Technically, not so much a walk as a bit of a lie down, to be honest, but it was from my ground-hugging vantage point that I saw the purpose of this post.
Sunday 28th June, Queens Park, Brighton. It’s the annual Picnic in the Park and the ground is strewn with families listening to a variety of talented musicians battling bravely against the general hubbub, whilst they scoff happily on Venezuelan street food, tofu burgers, crêpes and Sussex sausages. Not all at the same time, you understand. The Pimms and real ale is flowing and the sun is struggling to emerge from behind scowling clouds.
Everyone else is looking downhill in the natural amphitheatre of the park whilst I, leaning on my elbow and trying to avoid being trampled by small children chasing wind-dancing balloons, suddenly notice that the stall at the top of the slope right behind me is labelled “Authors’ Tent”.
“Ooo,” thinks I, “what’s that?” I hauled myself to my feet and struggled the five yards to their canvas gazebo.
It turned out to be a group of local authors (all of them traditionally published, from what I could tell), called Beach Hut Writers, who had come together on this occasion to promote themselves collectively and sell and sign their books to the public in a setting somewhat windier than Waterstone’s.
It was immediately apparent that this was a female-dominated gathering; I was informed that there had been a male writer present earlier, but I’d missed him. Please note that I am not complaining in the least – I am not averse to being in the company of highly intelligent, beautiful and talented women, which they all were – but it did reinforce the impression I have gained since getting more involved in the writing and publishing world over the last few years, that the vast majority of writers and publishers I have met have, in fact, been women: certainly more than 80%. It would be interesting to know what the official figures are, as far as they can be ascertained. This seems to be the case both for traditionally published authors as well as for self-publishing indies.
Wanting to support local authors – heck, I am one, albeit in non-fiction so far, and whilst all the authors at this event were novelists, a couple also had some non-fiction under their belts – I decided to go a bit mad and bought a book from each one of them. All of the writers were delightful people, happy to chat and discuss the craft whilst signing their work for me.
What was clear was that there was some major talent on display, many of them being award-winning authors and several having been snapped up by big-name publishers. Several were relatively new to being published, whilst others already had an impressive body of work to their name. The writing ranged from a book for very young children, through young adult to very adult fiction. One of those present, Karen Stevens, is Senior Lecturer in English and Creative Writing at the University of Chichester, from whom I purchased the extremely useful Writing a First Novel.
Interesting fact: not one of them, if I remember correctly, was living solely on the proceeds of their writing. All of them had another occupation (teaching, editing and journalism seemed frequent choices) which provided their bread-and-butter income. Being a full-time writer is very much the preserve of a tiny elite; it’s clear that fiction sales often don’t exceed what I’ve achieved with my own, very niche, Wargaming Compendium. (In real terms, that means the mid-thousands – I’d be over the moon if sales climbed to five figures or more.)
Another aspect that came up time and again was how many of them really didn’t feel comfortable marketing their own work or selling face-to-face: they’d much prefer to leave that to someone else – preferably their publisher. This is in stark contrast to the many authorpreneurs I’ve met through The Alliance of Independent Authors, such as Joanna Penn, Roz Morris, Alison Morton, Jane Davis and Jessica Bell. And, dare I say it, me!
I walked away with an armful of books (I think the final tally was nine), some of them for me, a couple for Ann and several for friends with children of various ages. The outlay was surprisingly modest, as the authors were selling their books at a discount for the day. But most of all, I came away with real bounce in my step – there’s just something about being around other people who understand what it’s like to face the empty page every day that’s invigorating.
So, I’m delighted to have ‘done my bit’ for these wonderful writers from Brighton & Hove and very much hope to meet them jointly and severally again. They have a group Facebook page here and many of them have individual Twitter and Facebook pages, as well as their own blogs. Perhaps I’ll be able to persuade them to do some guest blogging here to tell us more about their work and writing journeys. How about it, ladies?
Special thanks to:
- Stephanie Lam
- Laura Brett
- Bethan Roberts
- Kate Harrison
- Sharon Zink
- Karen Stevens
- Nikki Sheehan
- Tatum Flynn
- Jane Lythell
- Laura Wilkinson