It seems incredible that, two weeks ago, I boarded a train to York for the Jericho Writers Festival weekend. The second I leapt aboard I sensed I was in for a treat. There I was, book at the ready, ‘stuff’ to munch, water to drink and, a few seats away, a hen party en route to Liverpool. And the girls, with mother and future mother-in-law in tow, were in high spirits. A lady sitting next to me flicked a slightly long-suffering glance and we soon fell into easy conversation. It turned out that she was a retired nurse who’d worked with alcoholics. As you might imagine, I didn’t get much reading done on the first leg of the journey.
On arrival in York, I took a taxi ride with a driver who’d fled Istanbul over thirty years previously. A Kurd, he used to be a tailor and had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the rag trade. The next fifteen minutes proved to be an entertaining masterclass on the wheeling and dealing that goes on behind the scenes of some of the world’s best (and expensive) brands. Crikey!
But moving on to the festival itself, a great confidence-boosting, lively and friendly event, for a solid three days I talked shop with likeminded souls and nobody was bored. The place was populated with agents and industry experts, editors and writers and those whose passion is all things ‘book’.
No sooner than my trotters touched the ground after the taxi ride, it was straight into a one-to-one. This is when an author sends in a query letter, synopsis and opening extract of his or her work to either a book doctor (moi) or agent, and we have a chat about it. It’s part brainstorm and part constructive criticism but, as only ten minutes are allowed per writer, it feels like a literary form of speed dating. Fortunately, when ten minutes are not enough (and they generally aren’t) conversations are continued over a cuppa or in the bar.
At the dinner that night, I found myself on a table with writers from all walks of life. Not one was a crime writer, which was kind of great and really interesting for me. The youngest delegate, a nineteen year-old student, wrote Historical Fiction. Commercial women’s fiction, memoir and stories with heavy psychological themes were much in evidence in my assembled group.
My workshop the next morning was on ‘Do’s and Don’ts of Pace and Tension.’ Yes, I’d prepared. Yes, it was well attended. Yes, it went extraordinarily well with a lively Q&A session afterwards. But did I mention the dreaded tooth?!
It has to be sod’s law that, when an important event is in the offing, an affliction strikes. I won’t bore you with the dental details, but it was giving me enough jip that I felt the need to explain that my delivery would be a little less polished than normal – my s’s were particularly ‘hissy’. Trust me, in a talk lasting over forty minutes the letter ‘s’ comes up quite a bit.
Anyway, I crashed through and managed to do the same in a smaller venue the following day for a workshop on ‘What Crime Writing Can Teach About How to Hook A Reader.’ On both occasions, the audiences were engaged, asked tons of interesting questions and, if you ever need your faith in people restored, this isn’t a bad way to do it.
The train journey back was no less entertaining and the medical theme of the outgoing trip went up a notch as I found myself sitting next to a trainee GP. On the other side of the carriageway: a retired biochemist and a neonatal consultant from Venezuela. She’d just spent eight hours taking exams enabling her to practice in the UK. She, too, was fleeing her country and at that moment I think she wanted to flee Arriva trains because she hadn’t a clue how to get to her destination. Then something magical happened: a ticket collector, called Louise, sat down, worked out a couple of options with humour and grace and enabled our visitor from Venezuela to get the correct connection. People can be quite lovely.