UKMG Extravaganza, Nottingham, 17th October 2015

I woke up this morning with the theme tune to Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face in my head, which as earworms go, is probably about as bad as it gets. This can only mean one thing – yesterday was the UKMG Extravaganza in Nottingham’s Central Library.

Over thirty children’s authors were in one room for an afternoon of talks, songs (thanks Mr Dougherty), questions and answers, signings, and general mingling. As you might expect, the pace was frantic.

Four authors at a time filed onto stage, and were given two minutes each to talk about themselves and their books. Two minutes isn’t very long at all – when I chatted to SF Said before the event started, he was under the impression that they had five minutes each, so he hadn’t prepared anything – given five minutes, he could just wing it. Given just two minutes, though, and he would rather have had some preparation!

After each author had used up their two minutes (timed by children from the audience with a big egg timer) it was opened up to five minutes of questions from the audience.

Then the authors were replaced by another batch of four authors, and the process repeated. After two panels, there was a short break for book buying and signing, then it was back into the main room for another panel. Breaks were rigidly enforced, and I know some people did struggle to get their books bought and signed before being ushered back into the main room – fortunately, there were plenty of opportunities throughout the day.

There were eight panels in all, with over thirty authors in total.

The organisation was impeccable, and given the scale of the event it went incredibly smoothly. By the end I was a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of authors, and sort of wish I’d taken a notebook to keep a note of the books that sounded the most interesting, but I’m also sort of glad I didn’t, given that my to-read pile is almost reaching critical mass.

I was there mostly to pick up tips on what to do at events, so I was there as a civilian, not an author. I’ve done just the one event – at Wigtown a couple of weeks back – and I went into that cold, so I was interested to see how other people did it.

So here are some of the things that seemed to work:

  • Write the theme tune, sing the theme tune. John Dougherty’s Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face song made everyone grin, and a chap sitting with his son leaned over to me after it had finished and said, “Follow that…” [Not going to happen with me!]
  • Have lots of adventures to talk about. Allan Boroughs talked about his travels, and Abi Elphinstone had everyone enthralled with her brief account of her trip to Mongolia to live with the Kazakh eagle hunters – I’d gladly have listened to those two for an hour.
  • Props. Allan Boroughs had a meteorite, Abi Elphinstone had several including catapults and Gryff the wildcat from her books, CJ Busby had a huge magical sword, Jackie Marchant had a whole bin bag full of Dougal Trump’s stuff… visual aids helped break up the afternoon so it wasn’t just a lot of talking.
  • Costumes. Maudie Smith was dressed as a witch, Jo Cotterill had come as Electrigirl, the hero of her forthcoming book, Teresa Flavin had a striking blue wig. [Much like the theme song, not going to happen with me!]
  • Be a confident, entertaining speaker. [Ha. Like this is advice I could follow!] People like Candy Gourlay, Jo Cotterill, and Emma Shevah had that brilliant presence at the front that kept people hanging on their words. SF Said had a wonderfully calm and friendly air. Dan Metcalf had a good line in self-deprecating humour.
  • Audience interaction. Tamsyn Murray had the room attempting to lick their own elbows (yes, really), and John Dougherty encouraged people to join in the chorus of his song.

Apparently the illustrator James de la Rue was in the audience, so that was a bit of a missed opportunity – there were a lot of questions about illustration, so he’d have been a great addition to the panels. Fingers crossed they include illustrators in any future events.

I’m not sure the people who chose to read from their books made the right decision – while I’d like a reading at a longer event, I’m not sure it was the best use of their two minutes.

The friendliness of the event was amazing, with plenty of opportunities to chat to the authors. It was great to say hello to people I’d only known through Twitter, too – I said hello to Abi Elphinstone, who’s promised to review my book, and had a nice chat with Lucy Lapinski, who’s an author on the verge of breaking through.

It was great to see bloggers in the audience, too. Michelle Toy (Tales of Yesterday) has been posting loads of great pics on Twitter @ChelleyToy.

All in all, it was a great event that’s given me a lot of food for thought, more books to add to my to-read list, and that blasted Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face song stuck in my head.

Well it can’t all be good, can it?


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