I may have mentioned that I have the best job in the world.
It’s a bit of a scary job to have at the moment. A huge shift is happening in the publishing world, with self-publishing and e-books taking off and mail-order books taking over from our lovely, friendly bookshops, and while it’s great for readers that books seem to be getting cheaper, it’s not so great for writers until somebody, somewhere, works out how we’re still supposed to make a living out of making up stories. I hope they do. Maybe that someone will be me. Who knows?
But meanwhile, I still do get to make up stories and that’s a wonderful thing. I also get to talk about those stories and the process of writing them, and I get to do that in fun places, like schools and the Cheltenham Festival of Literature. And that is FUN.
I was there on Saturday with Barry Cunningham, my publisher, who was happy to share his tales of discovering JK Rowling (yes, he did that), and talk about what he’s looking for in children’s books now. The panel also included the agent Zoe King, and Alex O’Connell, the Arts Editor of The Times. It’s not every day you have a selfie taken by the Arts Editor of The Times (I know that means it isn’t technically a selfie, but go with me), but here’s me checking out my head mic, courtesy of Alex. Thank you!
I hope we were helpful to the crowded tent of aspiring authors who came to listen, and ask questions. It was inspiring to meet some teenagers in the audience who’ve already written their first books. It was so impressive to know that they’ve finished their stories. So many people start, and so few make it through to the end, so that’s an achievement in itself. We warned them that they may not find success quickly. In fact, they probably won’t. They have to really want it, and to persevere to make it happen. But with Zoe’s help – and she was keen to help them – perhaps it might.
But even better than the panel, for me, was simply being there. Festivals are full of fascinating people. If you’re lucky enough to make it backstage, you might literally find yourself bumping into Andrew Lloyd Webber (I almost did).
On the way to the Writers’ Room I managed to fangirl madly to Camila Batmanghelidjh, the inspirational founder of The Kids’ Company and one of my absolute favourite style icons, on top of the fact that she’s one of the most important fighters for the rights of underprivileged and troubled children in the country. It was very special to be able to tell her how much I admire her.
I was eating a quick supper in the Writers’ Room (they do food; it’s delicious), when I looked up and saw Richard Curtis. I think there’s a sort of unwritten rule that one doesn’t fangirl in the room itself, unless you at least vaguely know the person, so I just admired him from afar. Lots of admiring. I wish I could have heard his talk, which was about what drives screenwriting and song writing, but without a ticket or time to stay on, I had to make do with thinking happy thoughts about Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Blackadder and Comic Relief.
I love a good rom-com, and stories that make me laugh. At the opposite end of the spectrum, I love being made to think, and given in-depth information and analysis about complex situations. Anthony Loyd is probably, right now, the journalist I most admire. He’s a war reporter who has bravely gone to Syria many times to report on the atrocities happening there, and now he’s telling the story about what happened when he was betrayed by one of his hosts, held hostage, beaten up and shot, and only just (by minutes) managed to escape being sold on to ISIS, where he might be facing beheading right now.
Anthony was there too, to give a talk related to the tale of his capture and escape in the Times Magazine. Again, I didn’t want to disturb him to say hello, so I just fangirled from afar. What he has seen, and what he has to say about it, is so important.
I absolutely love the fact that festivals like the Cheltenham one give audiences the chance to hear from people like Anthony, and Camila, and Richard, and even Barry and me.
And the chocolate tart in the Writers’ Room was excellent.
Did I mention? I have the best job in the world.