Excitement kicked in as I walked down to the breakfast room. The sleep last night wasn’t the best – someone above me thought it was a good idea to do little laps around their room at 4 in the morning, every step creating a god awful creak from the old floorboards. Despite that, I was pretty wired.
I scanned the breakfast area looking for either authors I would be able to recognise or Mark Billingham forum members (BTZers) who I knew were here and vaguely knew what they looked like. I didn’t have much success on either front, although I did see the lovely Ann Cleeves lining up for a sausage and/or grilled mushrooms.
Today is the first day of the Festival. As is the tradition, this day is reserved for The Creative Thursday workshop: a run through the main aspects of writing presented by those in the know. We started off with an introduction by the Programming Chair of the Festival, Natasha Cooper. A different author chairs the Festival every year and Natasha has organised a very good line up this year.
Following Natasha Cooper was Simon Kernick. His hour and a half allotment was spent talking about Plot. It was a very funny session with loads of anecdotes and jokes but plenty of good stuff for any budding writer to go away with and think about.
Setting with Greg Mosse followed soon after – a more structured session talking about setting and how it can be used to propel a story along and the dos and don’ts when describing your location. Greg is a teacher in his own right as well as an author and his hour or so session gave me a glimpse at how beneficial my one on one session with him tomorrow will be.
Laura Wilson talked about Inventing People, including how to come up with character names (my pet hate / struggle), Natasha Cooper returned with advice on how to sit down and just write your novel and Jane Gregory and Hilary Hale rounded off the day with sound advice from the agent’s and publisher’s perspective. They were encouraging, although the statistics telling us how many people actually get published each year were quite depressing.
The Creative Thursday was great – I really enjoyed it – lots of good advice and encouragement. Throughout it all, I was keeping my eye out for Sarah. She is a fellow BTZer and writer (and artist) and I knew she was in the workshop. I did spot her but at the time, I wasn’t 100% sure – but with the help of Natasha Cooper, Sarah’s identity was confirmed and we introduced ourselves. It was like we had known each other for years – clichéd I know, but, as with all the other BTZers I met today, it was true.
The Jingo arrived from London and straight away we joined the crowds for the first event – the announcement of the winner of the Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. The winner was Allan Guthrie. The look on his face when he accepted the coveted Theakston’s barrel and generous cheque told it all – he hadn’t expected to win. It was a special moment - not a dry eye in the house! The fact that this award is voted by the readers made the win even more rewarding. I don’t think Allan let go of that barrel for the remainder of the night – he may have even slept with it – I know I would have!
Next was the Festival Opening Party which was reasonably low key – free wine and Theakston’s beer for all. The Jingo and I spoke with William, a 17 year old who has written three novels already and was scoping the crowd for agents and publishers. He had the determination and drive to become an author that I wish I had had at his age. He even had business cards printed off. Look out for him in the future.
We rubbed shoulders with the elite, spotting faces in the crowds, whispering names to each other – “Isn’t that so and so?” “There’s Mr whathisname.” – unashamed in our fan boy frenzy. Then we met more BTZers – Betty, Tzara, Chelbel and Ravenscross – all great people who I hope to catch up with again during the festival.
After the final event of the day finished, it was off to the bar where fans, authors, publishers, agents and the occasional sleazy playboy mingle and dross about anything and everything. I spent most of the time talking to the BTZers – catching up, giving each other encouragement with our own writing, talking about any conversations we may have had with the big names of the Festival. It was a grand night, tapering off into the early hours where only a handful of people, mainly authors, remained. I was so tired, I was in danger of slipping into a coma, so I decided it was time to head off. I would have liked to have talked to more authors but my bed was calling me and there is plenty of time left in this Festival to chat with these accessible, generous and good natured people.