Sunday 8 June 2014

Finchley Literary Festival 2014: My perspective. Part 4

While Emily Benet was getting ready to greet the participants for her famous Social Media workshop, and several others were preparing the room for the festival's main event, I was in Waitrose shopping for speakers' gifts and lunch for the host of busy people who were making this festival happen. I filled my shopping bag, accompanied by one of Waitrose's staff who totted up my items and then waved me off, wishing me luck, without a single credit card or cash payment being made! I am not a shoplifter, but was taking advantage of the generous donation by Waitrose towards our festival.

When I arrived at Stephens House and Gardens the main room was set out and was being decorated with a beautiful floral display by Elisabeth while Mike and Robert were hanging the banner and putting posters all round the room. I helped out here and there and Rosie and I had a quick conference to make sure we each knew who was introducing whom and checked the timings as I'd printed the first set of timings rather than the slightly altered second set!

Rosie, Mike, Carol, Linda, Liz, Andrea,
Emily, Lindsay and Mark.
The sun was shining so I carried the picnic lunch out to the garden and set it out on one of the tables. The grounds were inviting but there wasn't time for an after lunch  stroll as we wanted to be ready to greet our speakers and guests.

Coming back in to the room, it looked marvellous. I remembered back when Rosie Canning and I held the first Greenacre Writers Mini Lit Fest two years ago saying to each other wouldn't it be wonderful to hold the lit fest in the home of Inky Stephens - Finchley's famous manufacturer of the ink that so many of us used in our schooldays. And two years on, here we were!

Soon our speakers had all arrived and the room was filling up and we were off. Rosie introduced our first speaker, Caitlin Davies. Her book The Ghost of Lily Painter was of great interest to the Finchleyites in the audience as it uncovers the story of two real women living in East Finchley who were baby farmers and were hanged in Holloway Prison in 1903. Caitlin told us how she got the idea to write this story and about some of her research.

I was pleased to welcome Alex Wheatle back to Finchley. He has supported the previous festivals, speaking at the first and appearing on the panel last year. Alex focused on his novel, Island Songs, set mostly in Jamaica. As well as visiting Jamaica himself, he based much of the book on stories his mother told him about growing up there.

Me at FLF ( photo: Donald Lyven)
Alex's talk was followed by readings from members of Greenacre Writers: Rosie Canning and Liz Goes, guest Emily Benet, June Armstrong-Wright and myself. During the break we bought books from Carmel of The Big Green Bookshop and the authors obligingly signed our copies. I had a very interesting chat with Rosie Fiore's four year old son, Ted, who popped in during the break with his dad to see how Mum was getting on. He looked a bit surprised when I asked Rosie to write in the book so she explained that while we didn't normally write in books it was alright when you'd written them! Ted looked at me solemnly and warned me that the book didn't have any pictures. I assured him that when I read all the words I would make the pictures up in my head, so that was OK.

Rosie Fiore, an author living in nearby Mill Hill, was the first speaker for the second part of the afternoon, telling us a little about her writing and reading from her book Wonder Women. We particularly appreciated the extract as it was set in Finchley!

Guest reader A.L.Michael then read an extract of her novel followed by readings from Greenacre Writers: Linda Louisa Dell, Katie Alford and Anna Meryt.

Allen Ashley then joined us to facilitate the panel discussion. Our three main speakers were joined by Miriam Halahmy discussing the concept of men writing women and women writing men. This opened in to a more general discussion about how writers were perceived.

 Rosie Fiore, Caitlin Davies, Allen Ashley,
Miriam Halahmy, & Alex Wheatle.
(photo: Rosie Canning)
Is one a writer or a female writer? Is one a writer or a black writer? How writers are perceived and marketed can be by sex or race or even genre. Rosie Fiore found she has been classified as a chick-lit writer - although she is actually writing about modern women managing families and businesses - but because it is commercial fiction and about women, mainly aimed at women readers, she is by de-fault a chick-lit writer. See Emily Benet's take on this on her blog: Emily Benet

The discussion was opened up to questions and comments from members of the audience and I think it could have gone on for another hour but 6.00pm was approaching so Allen brought the discussion to an end. While Rosie C. thanked our panel, I presented each with a small token of our appreciation along with the same to Robert and Elisabeth Newton and Mike Gee. Many people had contributed to the Finchley Literary Festival but we knew that if we thanked each person who had helped it to be the success it was, we'd be there for a considerable time, which might not have endeared us the staff who had to prepare the room for a wedding the next day.

It had been a hectic but fantastic week and I'm very proud to have been one of the people behind the Finchley Literary Festival.

Friday 6 June 2014

Finchley Literary Festival 2014: My perspective. Part 3

After a working morning with a particularly difficult clinic, I was ready for a rest but I was keen to join Ruth Cohen's The Reader Organisation session. Ruth trained with The Reader Organisation as a volunteer in Barnet and holds regular sessions, open to all, in East Finchley. Paul Higgins the Barnet co-ordinator had come along too. It was good to meet him as we had exchanged many emails as I would love to train and volunteer but I think it needs to wait until I retire! 

Ruth Cohen
Ruth's session showed me a different way of reading. I'm generally quite a fast reader and sometimes  just whizz  through books, but here we read a short story pausing to reflect and speculate on the characters and events. This is not intended to be a literary critique as we might undertake for a critiquing session in a writing group, but was more of an exchange of ideas and suggestions. Who, why, when? More akin to the close reading technique one learns on academic literary courses but this enabled us to express our ideas and values rather than gathering evidence for a meaty essay.

After the short story we read a poem and, like others who attended, I felt the session had been a refreshing and relaxing interlude in an otherwise very hectic week. I left ready to do the shopping for more floral tributes for the next set of festival speakers.

While I was enjoying this bit of time out, Maggie Butt was presenting her poetry workshop at East Finchley Library and then after a break, made her way to Friern Barnet Community Library for a talk about our famous local landmark, Alexandra Palace. The evening opened with a fascinating talk from Mick Crick about Private John Parr, the first soldier to be killed in WW1. He was a local lad from North Finchley and joined up when he was underage. There is still confusion about the exact details of his death and why he was not reported as killed for some months. Mick's research has answered a number of questions but many remain.

Maggie Butt's talk was about the German civilians who were interred as enemy aliens. Ally Pally housed some 3,000 men, many of whom had been born in England but held German passports. Her talk was highlighted by extracts of letters and poems written by the men and with illustrations of photos, and paintings by internee, George Kenner. While I had been aware that Ally Pally had been an interment camp, Maggie's talk brought to life the harsh reality of these men's lives and those of their families who had to make do as best they could without their husbands, often in the face of antipathy and prejudice from former neighbours.

I would have loved to have joined Paul Baker's 'Literary Finchley' walk on Friday morning but there was too much to organise. Armed with floral and chocolate tributes I made my way to Church End Library where Mike, Rosie and I prepared the dragons' den for the Dragon's Pen event. After some furniture removal and hoovering, the lair was ready. I was the first victim. I made a brief pitch to Gillian Stern, Cari Rosen and Mary Musker, and read aloud the first 400 words of my chick-lit for the mature woman ('meno-lit') novel. They asked a few questions including if my novel was based on my life. I admitted that some aspects resembled reality but certainly not all - and that the 'gorgeous hero' was completely a figment of my imagination. Shame.

Guarding the dragons.
After my 5 minutes was up, I became a dragon guard with Rosie, ushering each new candidate to the den and timing them very strictly. One of the fourteen pitchers will be chosen for some mentoring sessions and while each of us hopes to be the chosen one, we all agreed that if even we are not chosen, presenting our work in this way was a valuable experience in the art of promoting our writing!

Allen Ashley
The next event, after some brief downtime in which I actually did a bit of housework, was the Spoken Word  at Friern Barnet Community Library. Facilitated with expertise by Allen Ashley fresh from his Getting Started writing workshop a little earlier, we were treated to a mix of poems, prose, non-fiction and even a couple of songs by writers, many of whom were local. Allen read some of his own poems and I particularly enjoyed 'Mill Hill Boys'. Allen was a Finchley boy so could he ever truly be one of those cool punk musicians - the boys from Mill Hill? As it happens one of those Mill Hill boys was firmly behind getting Friern Barnet Library re-opened as a community library. The library is situated opposite the former Colney Hatch Hospital - a Victorian Lunatic Asylum - so for this event I wrote a monologue based on the life of a real woman who died there having been incarcerated for 39 years. Her story is fascinating as she was the only woman to have served on the front line during WW1- having disguised herself as man. I aimed to encapsulate her story in a five minute monologue. Local MP, Theresa Villiers, attended the event and wrote a piece about the Spoken Word on her blog, and I can't help feeling pleased that she mentioned my piece: Theresa Villiers.

Just two more events to go - including, of course, the Grand Finale.

Wednesday 4 June 2014

Finchley Literay Festival 2014: My perspective. Part 2

Tuesday evening saw me off to my local library for another FLF event,  the workshop on Self Publishing by two local authors, Liz Goes and Linda Louisa Dell who have chosen this publishing route. By the time I arrived it was standing room only!
Linda Louisa Dell
Liz Goes
Self publishing has really taken off but there are pitfalls to beware of so Liz and Linda pointed plenty of these out. They both recommended using the best package one could afford and especially use the services of an editor either in the package or independently. Linda emphasized that publishing is the easy bit - the hard part is the promotion, which needs huge input if you are to make sales, no matter how good the product. Liz gave us information on the varying self-publishing packages and a list of useful sources. She also explained about the ALCS. Overall, a useful talk for those considering this process.

I wasn't able to get to AL Michael's 'Write Here, Write Now' writing workshop for kids on Wednesday but Murni talks about it here on the Greenacre Writers blog, along with the other events she attended.

Theresa Musgrove
My next event was Theresa Musgrove's talk on Dickens' link with Finchley. Theresa is also known as Mrs Angry, one of the famous Barnet Bloggers, who is famed for her outspoken views on what is wrong with our local council. She has a huge following so I wasn't surprised to find Church End Library packed, with more people coming in after we'd used all the chairs. It is well known that Dickens stayed in Cobley Farm near Bow Lane in Finchley, where he wrote much of Martin Chuzzlewit and that in The Old Curiosity Shop, Mr Garland lives in Abel Cottage in Finchley, but Theresa's  thorough research came up with several more links to Finchley and nearby areas such as Hendon.
At the end of her fascinating talk, Mike gave thanks but to his horror the bouquet of flowers was not ready for him to present to her. It was eventually located in the library staff-room but when it did arrive was of colours that nicely matched Theresa's outfit.

Mike, Lucy and Rosie
A couple of hours later we were back at the library for Mike Gee's slideshow of Finchley's green spaces - Mike has charted and photographed every one - with associated readings. We were treated to extracts of Wind in the Willows, Betjeman's poems and a host of other readings by Mike, Rosie Canning, Lucy Nowell, and Donald Lyven carefully timed to match the picture sequences, but the reading that got the biggest round of applause was Lucy's recitation of local funny man Spike Milligan's On The Ning Nang Nong. Helping pack the chairs away afterwards I realised we were exactly half-way through the festival.

Monday 2 June 2014

Finchley Literary Festival 2014: My perspective. Part 1.

The Finchley Lit fest was a huge success  -  the twenty events had good attendance and brought not only local people together but attracted people from further afield too.

I wasn't able to attend all the events, partly because I was working in the mornings, but I managed to get to as many as I could. For info about the first event see Rosie's blog Cli-Fi workshop

The first I attended was Anna Meryt's Poetry and Music Palooza. Apart from helping with a bit of furniture removal, I was simply a member of the audience and settled in with a lovely cup of Café Buzz coffee to enjoy the performances from musicians and performance poets. I wasn't disappointed and the informal café atmosphere added to the enjoyment. Rosie's blog has pictures here Poetry and Music Palooza and for a video see Highgate Poets' blog.

Greenacre Writer's Murni.
The next afternoon I was back, this time as an organiser. While a helper and I carefully re-arranged some furniture - around diners who were enjoying lunch, we had a break until the microphone and amp arrived. I'd just sat down when I recognized Sal Page, our first prize winner, coming in. She'd travelled from Morecambe, staying the previous night in Coventry. While she'd visited London on a number of occasions this was, unsurprisingly, her first visit to Finchley! I greeted her and as we chatted I felt as if I'd known her for ages - mainly through Twitter and Facebook. Soon Rosie, fellow GW anthology editor, arrived followed by Mike with the equipment and with a bit more hustle and bustle we were ready. Sal opened with her prize-winning story 'Flapjack' and was followed by Andy Byrne a runner up, who travelled a little less far from neighbouring Muswell Hill with 'Authors In Residence,' as well as Greenacre Writers who read from their stories, making a varied programme. Everybody made sure they ended on something of a cliff-hangar to encourage listeners to buy the anthology.
On Tuesday Rosie and I made a quick visit to Waterstones to see how the three YA authors, Miriam Halahmy , Gina Blaxill and Lil Chase were getting on. I helped blow up a few balloons and Rosie went in search of families to suggest they pop in to see what was going on. The authors had organised a quiz for young people with prizes as well giveaways and it was soon proving very popular.

The next event was Bettina von Cossel's talk on crime writing. Not only was Bettina an excellent speaker, she'd brought props to enliven the talk. She donned the highest of high heels to demonstrate how one could 'accidentally' totter into an unwanted husband at the top of an escalator but if that failed, instructed us to get our characters to don trainers and try the same ruse on top of the cliffs at Eastbourne. The talk was 'How to Kill Your Darlings' and we were getting some useful tips! A recipe that might be useful was minced daffodil bulbs mixed with onion.

Bettina showed us her famous chair in which she found an ancient blood-stained knife - the knife was not on display but she used a  cardboard knife to graphically demonstrate a throat cutting! The victim was her son and I'm pleased to say no sons were harmed in the process. The point, of course, was how accuracy is all important to make crime writing believable. Research is key!  It was a highly entertaining and informative talk.

Only 15 more events to go.