Sunday, 30 August 2015

What you learn in tents - Lari Don

It’s nearly the end of the Edinburgh Book Festival – a wonderful opportunity for booklovers to gather and get rained on in Charlotte Square in Edinburgh.

I live in Edinburgh, so as well as being fortunate enough to do author events at the festival (this year, I did an event on my new book Serpents & Werewolves, and one on the gorgeously illustrated Tale of Tam LinnI also spend a lot of time enjoying other authors’ events.

I learnt a lot about writing from the book festival when I was starting out, both from writers’ workshops and from asking questions at the end of authors’ events.

Do I still learn about writing from the events? Yes of course, though not in the waterfall way I learnt years ago, when I had no sense of who I was as a writer. I still listen and learn, but I no longer scribble frantically the whole way through events.

But writing isn’t the only part of being a writer. Author events, readings, workshops and Q&As are just as much part of my job nowadays as imagining and inventing and editing. So, having learnt how to be a writer by haunting the EIBF 15 years ago, is it now possible for me to learn how to do author events by watching what other authors do?

I mix going to see authors I already love to read and authors I’ve never heard of. I learn a little bit from all of them, from their writing process and their inspiration. But I also learn from watching them do their events. From their readings, dressing up, musical accompaniment, audience participation, powerpoint presentations, debates and discussion with other authors, and all the other things authors do at festivals. And the main thing I learn is - the most successful events are the most honest ones, the ones which genuinely reflect the author’s work. There is no point in trying to do the same event as another author, because the most important thing to do in an event is be honest and open about your writing process and your book.

I may love listening to Patrick Ness or Marina Warner, but I can’t copy the way they present their events any more than I can (or should!) copy their books. Whether talking to 300 kids in a tent in Edinburgh, or 15 kids in a library in Ayrshire, all I can ever do is share with my audience what I do and why I love it. (This is why I very rarely do an event without telling one of myths or legends or folktales that inspire my fiction.)

So, I learnt to write my own way from workshops all those years ago in Charlotte Square, and now I’m learning to talk about writing in my own way too.

But the tents will come down next week. And we’ll all need to stop talking about writing, get our heads down and start writing again!

Lari Don is the award-winning author of 22 books for all ages, including a teen thriller, fantasy novels for 8 – 12s, picture books, retellings of traditional tales and novellas for reluctant readers.
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Joan Lennon said...

True words, Lari!

Sue Purkiss said...

That's very interesting; it's natural to think you ought to be doing very out-there, all bells and whistles stuff. But I remember some years ago going to hear David Crystal, the expert on language development, talk - actually to a group of people in social work and related fields - people who were used to slick power points. He just sat down in a chair and said that he was simply going to talk. And he did, and everyone was riveted.

Lari Don said...

Yes, I often see other authors do wonderful things during their events, and worry that I don't / can't do that. (Singing, for example. Or drawing...) But then I think, that's fine - it's not panto, it's an author event, and the point is to talk about writing and books, the only way you can do that, is as yourself. So, as I don't sing as I write, there is no risk of a singing Lari event any time soon...

Penny Dolan said...

Lari, thanks! A timely reminder that we have to be who we are, no matter whose performances we've witnessed and admired at festivals.

Anonymous said...

All very true, but it still doesn't stop me from madly envying the wonderful (and varied) event-styles of people like Patrick Ness, Elen Caldecott, Barry Hutchinson, Liz Kessler, a certain Lari Don...

Emma Barnes said...

I've also been going to author events at Edinburgh for years - and getting ideas and inspiration from the watching the likes of Liz Kessler, Joan Lennon, Diana Hendry, Linda Strachan, Elizabeth Laird and many, many more... You are right, though, that everyone has to find out what works for them.