Making Hay with Neil Gaiman, Stephen Fry and Chris Riddell!

On Monday 29th May 2017, I had the good fortune to drive to the beautiful Welsh/Herefordshire border town of Hay-on-Wye and its world famous Hay Literary Festival. The Hay Festival is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, so it felt like an extra special treat. My reason for going, apart from the fact that Hay-on-Wye is a book lovers paradise, was because I had tickets to see Neil Gaiman in conversation with Stephen Fry on the subject of ‘Mythology’, two authors and people I greatly admire and a topic I love and am a little obsessed with – a perfect day out! 😀

I’ve been to Hay and its festival many times now but it always feels like the first time, that tangible sense of excitement and child like joy just stays with me every time. I’ve been wanting to see Neil Gaiman for ages but somehow had always missed him, often because I’d bought early bird tickets to see someone else before realising that Gaiman was appearing as well. As much as I love Hay it’s just too far to go twice in a week (every route there is fiddly as hell), and too expensive and booked up to even consider staying the night. Last time, I was at the festival to see Kazuo Ishiguro and his brilliant new book The Buried Giant and had once again missed Neil Gaiman. The irony was that Ishiguro was discussing the incredible snobbery he had encountered when he decided to write The Buried Giant, his first foray into fantasy, and how he had had no idea just what genre bias, prejudice and misconceptions there was in literary circles about fantasy. In fact, Ishiguro had been so taken aback by the level of snobbery towards fantasy that he ended up, with Neil Gaiman, writing a newspaper article about it!

So when the festival programme landed on my door two weeks ago and I saw Neil Gaiman would be appearing with another favourite of mine, Stephen Fry, it was a no brainer, I booked my ticket immediately. To my delight, a couple of friends had booked up the exact same event so we were able to meet up and sit next to each other. A shout out to the lovely Roz Clarke a brilliant fellow fantasy writer from Grimbold Books (who’s not only a great writer but is an amazing editor as well as being a lovely person) and Heather Ashley, another lovely mutual friend and her fabulous fringed blue shawl which I wanted to steal and two new friends I met on Monday, Ian Halverson and Amanda Beecham who was wearing the most gorgeous dress!

I drove to Hay hoping to avoid the predicted rain as well as all the poor squashed hedgehogs along the route. My accompanying soundtrack was Soundgarden’s Superunknown album, made all the more poignant by the tragic suicide of its glorious frontman and all round poetic genius, Chris Cornell less than two weeks before. The track ‘Feels Like Suicide’, a track I had always loved now seems too loaded with meaning and full of sadness to listen to. 😦

I arrived a little late (as usual), just after 1pm. Note to all people travelling to Hay-on-Wye, don’t EVER go through Hereford, REALLY not worth it! Anyway, after a security check of bags (a sad necessity these days especially post the horrific Manchester attack the previous Monday) and the armed police that were patrolling the festival, I met up with the gang in the Food Hall. What made it more joyous, is that only Heather had been to Hay before so for Roz, Ian and Amanda this was all a gloriously new experience. We wandered past the various tents, bunting and fluttering flags like Tibetan prayers to the gods, past the smells of barbecuing foods, coffee’s of every description, acoustic music, pan pipes, fiddles and the general hubbub caused by the thousands of festival goers.

We grabbed a shuttle bus into town and started our book crawl opposite Hay-on-Wye’s impressive ruined castle…by going to Shepherd’s Ice-Cream Parlour! Yes, ice cream came before books! 😀 Shepherd’s is an amazing place straight out of the 1930’s with it’s curved glass façade, mosaic floor and café chic vibe, but it’s ice cream…oh la la! The queues were totally worth it! Made from local sheep’s milk, for me, it’s the best ice cream outside of Italy. I was a little pig and had four scoops spread over two tubs! 😀

We began exploring Hay-on-Wye’s delights by visiting the famous Richard Booth’s bookshop – THIS is the sort of bookshop you dream about, all creaking dark wooden floors and interior and several levels to get blissfully lost in. Having the will power of a gnat, I succumbed and bought my first of many purchases of the day!

We went on to Addyman’s Books, Mostly Maps and one of my personal favourites, Hay-On-Wye Booksellers. The magical thing about Hay-on-Wye, is that it casts a spell over you so utterly that you lose track of time even if you’ve only been in a few of its wonderful bookshops. Which is what happened to us. We didn’t even get the chance to meander around Hay’s largest bookshop, Hay Cinema Bookshop with over 200,000 titles! Suddenly it was 5pm and with our Neil Gaiman/Stephen Fry event starting at 5:30 in the main Tata Tent, we had to move our arses. With the queue for the shuttle buses impossibly long we decided to chance walking the mile and a bit from the town centre to the festival. We made it in time and joined the expansive queue – in all my years of going to Hay, I’ve never seen a queue for anybody as long as that one! We eventually got into the Tent and in my exuberance to grab five seats together I virtually trampled on this poor woman who had sat herself at the very end of a line of empty seats. Oops sorry! :O

The event started and to our amazement we had an extra treat, up on stage joining Neil Gaiman and Stephen Fry was Children’s Laureate and illustrator extraordinaire, Chris Riddell (a FB friend of mine and someone I am in complete awe of). Chris was on stage throughout actually illustrating the conversation on the spot! Amazing! I have no idea how he does it!

The conversation started with Stephen Fry asking Neil about how he first got into mythology, a subject they are both passionate about (Stephen Fry loves Greek Myths which he talked about a bit, whereas Neil Gaiman prefers Norse Myths – hence his new book, Norse Mythology). For Neil Gaiman it was Norse Mythology and its roots, not the Wagnerian Cycle stuff but the older original Eddas, tales of Odin, Thor, Loki and giant wolf Fenrir, of magic and cruelty, tricks and betrayal, that he loved so much. Certainly very inspirational stuff, no wonder Tolkien often plundered such tales for his own creations! Neil spoke eloquently about Loki’s children, particularly Týr and read a section of his new book, Norse Mythology, and how Odin had made the dwarfs make an unbreakable chain, Gleipnir, and had tricked Fenrir into being bound up by it because they were jealous of his strength and power. I won’t spoil the end of the tale for those of you who are not familiar. 🙂

Stephen Fry, as always, had a lovely relaxed style of questioning that made both men at ease, even under the intense stare of some 500 audience members and all the bright lights. Chris Riddell brought there conversations alive with beautifully drawn snapshots of both sitters and the various mythological characters they discussed, as well as some cheekily flamboyant moments of drawing hilarity!

The entire experience was utterly magical. I really wish I had brought a Dictaphone or something to record it all. It lasted just over a hour with some question and answer bits from the audience, including one girl asking if as writers did Gaiman and Fry ever feel like a God themselves? Clever question. Neil Gaiman replied “Yes, twice. Once when I was asked to write a Dr. Who script and I wrote… ‘Interior Tardis’, and once 30 years before that when I had to make Batman say something!” You can see the whole talk here.

Someone also asked if Gaiman would be interested in ever doing some Welsh Myths, like the Mabinogion…he didn’t say no! 😀 For someone like me, who ADORES any kind of mythology, but particularly Norse, Celtic and ancient Sumerian tales (Epic of Gilgamesh), this whole event was simply edible! 😀

After it finished I did my usual gazelle sprint to the festival bookshop, to queue up for the book signing. Despite my stumpy legs and swift weaving through the crowds, there were still about a hundred people in front of us, including the annoying serial fidget who was sitting next to me and could keep still for ore than a few seconds, making my chair move so much I was getting nauseous! But, we still managed to secure a good place, seeing as the queue snaked behind me by at least 2 or 3 hundred people!

Despite aching legs and complaining feet we queued and queued. Due to the number of people waiting Neil could only signed two books, but frankly he was amazing and ended up book signing for 5 hours! OMG! Anyway, being the naughty shit that I am and being a fan of his writing, I couldn’t resist in doing something cheeky. When it came to him singing the books I bought, his Norse Mythology and Stardust, I blurted out that I was a fan of his writing and wanted to give him a gift to say thank you. I wasn’t as eloquent as I wanted to be and slapped my novel, White Mountain, down on his table like a wet fish, but he was very gracious and seemed to love the cover. “Wow, lovely to meet a fellow author!” then to my amazement he stretched out his hand for a handshake! Gulp! What a moment, then he went and drew a doodle in one of the books!

After the book signing, exhausted but blissfully happy we said our goodbyes. It was nearly 8:30 but thankfully still light, so with the sun setting I left Hay-on-Wye and this my most favourite of festivals and taking a different route I drove through the majestic landscapes of the Golden Valley homeward bound.

What a magical day! 😀

You are Good Enough!!

SUCH a thought-provoking post this, and one I totally agree with, I’d noticed myself a disturbing tendency in some novels to portray women in a very submissive, subservient manner and one which gives a very bad impression of womanhood to young readers.

Maegan Provan, Author

An increasingly disturbing trend is rippling through the literary world. It can be seen in both self published novels and traditionally published novels alike. It has the ability to change the way that people all over the world view themselves and others… and not for the better.

I can first remember hearing about “girl power” in the 90’s when the world was introduced to the Spice Girls. Of course, as early as the 1920’s, most of us alive today can recount when we first heard about women’s equality and why females deserve to be treated with respect as opposed to servants who are there for a good lay (trying to keep my cursing down for this post) and to cook a hot meal when the man commands it. Women’s liberation has been a force that’s gained a lot of forward momentum over the years. There are still a few bumps…

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46 Top Websites to Promote Your Book for FREE

Some very helpful tips and websites here for promotional opportunities, some of them you know well, others perhaps not. Check it out folks – how to promote your book for free!!! 😀

Savvy Writers & e-Books online

Book Store Stand out Against Thousands of Books

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Added June 23, 2013:

Dear Reader:  This list of websites, which we compiled in March 2012, grew in the meantime to almost 100.  Please visit our two new blog posts with even more possibilities to announce your work for free:

http://savvybookwriters.wordpress.com/2012/11/03/50-web-links-to-let-your-book-go-viral/

http://savvybookwriters.wordpress.com/2012/11/04/part-2-45-more-websites-to-promote-your-book/

All three blog posts are officially copyright registered.  To link to our blog posts, and let your own readers know about these websites, please use the RE-BLOG link on top of this page. Thanks!  Please learn about re-blogging here:
http://savvybookwriters.wordpress.com/2013/06/01/re-blogging-vs-copyright-infringement/

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Original Article from March 11, 2012:

1. Goodreads
Use your free membership to promote yourself and your books. Reviews are essential and reviews on Goodreads site help your book to really stand out to millions of visitors.

2. Wattpad
Wattpad has experienced explosive growth since its inception and has become the world’s most popular destination to publish and…

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Happy World Book Day!!!

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Today, Thursday 6th March is World Book Day, a day of celebration for reading, writing, books and all things bookish!!! YAY!!!!

What makes World Book Day so wonderful and so unique, is the way it engages with children, in schools and libraries, on the web, radio and in bookshops. It focuses people into really thinking about the importance that literature and books play in our lives, how they inspire and enrich all of us, fill our dreams, push us onwards or simply provide a wondrous escape from the daily grime.

But for children, World Book Day really is magical. A chance to dress up as your favourite book character, costumes, swords, wands and wigs galore!!!! Puzzles, games, author readings and workshops, book reviews, book events, drawing character wanted posters, even making foody treats that your book characters eat…all great fun, and of course, a chance to read from your favourite book and talk about why you love a certain story and its characters as much as you do.

I can think of no nobler endeavour, than to instil in children, a life-long love of reading and books. VERY cool!!!!!

So Happy 17th World Book Day!!!!! May you continue inspiring all of us for many more glorious years to come!!

Check out their fabulous website http://www.worldbookday.com/ for plenty of book fun and free downloadable resources from mazes, colouring in sheets, to ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’, for Nursery, Primary and Secondary School aged children! Miss it, miss out!!

If YOU could be any book character for a day, who would you choose and why?

😀 xxxx

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Versatile, yes…but very forgetful – The forgotten awards!!!

Okay, to my regular visitors, you lovely shiny happy people, you’ll know that due to illness I have not been the consistent blogger I used to be, and have been rather sporadic in my posts over the last few months, something I hope to correct soon.

Anyway, to my delight I was nominated for two blog awards! –  The Versatile Blogger award and the Liebster Award. Amazing, yes, fantastic and humbling, definitely, but here comes the embarrassing bit…

The gorgeous and very talented writer, Kay Kauffman (http://suddenlytheyalldied.com/), kindly nominated me for the Liebster Award back in May – thank you Kay! But it was, ahem…over a year ago when she nominated me for The Versatile Blogger award! *cringes* Oops, sorry!

I really am the definition of the absent minded blogger! So, VERY belatedly, I’m accepting The Versatile Blogger award first. 😀

So, here are the rules:

I have to say seven things about myself and nominate fifteen others for the award, so here goes! *gulp*

  1. I’m a complete nerd with a deep love of comic book superheroes, dragons, and basically anything to do with fantasy and science-fiction. Yes, I love DC and Marvel comics EQUALLY, how could I really choose between my spidey and batman? However, I hate Dr Who, I like my sci-fi/fantasy to be ultra high quality (BSG – Battlestar Galactica & Games of Thrones girl here). But I still have a fondness for the wobbly sets of Blake’s 7 and Red Dwarf! English: Opening logo to the Star Wars films
  2. The first film I ever saw at the cinema, was Star Wars in 1977, I was 4yrs old (yes, I am that old!). I screamed and ducked down in the seat during the opening titles because I thought the starship was going to hit my head! That was it – I was HOOKED!!!! I still have some of my original Star Wars figures!
  3. One of my dreams, other than being able to fly like Man of Steel or kick butt like Buffy, is to go to America at least once and attend the Comic-Con convention in San Diego, a feast for any fanboy and fantasy freak! I hear the marvellous Henry Cavill is attending a panel and signing autographs there Saturday 20th July…mmmm…sigh! 🙂

    A Comic Con sign.

    A Comic Con sign. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  4. I’m an avid film buff with an enormous collection of films, including some wonderfully obscure ones. My favourite actors are Al Pacino, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Benedict Cumberbatch and Christian Bale. My favourite actresses are Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Juliette Binoche and Judy Dench, though I think Jennifer Lawrence is great. Favourite film? …oh that changes so much! Betty Blue, Les Enfants du Pont Neuf, Star Wars & Empire Strikes Back, Godfather 1 & 2, Leon, Blade Runner, Three Colours Blue, The Dark Knight Trilogy, 2001 Space Odyssey, Gladiator, LOTR trilogy, Watchmen, Man of Steel, Insomnia, Memento (yes, I love Christopher Nolan movies) Frankie & Johnny – did I say I have eclectic tastes? Chinatown, London. Benedict Cumberbatch during...
  5. I LOVE New Zealand after having spent four glorious months there back in 1997/1998, just travelling around with my backpack and loving every second of it! Not only was it a life changing experience, the adventure, the freedom, the people, the amazing landscapes, but that 4 month odyssey also inspired my debut novel, White Mountain. Without that trip, my Darkling Trilogy would never have come to pass. A few years later, after I’d already begun writing the novel, I saw my beloved New Zealand again when watching the LOTR films. A truly mesmeric and freaky experience, as unlike the majority of the audience watching it with me, I had actually BEEN to most of the locations they filmed in, and the same extraordinary landscapes that inspired Peter Jackson, had inspired me! His Mordor was parts of my Fendellin, his Fangorn was my Grey Forest, and Aoraki itself – Mount Cook, WAS my White Mountain!  75
  6. I’d love to travel more as I used to, revisit Russia, Andorra, Italy and New Zealand. I’d especially love to do the world’s longest and wildest train journey, the Trans-Siberian railway from Moscow to Vladisvostok. I’d also love to go to Tibet and Mongolia and rent a car and drive across America, road trip style. More adventures needed! 😀
  7. I ADORE my two white wolves, my family & friends, Marmite, my lightsabre, my ability to dream in 3 dimensions and cinema surround sound – which doesn’t make for a good night’s sleep but wow are my dreams vivid! (I’m an awful insomniac), my book collection, my gorgeous garden, nature, landscapes, the ocean, art, photography, chess, maps, the stars…life!

There you go! 😀

Right, now for nominating others, this is really hard as I know SO many great bloggers out there that deserve this award…in NO order whatsoever!

  1. Lindsey Parsons – http://lindseyjparsons.wordpress.com/
  2. Tricia Drammeh – http://blog.triciadrammeh.com/ &  http://theclaimingwords.com/
  3. AFE Smith – http://www.afesmith.com/blog.html
  4. Kate Jack – http://kateannejack.wordpress.com/
  5. Will Macmillan Jones – http://willmacmillanjones.wordpress.com/
  6. Andrea Baker – http://www.andreabakerauthor.com/ & http://rosewallauthor.wordpress.com/
  7. Gretchen Steen – http://www.gretchensteen.com/ & http://gretchensteen.blogspot.com/
  8. Ryan Holmes – http://griffinsquill.com/
  9. Jane Dougherty – http://janedougherty.wordpress.com/
  10. Susan Finlay – http://susansbooks37.wordpress.com/
  11. Debbie Young – http://youngbyname.wordpress.com/ & http://offtheshelfbookpromotions.wordpress.com/
  12. Emily Mckeon – http://theabsenteeblogger.blogspot.com/
  13. Lisa Scullard – http://lisascullard.wordpress.com/ & http://hardinkcafe.wordpress.com/
  14. Ashen Venema – http://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/
  15. Lisa Weidmeier – http://lisawiedmeier.blogspot.com/ & http://lisawiedmeier.com/
  16. Okay, I know I’m not allowed more than 15 nominees, but some of these were previously nominated for this same award so I HAVE to include a couple more. The wonderful multi-talented and extremely versatile, Morgen Bailey – http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/
  17. And the marvellous fantasy author, John Lucas Hargis – http://johnlucashargis.wordpress.com/

A HUGE thank you to fellow member of the Alliance of Worldbuilders http://theallianceofworldbuilders.weebly.com/index.html, the wonderful Kay Kauffman – fantasy author extraordinaire, for her very kind nomination!

Please check out Kay’s stunning blog, full of heart warming poetry that leaps off the screen, tips on writing and her journey to becoming a published author and much much more! Thank you honey – http://suddenlytheyalldied.com/ 😀

Editing Tip: 10 Words to Search For in Your Manuscript

Some great tips here! 😀

JULIET MADISON

967211_magnifying_glassWhen I’m editing, and before I do a final read through and tweaking of my manuscript, I use Microsoft Word’s ‘find’ feature to search for the following ten words. These words can usually be deleted in order to tighten up the writing and focus on ‘showing vs telling’.

1. almost
Sometimes ‘almost’ can work but often it’s not needed. Eg: With his sunken eyes and pallor he almost looked like a ghost. An example where it may work could be: She almost slammed the door in his face. Or instead of that, it could be changed to: She resisted the urge to slam the door in his face.
2. very
Usually there is a stronger word available to replace the need for ‘very’, or the phrase can be changed completely to something else. Eg: ‘very sad’ could become ‘despondent’. Eg: It was very sunny. Better: It was sunny. Even better:…

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A day of celebration for literature lovers and dragon hunters!

List of titles of works based on Shakespearean...

List of titles of works based on Shakespearean phrases (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What a day this is?

One could almost propose the 23rd April as being the ‘Birth of a Nation’ day. After all two great leviathans of English culture fall on this day. The first of course, is our patron saint, St. George. That stalwart of Englishness (though of course he was actually Greek), a brave knight, slayer of dragons, protector of the innocent etc. The second, is William Shakespeare, as today is thought to be his birthday (23rd April 1564), coincidently, the 23rd April is also the day of his death in 1616. The birth and death of undoubtedly the greatest writer that ever lived.

English: Birth place of William Shakespeare, S...

English: Birth place of William Shakespeare, Stratford upon Avon, England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wow…literature, dragons, rich language, history, myth…what a potent combination!

Although those who know me, know that I’m not religious at all, and am not generally into the exploits of various saints, apostles and acolytes etc, I am, however, deeply fascinated with history, heraldry, and mythology.

Saint George's DayWe all know the wonderful stories surrounding St. George, more fiction than fact of course, but as with any great story, there are always kernels of truth. St. George has been England’s patron saint since the 14th century and his emblem, a red cross on a white background was adopted by Richard The Lion Heart and brought to England in the 12th century. However, his legend goes back far further than that. A Greek who became a Roman officer, St. George was born in Cappadocia, Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) in around AD 270 and was beheaded on the 23rd April AD 303 for his Christian views, by the Emperor Diocletian (245-313 AD), who led Rome’s persecution of Christians at that time.

As with any great figure and martyr, after his death his legend really began. Stories of defying death and fighting evil or the devil, often depicted as a dragon in those days, grew and spread throughout the old world as the new Christian faith took hold.

But for me St. Georges Day, not only represents the real arrival of Spring – swaying daffodils, tulips tentatively pushing up, snowdrops and crocus gone, the first cutting of grass, magnolia and cherry coming into bloom and buds of new life on the trees, it also represents our rich and varied history and our ties to the past.

Of course as a child, loving fantasy and loving dragons, the story of St. George had an instant appeal, although I always felt a little sorry for the dragon!

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a teenager reading the obligatory Shakespeare diet of Hamlet, Anthony & Cleopatra, Macbeth, Twelfth Night, Julius Caesar and Romeo & Juliet, I was more than a little flippant regarding his literary genius. I remember calling out from the back of the class, in my best West Yorkshire accent (don’t ask me why), “Ooooh, Willie Shake or won’t he?” to a chorus of tittering friends. Ahem…I’d love to say I’ve grown up since then, but no, not much.

But of course my respect for this English literary giant has grown enormously. The sheer breadth of his work is staggering. The rich patois of his language. The ingenuity of his plots. The magical weaving of his storytelling. The profoundly deep soul he imbues in every sonnet.

William Shakespeare has without doubt enriched all of our lives. His words have fallen into common usage, his stories have been adapted and retold a million times and in a million languages. As much as I love Chaucer and Mallory, no single figure before or since, has had as much impact on literature and life and simply who we are as a species, as William Shakespeare.

Free hugs on St.George's Day

Free hugs on St.George’s Day (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although I’ve never been a flag waving patriot, one those people you see with St. George’s flags and crosses adorning their houses or painted on their T-shirts or faces, I do feel very lucky and proud to be English and to be part of the rich tapestry that makes up this little country, this sceptred isle.

So, today on his birthday, I bow with reverence (dizziness allowing) and say a heartfelt thank you and Happy Birthday to the creative genius that is William Shakespeare. xx

Happy St. George’s Day and Happy Birthday Willie Shake!

😀 xx

Oh, and this post is featured in The Bedlam Media Daily under their leisure section! http://paper.li/bedlam_media/1315567686#!leisure