Sunday, 17 March 2013

States round up

As with Lowdham's winter weekend a few postings ago, it is difficult to give an objective review of your own event, but I'll try. The fourth States of Independence took place over the weekend - as mentioned in the last posting. Over 300 attended (we have ways of counting people), with most people staying for most of the day. This was a bit down on past years - though more people stayed for longer. These two points were partly related as in previous years I'd spent a lot of time contacting special interest groups whose members might not have been interested in the whole day, but might have been interested in one particular event so that diverse grouping was not so numerous, and, for no apparent reason, there were fewer students around this year. Return to that aspect next time, I think.
The organising team had a disproportionate number of non-literary issues to deal with in the run up. At one stage I was all for skipping a year but my more realistic colleagues (at the Creative Writing Team at De Montfort) felt we would lose momentum so even if we went for a much smaller event we should keep going. But we still had 24 events, as originally planned, and one more bookstall than previous years. And people did stay longer. Last year one of our last slots had nobody but the speakers but (unless I have yet to hear) nothing was embarrassing this year. The traditional organisers' view of events starts with complete failure, moves up to embarrassing and anything above embarrassing is a great success... And some of our events throughout the day were packed to the gunnels, or if not packed, the right amount of people for a specialist event and some good discussion. At the LGBT writers meeting people said the discussion was particularly intense. Good. And many were a great success.
Stall takings are always interesting, though perhaps mostly to other stall holders. We had difficulties with the stall layout meaning a couple of awkward pinch points stopped people getting round as much as I'd have liked, but the stall with the worst position (Shearsman), who is given a free extra table to make up, had their best year so far. Their display is always attractive and I think the firm knows that the specialist poetry buyers will find them and flash the cash.
This was the first year I've ever gone to one of the events as I'm usually on the info point/Five Leaves stall, but this year was in conversation with Alison Moore, our local Booker shortlisted writer, published by the indie press Salt. That event was packed and Alison is a delight to interview. Five Leaves' Pippa Hennessy ran two sessions on ebooks, one on theory, one on practice. Pippa is now running a lot of these sessions. If I could have left the stall I'd have attended the rather riotous session on literary sex before and after 1963, the novelist Kerry Young's talk, that by an old friend and colleague Sarah Butler on "Ten things I've learnt about literature" (the title echoing the title of her first novel) and Maureen Makki on Sudanese women. Don't be surprised if all of these events are replicated in Lowdham during the summer. Of Five Leaves writers, Rod Madocks talked about his new set of short stories on mental health and Ian Parks (who is editing a book for us on Yorkshire poetry) gave a well-attended talk on Chartist poetry.
States also saw the announcement of the shortlist for the East Midlands Book Award. Two States organisers, Kathy Bell and I, are Trustees of EMBA, but the astonishing part of the announcement was that two of the other States organisers, Will Buckingham and Jonathan Taylor, were among the shortlisted writers and Alison Moore was one of our guest speakers on the day. Will and Jonathan even share an office at De Montfort. I'll post later on EMBA, but this year Leicester was particularly well represented on the shortlist of seven. When States was chosen for the announcement none of us knew who was on the shortlist or where they came from.
I should also mention that the day was supported financially by Creative Leicestershire. This enabled us to pay some people's travel from further away and reduce Five Leaves's financial subsidy to the event.
I also want to thank Cathy Galvin who stepped in at no notice to run the short story session with Charles Boyle after Ra Page from Comma Press had to drop out following a bereavement. We have not seen the last of Cathy around the East Midlands I think.
And special thanks to Simon Perril from DMU who, this year, was in charge of logistics, tech and DMU matters, and those students who helped with tables and with chairing.
Finally... it was a book festival... My purchases from other stalls were A Vanished Hand: my autograph album Anthony Rudoph (Shearsman), Ten Things I've Learnt about Love by Sarah Butler (Picador) and Getting the Coal: impressions of a twentieth century mining community edited by Jeane Carswell and Tracey Roberts (Mantle Oral History Project)

1 comment:

Margaret Penfold said...

I enjoyed the day more this year, basically because I didn't have to man a table,although paradoxically I was sad because our group didn't have one! I used most of my time trying to understand more about the basic philosophy of each publisher, trying to find out what each small press publisher had to offer readers at the fair that couldn't be achieved by readers browsing online or what as firms they had to offer authors that couldn't be achieved by self publishing. I was impressed by answers given by the representatives of Bluewood Publishers
Cover design is an important area that differentiates paper books from e-books and the Fair is a good place for a firm to display its covers..
One interesting discovery I made.Although the designing of most novel covers was outsourced to specialists, the one on each stall that appealed to me most had been designed by the author or a relative of the author. That is not to say all book covers should be designed by authors. Most I should imagine lack the technical skills but perhaps the author should be consulted more during the design process. I know some readers feel disillusioned by publishers designs although many find the standard ones useful to differentiate genres when searching public libraries.