Look at that amazing tweet. I’ll come back to it during this lengthy, rambling but happy post. I’ve been volunteering for East London’s free reading festival for the last two years and now I’m saying goodbye. Here’s my round-up from 2013 which pays a quick word of tribute to some of the amazing writers to take part last year.
This time was different and much more demanding as I was also curating the Festival Fringe. I’m very proud of introducing this idea last year and hope it continues. Unlike many of the big lit fests, the main festival Writeidea folk actually get paid. But the Fringe folk do it for free and they are a wonderful and noble race.
It seems very, very hard to single out anyone or any session from this year to mention and time is too fleeting to do them all justice. So I am going to mention some random personal highlights both in and around Writeidea, which should not be taken too seriously by those involved.They’re partly personal as they involve the folk I invited to take part, as this is my blog and it is all about Me.
Anyway, please don’t sue me or my tiny child will not have goose this Christmas (she won’t anyway as the Great Vegan Experiment is underway. Sort of):
Best Festival Footwear: A Gordian knot of a tie between Liz de Jager’s Boots of Awesome
Sarah Jackson’s category-creating shoes
and the Socks that Launched a Lambchop into Space, as wrangled by brilliant Nikesh Shukla.
Best Creative Use of a Fire Alarm
No, it wasn’t me smoking in the loos (honest) but someone did. Despite the fact that, among others, poor Jake Arnott had his fascinating talk full of 18th century slang interrupted: I’m almost glad that it happened. That alarm gave the world its first Create a Comic on the Street by a Supermarket masterclass, from the unflappable Louie Stowell.
Look here she is in the Guardian doing something similar but sans fire alarms. I met Louie through last year’s Writeidea, making it even more of a Good Thing.
Best Historical Talks
I live-tweeted Tom Holland on the origins of Islam until my tendons howled with multi-syllabic exhaustion
And I got to talk to him about cricket in the pub after. Alhough I missed his talk, archaeologist Dave Sankey on the Crossrail excavations beneath Stepney was standing room only and easily one of the most popular events this year.
Best Local and Alternative Histories
Organiser of the East End Suffragettes Festival Sarah Jackson read from her ace book about Sylvia Pankhurst and her awesome contemporaries – in the East End where it all happened, at a time of austerity and attacks on the freedoms on women. A real privilege to hear such a generous and talented person. That was followed up by the last but most definitely not least Fringe event: a fascinating look at London’s urban legends from Scott Wood of the London Fortean Society. From Springheeled Jack (talk coming up in January) to vengeance- (or not) inspired gargoyles, I could listen to Scott all night.
Best BSL Interpreted Talk
Another superb writer I invited but had to miss, darn it, as a Fringe Curator’s work is never done – star of the YA universe, here in his factual persona with This Book is Gay *bows*: the Queen of Teen, James Dawson. At least I got to meet him during that fire alarm break. And he got some lively signing done: ‘sexyfuntime’ caused no difficulties at all …
Personal Biggest Coup Feel
Three top indie publishers – some of whom may well have done similar paid-for prestigious events elsewhere – came to talk book trade and times for free. These are very special people. Meike of Peirene Press is bringing contemporary European literature to new audiences, Kit from Influx has published one of my favourite contemporary poets, Chimene Suleyman, and is doing amazingly radical work (watch out for the anonymous anarchist) and Sam from Galley Beggars brought us wonders as diverse as Simon Gough, Baileys’ prizewinner Eimar McBride and possibly the greatest author ever: Francis Plug.
Best New Getting Folk Involved Sessions
I know ‘interactive’ is the right word. But it feels a little impersonal for three events that were each in their own way very special ways for people to come together in real life. Lots got together to eat cakes and write letters. Proper ones, on paper, thanks to the lovely Letter Lounge.
I am very, very proud to have organised the first Death Cafe in Tower Hamlets. Lots of us talked, listened, laughed and cried. We were really lucky to have this led by Annie Broadbent, again for free, gave a wonderful talk about dealing with bereaved people.
Another expert in dealing with difficult conversations, Ione Rojas of Furry Tales, came to help. And it all came just in time for me to deal with another death.
And there was #QuizYA created by Jim Dean of YaYeahYeah who has read more, preached more and inspired more people to read, love and be social over Young Adult (and other) books than anyone can possibly do with a mere 24 hours in the day. He’s busy bringing lots of lovely indie bookshops to daily view at the moment with #indieadvent. A real star.
Other generous people helped that to happen – that’s brilliant debut writer Robin Stevens on Jim’s left – @redbreastedbird mentioned at the beginning. She’s taking over the Young Agatha Christie mantle: one murder and bunbreak at a time. Robin also gave up her time for free, to chair a terrific session with Tanya Byrne: Tanya makes such beautiful, original writing look effortless. More pride here, at getting such hugely-talented YA writers involved. I don’t think I’ve ever written such a pleased with myself piece 😉
But that tweet, back at the beginning, has to be my Desert Island highlight: the one thought I’m taking away with me. This isn’t a humblebrag but a proper, delighted, ”I done good one. I helped out at a festival, invited writers and publicised it to booklovers. Sally, a young writer and bookblogger came to see, hear and meet writers she admires. Now she’s even more inspired to write. Here she is with Liz de Jager, author of the utterly brilliant Banished and Vowed, who also gave up lots of time and energy to give a brilliant free session on fan fiction.
I’m really sorry to step down as the Festival’s only non-staff volunteer organiser but I’ve taken on a big role with the Society Of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and only have so much volunteering time to spare. But that tweet gives me a truly wonderful, my work here is done feeling. It’s been fun. And next year I will be in the audience.