A trip to Newcastle

Last year I went to the UK MG Extravaganza in Nottingham as a civilian – my first novel had only just been published, and I wanted to go along and see how the pros did events like this.

This year, with the event being held in Newcastle, I asked if I could come again – this time as a writer. For someone who’s struck with impostor syndrome as often as I am, it was a bit nerve-wracking to ask, but fortunately Kerry Drewery and Emma Pass, the tireless and enthusiastic organisers of these events, are the loveliest of people and said I could come along.

This year, the YA and MG events were combined into one day of over 40 writers – Young Adult writers in the afternoon, and children’s (MG, 8-12, however you want to describe it) in the morning. I didn’t fancy driving – I put in nearly 900 miles at the wheel last week, and quite frankly I’m sick of the sight of my car! – but to arrive in Newcastle for 9am would mean getting a train from Leicester at 9pm on Friday night and sleeping rough in Leeds station until the 6am train to Newcastle, so I took the sensible option and travelled up nice and early on Friday and checked into the Premier Inn that’s just two minutes’ walk from the City Library where the event was being held.

I turned up, got my name badge, and then began the best part of the whole experience – hanging out with other writers and talking about books. I didn’t know anyone there at all, except for on Twitter, so it was great to meet people properly. It was particularly nice to meet Chris Callaghan, author of The Great Chocoplot, as I loved his book and we’ve interacted on Twitter a lot over the past few months. It gave me a chance to badger him about writing more adventures of Jelly and her Gran, too! He’s an even nicer bloke in reality than he is on Twitter, too, and I’m not just saying that because he bought a copy of The Beast on the Broch… And to be able to say hello to James Nicol, whose The Apprentice Witch I’d finished on the train up, and chat to Sally Nicholls (whose “Safe-Keeping” story was one of my favourites in Mystery & Mayhem) about the joy of short books was fantastic, too.

The first couple of panels were great fun, then the hard part came – my panel.

I was on with the brilliant Lari Don, talking about her new Spellchasers series; Simon P. Clark, whose Eren sounds amazing (and has a quote by David Almond, god amongst writers!), and the utterly fabulous Gabrielle Kent, author of the excellent Alfie Bloom books, who put most of the other authors to shame with her spectacular dress and accessories – I looked like a geography teacher alongside her.

I did my two-minute talk, measured by an egg-timer and enforced by a loud horn, and then we answered questions from the audience. Got to be honest, I don’t really recall much of the time on stage – I’m not comfortable doing public speaking, so I think I do a lot of it on autopilot then blank it out later!

Then off to the signing table to see if anyone was interested in my book. Seven Stories were the bookselling partner, and they’d acquired a stack of The Beast on the Broch, but for whatever reason they didn’t have any copies of my other book, The Wreck of the Argyll – whether because they’d tried to contact the publisher directly, and as Cargo’s new owners Freight have killed off the old Cargo website there are no forwarding details, or because of distribution problems, I don’t know. It certainly was a bit disappointing, not least because a few people came up to me and said they were disappointed they couldn’t find it! If I’d known ahead of time I might not have bothered preparing a talk about it, and just concentrated the entire two minutes on The Beast on the Broch instead of trying to cover both books.

The rest of the panels continued, then it was time for lunch. Chris Callaghan, Niel Bushnell, Dan Smith, Martin Griffin and I headed off to a cafe for a sandwich, a drink, and another good chat about books and festivals and regional words for bread rolls. We were treated to a synopsis of Niel’s story for which the world is not yet prepared – but some day, Neville’s time will come, I’m sure of it. Just remember that you heard it here first.

The afternoon was over to the YA authors. I don’t read as much YA as MG, but the talks were great and varied, and the sight of Kirkland Ciccone running through his talk so quickly that he had to pad out his two minutes by turning the aisle into a fur-coat fashion show catwalk will stay with me for a very long time!

After all the talks, it was great to say hello to the incomparable Mr Ciccone and have a chat with Laura Clay, whose short story collection Hooves above the Waves I read just recently.

All too soon, the day was at an end, and I had to head to the train station for the journey back to Leicester. It was past 10pm when I got home, after what felt like a very long day. Before I turned in, though, I couldn’t resist getting Matt Ralphs’ Fire Girl on my Kindle – my physical book TBR pile is so big that if I add another book it’ll trigger a gravitational collapse and create a mini black hole, so I couldn’t allow myself to ransack the on-site bookshop as I really, really wanted to when I was in Newcastle, but that’s not going to stop me following up on all the brilliant authors I met and listened to yesterday! I haven’t even mentioned half of the writers I talked to, and whose books sound so fantastic. I’ll be chasing up these reading suggestions for months to come, I think.

It was a fantastic event, superbly well organised by Kerry and Emma, and I was privileged to be allowed to take part.


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