Saturday, September 16, 2017

Fow17 In photos - and a shout out for Stories for Homes

Another brilliant year in York for the 8th Festival of Writing and I now have the distinction and pleasure of being one of only three people who have been to every single one.


As well as running the self-edit mini course, a Voice workshop ...


... chairing the literary genre panel ...


... chairing the final keynote address and doing two hours of Book Doctor sessions (this is the view from my Book Doctor desk) ...


 ... I devised a new workshop this year.


The idea for Facing the Fear came as a result of the responses to this blog post, where I had a conversation with the Doubt Demons. This photo is of people struggling to find the love for themselves.





And in this one, they're sharing that love with each other.



Tha gala dinner rocked, as ever. This will be the last year in which Mandy Berriman, my wonderful friend and mentee, is at the festie as an unpublished author. Her stunning novel, Home, will be published next February and I couldn't be more delighted and excited. John Taylor and I are two of the three people who have been to every FoW.


Lovely to share a table with literary lovelies, Deborah Install and Tor Udall, who were also both on the platform for the final keynote address. Both credit FoW for setting them on their journey to publication, having met their dream agent, Jenny Savill, at York


Massive congratulations to Sophie Snell, who won Friday Night Live, and Ruby Speechley, who won the Opening Chapter competition, as well as being runner up for Pitch Perfect. That's Ruby at the mike, with agent Sallyanne Sweeney, who judged the Opening Chapter comp, on the left.


And here's the traditional photo of Emma Darwin and yours truly, with our self-edit alumni who had made it to York. We keep adding new names to our Hall of Fame. Details of the next online self-edit courses will be appearing here.


While I'm here (and we all know how scarce I am on my blog these days) I want to talk briefly about Stories for Homes. Remember the amazing success we had last time, when we published our world-class anthology and raised over £3000 for Shelter? Well, we're doing it all again and this time the book is dedicated to the victims and survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire. I'm sure no one here needs to be reminded of how acute the housing crisis is in the UK and the causes of the tragedy, as well as the response since, highlight just how appalling life is for the most vulnerable people in our society. The fire happened three months ago and, at this point, there are still no firm figures for the number of people who died ('about 80') and only two families have been permanently re-housed.

This time, Sally Swingewood and I received 256 submissions for the anthology, which we had to whittle down to 55. Damn, but that was hard. So hard, in fact, we decided to also publish an online anthology, where people can read free stories on the theme of 'home'. The website has been spruced up, with tabs for Real Life stories and posts by a professional who works with homeless people, as well as the online stories and a donate button that goes direct to Shelter. Once again, producing an anthology at this standard has only been possible thanks to our wonderful SfH community, who have generously given their time and skills to create a world-class anthology.

The e-book is due to be launched on 28 September, with the paperback following in November. This is when we'll start to make serious money for Shelter. Please keep an eye on the news tab on the site. Meanwhile, we want to spread the word and get the hashtag #SfH2 trending. Please help us to make that happen by supporting our Thunderclap, as well as publicising (and buying!) the anthology.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

In which I try to find the words ...

Towards the end of last year, a Bad Thing happened to me and my family. It wasn't a Very, Very Bad Thing - no one died, we didn't lose our home or our income but, nevertheless, it was a Thing that caused us great pain and stress, and it rocked our faith in human nature.

I'm not going to go into detail here about the Thing, though I intend to at some point in order to warn others. The Thing was very negative and this post is the opposite of that. I won't allow it to taint this space. I don't like spreading negativity - there's more than enough of it online and in the real world - and so I haven't said anything in public about the Bad Thing before now. Only those closest to me knew about it.

At the lowest point in the last five months, I turned to G and said, 'I've always thought things happen for a reason. We're in the middle of this right now and have no perspective beyond it but a point will come when we'll look back and say, Ah, so that's what all that was about.'

How right I was, though I never expected the answer to come so soon and I could never, in my wildest dreams, have anticipated the form it would take. Without my knowledge, those few people who knew about the Thing - some of whom had never met each other - got together to start thinking about ways they could turn the Bad Thing around, support us in a practical way and, most importantly, restore our faith in human nature. They came up with an audacious plan to start a Crowdfunding campaign. Knowing me as they do, they agreed it was vital to keep the plan a secret from me because I would have vetoed it. Not because I'd be ungrateful (how could I possibly be?) but because the very idea would make me squirm with discomfort.

By the time I knew it was happening, donations were well into four figures. I sat staring at my laptop, struggling to breathe, trying to process what I was seeing. What had me gasping for breath the most was not so much the gob-smacking amount that had been raised but the comments people had left. I was reading the sorts of things usually said about someone after they've died, when everyone says what a shame it is that they never knew people cared so much for them. And here I was, alive and very much kicking, the recipient of an outpouring of love and generosity that knocked me sideways. I was way beyond my comfort zone and had no idea how I was supposed to be, or act, or even feel. Words - the raw material of my trade - escaped me or took refuge in cliché. The only way I could cope was to pretend it wasn't happening. I asked the inner circle to pass on a request not to link to me, while worrying that it might look like I was taking it all for granted. But the one thing I was certain about was that it was really important for me not to appear in any way as if I was soliciting on my own behalf.

By the end of the campaign, 171 people had donated, leaving comments that made my eyes stream and my heart soar. (See? Not possible without resorting to clichés.) Many chose to be anonymous and I will never know who they - you - are. I wanted to contact everyone and thank them personally but it felt somehow wrong when there were so many I can't identify.

So I hope no one will consider it lazy if I give a huge collective  
THANK YOU  
here to each and every one of you. Please imagine me looking into your eyes and holding your hands and telling you how you have touched my heart. I hope that everyone this applies to will see this at some point. 

One person was responsible for the Bad Thing. 171 of you have counter-balanced that negativity with a tidal wave of love. If life is all about making a difference, then you all win at life. And I win because I know all of you.

I think it's appropriate to end by quoting my dad. I once remarked when out with him that he always chatted with everyone he encountered: in shops, banks, on the street. 
      'I like to think that when I meet someone, they go away feeling a little better than before,' he replied. 

Thank you all for being like Daddy Alper.