Sunday in the Park with Books

So, are women better at writing thriller/crime novels than men?

The consensus on Saturday’s panel at the Clapham Book festival events at the Lambeth Country Show was that there isn’t a gender difference, both can be excellent, though there often is a gender difference reflected in the subject matter and style of thriller/crime writers.  As Isabelle Grey said, women tend to be more attuned to the possibilities of violence and the telling details, because their life experience is such that the shadow at the end of the path might be a real threat to the lone woman walker, the knowledge that the initially friendly but somewhat too persistent ‘admirer’ could turn ugly.  And, of course, the likelihood of being the victim of domestic violence is so much higher ( see the recent long term Lancaster University study which shows regular increases in domestic assaults on women during World Cup tournaments ).

Just one of the subjects raised in Thriller in the Park, a really excellent discussion and one which flowed because the participants were interested in it ( always the best kind for a moderator ). Then a fifteen minute break in which books were sold – one woman was so pleased to have a copy signed by its author that she took a selfie with her too. On to a reprise of Place & the Writer, a discussion at the 2016 Book Fest, this time without Matthew Beaumont, but covering the same ground.  Militant pedestrianism was a popular discussion point in relation to Clapham Common, but then it was also topical – this was the first Lambeth Country Show in 43 years which was enclosed, with a strong security presence and bag checks on entry. Our security was provided by Jordan of whom I have already written (see Sunshine at Lambeth Country Show).

The Sunday session was similarly successful, when our audience was somewhat larger, mainly, we thought, because people knew we were there having seen us the day before.  (The organisers really need to get their announcements system sorted.)  In addition, the TV profile of Prof Kate Williams would have helped.  So we had a reasonably full tent when we began by asking our audience which were their favourite historical novelists. Georgette Heyer, Lady Antonia Fraser, Hilary Mantel… all women.

The discussion ranged over why we write historical fiction, the differences between writing history and historical fiction and the seductive power of research.  There was a super question from an enthusiastic ten year old, asking us if we sided with any of our characters against the others and lots of good chat with the audience.  Books were signed and sold and folk asked about the Festival (almost no one we met knew it existed, testament to the insularity of the little communities which are scattered across south London ).  Its profile was definitely raised and we gathered more followers on social media.  The official photographs and video aren’t yet available, but they will be posted on the Book Fest site and that of Clapham Writers when they are.

Then we packed up to the strains of reggae – the next speaker was Dennis Bovell, legendary reggae musician and film maker.  Sunday in the Park with Books was coming to an end. And the next outing for Clapham Book Festival, well it could be Clapham Village Fete on 1st September or a visit to gaol.

For more on the Clapham Book Festival at the Lambeth Country Show and other activities see                          Selling Books in the Sunshine            Brockwell Park Weekend                      The History Girls

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Books for Sale in the Sunshine

Books, books for sale!  Coffee table £2 , hard back £1, paperbacks 50 pence!

It was my local south London Fete at the weekend, something I’ve blogged about before ( see Local Music ). This year was slightly different in that the Clapham Book Festival folk were helping on the second-hand book stall, which meant that I went to help them set up the stall on Friday.

I was astonished by what some people ‘donate’.

Dusty tomes, literally. Books which were falling apart, books likes Guides and Manuals which, of their nature, needed to be current, but which were decades old. Plus some books which certainly didn’t belong on a public book stall, not even if it had a top shelf. Certainly not a book stall in a church.  Then a fellow helper told me tales of working in a charity shop and receiving second-hand clothes covered in filth, grime and other suspect substances. Compared to that, the books were fine.

There were gems. Pristine art books with full colour plates, art exhibition catalogues, lovely old illustrated hardbacks without their dustcovers, but lovingly inscribed. Clapham writers had given too – pre-publication copies some of them, or books submitted for prizes by publishers and read only once. Special items – £5!

Sport, cookery, biography, fiction A – D. Humour, history, crafts, fiction E – L.

Someone had donated what seemed like the entire works of Anita Brookner and the entire works of Nina Bawden. Where did these paperbacks come from, who had they belonged to?  And why were they all on our stall?  A story lies behind those books. I think of Calvino, Borges.

Pallets full of books, their spines upwards, glossy and matte (the more recent the publication date the more likely to be the latter, glossy dustcovers being out of fashion for years). Boxes of sundry books for free – these were older, tattier, but still worth rummaging through for that special find. Who cares if the manual is for a motorcycle long gone, if it was once yours and most beloved. Lost youth and memory.

Poetry, nature, fiction M – T. Non-fiction (general), science, outdoor pursuits, fiction T – Z.

We can make the signs tomorrow.  It’s hot and dusty and there’s a bottle of rosé chilling in the fridge.

The following day the church is already full of Fete goers when I arrive, browsing the bric a brac stall, amassing small piles of purchases as a local school choir sings. Whistles and applause follow. Then the Welsh male voice choir (last seen performing later a capella outside the local pub and gratefully receiving drinks bought by those being entertained). Tea, strawberries and cream, delicious looking cakes (all in the church, which is cool, in both senses of the word). Lots of people buying books.

Art books over there, poetry on the last table down. That’ll be £1.50, madam. Would you like a leaflet on local writers appearing at the Lambeth Country Show?

Friends appear, Clapham Book Fest people, writers too. Ah, I think I donated that book two years ago. This frees me and others to have lunch, walk around the Fete, watch one of us in a dance demonstration ( I knew nothing about a dance called the merengue before Saturday, now I’ve danced it, drawn in, how ever much I protested ). Eat tasty salads, think about buying the fresh oysters being shucked outside a local restaurant. Sit at tables in the road, free sunscreen samples from the local beauty shop gratefully received by all. Watch the dog show, talk about the books, our books, any books.

A very good day.

With thanks to @VillageLifeSW4 for the photograph above.

For more about what Clapham Writers and the Clapham Book Festival is up to try                   Out and About                       Thriller                    Summer Books

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Sunshine at the Lambeth Country Show

Saturday morning is hot and sunny in south London. Eleven o’clock sees us on our way to Brockwell Park, having collected, inventoried and packed up the books the day before. Already the roads are busy and we were headed for Gate 2, traders and performers only. Yikes!  The road to Gate 2 is closed. What do we do now?  Ah, but there’s a man in a high viz jacket holding a clipboard, maybe the road is only closed to everyday traffic? We are in possession of a parking access permit to the Show Ground, perhaps this magic piece of paper is our passport through.

And it is.  We turn into the road and through the gate, shepherded along by yellow clad stewards, who all, curiously, have Scottish accents.  But the twang in the voice of the parking lady is decidedly antipodean as we are directed to our parking space.  So far so good. Now we just have to transport the books, using the trolley from the bookshop ( a hooray for Herne Hill Books ) to our stand in the Discovery Zone.

But this is a big park and the Show Ground is fenced off behind high green metal walls, so we can’t see in.  Plus, the dry grassy ground is uneven and the boxes of books tend to slide sideways off the trolley if there is a camber to the ground. Cue stress. Head for the nearest asphalt path.

The trolley’s boxes only slide off twice before we make it.  Then it’s up the hill to a pair of forbidding-looking heavy metal gates.  We drag them open and we’re through, into the Show Ground proper. There we are taken pity on by another yellow-clad Scot, Mick from Glasgow, who, like us, is ignorant of the Discovery Zone’s location but, grasping both trolley and heavy bag proceeds up the hill to Brockwell House, where his colleagues are able to direct him. So, past the big open space which will become the Main Arena later, alongside the backs of a series of food and drink outlets and there, in the distance, is the big Discovery banner.

And some Clapham Book Fest folk are already there!  Sitting at a picnic table.  Greetings all round. But we are puzzled – we know that our sessions will take place in a marquee, but there are three marquees in a line, which is ours?  One is already occupied by a number of scientific and medical societies, so that’s out.  One has a half closed front, so surely that’s not ours. No, we decide it’s the middle one, which has a low stage and a sound man in the corner, testing his equipment.  As yet there are no seats and no tables for selling books. But we have a security man – Jordan from Glasgow explains that the Security firm hired for the event is from Scotland, they all came down the night before.  He’s very helpful – ‘Dunna pay full price,’ he yells after me as I go to buy ice creams. ‘Tell him you’re staff – it’s £2. Have ye seen what they charge for a cone round here?’ Mr Whippy duly obliges.

Mitchell, the sound man, knows nothing about any furniture, but, he says the stage is not yet safe, we must wait for his colleague to come and fix it.  We are on at one. It’s already twelve.  ‘Oh, you’ve got a whole hour. No worries.’  He says. But we are worrying.  I head off to find someone in charge – there’s supposed to be an events manager called Chris.  I find him and he tells me that 200 chairs have been requested and two tables.  They’re just not here yet.

By the time I return to the tent the Clapham Book Festival ‘Common Reading’ banner is up and our writers/performers begin to arrive. Here’s Isabelle,former Clapham resident and crime writer par excellence. Hallo.  A little buggy arrives drawing a trailer, on which there are chairs!! But the scientists get to them first.  More please, we plead with the buggy driver, and QUICKLY. It’s after half past twelve.  But Mitchell’s colleague has arrived and secured the stage.  So we can at least set up the mics. Annemarie arrives, another Clapham writer. She, like me, has lived within a couple of miles of the Park for many years and yet has never been to the Show. The buggy is back and we all start unloading and setting up chairs, so that our tent looks as if something is about to happen.  It’s a quarter to one and Sabine, the last of the Thriller in the Park panel arrives.  One problem – no audience.

There are folk wandering around, but no one seems to have a clue what’s on and when. We don’t see any programmes – though there is an app it’s pretty impossible to read anything on one’s phone, the sunlight is too bright.  I take a mic and ‘announce’ to passersby that Thriller in the Park is happening in fifteen minutes ( ten minutes, five, about to begin ) and so we garner a small crowd. ‘Don’t worry’, the sound man says. ‘Just start, they’ll come. I see it with bands all the time.’

And he’s right. We begin and they do.  We launch into an interesting discussion about writing crime and thriller fiction. Clapham Book Festival at the Lambeth Country Show has begun.

There will be a further post about our experiences at the Show on Wednesday. meanwhile you can read more about Clapham Book Festival events at            Brockwell Park Weekend       Books for sale in the sunshine           Thriller in the Park                       The History Girls

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Out and about

Now that this year’s Book Festival is successfully concluded Clapham Writers next outing will be later this month at the Abbeville Fete (30th June) where members of our Management Board will be running the second-hand book stall in the Church of the Holy Spirit. Fete visitors will find copies of the Clapham Literary Trail and more information about the Book Festival available, as well as flyers for the next time authors get together to discuss books.

This will be in July at the Lambeth Country Show held in Brockwell Park, South London. Billed as the biggest outdoor family event in Europe with over 150,000 expected to attend across a weekend, this ever popular event includes all the elements of a country show – pony rides, animals (owls are a popular feature, as are birds of prey), competitions for vegetables and flowers, fancy dress, displays of jousting and other equine acrobatics, lots of music, food and activities. Gates open at 12 noon and close at 8 pm and it’s free.

One element is the Discovery zone, containing a marquee for various presentations and performances. Last year this included slots by curators of the Natural History Museum, members of the Royal College of Physicians, various musicians and performers, etc. etc. This year Lambeth approached Clapham Writers and have asked us to do two sessions, one on Saturday and one on Sunday.

So we have Thriller in the Park on Saturday at 12.30 with Clapham based writer, Annemarie Neary, fellow Lambeth resident Sabine Durrant and former Lambeth resident, Isabelle Grey moderated by your blogger. Isabelle’s latest DI Grace Fisher novel, Wrong Way Home (Quercus, May 2018) is The Sunday Times Crime Book of the Month in June 2018, as a young, true-crime blogger gets involved in a reopened case of rape and murder. Sabine’s latest Take Me In, published later in June, follows her Sunday Times best-seller and Richard & Judy Book Club Choice Lie With Me (both Mulholland Books). The latter is set in Lambeth. Annemarie’s The Orphans (Hutchinson, July 2017) continues to receive acclaim – it is, in large part, set on Clapham Common. We’ll be talking about what makes a good thriller and why crime writing has become so popular. The female of the species is more deadly than the male

On Sunday at the same time it’s The History Girls, with Professor Kate Williams, Elizabeth Buchan and me. Our ad copy reads – ‘Throughout history women have been silenced and thought weak-minded, puny and sexually incontinent. Come and hear how women novelists of today write about the history that excluded them.’ Having commentated on the royal wedding, historian Kate Williams will be talking about her biographies and her trilogy of novels set during and after the First World War. I will be taking folk back to the drama of Al Andalus as Moor and Christian battle it out and Elizabeth Buchan talks about writing about the SOE and Clapham Common in the aftermath of the Second World War.  Wow, that sounds good.

Some of our trusty volunteers will be there to staff the book stall, with books ordered and supplied by Herne Hill Books (sister shop of Clapham Books).  So it’s full steam ahead for the Lambeth Country Show.

Then…. well there’s Quickreads in Brixton Prison ( and on National Prison Radio ) with Vaseem Khan and, we hope, another Quickreads author and, at the start of September, the Clapham Summer Fete (see He Shouldn’t Have Parked There for a blog on last year’s event ).

For more on Clapham Writers and its activities read                     Clapham Book Fest 2018: How’d it Go?                  Clapham Book Fest 2017                  Place & The Writer

A version of this post appeared on The Story Bazaar blog in June 2018.

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Clapham Book Festival 2018 – How’d We Do?

So now it’s report back time.  The Festival undertakes to report to its sponsors on achievement against the targets it sets itself each year. This year’s Report is being put together, but I can share some highlights.

Revenue from the box office and from book sales is up on 2017 and continues the upward trend from 2016. This isn’t surprising, we had more events and, therefore, more books for sale. So, overall, we made a small ( a very small ) profit.  But then making profits isn’t what the Book Festival is about, it’s about celebrating books and reading, tempting authors to Clapham and bringing Clapham authors to the notice of their neighbours. We certainly did both this year.

On publicity we didn’t get so many featured articles this year, even in local media, maybe because of the greater focus on fiction ( last year Kate Adie was very popular with local media editors ), but also because Dame Margaret did not do interviews. This was out-weighed, however, by publicity from the Royal Society of Literature and the Society of Authors, as well as web-sites like Book Brunch. The Sunday Times was interested in doing a piece, though this was at a very late stage and we thought that next year, a bit earlier in the process, might be better.  Listeners to Radio 4’s Poetry Extra or watchers of BBC4’s Mark Lawson Talks to… may have heard our little Festival mentioned on national BBC radio and TV (something which will help when seeking sponsors for next year).

Our mailing list grows, as do our Twitter followers and folk using our web-site (these targets were hugely exceeded). The Feedback sheets (completed by 30% of the total audience – a very high percentage) suggest that, despite our foot slogging around local markets and areas where people congregate, the leaflets weren’t actually a major driver of attendance. This is instructive as printing is a major part of our spend. We will review the practice next year. Feedback also tells us that we deliver a high quality product. 95% of respondents said they were very satisfied, with 5% stating fairly satisfied, but only, they said, because of the last-minute withdrawal of Lucy Luck, whom they had wanted to see.

Thanks must go to The Windmill on the Common, an old coaching inn now turned into a pub and boutique hotel, for their generous prize of an overnight stay for two with breakfast, which persuaded folk to fill in the Feedback sheets and thereby enter the raffle for the prize. That has yet to be drawn.

All that said, we didn’t manage to meet the rather ambitious audience numbers targets we had set ourselves. This meant that the average attendees per event was down, from 52 last year to 33 this (17 in 2016).  The reasons for this, we believe, are complicated. We had more events this year and we knew that some of them were ‘niche’, the poetry slot, for example, was unlikely to achieve our targeted average. We calculated that the evening event would, like last year, sell out, which would cover any shortfall.  But we hadn’t bargained for the rain setting in at about half past four.  Almost half our evening audiences last year were ‘walk ups’, people deciding to come along at the last minute. People were unlikely to do so in the pouring rain.  So, while we had perfectly respectable audience numbers in the evening, it wasn’t the ‘put more chairs in’ experience of last year. This meant that the average went down. The physical Box Office closing for refurbishment just over a week before our event didn’t help either, though tickets were still available on-line.

So, for another year running, Clapham Writers has delivered a successful event. We know how to do delivery now, that much is clear. But there’s still a lot of learning for next time, about publicity, scheduling and calculating audience numbers (which, by the way, everyone who does this sort of thing agrees is something of a lottery). The next Clapham Book Festival might look rather different, who knows?

A version of this article first appeared on The Story Bazaar web-site in June 2018.

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Clapham Book festival 2018 – How’d it go?

The dust has settled, the crowds have gone home and everyone involved with delivering the Clapham Book Festival 2018 takes a hefty breath. Sigh.

It was very hard work.  We had twice as many events this year as last and in two venues, probably too many events, to be absolutely honest. The day had dawned fair, but not too hot, which was remarkable given that the weekend which preceded it and that which followed saw temperatures up into the high twenties/low thirties. We would have had no chance in such circumstances, no one would have chosen to come indoors. But it was pleasant, with a chance of showers.

We met at nine in the morning at Omnibus Theatre, in my case carrying the cash float, a pile of Feedback sheets, the Festival banner and additional T-shirts for our new volunteers. Fortunately I had help from Sponsorship guru, Bertie, who lives just around the corner. On arrival we began to set up the tables for book selling and book signing – we had over three hundred books this year, all transported by the trusty ( not to say saintly ) Director of Books, Dave, who had collected them from Clapham Books the day before. Bertie and Dave were joined on the book stall by new volunteers, Sue and Andrea, both of whom put on their T-shirts.

Two of the Trustees and Paula, our Programme Director, then set out across Clapham to the Library in the High Street, to greet our first author, prize-winning Patrice Lawrence, whose session started at ten.

Meanwhile Adam had arrived at Omnibus to help shift furniture in the theatre and the lounge/bar, while John, our Technical Director, was deep in conversation with Paul, the technician. Slideshows flitted across the back screen, lights dimmed and rose, the dais at the front of the auditorium took shape, acquired chairs and microphones and a stand for flowers. Our secure dressing room began to fill with items. The handmade chocolates to be given as small gifts to the authors were placed therein in their little bags ( thank you Macfarlane’s Fromagerie ) as were personal items.

The book stall and the performance space were taking shape.  Our first speakers, Emma Darwin and Philip Gwyn Jones arrived and drank coffee, they were speaking at eleven. But there was some embarrassment – Emma had stepped into the breach at the last moment when Lucy Luck had to pull out and, while the Programme had been up-dated by Omnibus, her image had not be put up on Omnibus web-site. Additionally the Programme page on the CBF web-site still listed Lucy (although the Authors page had replaced her with Emma). Profuse apologies, Emma was very gracious.

This year it fell to me to open the first Omnibus session, which I did, to the clicking of Penelope’s camera (well, tablet). Then the lights went down and I sat back to enjoy a really good discussion on writing and publishing. So did an appreciative audience. And then it was on to the next item – the poets had already arrived and were waiting outside. Thus the day passed, always busy, always looking to the next item, occasionally taking a break while helping rearrange books in a newly quiet lounge area, while a session was going on in the theatre.

The items which I saw were excellent, the speakers really engaged with the audience and with each other, sometimes proving quite revelatory, always insightful. By late afternoon, when the rain came down ( and didn’t stop ) the theatre had seen good sized audiences, especially for Dame Margaret Drabble. One lady had come from the Midlands bearing her 1972 copy of The Millstone, which Dame Margaret duly signed. As people began arriving for the evening session we prepared to move the book stall from the lounge into The Greene Room for the final, informal event with music and for people to have their most recent book purchases signed by Deborah Moggach OBE.

All set up in the new room. we heard Elizabeth give the closing speech, as the musicians began, quietly, to play and the doors at the back of the theatre opened. The audience poured out, to buy more books, to have a drink at the pop-up bar, to talk about the Festival. Local authors came along, Annemarie Neary (The Orphans, Hutchinson 2017) Brian James ( Dangerous Skies, Claret Press 2016) and Bobbie Derbyshire (Oz, Cinnamon Press, 2014) were the ones I spoke with, but there were plenty of others. Lots of Festival goers told me how much they had enjoyed it, many people attending more than just one event.  Job done.

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GDPR Clapham Wriers Privacy Statement

Clapham Writers commits that when we collect, store and use data, we will meet data protection standards and comply with the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR).

In order to operate, Clapham Writers needs to gather, store and use certain forms of information about individuals. These can include Directors (Trustees), employees, sponsors, volunteers, audiences and potential audiences, business contacts and other people we have a relationship with or regularly need to contact.
Our data policies are in place to protect the rights of our sponsors, volunteers and supporters, and comply with data protections law and follow good practice. They apply to all those handling data on behalf of Clapham Writers including the trustees, employees and volunteers and contractors/third party suppliers.
The Chair of Trustees is the Data Controller for Clapham Writers and will determine what data is collected and how it is used; she also acts as Administrator. She, together with the other Trustees, is responsible for the secure, fair and transparent collection and use of data by Clapham Writers. Any questions relating to the collection of use of data should be directed in the first instance to the Chair of Trustees (E
Everyone who has access to data as part of Clapham Writers has a responsibility to ensure that they adhere to our Data policies. Clapham Writers uses third party data processors (Mail Chimp and any box office provider) to process data on its behalf, we will ensure they are compliant with GDPR.
Our Privacy Policy, including Data Protection, Retention and Audit can be found Here.
The Trustees will keep these policies under periodic review. Staff and volunteers are encouraged to comment and suggest ways they might be improved. Any comments or queries should be directed to the Chair of Trustees in the first instance. Any failure to comply with our Data policies will be taken seriously.

Julie Anderson, Chair of Trustees – Clapham Writers, May 2018

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