BSB UK Bash, 2013 – A Truly Fabulous Fest!

19 Jun

bsbpanelSitting in the sunshine and reading through eight pages of scrawled, at times barely legible notes is making me smile. The sunshine is playing its part in that, but the notes were taken during the recent Bold Strokes Books UK Fest and they are bringing back very fond memories. With over eighty people crammed into Waterstones’ events room, cameras clicking and snapping, enthusiastic audience participation and a book sales table that looked like a plague of locusts had been through it, this year’s event was the best one yet. It was, in no uncertain terms, a bloody good weekend. So, where the hell do I start?

The weekend kicked off with a decent fry-up, reunions between good friends and a lovely meeting with a new one as I spotted my co-web mistress Tig (Clare) Ashton on the escalator and was not at all surprised to discover that she spoke a whole lot posher than I do! As we got acquainted, the room filled up – and I really do mean filled. A change of dates, creative promotion and the tireless efforts of our Commander-in-Chief, Victoria Oldham, seemed to have done the trick. There were faces I knew from previous events, but many unfamiliar ones as well. People had travelled from all over the country and a group had flown over especially from Greece, which is remarkable support for a “niche” market that receives little mainstream coverage or recognition.

bsb2The first panel, Romantic Interludes, kicked off with fans turned paparazzi, snapping pics before anyone could get a word out. Like most of the Saturday panels, it then opened with short readings before segueing into a chatty, interactive session. Talking about whether her characters drove the plot or vice versa, I. Beacham said writing powerful characters can often alter the progress of a story and admitted that Sanctuary had turned out very different to her original idea. In Dark Wings Descending, Lesley Davis’ characters came first, together with a desire to write a “cop story” (to which she then added angels and demons!) and she built her story around them. Conversely, mystery writer Russ Gregory pointed out that his characters can only take him so far; by the end of the novel, there are red herrings to explain and a mystery to solve, and he has to have an idea of where everything is going from the outset. Brand new YA author Amy Dunne revealed that the outline of her story Hidden Lies had been in her head since school but something had always been missing. That “something” turned out to be two female protagonists, a switch that made everything click into place. She also discussed the insecurities involved in writing YA books and whether she was too old to be “down with the kids” (I’m paraphrasing, but you get the general idea!) With the publication of her début pending, that conundrum remains an open one, but Amy certainly appears youthful enough to entertain a YA audience so I don’t think she’ll have a problem.

Next up, everyone’s favourite topic: Sex. In a lively panel, Justine Saracen, Russ, and Crin Claxton took the hot seats, justine and janewhereupon Crin revealed that her mum had read her new novel The Supernatural Detective in the doctor’s waiting room: “I really enjoyed it, but the sex held up the story.” Ha! Everyone’s a critic. One question that stirred up the room came from avid lesfic reader Alena Becker, who couldn’t be at the event but wanted to ask about safe sex and why authors rarely mentioned it. In response, Crin asked for a show of hands: “Who’s ever used a dental dam?”

A tumbleweed blew slowly through the room.

Some people appeared mystified by the very phrase, and no one seemed to know where they could be purchased. As someone who grew up through the AIDS generation, Russ spoke of a responsibility to at least discuss precautions and ensure that people understood there is a consequence to disregarding them. The question has since sparked a few debates on online forums and I suspect it is one to which there is no easy answer. There did seem to be a consensus, though, that safe sex isn’t terribly sexy sex, which might explain its omission from many novels.

cari and rebeccaAfter a short break came Location, Location, Location, a panel that some brave (foolhardy?) soul had left me in charge of. Andrea Bramhall, Rebecca Buck and I discussed location as another character (in my case, a definite villain!), researching places you’d never been to and the absolute terror of Getting It Wrong. Andrea bemoaned the fact that research meant Nightingale took three months to write instead of her more traditional three weeks (three weeks? I’ve taken longer to finish a bloody chapter!), and Rebecca discussed the challenge of recreating London circa 1660 for the novel she is currently working on. Whilst talking about writing for a largely American market, I considered whether I’d shot myself in the proverbial by setting my second novel Desolation Point Stateside when a lot of my first novel Snowbound’s appeal had come from its English setting, and Andrea and I admitted to a growing wish-list of places we are now desperate to visit. A question from the audience left us pondering whether it wouldn’t just be easier to make it all up and write fantasy. Andrea: “yes”. Rebecca: “no!” There would be no The Locket and the Stun-Ray for her.

crin and cheriThe otherworldly theme continued into the Crossing Boundaries panel, with Justine, Jane Fletcher and Crin. Special guest star Cheri Crystal added authenticity to Crin’s reading by providing a gorgeous New York accent, while Justine’s opening gambit (“What the hell is wrong with you? Why don’t you just write real life?”) set the tone of the piece. An enlightening chat concluded with the audience-assisted creation of a compelling new novel: A Soaking Behind the Stacks, which attempted to marry up a physio called Jasmine with Barbara the librarian, whilst Matthew the wine-tasting villain lurked amongst the bookshelves. A flood and a nefarious plan to buy the library were ultimately thwarted when Jane added a dragon, “because let’s face it, what story isn’t improved by the addition of a dragon?”

Rounding out the first day was a Coffee Chat between Justine, Amy, Beach and Russ. The thorny old issue of “plotter or pantser?” amy and gregwas first up for debate, with Amy having favoured a chapter-by-chapter approach for Secret Lies but having then decided to plan out the plot of her second novel. Her problem now was a lack of motivation to write it because she knows what happens! Beach was in the flying by the seat of her pants camp, admitting that she could plot her novels on the back of a postage stamp. Justine was firmly on the side of “Rules!” so joined Russ in being a plotter. Pacing issues were also a hot topic – do they worry about pace or just go with their gut? Beach tends to leave a finished book for at least two weeks and then returns to it with fresh eyes, a process that had seen her destroying entire chapters on the reread. Justine’s worst nightmare is a reader quitting her novel midway, so she loads the adventure to keep the interest engaged. Her awareness of her readership is such that she actively responds to their demands and has added scenes for their benefit that she might otherwise have omitted.

Our first day wound up with drinks and a buffet at local club Propaganda. Despite almost SEVERING** her thumb, Sam Oldham battled womanfully onward to prepare an impressive (and impressively blood-free) spread that was very much appreciated.

I would love to say that Sunday dawned bright and clear, but it was a bit chilly and murky on t’other side of the Pennines. Fortunately the day started with free coffee, biccies and tiffin (give me a shout if you want the recipe!) The first panel was the ever-popular Publishing panel where Vic was able to give potential authors an insight into BSB’s submission and editorial process, and authors chatted about their own experiences. Topics included the hard work involved in getting your novel noticed in a crowded market and how signing the contract is just the start of an ongoing process, and why an author should even bother to submit their work to BSB when self-publishing is all the rage these days. It was a good question which brought forth a number of answers: the prestige that comes with knowing you have caught the eye of a popular press, the access to professional editors and cover artists, the bump in sales brought about by the readership’s loyalty in buying directly from BSB, greater visibility for your work and – of course – the opportunity to participate in fabulous weekends like this.

group shotAfterwards, there was just time for sneak peeks from upcoming novels before we headed to the New Foresters pub for a complimentary BBQ. Freebies were dished out and the last few books were signed before people started to head for homes and hotels. We drove back across the Pennines knackered but all aglow. It really had been a smashing weekend and the feedback received so far suggests we were not alone in thinking that.

So, thank you. Thank you for coming along and asking questions, buying books, laughing, applauding, taking pics and generally supporting the hell out of us. It means we can do it all again next year (the date has already been set, mark those calendars for the 7th & 8th June, 2014!) We’d love to see you there.

There are more photographs from the event over at our Facebook page and here at the BSB UK Blog.

** Okay, so this may be a slight exaggeration.

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9 Responses to “BSB UK Bash, 2013 – A Truly Fabulous Fest!”

  1. Hannah June 20, 2013 at 10:11 am #

    Great post Cari!

    • Cari Hunter June 20, 2013 at 10:45 am #

      Thanks, Hannah. It took me a while to sift through all my notes, so I’m glad it came out okay 🙂

      • Hannah June 20, 2013 at 2:58 pm #

        More than okay!

  2. Stevie Carroll June 20, 2013 at 7:53 pm #

    It was great to see you in 3D. Looking forward to seeing you again next month too!

    • Cari Hunter June 21, 2013 at 9:16 am #

      And you didn’t even need to wear a pair of daft glasses!

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