Inverness Book Festival

It’s been a brilliant week at the book festival at Eden Court here in Inverness, sponsored by Sandstone Press. The fact that it clashed with the Edinburgh book festival was perhaps unfortunate for the authors, but great for us people going along because the audiences were small, meaning that we got to ask questions and interact with the authors. It’s been both informative and fun, as well as allowing me to meet people I otherwise wouldn’t have met (or read!).

My first event of the week was an interview with Doug Johnstone, where he talked about his writing and what inspires him. He talked about genre-bending, how he’s often lumped in with the crime and thriller section but he’s not really either. It was an interesting premise for a story – he likes to write about ordinary people in the most extraordinary of circumstances (usually horrible!). He also explained some of his background, about being a journalist and how he got into writing. After a reading and some questions, he then treated us all to a few songs, which were funny but also surprisingly good! I got to speak to him a little bit afterwards and he’s a genuinely lovely guy. I bought one of his books and got it signed, which was a nice token of the evening. It’s sitting on my reading pile waiting for me to pick it up.

The second event I attended was an interview and reading with Louise Welsh. She has a completely different style and is a fascinating person to listen to. She talked about her characters and how every book she writes is different. Of the people I’ve seen this week, she’s the one that felt closest to my writing ethos. It was interesting to hear her saying how you have to really ‘feel’ a book and if you don’t, your readers will know. It’s something I’ve been saying for a while so it was good to hear it from an established and traditionally published author. It’s great to see someone else successfully crossing genres with her writing too. Again, it made me feel less unusual. She read us a section from her new book series, which is a trilogy set in post-apocalyptic UK. A vicious virus has wiped out a large percentage of the population and the story is about survival, but there are also sub plots involving murders and such like. It sounds really good! I spent some time talking to her afterwards about books and feelings and how it’s strange sometimes when you write a plot, only to have something similar then happen in the news. We discussed the ebola outbreak and whether or not it had affected her feelings about the book she’d written. It was fascinating. Such a lovely person!

The third event was The Big Book Club with Kate Mosse, author of Labyrinthe, Sepulchre, Citadel and others. I wasn’t really sure what to expect because I knew very little about her as a person, but I have to say that this was my favourite event of the week by far. She was amazing – so warm and funny and interesting to listen to. She talked about her new book, The Taxidermist’s Daughter, and read a short excerpt from it. It sounds right up my alley – a gothic novel with a very creepy opening. She talked a little about the process behind it, with little anecdotes about how she’d actually attempted taxidermy as part of her research for the novel and about the museum from her childhood that had inspired it. She was just a genuine and inspiring person to listen to. There was a quiz (which we didn’t win but were passably good at) and then I got picked from the audience to write a piece of flash fiction with her. I got a bit starstruck, so I hope I didn’t make a complete idiot of myself, but it was funny to brain storm with the ideas we’d been given (A place – a fairy ring; two people – Penelope Keith and the local bishop; and an event – an affair). We had them vanish into the fairy ring for a hundred years so that they could come back as more interesting people. The bishop became Jerry Springer. It was slightly surreal. It was a brilliant evening and I really enjoyed it. As a set up for an author event, it was a great idea for the audience participation aspect. I would definitely go again!

My fourth event was an audience with the Literary Agent and Poet Isobel Dixon. I went along, having met her in the bar after last night’s event. I know it’s completely off-topic, but it has to be said that she’s one of those achingly (and seemingly effortlessly!) glamorous women that make your teeth itch with envy, but she was very approachable and warm and open and listening to her was astonishing. She did readings of several poems this morning and I have to be honest and say that I was completely taken aback by them. Poetry isn’t really my thing which is why I didn’t buy a ticket initially, but then she started reading and I was drawn in, despite myself. There were a couple that were funny and fascinating, and then she read two poems about her father’s death and by the end of the second one, I had a lump in my throat and my eyes were watering. It was an unexpectedly emotional experience. I have to say that I was blown away by the raw feeling of the words and also the courage it must have taken to release them to the world and then to stand up and read them to strangers. She did it with awe-inspiring grace and panache and I’m so glad I went, if only for those two poems. Luckily for the audience, she then went on to talk about her work as an agent and took several questions about it. I asked about the dos and don’ts of queries and the advice she gave was helpful and informative. Probably the most interesting part of that section for me was her attitude towards self-publishing. It was fascinating to hear that they encourage people to add it as part of their experience when querying and also that the company will even assist with publishing, through Amazon, those books that they really believe in but haven’t been purchased by any publisher, for whatever reason. I hadn’t realised that was in the purview of an agent but it was both interesting and hopeful to hear that agencies are being this innovative and supporting their authors with such conviction.

The final event I attended was a talk on writing for children and young adults with Keith Charters and Gillian Philip. Again, it was really interesting and informative. They talked about writing for every age from beginners right up to young adult, touching on the important points of the craft, such as the heart and voice of a book. They talked a little bit about the market, how to query publishers and agents and also about some of the technical aspects of writing. It’s completely different to adult publishing in so many respects. Although I don’t intend to write children’s books, there were a lot of things I hadn’t really considered, such as the fact that most books come in page counts of 16 or 34 out of necessity, so the word count or sentence structure has to be specifically tailored to that. They also talked a lot about how illustrated books have to be less detailed, partly because of the low word count and partly because you have to trust the illustrator. I asked about Young Adult books being dark right now and what their thoughts were on not having happy endings. I thought Gillian gave a brilliant answer. She reiterated how important it was for you as an author to trust your work, but then she said that often with teenagers and young adults, it’s not the happy ending that they want. They want something that’s redemptive or hopeful. At that age, it’s very much about hope. So by all means have a book with an “unhappy” ending, as long as it’s got sparks of redemption in it. It’s inspired me to rewrite the end of Bloodlines, because as it stands, it’s not the ending that was in my heart. I softened it and I shouldn’t have. If nothing else, the event today was worth it for that!

I took a lot of notes today and will probably type them up and blog them at some point, but this was my initial round up of the events I attended. There were many more I would have loved to go to, but sadly I didn’t have time. I’m already looking forward to next year!

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