Virtual Book Festival: Spreading the Word and Giving Voice: The Power of a Good Book Festival #VirtBookFest @NayrouzQarmout @valmcdermid @iamkp @edbookfest

The integrity and courage of the Edinburgh International Book Festival

I reckoned it might be a good idea for me to do an event of my own here at the Virtual Book Festival. And I also reckoned it would be good to base my post on why I was inspired to organise this festival in the first place. But over and above that I also wanted to highlight a real world book festival that continues to get it right and achieve great book-related things.

Book festivals should be about books

I was prompted to run my own virtual book festival here at Put it in Writing after being very disappointed by the line up at a local book festival this year – a festival that has in the past had an appealing line up of authors, but that now seems to have lost sight of what I see as a book festival’s purpose i.e. to be about books. This local festival had no authors of genre fiction (apart from a couple of children’s authors) on the programme which was made up primarily of television stars, presenters and other celebrities, several of whom hadn’t even written a book.

So I must say I had a bit of trouble getting my head round a book festival that wasn’t mainly about books and didn’t seem to want to attract book readers to attend. Hence my attempt to do better on the blog.

However, I’m happy to say my faith in the book festivals of the real world was restored when I saw the programme for this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival which will be taking place as usual in August. Yes, it has its fair share of famous names and and literary big-hitters and that’s understandable, but it also (despite some criticism) has genre fiction writers too. It offers writing masterclasses for aspiring writers, and it has smaller events with lesser-known authors too. It even has some events where those attending are asked to pay what they can afford rather than a set ticket price.

In other words it’s about BOOKS, WRITERS and READERS coming together, and it hasn’t lost sight of the fact that books and the power of the written word should be at its heart.

And by way of illustrating this fact I thought I’d recap on an event I attended last year especially as one of the authors from that event is back again this year and I have my ticket for her event already.

2018 Edinburgh International Book Festival Event

Nayrouz Qarmout is a young Palestinian writer from *Gaza. Her original event at last year’s festival had to be cancelled after the UK Home Office refused her the visa she needed in order to attend. After the ensuing outcry a visa was eventually granted and a new event was hastily organised.

It speaks volumes that the new event, although announced only two days before it was due to happen, was a sell out. The aim of the event was to give often otherwise unheard writers a voice and it was chaired by writer, Kamila Shamsie.

Besides Nayrouz Qarmout there were two other female writers taking part.

One was Brazilian philosopher and writer, Djamila Ribereiro, who said that one of her aims as a writer was to normalise not exoticise ‘the other’ and she shared with us how at the airport in Brazil on her way to Edinburgh she was spoken to in English – as it was assumed a black Brazilian woman couldn’t possibly be travelling abroad.

And the other was Hsaio Hung Pai a Taiwanese journalist who works on the Guardian newspaper and has written about the difficulties faced by migrant workers to the UK.

Both of the other writers were impressive but it was Nayrouz who left a lasting impression on me. She told us she was a writer had so far had only one short story about life in the Gaza strip published in a 2014 anthology called the Book of Gaza and that she was working on a book of short stories – The Sea Cloak & Other Stories due to be published in 2019. Yet here she was at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

She told us she’d been born in a Syria to Palestinian refugee parents, but then as part of the Oslo Israeli-Palestine Peace Agreement in 1994 her family were sent ‘back’ to Gaza. She hadn’t been allowed to leave since. She spoke of her battle to get to Edinburgh, of the weeks it took to get a passport, then permission to travel, then eventually setting off, crossing into Egypt where she spent a horrendous night before getting to Cairo for her flight to the UK.

Nayrouz spoke with grace, humility and humour. She said she had no intention of seeking asylum – she has had enough of being a refugee. She said she was in Edinburgh to share her story – although this didn’t prove enough of a reason to meet the terms of a UK visitor’s visa. She spoke realistically about Gaza but described it as home. She didn’t get into the challenges posed by Gaza’s fractious and sometimes deadly relationship with Israel other than to highlight the practical difficulties that result for daily life.  She acknowledged the peace movement in Palestine is conflicted with the two religious/political sides of Hamas and Fatah. But she made a point of adding that most people there are, as elsewhere, ordinary people. They’re neither peace activists nor terrorists as they’re so often portrayed in the media. Most people just want to live their lives in a place they call home – as we all do.

It was both a humbling and impressive experience to listen to this writer. I also regard it as a privilege to have been able to there.

2019 Event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival

So, I was happy to see that this year Nayrouz Qarmout will be back to speak at a book festival event on 12th August this year. She will be taking part along with fellow writers in a discussion of personal stories relating to the experiences of migrants and refugees – something she also writes about in her new book.

Not only that but the other writers at the event are two  of my favourite authors – Val McDermid and Ali Smith – and they’ll be joined by one of my favourite musicians, Karine Polwart as well. Safe to say, I wasted no time in getting my ticket.

Here’s what it says in the festival programme about the event:

HOME FOR MIGRANTS AND REFUGEES?

‘Hordes’, ‘swarms’ and ‘invasion’ – words used in recent headlines to dehumanise migrants. Guest Selector Val McDermid explores stories of individuals and families who’ve faced the decision to leave their homeland. Nayrouz Qarmout talks of her birth in a Damascus refugee camp and her subsequent move to Gaza; Ali Smith discusses those she encountered in her work on the Refugee Tales project; and singer-songwriter Karine Polwart shares some of her powerful, deeply-felt music and ideas about the migrant experience.

 (Click here to go to the event page on Edinburgh Book Festival website).

THANK YOU!

So, thank you Edinburgh International Book Festival – for having the integrity and the courage to go for an event like this, for keeping the power of the written word and of books at the heart of what you do and for bringing writers like Nayrouz Qarmout to the attention of your book-loving audience.

 

More about Nayrouz and her writing from her publisher, Comma Press’s, website:

Nayrouz Qarmout is a Palestinian writer and activist. Born in Damascus in 1984, as a Palestinian refugee, she returned to the Gaza Strip, as part of the 1994 Israeli-Palestinian Peace Agreement, where she now lives. She graduated from al-Azhar University in Gaza with a degree in Economics. She currently works in the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, raising awareness of gender issues and promoting the political and economic role of women in policy and law, as well as the defence of women from abuse, and highlighting the role of women’s issues in the media. Her political, social and literary articles have appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines, and online. She has also written screenplays for several short films dealing with women’s rights. She is a social activist and a member of several youth initiatives, campaigning for social change in Palestine.

PUBLICATIONS BY NAYROUZ QARMOUT

The Sea Cloak – To be published on 22 August 2019 

A collection of stories from an exciting female Palestinian writer, translated from Arabic into English for the first time. The Sea Cloak is a collection of 14 stories by the author, journalist, and women’s rights campaigner, Nayrouz Qarmout. Drawing from her own experiences growing up in a Syrian refugee camp, as well as her current life in Gaza, these stories stitch together a patchwork of different perspectives into what it means to be a woman in Palestine today.

Whether following the daily struggles of orphaned children fighting to survive in the rubble of recent bombardments, or mapping the complex, cultural tensions between different generations of refugees in wider Gazan society, these stories offer rare insights into one of the most talked about, but least understood cities in the Middle East. Taken together, the collection affords us a local perspective on a global story, and it does so thanks to a cast of (predominantly female) characters whose vantage point is rooted, firmly, in that most cherished of things, the home.

 

ANTHOLOGY FEATURING NAYROUZ QARMOUT

The Book of Gaza

This anthology brings together some of the pioneers of the Gazan short story from that era, as well as younger exponents of the form, with ten stories that offer glimpses of life in the Strip that go beyond the global media headlines.

 

*Gaza is a self-governing territory of the Palestinian state. It is bordered by Egypt and Israel and life there is far from easy and has many restrictions. To find out more see Wikipedia here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaza_Strip

 

And Finally:

Do you agree that book festivals should be about books, readers and writers? Which book festivals do you enjoy and why? Please feel free to leave comments below.

Being an Author: Away from the Desk #amwriting #authorevents #bookfairs

 

Books don’t write themselves. Authors have to put in the hours at the desk getting those words written. But a writer’s life isn’t all carried out sitting at the computer or scribbling in a notebook.

I get a lot of my best ideas when I’m away from the writing cave. Sometimes they’ll come unbidden when I’m sitting on a train or bus, or gardening or cooking or doing some housework. And I’ll often solve a plotline problem or come up with a story development when I’m out for my daily walk. It’s as if my brain goes off on a walk of its own when I’m doing other things.

But as well as the normal and necessary daily breaks that form part of my writing day, there are also more formal and organised times where I’m out and about as an author.

In the last week or so I’ve attended two such events.

Local Business Fair

The first one was at a local business fair where all sorts of businesses and organisations were invited to hire a table and not only network with each other, but enjoy the chance to engage with members of the public who popped into the venue as visitors to the fair. So, as a local business – i.e. indie author-publisher I decided to sign up. I invited another local author to share my table and we had a fantastic day.

The weather was awful but that didn’t seem to put the visitors off, and from 10.30a.m. till 3.00p.m. the rugby club venue was buzzing. Me and my colleague talked to lots of lovely and interesting people about our writing and we sold a fair few books as well. We gave also out fliers, bookmarks and postcards to folks who preferred to buy our books in e-book format or who wanted to pass on information about our books to friends, family and libraries. It was also a great chance to network with all sorts of other local businesses, from handbag and jewellery makers to gin distillers and stately home administrators.

Author Talk

The second away-from-the-desk event was an evening spent talking to members of a reasonably local branch of the Scottish Women’s Institute. I always enjoy talking about my books and how I became a writer and this event was no exception. I was made very welcome and I was asked some very good questions. Even better was the fact that a couple of the members had already read my books and recommended them to the others.  I should also add that the homemade lemon drizzle cake that was served with my post-talk cup of tea was delicious and, again, I sold a good number of books.

Real Life versus Imaginary World

The above events are just the latest in a fairly long list of author events I’ve done in the last few years. I’ve taken part in book fairs, a book festival and a craft fair. I’ve given talks in libraries, in schools and to various groups. I’ve also delivered writing classes both to adults and to children. And, as well as the chance to promote and sell my work, it has all been very enjoyable. It’s great to get a chance to talk about my writing, to share what has inspired me and how I go about crafting a novel. And it’s even better to inspire others either to read, or to write, or both.

So yes, for me, as a writer, time spent working away from the desk is every bit as important as the time spent actually working at it.

What’s your view of writers getting out and about? As a reader do you like meeting authors at book events? Or, if you’re a writer, do you find time away from the desk is time well spent?

Back to its Roots: Children’s Novel – The Silver Locket – visits @CullodenNTS

 

I was delighted to be invited to be part of a community day at the Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre which took place on Sunday 25th November 2018. The event was aimed at local people for whom entry to the centre throughout the day was free – although non-locals were welcome too.

I was asked to do an author talk about my novel for children – The Silver Locket. It’s a timeslip novel aimed at 9 to 12 year-olds. And, as the main characters are three twenty-first century children who find themselves transported back in time to the aftermath of the battle of Culloden, (it has been described as an Outlander for children) the book was felt to be a good fit for the event.

It also helped that I got the idea for the novel when I visited the centre on a school trip from the Isle of Skye with my Primary 6 (10 & 11 year-olds) pupils.

 

Background to the book

The children were learning all about the background to the battle of Culloden – about the Jacobites led by Bonnie Prince Charlie and their struggles to remove King George II from the throne and to have the Prince crowned king of Britain. It was hoped the visit to Culloden would bring this period in history to life for the children. And it most certainly did. Not only is the visitor centre – with its information, displays, artefacts, immersion room, and battlefield tours – totally superb, the education staff are second-to-none.

But it wasn’t only the children who were affected by what we saw on the day of our visit. I was too. When the education staff took us out onto the battlefield and we recreated the ‘Highland Charge’ where the Jacobite army (made up mostly but not exclusively of Scottish Highlanders) charged at the British Redcoat army, an idea popped into my head. An idea about three modern-day children finding themselves back… You know the rest.

At the time as well as being a teacher I was also a writer. I was writing – still am – contemporary fiction for adults. But I had no intention of writing for children. Except the idea wouldn’t go away.

And, in the end, I wrote the book and I used the author name of my alter-ego Anne McAlpine in order to keep my two writing identities separate. And in 2015, The Silver Locket was published.

Guest appearance

So, it was good to be back at the Culloden Visitor Centre and to be part of their well-attended community event. I never dreamt on the day of the school visit that one day in the future, I’d be back as the author of a children’s book, that the book would be set at Culloden, and that I’d be  there doing an author event. And I must say I really enjoyed doing some readings from my novel and sharing the background to the book – back where it all started.

Thank you to the National Trust for Scotland and to Catriona and the staff at the centre for the invitation, the warm welcome, and the opportunity to be part of your event.

You can read more about The Silver Locket below and you can buy it here.

From the back cover of The Silver Locket

The Battle of Culloden, 1746, and Bonnie Prince Charlie is defeated. Can three young friends from the 21st century ensure he escapes and that history stays on track?

A time-travelling mission, a very big adventure. Three twenty-first century friends and an eighteenth-century prince have a date with destiny…

It’s the last week of the school holidays and twelve year old Caitlin Cameron is bored. But when her new childminder turns out to be the eccentric Bella Blawearie, otherwise known as Scary Lady, everything changes.

Scary Lady lives up to her name. She seems able to read Caitlin’s mind. She sees visions in a snow globe and tells the time from a patchwork clock.

And things get even weirder when Caitlin and her two best friends, Lynette and Edward, accidentally open a time portal in an old tree and are hurled back through time to the eighteenth century.

They find themselves caught up in the blood-soaked aftermath of the Jacobite defeat at the battle of Culloden, and discover they’re there for a reason. A reason Scary Lady knows all about.

But all the friends have is questions. What is the significance of the silver locket passed to Caitlin by her grandmother? Can the locket help them ensure Bonnie Prince Charlie makes the right decision about his future?

And if they fail, will Scotland’s history books rewrite themselves, meaning  Caitlin and her friends will not even be born?

Join them in their 18th century adventure as they make new friends, encounter great danger and strive to carry out their mission.

 

 

Speech: The Joy of Giving an Author Talk – At Short Notice #amwriting

microphone Kane Reinholdsten Unsplash
Photo by Kane Reinholdtsen on Unsplash

My neighbour came to the door last Sunday afternoon. Said she had a favour to ask. I thought she was going to ask me to look after her cat for a few days. But no, that wasn’t it. She is president of the local branch of the Scottish Women’s Institute (SWI) and the speaker lined up for Tuesday evening’s meeting had just cancelled. The speaker, a lecturer in catering and hospitality at the local college, had been going to give a cookery demonstration and my neighbour wondered if I could step in.

Thankfully for me and the prospective audience I wasn’t being invited to do anything cookery related. But if I could come and give an author talk that would be fantastic.

Without pausing to consider that I would have very little time to prepare, I agreed.

And I’m very glad that I did.

I found, as I often do, that I work better under pressure and by recycling and redrafting previous author talks that I’ve given, I’d soon tailored what I was going to say for my prospective audience. The short notice also meant I didn’t really have time to get nervous.

I was made very welcome by the SWI members and thoroughly enjoyed doing the talk which was warmly received. I spoke a bit about myself, about my journey to publication, and about the inspiration behind my various books. I was also able to do some publicity for my new novel – due out at the end of August. Then I finished by reading a couple of extracts from two of my books.

And the bonus was I completely sold out the box of books I’d taken with me – and took orders for more copies from those whom I couldn’t supply on the night.

It has been lovely too, since the talk, to receive cards and other correspondence from audience members saying how much they enjoyed the evening.

All-in-all, it was a very successful – if impromptu – author talk. Actually, quite invigorating. And a great chance to do some pre-publicity for Settlement whilst encouraging people to read Displacement, the first book in the series.

So thank you to the SWI – which you can read more about here if you’re interested – and here’s to seizing the day.

Do you enjoy speaking about your work – writing or other? Have you ever had to give a talk at short notice? Did it go well?