‘Tis a strange little village is Lowdham…

20 07 2013

Back in June I was working my way through Mark Billingham’s excellent Tom Thorne series of crime fiction novels on audiobook (for the second time) when I happened upon a tweet from him about an up-and-coming event at the Lowdham Book Festival . After a) feeling rather ashamed that I knew nothing about a book festival happening only 5 miles down the road, b) checking the date and finding it didn’t clash with Glastonbury Festival and c) checking my work roster and finding I was free that evening, I booked a ticket. The event was called An Evening to Die For and was being held in the local parish church, with Mark Billingham and John Harvey. I’ve only read (well, listened to) one of John Harvey’s books – mainly because the first few in his series of books set in Nottingham aren’t available (yet?) on iPlayer. And I do like to read books in order!

I decided to head there staight after work by train and grab a pie and a pint in the village pub on the way to the do. It was a lovely sunny evening, and as I sat outside the pub watching the world (well, village) go by, this popped out of my pen:

‘Tis a strange little village is Lowdham,
Quite easy to miss and drive by;
So stop for a gin
In Ye Oldie Ship Inn
And a helping of homemade steak pie.

I say pen, it actually popped out of my finger into my phone.

Then I headed up to the church.

Churches and me go back a long way. Not in the religious way, but in the… sort of… familiar way. As a wee young thing, I was recruited by my dad to help start up a choir at one of the three local country churches for which he played organ. He’d landed the role (I say role, not job, as he wouldn’t accept payment apart from a few quid here and there to cover petrol, and he did it more for the enjoyment of being able to get his hands on lovely old instruments than for any religious tendencies) by way of not being able to turn down a plea for help from a friend during an organist-shortage. So I became used to choir practises and services in delightfully ancient musty old country churches, often going up there with dad when he went to practise and either turning pages for him or exploring the church and churchyard, making up stories in my head and generally being In A World Of My Own. I never saw the mouse though – according to dad, he lived under the organ of one of the churches and would sometimes pop out and run around, though I now suspect this was a little invention of dad’s to encourage me to sit quietly and not fidget… So anyway, walking into any old church and being hit by that musty churchy smell never fails to transport me back to those days. I also have to fight the urge to run up and adjust the hymn numbers on the board if they’re not perfectly centred.

A nice lady introduced the evening’s guests and two blokes ambled out the vestry and took their places on a couple of chairs placed at the front of the chancel.

And they chatted.

I’ve said before that I don’t do reviews, and I’m sticking to it. But I will share a few interesting points that came up amidst the chuckles and writerly banter.

They discussed the subject of titles for their books and experiences differed – one nearly always had a title from the start, but didn’t let it worry him if the occassional one took a while to come; the other said he gets frustrated if he hasn’t got one. I found this interesting, and related to them both. Sometimes I find the title comes before the thing (be it a book, story, poem, blog post…), sometimes during, and sometimes after. Some titles stand out immediately and shout loudly at you. Others you have to search for, and I’m familiar with that slightly panicky feeling when the title hasn’t come yet.

Both authors read pieces from their latest novels, Mark Billingham from The Dying Hours, and John Harvey from the manuscript of a book-in-progress, which was rather thrilling – I don’t know why seeing him turning loose A4 pages rather than reading from an actual book was exciting, but it was!

During a short break I succumbed to temptation and bought The Dying Hours from a little stall at the back of the church set up by The Bookcase, Lowdham’s independent bookshop and organisers of the festival. Then, as I was enjoying the evening so much and there wasn’t much of a queue, I self-consciously took it up for signing. I spent about the next half hour trying to stop blushing after Mr Billingham said “Rose Appleby?” and asked if I’d enjoyed my pie when I told him what name to write in it! The magic of Twitter! How cool was that?!

After the break it was question time, and a member of the audience asked them their views on eBooks. A pointed dislike for them from one of the authors at first surprised me, until he explained his reasoning – the huge increase in “self-published” eBooks cheapening the industry and lowering the quality of writing. I’m totally with him on that point, but I do buy eBooks – mainly because I do a lot of travelling and have to pack light, and an iPad is easier to carry round than a big hardback novel. But I’ve never bought a cheap, self-published one, and I always check to make sure the book is also available in printed form. If it isn’t, I don’t buy it – it just doesn’t seem right to me, especially knowing how impossible it is to edit your own work. A book published without the input of an experienced editor surely isn’t going to cut the mustard. When eBooks first began appearing I was hugely against them – nothing could replace the smell and feel of paper for me. But then I started my current job, and one day couldn’t fit the hardback of a new Terry Pratchett into my bag… so I bought the eBook version for my iPhone. These days I generally have an eBook and an audiobook on the go on the road, and a Proper Paper Book (or two…) on the go at home. Different books I hasten to add. Yep, I read a lot…

On the subject of writer’s block (another question from the audience), both strongly agreed it doesn’t exist, especially if you’re a full time writer. They agreed there were distractions (the internet, twitter etc) just like in any other job, but neither have experienced The Block. Perhaps when (!) I become a full time writer I’ll be better placed to comment on that one….

To sum up, it was a thoroughly wonderful evening, well organised by the Lowdham Book Festival team. There’s something rather magical about hearing writers talk about their craft, and I’d recommend it even to folk who aren’t big readers. It’s so interesting! And I’ll definitely be looking out for the festival again next year.

ps: In case your wondering, no I couldn’t fit the hardback of The Dying Hours in my workbag. So I bought the audiobook version too.

pps: It’s brilliant!

ppps: And I bought (and am thoroughly enjoying) the first Charlie Resnick novel by John Harvey. The eBook version. Delighted that I have 11 more in the series to get through!

pppps: I didn’t get my pie – unfortunately the pub wasn’t serving food that evening, so I had a bag of crisps instead.

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