Wednesday 23 October 2019

CorshamStoryTown event, by Sue Purkiss

I had a lovely day last Saturday at a book event in Corsham, Wiltshire, along with several other authors. Corsham is the home of the renowned Bath Spa creative writing department: many in the Scattered Authors' Society are alumni of the MA in Children's Writing, and I think there are several who teach there.

I imagine it's because of the proximity of the department that Corsham seems to be a very writerish sort of a place. It also has the gloss that comes from being one of the settings for Poldark; yes, Ross first set eyes on Demelza in the picturesque streets of this very town!

But part of what the CorshamStoryTown event was about was finding out the stories of people who live there. As I understand it, there were opportunities for people to go along over the weekend and have their stories, memories and anecdotes recorded - it all sounded really interesting. I didn't see much of this side of things, though, as I was in Corsham's rather splendid library along with Sharon Tregenza, Jasbinder Bilal, Chris Vick, Jak Harrison and Julia Seal, at a mini book fair.

I've never taken part in a book fair before, but I certainly would again. It's a very relaxing way to meet and chat to young (and older) readers, and also to meet other authors. I've long been rather envious of the lovely network which you instantly belong to as a graduate of the Bath Spa courses, as Sharon, Jak, Chris and Jas do, so I'm very grateful to Sharon for inviting me along to this event - it was so nice to actually physically meet up with other writers: something which I realised I very rarely do except at the wonderful Scattered Authors' Society gatherings.

Jak, Chris, Sharon, me, Julia and Jas (l-r)

So off I went, armed with a tablecloth, lots of books, twinkly lights (thanks to Sharon for that suggestion!), book stands, and my trusty (but sadly not blue) rhododendron. (Jack Fortune is all about the search for a blue rhododendron in the Himalayas, but I've not so far managed to get hold of a true blue artificial one.) It was jolly nice and somehow quite surprising to see all my books spread out in one place instead of being tucked away in drawers and cupboards: several people commented on how many there were, and as I chatted to young readers, I realised that there's actually quite a nice spread of titles for different age groups. I've often thought it was a drawback that I've written very different books, rather than producing a recognisable 'brand' of similar books aimed at a specific audience, but I began to realise that in some ways, it's no bad thing - there was pretty much something for everyone.

Sharon and I

There were other interesting things too. My most recent book, Jack Fortune, about plant-hunting adventures in the Himalayas, got a lot of interest, but the book I sold most of was Emily's Surprising Voyage, which is set on the SS Great Britain. Naturally so, as many children 'do' the Victorians and Brunel, and, certainly in this area, go to visit the ship in Bristol: the book is now on sale at the ship and doing well, but I do wish that I, and the publisher, had managed to get the message out to schools about it more successfully.

Another was something I realised as I talked to people about Warrior King, my book about Alfred the Great and his fabulous daughter Aethelfled. This book, like Emily, was originally published by Walker. The cover they designed was beautiful, and it featured Alfred (looking rather as if he'd just escaped from Lord of the Rings) standing in front of a marshy landscape.

When it went out of print, I republished it myself. I was quite keen to appeal to adult readers, so I used a moody black and white photograph I had taken of the land around Athelney, where Alfred took refuge from the Vikings and where much of the book is set.

But talking to people about the book, I realised I had to do a lot of explaining about the story - the cover didn't do much of it for me. Neither cover made the point that most of the story is told from Aethelflaed's point of view; and that's important and unfair to her. Nor would girls looking at either cover realise that it's a book about a girl, as well as about a king. So I'm going to see if I can do something about that.


Another comment came from a great children's book enthusiast with whom I've been in touch on social media, but whom I hadn't actually met before. She said she'd had no idea that I'd written so much. (Please note - I do realise that I've written very little compared to many other members of the SAS!) So how did that happen? Or rather, not happen? How come that with all the blog and social media posts I do, I somehow haven't managed to talk much about my books?

All of this, and the conversations with children, made me think. It's very easy, particularly when you are geographically a bit out on a limb, to brood (just ever so slightly) on the prizes you didn't win, the books that didn't get published, the stories that got away. But in so doing, it's easy to lose sight of the virtues of the books that did see the light of day: a bit like my grandma, who spent much of her life brooding over the son she lost in the war, to the detriment of the daughter who lived.

So apologies in advance, because from now on I'm going to start paying a lot more attention to those neglected children...

Huge thanks to Sharon Tregenza in particular for inviting me, and also to the other writers whose company I so enjoyed, and to the extremely hospitable library and Paper Nations staff. (Our event was under the auspices of Paper Nations.) And the next time I go to a fair, I'll remember to take my toy rat. (A reference to Emily, which I think may go down rather well.) You have been warned.


Susan Price said...

Good luck with getting the word out, Sue!

Sharon Tregenza said...

So glad you enjoyed the day, Sue. I certainly did. It's always such a treat to chat to young readers and their families. Sounds like you came to some good conclusions too. :)

Saviour Pirotta said...

A very informative post, Sue. Thanks for sharing. I have always been a great fan of Warrior King but if I might have the temerity to suggest it, perhaps have a new title to suggest a girl's p.o.v. I am doing this with a re-issue of a long forgotten title, although it's to highlight that the main character is a refugee and not British royalty.

Sue Purkiss said...

I think that's an excellent point, Saviour - the title is misleading in a number of ways. The only concern I have is that it might confuse people who've already bought it...? What do you think?

Saviour Pirotta said...

I don't think that's a problem, Sue. I've had quite a few books reissued by Wayland, Hodder and Pearson with different titles and no one has ever complained. Warrior King came out a few years ago so it'll be a new audience looking to buy anyway. I would just put a disclaimer saying 'originally published as The Warrior King', on the back cover if you really want to make sure potential buyers see it. It deserves to be read widely, in my opinion.

Lynne Benton said...

So glad it went well, Sue, and that you were able to talk to some of your readers. It sounds as though everyone enjoyed the day.

Joan Lennon said...

This is a really useful post on all sorts of levels - and not just for the great idea of rats and fairy lights!

Anne Booth said...

I am going to get that book about the plant hunter for my local school library as it sounds very unusual and interesting. I like all the discussion in the post and in the comments, on titles and covers, and I found Saviours comments about books being reissued very encouraging too. Good luck with Warrior King - I think Saviours's advice sounds good, if it is to send a message that it is from a girl's post of view.

Anne Booth said...

Sue - I've just been to and bought both the Emily book and the Jack book, so this post has been very effective! I think they both look great!

Chris Vick said...

It was a lovely event and a great blog about the value of such things, not least catching up with and chatting with, other writers.