Two weeks ago, I rapidly reprised the literary festival experience that I covered in my last post, by taking part in a ‘New Blood’ writers’ lineup at the Hebden Bridge Arts Festival. Though just as exhausting as the York Festival of Ideas had been, it was a joyous experience. I was speaking on a panel with four other first time novelists: Peter Salmon, Selma Dabbagh, Suzy Joinson and Ros Barber, whose novels represent a dazzling spectrum of forms, genres, voices and styles. I won’t go through the panel discussion in great detail, since there are two excellent accounts from members of the audience (about 45/50-strong, I reckon… not bad for a tiny town on a rainy day post- serious floods) here http://thewanderingwordsmith.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/new-blood-at-hebden-bridge-little.html?spref=tw and here http://karennaylor.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/new-blood-author-event-hebden-bridge.html. Not to mention some shorter but just as fascinating writer perspective pieces from Pete and Ros here http://www.peter-salmon.co.uk/petersalmon/2012/07/never-mind-the-bollards/ and here http://rosbarber.com/new-blood-and-flooding/#more-995 . Do check them – and Selma and Suzy – out, by the way. These people are going to be big news very soon.
It was a pleasure to bumble my way around Hebden Bridge in the afternoon (I had a cracking literary emo moment muttering ‘Daddy’ at Sylvia Plath’s grave in the atmospheric drizzle) and the organizers deserve a shoutout for wonderful organization and hospitality, even though they were gamely battling recent flooding and the aftermath effect of nowhere in Hebden selling food after 6pm. The audience were full of good cheer and insightful questions, and warm & interesting in person when they approached me afterwards for signed copies or a chat. The best bit, though, was unquestionably bonding with my fellow writers and panel chair Stephen May (also a fantastic novelist) in the pub afterwards. The post-flood damage lent Hebden Bridge something of an apocalyptic air, with most places closed or closing early. As we skulked from pub to pub, briefly finding a temporary haven to huddle around pints and numerous packets of crisps, I learned about how my fellow writers motivated themselves, how their families felt about their career choice, how they had got past the inevitable polite rejections, how they coped with bad reviews, how they felt about the rise of creative writing courses, how they paid the bills, how they worked with their publishers. Not to mention, most importantly, what they felt was wonderful about the path they’d chosen, and what they had planned for the future.
At one point in the Q&A session, when an audience member asked how we all got past the dark night of the soul where you want to give up, I had highlighted the importance of personal relationships in helping you get past it. I was thinking primarily of those close relationships your parents, your partners, your closest friends – when I gave that response, but by the end of the evening I realized my response was truer than even I knew. That, as in any profession, the networks you build with colleagues can get you through the bad times and help you to appreciate the good ones. I think it is hard to be a writer and not develop a massive ego – though by that I don’t mean that you’re full of yourself – to the contrary, I suspect most are cripplingly insecure. It’s just that you spend so much time alone, and so much sifting through your own thoughts and feelings that you can feel like you’re the only person in the world, as if this thing you’re doing is a lonely, isolated and oh-so-original pilgrimage. I think that to spend a boozy hour or two with several other of these lonely pilgrims can bring you down to earth with a welcome bump. Oh, right, we all do this. Oh, right, we all feel like this. Okay. Good. Suddenly you feel like a human being again, living in a social world, practicing a profession.
For a while I’ve been hovering on the brink of joining the Society Of Authors, the closest thing writers appear to have to a club and trade union – a lifetime ambition, but I can’t pretend even the discounted under-35s fee doesn’t hurt a student wallet. Hebden Bridge toppled me over the edge. If joining such a society can help facilitate the kind of communication and support that I found at Hebden Bridge, I’ll be sending off for my card tomorrow. Bugger it, I’ll just not eat for a week.