It's festival time

Terry Stiastny is appearing with Tim Weaver at Guildford Book Festival on 10th October

Terry Stiastny is appearing with Tim Weaver at Guildford Book Festival on 10th October

Author Terry Stiastny tells us about The Prime Writers festival plans for Autumn.  

With the turning of the leaves, the autumn literary festival season has arrived. There’s a bumper crop of festivals for the lucky reader to pick from — whether the biggest and oldest-established, like Cheltenham, or the smaller, local events like North Cornwall or Berwick.

Most authors are delighted to be invited — if occasionally a little nervous. Although a vanishingly tiny few of us can ever hope for events on the scale of John le Carre’s recent appearance in London — filling the 2,500 seat Royal Festival Hall and having the talk screened live in cinemas across the country — the chance to meet other readers and writers is welcome. If nothing else, it gets us, blinking in the daylight, out of the house.

And of course, we in our turn queue up, new copies in hand, to see and hear from the other authors we most admire. Claire Fuller, author of Swimming Lessons, has seen events from both sides of the stage, as writer and audience member.

Claire says ‘I still love to hear about the writing process: how the writer goes about writing day to day. And I love it when writers read from their work — it makes a huge difference to hear their words in their voice, but they need to keep it very short!’

Conflicts of Interest
By Terry Stiastny

For Andrea Bennett, whose latest novel is Two Cousins of Azov, festivals are a chance to learn from her readers. ‘I love it when people in the audience ask questions and raise things or see things in the book that I may never have considered.’ She also learns from appearing alongside other writers. ‘When you're paired up with other writers on a panel, it’s really interesting drawing similarities and differences between different books and themes.’

And of course, whatever gossip is exchanged in a festival Green Room as the authors mingle stays in the Green Room. Doesn’t it?

For the festival directors who book the authors and sell the tickets, what makes a successful event?

Jane Beaton, the co-director of Guildford Book Festival, says that often the most memorable involve a simple story well told. For the audiences, she says a festival is ‘a chance to meet favourite authors and personalities and hear their stories first-hand. It’s also a great place to discover new authors.’

Her advice for the authors who appear? ’I think it works best when authors don’t try to cover too much ground. Better to concentrate on a few key stories and tell them well, and leave the audience wanting more, and hopefully wanting to buy the book too!’

And let’s be frank, part of the attraction for all of us is the hope that the publicity that goes with an event will result in both bums on seats and books in more readers’ hands.

Matthew Parker, the author of Goldeneye, enjoyed a recent appearance at Guildford — but his sign language interpreter might have found it harder work. He says ‘she had to cope with 'nymphomaniac' (the wife of the Governor-General of Jamaica) and a quote from a well known Jamaican arriving at Noel Coward's swimming pool, where no clothes were allowed: 'There was Vivien Leigh draped over Larry's [Olivier] cock’. That took some doing but she did brilliantly!’

Acts of Omission
By Terry Stiastny

There’s something valuable in being in a place where you are surrounded by other people who love books. Jane Lythell says that she had a great experience at the ‘informal and friendly’ Charroux Literary Festival in south-west France. Jane, who recently brought out Behind Her Back, points out ‘many of the people there were writing blogs, short stories or had started novels. They came because they wanted to talk about writing.’

Writing can be solitary; a chance to venture perhaps to a new place, to meet an audience, helps us to feel part of a community. When Beth Miller, who has written two novels as well as the non-fiction ‘For the Love of Shakespeare’, spoke on Shakespeare at a festival in Felixstowe, she says she got more feedback in one afternoon than she normally would in six months as a writer.

In particular, the reaction of one audience member who discovered something new will stay with her. ‘It's that sort of thing that keeps you going through the dark months. I just have to think about that young woman's excited face as she told me I had upended her expectations, and I smile for about an hour.’

There’s a thought to keep us all encouraged through the dark months to come.

Terry Stiastny is appearing with Tim Weaver at Guildford Book Festival on 10th October.

Where you can meet Prime Writers this autumn:

Birmingham: Kerry Hadley

Claire Fuller and Kate Hamer are both at Crickhowell fest on Friday. 

Beverley Literature Festival: Kerry Drewery and Louise Beech


Terry Stiastny is an author and former BBC journalist. Find out more about Terry here.  Her second novel, CONFLICTS OF INTEREST came out in June from John Murray. Her first, ACTS OF OMISSION, won the Political Fiction book of the year in 2015.