Bird, Harry Parker, Allen Ashley, another Finchleyite,  Irenosen Okojie, who we are thrilled to welcome back to Finchley, Yvvette Edwards, Catriona Ward, Joanna Campbell, who is judging FLF & Greenacre Writers short story competition; Antonia Honeywell, back for a second visit, our own Rosie Canning, Sunny SinghVaseem Khan and Katharine Norbury. Wow!

We're not forgetting future authors for whom there are two writing workshops and a Dragon's Pen - the first of which I was lucky enough to win two years ago. As a result, I have completed a major re-write of my novel! And even if you don't like reading, preferring the outdoors, there's a green walk - so good weather please! And to round it all off there's performance poetry and music in our favourite Finchley cafe, Cafe Buzz.

And that is what makes Finchley Literary Festival well worth a visit! Plus, we're really nice and there will be cake!

For more information see Finchley Literary Festival.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Giving away books. World Book Night 2016

World Book Night is here again for its sixth year. I'm proud to say I've been a 'giver' for each of those years. But after all, what can be better than giving away books? 

I've blogged about WBN before so I'm not going to say much here, except that this year I'm giving away Last Bus to Coffeeville by J. Paul Henderson. If you are interested, read more about it here.

Knowing my penchant for a good cup of strong freshly brewed coffee one of my colleagues laughed and said I'd picked the right book! She's not a great reader so she'll be having a copy thrust at her with orders to read it pronto! I think she'll like it and while it's lighthearted it is about serious matters.  

I've never been to Coffeeville, and if I decide to add it to my travel destinations, I have a choice of four Coffeevilles; one each in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas. The one in the book is the Mississippi one. And yes, I did check I'd spelled that right. Now I have to go an see a man about a bus...