The Book Festival was first planned for 2020 but of course had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. Now it is back and I've been involved, liaising with the more than 35 local authors taking part and planning some great events which I hope will get readers interested and excited about our authors' work. We also have some writing workshops scheduled.
For authors, it is very welcome as the series of lockdowns has meant many have been unable to promote their books, or even have new books launched properly. When we put out a call for local writers, we had no idea that so many would want to join the Author Market! We have already had to start a waiting list for next year.
‘Authors in conversation’ panel sessions at the Author Market
Informal half hour sessions, assisted by a facilitator, with two authors whose books have something interesting in common. Each author will give a short reading from their book and then will chat about the inspiration for their books and how they approach their work.
Saturday 7th Hertford
1.30-2.00pm Strange Worlds
Abena Eyeson (author of ‘Looking Up’) and Roxy Eloise (author of ‘The Guidal’) talk about writing for teenagers and how fiction can help adolescents face change and the unknown in their lives.
2.00-2.30pm The Story in History
Louisa Treger (‘Madwoman’) Zoe Jasko (’What the Wind Saw’) discuss their books and how they research and create vivid historical stories.
2.30-3.00pm Tales of the Dark Fantastic
J S Watts (the ‘Witchlight’ trilogy) and John Tarrow (‘A Stranger’s Guide to Talliston’) talk about myth and magic in their work.
3.00-3.30pm The Power of Stories
Sara Nisha Adams (‘The Reading List’) and Nick Jubber (‘The Fairytellers’) talk about the age-old power of literature and its effect on our lives.
3.30-4.00pm Life and Love
Lauren Forsythe (‘The Fixer Upper’) and Hina Belitz (‘To Lahore With Love’) on their novels about women trying to navigate the choppy seas of life and relationships.
Sunday 8th Ware
1.30-2.00pm Danger on the Page
Philip Cox (‘Sam Leroy’ series) and Sarah Goodwin (‘Stranded’) discuss how they create suspense and peril in their thrillers.
2.00-2.30pm Law and Disorder
Paul Gitsham (‘DCI Warren Jones’ series) and Abi Silver (‘Burton and Lamb’ series) talk about their police procedural and legal mysteries.
2.30-3.00pm Bringing the Past to Life
Vivien Freeman (‘The Escape of Rose Alleyn’) and Philip Allan (‘Alexander Clay’ series) talk about their approach to creating vivid characters in historical fiction.
Free of charge but participants to book on Eventbrite via the www.hertsbookfestival.org website.
Hertford (Old Cross venue)
11.00am-12.00 Writing your memoir - Dr Bev Morris
Do you need some practical tips on writing your memoir –what structure to choose, how to deal with difficult truths and how to bring your story alive?
Memoir is the most unique form of writing because it tells a story in a way that only you can. Taking your life and turning it into a book, play or film is a huge undertaking. Joining this workshop provides you with a chance to try out your memoir ideas and to meet other writers on their writing journey.
The workshop is led by Bev Morris, a prize-winning author of short fiction and poetry as well as being a writing mentor specialising in memoir. She has written the story of an ex Special Forces soldier, created a podcast giving voice to survivors of abuse, published poetry on the pain of a lost love, and is working on a memoir in flash based on interviews with military veterans.
Bring a notebook and pen and be ready to write!
12.00-1.00pm Writing Historical Fiction - Dr Kat Armstrong
You may have a great idea for a historical novel, or a work in progress you want to improve, or you may simply love to read historical fiction and wonder how it’s done. Whatever your starting point, all you need for this workshop is a pen and paper and a willingness to forget the history books and let your imagination run free. We’ll start with a couple of exercises to prove we’re all capable of bringing the past to life, whether we’ve been writing historical fiction for some time or have never tried it till now.
Kat Armstrong is the author of ‘A Sharp Pair of Eyes’ and is currently working on the sequel.
2.00-4.00pm Wild Your Words – El Rhodes
Join award winning writer and teacher, El Rhodes for a two hour creative nonfiction writing workshop. Find out how to get started on a piece, get creative with it, and how and where to submit your work. This session is suitable for anyone, whether they’re a complete beginner or already have thousands of words under their belt. We’ll focus on nature writing, but don’t expect to stop there. Come with a blank page, leave with a draft piece and inspiration.
Sunday 8th May
Ware Priory (Fletcher’s Lea)
11.30am-12.30pm Getting Published – Nikki Vallance and Karen Skinner
Do you have a book you'd like to write but have no idea how to get it published? In this interactive workshop learn from two local authors, Nikki Vallance (www.nikkivallance.com) and Karen Skinner (www.klskinnerauthor.com) about the routes they took to publication and the alternative options available to writers today. Come prepared with all your questions and take away your own action plan to getting published.
1.00-2.00pm Writing Ghost Poems and Stories - Sarah Wragg
Ghost stories are more popular than ever and there’s an unending appetite for new stories about spooks. But how does a writer go about creating a ghost that’s suitable for fiction? Whether you’re writing a novel, short stories, flash fiction or poetry, this workshop’s for you. Sarah Wragg specialises in writing ghost poems and recently published her prize-winning first collection, Ghost Walk. She’s busy working on her second collection which is about real as well as fictional ghosts haunting Hertford and Ware. With having to invent dozens of different ghouls for so many short, poetic bursts, she’s learnt a thing or two about bringing ghosts to life. In this workshop, she’ll share her secrets about creating convincing ghosts and their stories for the fiction market.
Everything is free of charge, there is lots for families and we hope it will be a real community event.
Post from my 'Underfoot' blog: www.katemillerwriting.wordpress.com
Yellow has traditionally been the colour of cowardice, but it seems to me to be the colour of resilience. The sunflower yellow of the Ukrainian flag is a life-sustaining yellow; so far the people there have met a horrific invasion with an energy and courage that makes me ask myself, what would I do? Could I find the hope, to resist?
The brutality of a senseless war is clouding this spring, but spring has still begun. Here, it is daffodils that give us that energising burst of yellow. I love daffodils. They come up year after year, no matter what. Winter has been relatively mild this year, aside from the destructive storms, but even after the worst of snow, frost and rain, daffodils will flower, undeterred.
It's a cold, bright morning and we’re walking to Panshanger to look for daffodils. Last time I was there, I could see their spikes coming up among the snowdrops.
Birds are singing this morning and as I stop to take in a blackthorn in bloom, a wren breaks out in piercing song.
In Panshanger Park, jackdaws are busy in the Great Oak, chacking to themselves, then flying out to the fields to poke around for worms. The dead oak trees here, full of holes, are a gift to them. We watch two jackdaw pairs disappear into adjacent holes in an old oak, presumably where they are nesting, as neighbours.
In the wood around the Great Oak, daffodils look pretty in the dappled light, but on the south-facing slope of the wood, they’ve exploded into full brilliance. These small flowers, some of them possibly descendants of bulbs planted more than a century ago, have been flowering spring after spring, through the years when the estate was neglected and unvisited, closed off, when their blooms went unseen. Many are double flowers, fluffy as yellow pom-poms.
Wordsworth’s famous poem about ‘a crowd, a host, of golden daffodils’ is not called Daffodils, but ‘The Inward Eye’. It’s about the lasting ‘wealth’ he feels he gained from seeing this wild display.
They flash upon that inward eye…
And then my heart with pleasure fills
And dances with the daffodils.
Daffodils of the heart. Giving strength.
1st January 2022
On Boxing Day we went for a walk, taking advantage of a brief pause in the rain. We crossed the road to Goldings, where the view widens out to the meandering river and open meadows.
Looking over the parapet of one of the old, brick-built bridges, I saw a flash of blue. A kingfisher! The brilliant turquoise blue of its back glowed against the dull brown of the reeds as it darted down the stream to land, out of sight, in an alder tree.
That jewel-like blue, the blue of a damsel-fly, is other-worldly – or at least, un-English. We were almost unable to believe what we’d seen.
It’s not that kingfishers are rare. I’ve seen them on the Beane before and local wildlife photographers regularly take marvellous pictures of the birds on the Lea, but every time I’ve seen one I’ve had that sensation of being given a precious gift, or being let into an astonishing secret.
Some years ago, we were having a walk in St Albans, one dank and gloomy new year’s day, and we watched a kingfisher on the river Ver, in the middle of a busy park. We appeared to be the only people who had noticed this wonderful sight. I wrote a poem, and I couldn’t write about a kingfisher without the influence of Gerard Manley Hopkins, of course. It's here, called New Year's Day (click to follow link).
As this pandemic has gone on, our horizons have been narrowed, a net drawn tighter and tighter around us: confined to our towns, our homes, and for some people, literally confined to their room, day after day. Our shoulders are hunched, our eyes cast down. Even if we’re not actually ill with the virus, our souls can’t breathe.
We need the healing of being able to look outwards, away from ourselves. While I was lucky enough, in the summer of 2021, to be able to stand on a mountain and gaze at a distant horizon, feel the expansion in myself, I know that for most of the time, was helped me was giving my attention on our walks to even the small things. These didn’t have to be as brilliant as a kingfisher – with attention, the bark of a tree, a berry, a small white flower, can take you out of yourself.
I paid attention because I wanted to write about them in my blog
(www.katemillerwriting.wordpress.com) and in 2021, for the first time in a long while, I think, I really opened my eyes and looked.
Yesterday, new year’s eve, we walked with friends to Waterford and went into the little church, a glowing jewel of beautiful art
The daylight was fading and the church warden kindly switched on the chancel lights, which made the glittering mosaic angels behind the altar come to life.
Each has a banner above their head, with a message:
Underfoot - Adventures in the nearby and close-at-hand
Early in 2021, when there was little light in the day and none at the end of the tunnel, I had the urge to escape by reading about wilderness.
I read Abi Andrews’ weird and wonderful, The Word for Woman is Wilderness, about a woman’s edgy, (fictional), challenge to herself to survive in Alaska, and – closer to home – Robert Macfarlane’s The Wild Places. It was enjoyable to read Macfarlane’s account of his trips to some of the most remote and beautiful parts of the British Isles, but what I found most encouraging was the way he discovers that the wild can be found in the humble and close to home, as well as in epic landscapes of bare mountains and storm-battered coasts.
He quotes a comment by his friend and fellow-adventurer Roger Deakin, who talked about ‘the undiscovered country of the nearby.’
That is the country I want to explore.
During the pandemic I have been endlessly grateful for being able to walk out of my house and straight into the Hertfordshire countryside. It is not an epic landscape, no area of outstanding natural beauty: it is 30 miles from London and from the air it would look like featureless fields hemmed in by motorways, with the odd patch of woodland.
But I know it has its own wonders and I want to notice them, acknowledge them, celebrate and share them. Writing about them and the thoughts they prompt, and taking the occasional ill-focused photo, helps me do that. A lifelong interest in wild flowers means that I often have my eyes on what’s underfoot, but I also like to look for birdlife and I’m fascinated by how the history of the area shows in its landscape and habitation.
Follow the blog at www.katemillerwriting.wordpress.com
One of my stories, 'The Enemy at the Gates', first published in the Hertford Writers' Circle anthology Heart of Herts, has been turned into a beautifully performed online tale by actors Vickie Holden-Swinton and Dan Swinton. We've all been looking for ways to get creative work out there during lockdown, and they've done an incredible job recording and producing this at home.
Specially produced for Hertfordshire Year of Culture 2020, the story is set during the over-the-top Hertford Pageant of July 1914, when emotions were running high among young people - who had no idea what the future held for them.
Click here for the link to it on You Tube.
Between 1871 and 1899, the proprietor of one of the largest and most successful theatres in London was a woman - Sara Lane. Her theatre, the Britannia in Hoxton, was an astonishing palace of illusion in the heart of the East End - not a music hall but a full scale theatre, seating 3,000, offering a programme of performances from fire-eaters to Shakespeare. The theatre was particularly well known for its annual three-month-long pantomime, witnessed by Dickens (who enjoyed himself).
The photo is of an original programme for the 1886 pantomime, from the archive of Sara Lupino, a descendant of the famous Lupino acting family, who were related by marriage to Sara Lane. Sara Lupino first told me the story of her ancestor and gave me the idea of writing a play about her.
This is still a work in progress, but here's the first scene, an introduction to the extravagant world of Victorian theatre...
THE QUEEN OF HOXTON
SARA LANE Proprietor of The Britannia Theatre, Hoxton
CAROLINE LA DOUCE Singer and actress at the Britannia
Sara’s cluttered office, backstage at the Britannia. Sara is writing at her desk, feeling pleased with her work.
Caroline enters, carrying a large poster – the bill for the following week’s performances. She takes a stand in front of Sara’s desk.
SARA Bigger and better than ever before Caroline!
CAROLINE I’m not having it.
CAROLINE holds up the poster.
CAROLINE Next week’s bill. You’ve put me below the Hungarian goats.
SARA The goats are very popular.
CAROLINE It’s a question of skill Mrs Lane. There’s no skill in being a goat.
SARA They’re very popular.
CAROLINE So am I.
SARA says nothing.
CAROLINE I have my loyal followers.
SARA They don’t turn out like they used to. Some have dropped off due to rheumatism and deafness.
CAROLINE The young fellers like me too. I sing the latest. I’ve got a new one.
SARA You’re more popular than the castanet and spoons. Be grateful.
CAROLINE But the bill. You’re going to pay the goats more than me.
SARA There are fifteen of them.
CAROLINE And they shit all over the stage! Estevan is taking money that rightly should be mine and is he using it to feed his fifteen goats? No. They’re out in the back alley eating rubbish.
SARA I’ll have a word.
CAROLINE He’ll be sorry when they can’t do their balancing act ‘cos they’re too weak on orange peel and some spat out tobacco!
SARA We’ll do you a benefit night soon Caroline, I promise.
CAROLINE I don’t want charity. I want a decent wage.
SARA Some acts are more of a draw than others.
SARA I’m a business woman. I can’t argue with the takings.
CAROLINE I’ve been with you ten years Mrs Lane. And I’ll still be here when all the acrobatic goats, castanets and spoons have been forgotten. I’ll be here singing a good tune.
SARA The Monarch on Shoreditch High Street is closing.
CAROLINE I heard.
SARA That’s three East End theatres gone in the last two years. There aren’t the opportunities for artistes that there used to be.
SARA But good news for us. People still want to go to a show and they’ll come to the Britannia. I’m expecting a boost.
CAROLINE I never knew the Monarch was in trouble.
SARA Times are hard.
CAROLINE You wouldn’t close the Brit?
SARA Caroline, I wouldn’t dare! I’d have the ghost of my poor Sam Lane ruining my sleep every night! He said to me on his deathbed, ‘promise me Sara, that you won’t let the Britannia go,’ and I promised. My Sam built this theatre up from nothing, from a dirty room at the back of a tavern, and I’ve carried on his work. Look at the Brit now
CAROLINE Mr Lane would be proud of you. But…
SARA … the most wonderful Palace of Illusion in the whole of London and people down from the West End have said so.
CAROLINE There’s rumours...
SARA I know. But the pantomime will be our saviour, as always. Ooh, it’s going to be bigger and better than ever before! Ali Baba and the Demon Bat King.
SARA Cave. Treasure. Realm of the Demon Bats.
SARA Subtitle – Harlequin, Sultana and the Magic Lamp!
CAROLINE Chief Fairy?
SARA Of course Chief Fairy. Fairy Shalimar.
CAROLINE Thank you.
SARA I would never give that part to anyone else Caroline. I might have to have you double up as one of the 40 Thieves, and a Djinn.
CAROLINE Ooh, a Djinn. Who are you?
SARA Madame Sultana the Fruit Seller. Searching for the brass lamp left to her by her dying grandmother and wickedly stolen from her.
CAROLINE Have we got a pair of bungling thieves?
SARA Of course, Harry and Arthur Lupino are down for that.
But listen, I have this vision Caroline. The transformation scene – bigger and better than ever before. Come with me, to the Paradise of the Crystal Oasis.
An ethereal haze clouds our vision… the smoke clears and we see an exotic scene… a dark cave, desert palms, snowcapped mountains, a blue sea in the distance…
CAROLINE But the light changes, the gauze lifts…
SARA And we are in a fantastic cavern, the rocks sparkling with coloured jewels, golden treasure heaped everywhere.. but again the gauze lifts…
CAROLINE We move on, towards paradise… The music swells… excitement mounts..
SARA There’s a glimpse of magical beings moving, shifting… Gauze after gauze lifts…
CAROLINE To reveal…
SARA A scene of pure delight..
CAROLINE The audience gasps…
SARA Against a backdrop of a shining marble palace, crystal fountains gush sapphire blue water. Beautiful fairies in sparkling costumes dance a captivating dance. Above them, as if by pure magic, wonderful spirits fly through the air…
CAROLINE Wait wait!
CAROLINE I’m not doing no flying.
CAROLINE Last year I said never again.
SARA You’re one of our most experienced flyers.
CAROLINE Exactly. I’m too old for that malarkey. Remember last year? I nearly lost all my hair when they got me too close to that gas lamp.
SARA It won’t happen again.
CAROLINE Dangerous Mrs Lane. Flyers could start a f… Not to mention what it does to your back. At my age.
SARA At your age?
CAROLINE I mean… you want the young ones doing it. The ones who haven’t carried three children. Clanked into that iron corset thing, hoisted up…
SARA It’s perfectly safe.
CAROLINE It’s agony. You try being gracious and fairylike while you’re suspended horizontal for an hour and your back’s killing you.
SARA No one said the theatrical life was easy Caroline. You know the audience always loves to see the flying. We mustn’t disappoint them.
SARA I’ve stood there in the wings and seen the look on a child’s face as she gazes up, and she truly believes she’s seen a fairy soaring on gossamer wings. The illusion is complete. We’ve done our job.
CAROLINE What’s Fairy Shalimar going to do then?
SARA What the Fairy Godmother always does. Take pity on a poor, suffering child and transform their life. Ali Baba, shivering orphan on the streets, finds untold wealth and becomes prince of … of…
CAROLINE And love.
CAROLINE He finds love. Marries the princess. Love is worth more than all the treasure of the Forty Thieves.
SARA Yes yes. All that.
CAROLINE We could do a dream.
SARA Fairy Shalimar comes to Ali Baba in a dream. Yes. He’s asleep – Maria’s going to be Ali Baba. He’s huddled under Madame Sultana’s fruit stall… and you descend like an angel from above…
CAROLINE No flying!
SARA You rise up, a vision of loveliness. We’ll do a trap.
CAROLINE Not too much smoke. Makes me cough. Could we try steam again, instead?
SARA Oh no, it made the whole theatre smell like a laundry. We’ll do a Corsican trap. He’s asleep, here. Slowly, in wreaths of smoke, you begin to appear out of nowhere… back here… Rising up. You move, as if by magic…
CAROLINE Alf and Bert underneath the stage cranking away like mad…!
SARA The trap is up.
CAROLINE I step towards the sleeping boy and touch him with my wand.
SARA But who… who are you?
CAROLINE Do not be afraid Ali Baba. It is I, Fairy Shalimar. I am here to make your dreams come true. A life of wealth and power lies before you.
SARA No, I am just a poor orphan.
CAROLINE Tomorrow Ali Baba, head for the mountains. There you will find a cave, filled with treasure. And… um… and most precious of all, a Magic Lamp.
SARA (whispers) But beware the Evil Bat King.
CAROLINE But beware the Evil Demon Bat King who rules the dark depths. He will try to suck your blood and take from you everything that is rightfully yours!
SARA Can this really be true?
CAROLINE Indeed. Because I am Fairy Shalimar from the Paradise of the Crystal Oasis. Then I do my dance?
CAROLINE Which one?
SARA The one you did for Cinderella and the Enchanted Forest.
CAROLINE That was a good one.
SARA It’s going to be a wonderful show. Bigger and better than ever before. And Easter’s late next year so it will be a long run. 15 weeks from Boxing Night.
CAROLINE We’ll be exhausted.
SARA We’ll be in the money. This will mean a turnround in our situation.
We’ll be in the money, three thousand customers will be in the warm on a winter’s evening, we’ll all be in paradise.
I'm launching a six-week writing course for anyone embarking on a major writing project - novel, factual book, memoir or other genre. The sessions will help get you started and power you forward with your book.
If you have an idea for a book, but don’t know where to start, or if you have started but are not entirely sure where you are going (as happens to all of us!), this course will help you find clarity and motivation, giving you the tools to see your project through to completion in future.
Sessions will cover:
Beginnings. What is your book all about and where do you get started? Who is your reader?
Whose story is this? Finding your authorial voice, or your main character’s voice. Style, point of view.
Knowns and unknowns. How much do you know about the world of your book? What research do you need to do? How to write with a mastery of detail, and not let detail master you.
Structure. A close analysis of different kinds of structure and how you can find the right structure for your book.
Layers and complications. Fiction needs reversals, characters need obstacles, non-fiction needs a clear and honest account of difficulties, to be worthwhile.
Endings. Your book may be a long way off being finished, but you need a sense of where it will end up. For non-fiction, what do you want the reader to take away with them? For a novel, how do you see it building towards a climax?
When: Mondays 7pm – 9pm
24th February, 2nd, 9th, 16th, 23rd and 30th March
Where: URC Church Foyer, Cowbridge, Hertford
Cost: £72 for the six week course.
Further info and to book: firstname.lastname@example.org
Happy authors, plus the lovely Rosemary Bolton, Mayor of Hertford, at the launch of our latest Hertford Writers' Circle anthology - Herts & Minds. Twenty authors contributed stories and poems and there's something for everyone in there - werewolves in the closet, a dystopian drowned Hertford, a ghostly newspaper, a Puritan pioneer, a dogged anti-slavery campaigner, dragonflies and red kites... it's a good read, we think.
The 5/6 October was Fun Palace weekend. Fun Palace is an idea which is really taking off - all over the country, arts and community centres organise a weekend of creative activities for adults and children to try out for free. In Ware, Southern Maltings Arts Centre held its third Fun Palace, and the building was packed with people experimenting with everything from fused-glass art to being a radio presenter.
Myself and blogger Ceri May gave a workshop on 'Life Writing' - which could be memoirs and family history, or telling your present day story through a blog.
I believe everyone's story is interesting, if told in the right way. When I've done historical research for my writing, it's always a delight, and a rare one, to come across an account of everyday life written by a person at the time. In our fast-changing world, the detail of even our grandparents' daily life recedes from us, but I'm convinced that future generations will want to know that detail of our lives, which will allow them to connect with us on a human level.
The workshop produced some marvellous writing, much of it from people who had not tried to write before, but just had an urge to have a go - which is the spirit of Fun Palaces.
I'm looking forward to what we'll do next year...