This year is filled with change for me. The decision to sell my business and focus on writing is, in turns, scary and liberating. But it also underlines the need to take the writing seriously. Or, more accurately, the business of writing seriously.
For that reason, I’ve decided to devote more time immersing myself in the wider world of the writing industry. I know from past experiences of going to events where people within the sector gather that it has two effects. The first is that it motivates me. I always come away from them feeling more inclined to sit down at my laptop and type.
The second is that I meet some really nice people. I’m sure there are people in this business who aren’t nice but, so far, I seem to have avoided them. Some of those I’ve met have become friends, and so the proportion of people around me who have a keen interest in books, writing and storytelling has grown significantly. And the thing is, those people know other people, and, following the six degrees of separation principle I’ve talked about here, that means further doors have begun to open for me.
So, this year I’ve started a hit-list of events I want to attend, and the first on the calendar was the London Book Fair (LBF), which happened last week. As a sign of the progress made from attending other gatherings, I learned through the grapevine that a small group of acquaintances would also be there. These are fellow bloggers who’ve either had their fiction published or are well on the way to doing so. It probably goes without saying that it’s far less daunting to go to a big event knowing you don’t have to wander aimlessly around it on your own.
LBF took place over three days starting last Tuesday. Owing to a commitment I already had for the Tuesday evening, I travelled down on Wednesday with plans to stop for the remainder of the event. Nevertheless, having been cajoled into joining a WhatsApp group made up of my fellow blogging attendees, throughout the Tuesday my phone seemed to ping constantly as Sacha Black had formed her own personal advance party and was keen to share as much as she could.
For those of you who haven’t experienced Sacha (and I do mean experience), she is a 100 mile a minute whirlwind – and that’s just when she’s talking. Her brain is constantly on the go, with ideas spewing out at a rate that (at my time of life) is, frankly, alarming. During that visit, she went out of her way to introduce herself to people, including her idol, Joanna Penn. As a result of her efforts, she ended up being invited to a kind of “after-show” party on the Wednesday night. If she’s not already, there’s a strong chance she’ll be someone else’s idol one day.
By the time I arrived on Wednesday morning, Sacha was well established – and, ever so slightly, knackered. WhatsApp proved useful, as it turns out. I’d forgotten how big Olympia is, and the chances of bumping into the others randomly were pretty low. In spite of that, I did almost trip over Esther Newton when I first arrived, so the Gods were working in my favour – if not hers.
In contrast to the elemental force that is Sacha, Esther is more calm and measured, something that comes across in her own blog, which does a lot to encourage other writers. Having said that, she has a wit about her that can take you by surprise, so don’t be lulled into a false sense of security.
The entry to the Fair was a fairly simple reception area but, as we began to make our way towards the pun-inspired Writers Block, where the others were waiting for us, the scale of the event began to open up around us.
A section filled with bookshelves that looked about the size of my local library, open-ish spaces being used for presentations, and trade stands that ranged from the fairly basic (about the size of a toilet cubicle) to somewhat larger (probably slightly larger than a tennis court). The latter were occupied by the names we all know – Harper Collins, Penguin and the like – while the former housed names I’d never heard of, but who were clearly trying to raise their profile.
Still, eventually we found Sacha and the others.
Lucy Mitchell, a Yorkshire girl transplanted into Wales (and that just screams story in itself), with a wicked sense of humour. It can be cutting, though. I’ve never fully recovered from the ribbing I received from her about my sense of direction after last year’s Bloggers Bash.
Geoff Le Pard is a retired lawyer, but don’t let that put you off. A natural storyteller – both in print and in person – he has a capacity to entertain and inform at the same time, with an easy wit and an enviable command of the English language. I always have a sense after being in his company that I really should do it more often.
So, having opened the door and provided a flavour of the cast of characters, I’ll provide a little more enlightenment about the event itself in my next post.