I believe to be a great writer one has to read a lot and be willing to learn from others. Book festivals are a great way to meet fellow readers and writers. The North Cornwall Book Festival, which this year was held entirely in the small parish of St.Endellion, was no exception. Although it ran for three days at the end of October, I was only able to attend the final day. However, I couldn’t have picked a better day, the autumn sun was shining, the people (both authors and visitors) were friendly, and the pasties and cake for sale were delicious.
For those who have never been to a book festival before, it is open to all who have an interest in reading and/or writing. It usually involves a variety of presentations, workshops, interviews, readings and book signings by authors, with the aim of fostering a love of literature and writing, whilst providing an opportunity to meet your favourite author, or discover new ones.
I arrived too early, but was still welcomed by Festival Chairman and established author, Patrick Gale. I had just finished reading his latest book A Place Called Winter, so it was great to be able to tell him face to face how much I enjoyed it.
Next stop was my first workshop, “Handling Romance in Fiction” by Alison Mercer, author of After I Left You and Stop The Clock. At the risk of sounding like a rom com script, Alison had me at “Hello…” because she quickly followed the greeting with “…help yourself to the chocolates on the table and the cake on the side”. Needless to say, I liked her approach to the workshop immediately and was the first to reach for a sweet. As with most workshops, the attendees varied in experience, from those who aspire to write, to those who have published before but just want to polish up or expand their writing skills.
Alison fostered a workshop which was relaxed, informative and encouraged open discussion and input, yet at the same time skilfully kept us all on track and to time. She took us through the key events of a writing arc to help develop a storyline, and the main types of characters one might use that can add depth and subplots to a novel. We read extracts from books which depicted very differing romantic encounters and discussed why they work, why they may not work for every reader and the use of the senses to enhance the storytelling. The workshop ended with an opportunity for us to write a paragraph depicting a romantic encounter. Everyone was very supportive of each other’s efforts and we all came away feeling motivated to attend our next event.
In my case, it was to seek out the Cornish pasty tent. They were delicious, just as I knew they would be, and feeling energised and a bit cheeky, I accosted Patrick Gale and asked for a photo. Being the gentleman that he is, he said “Why have one author when you can have three,” and led me outside to where Neel Mukherjee, author of The Lives of Others (which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and The Costa Novel Award in 2014, and won the Encore Award in 2015) and Alison Mercer were sitting. All three kindly posed, despite having their coffee break interrupted and being blinded by the sun.
Next stop was to have my bibliotherapy session with Ella Berthoud , author of A Novel Cure. A bibliotherapist helps you to tackle life’s ups and downs, with the healing power of a good book. They find out about your reading history, likes and dislikes, passions and pet hates, and discover what is happening in your life. They then suggest the perfect collection of books to read over the next few months in order to reflect your life and overcome the problems you may currently be facing.
At the moment, my only problem is finding the right books to read which will enhance my own writing skills, but will also be enjoyable. I love the “author voice” of Winston Graham and Francine Rivers, and would like to read more historical romances with a similar narrative. Ella was able to quickly assess my needs without her assessment feeling too intrusive, and I soon discovered her mind is like a literary encyclopedia, with a recall memory that was jaw dropping. She was able to provide me with a list of historical novels that would inspire me to become a better writer, but also be a pleasure to read. I can’t wait to start the first one and, just in case you are interested, these are the books she suggested for me.
The Various Flavours of Coffee by Anthony Capello
The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor
The Arthurian Saga Series by Mary Stewart
Sadly, it was time for me to leave, so I didn’t get the chance to catch up with friend and ex-work colleague, and now successful children’s author, Veronica Lamond or the other poets, illustrators and authors who held workshops that day. However, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and will certainly return next year to have my creative juices energised again and my book shelves filled with new, inspiring reads.