The End of the First AsparaWriting Festival!

And so, after a year of planning and working on the basic ideas, the AsparaWriting Festival is finally over.

Evesham during the AsparaWriting Festival

Evesham during the AsparaWriting Festival

It’s been a really rewarding experience. The whole concept was, and is, to create a festival for unpublished but enthusiastic writers. We wanted to set it up, first: so that aspiring writers could come and learn from professionals; and, second: to create a series of events at which authors of all types – crime writers, humorists, short story writers, poets – could come to meet eager aspiring authors to exchange ideas and receive masterclasses on writing.

There were two main drivers behind this. One was, the huge number of festivals that cater to straight marketing. Yes, they promote themselves as being there to interview authors and to introduce new writers – but generally they are there purely to push already famous authors so that the festival makes money. The second was, as a member of an audience, I wanted more participation with writers I liked and admired. I wanted to be able to get some meaningful time with the authors, not a sketchy interview or chat about one book only.

Aspara Gus and John the Aspara Fairy at the awards presentation!

Aspara Gus and John the Aspara Fairy at the awards presentation!

When I last did a Dartington “Ways With Words” festival, every man jack of the more than 100 people in the audience was paying over £6. Now, it’s more common to see their tickets at £10. All for a one hour session with lots of other people. For me, that was fun because I love having an audience, but for those attending it was not ideal. No one can interact with an interested audience properly in only one hour: it means a 45 minute talk, 10 minutes of Q&A, and then 5 minutes to clear the space and prepare for the next author. It isn’t enough, to my mind.

It’s also expensive for the audience. If we think it’s about £6 per hour to see a number of authors talking, that means a day’s tickets will be about £30. Then there are the costs of meals and so on.

And, of course, it’s no use for people who actually want to learn about writing. These are publicity events, during which an author may talk about his or her latest title, but that’s all. And the author will not be paid. When I did Dartington, the only reward was a bottle of plonk. Nice, but not nice enough – I do rather grudge the idea of making a lot of money for someone else when I’m giving up my time. I am self-employed, so when I perform, I want a fee that reflects the effort I’m putting in.

So when we started planning AsparaWriting, the idea behind it was, that the audience would get meaningful time with the authors, and the authors would be fairly rewarded for their time. Two fairly simple criteria! For a full list of the aspirations of the Festival, look here.

Did it work? Did it ever!

A whole lot of winners, all with the book in which their stories appear!

A whole lot of winners, all with the book in which their stories appear!

The festival ran for six weeks, concurrently with the Asparagus Festival, and brought many authors in front of keen writers. The short story competition was enthusiastically supported, and the two winning stories from the two children’s age groups, as well as the ten shortlisted adult short stories, are available as a hardback book here. In fact, now it’s over, and now the organisers have had time to take a break and get a good night’s sleep, we’re all rather sad that it’s over for the year. Not that it means we’ll be resting. We’re already planning the short story competition and thinking of the authors for next year’s @AsparaWriting festival. Next year will, after all, be the 750th anniversary of the Battle of Evesham, so there may be a rather more medieval aspect to the festival. I certainly hope so.

But for now, my main effort has to be to bring the news of the AsparaWriting Festival to writing and reading groups up and down the country. The writers are there to enjoy themselves as well as giving masterclasses, and the participants all commented on how relaxed and enjoyable their days were. So next year, I hope to see even more people.

 

I have to thank all the authors who gave up their time to help make the festival such a success. However, I need to thank John and Sue Jenkinson of the fabulous Evesham Hotel for their huge effort over the year, as well as making this last weekend such a wonderful event. Without Sue, who really was the primary instigator, planner, driving force and slave-driver, the festival wouldn’t have got off the ground. And without John, we’d all have lost our sanity … but later! The other members of the team were Morag Adlington, who used to run a small chain of bookshops in the Evesham area before retiring, and my own wife, Jane, who has worked ridiculous hours getting things moving. But all the people involved have achieved a huge amount.

I don't think Simon Brett has ever had three such alarming characters in the same photo as him!

I don’t think Simon Brett has ever had three such alarming characters in the same photo as him!

We must give special mention to Simon Brett, a delightful speaker and author (currently working with Cherie Lunghi, Sian Phillips, Martin Jarvis and Nigel Havers on a new adaptation of The Importance of Being Earnest), who not only gave a brilliant talk, but also ran a day of workshops before acting as the festival’s presenter of awards to the winning writers. He was, as always, a joy to listen to. Also I should add that Stella Duffy, who had to cancel her workshops, sadly, because of a bereavement, will be returning later in the year, as will Quintin Jardine, when they can plan events around their very busy diaries.

Finally, I must say a huge thank you to Cult Pens who donated a wonderful, limited edition Pilot capless fountain pen in “Ice Green” . It’s a truly gorgeous pen, and I’m sure the winner, Matt Dicks, will get a lot of pleasure from using it to plan his next books!

I will be putting up more photos from the event on Flickr shortly. In the meantime, if you know of a writing group, please let them know about the AsparaWriting Festival ready for next year. There will be fun, frolics, and most of all, lots of opportunities to enjoy writing with professional authors!

The organising committee (sadly Morag couldn't attend due to an injury)

The organising committee (sadly Morag couldn’t attend due to an injury)

And now, to other items. I’ve started to record some videos about writing, as most of you know, on Youtube. The playlist is here and if you are interested in writing for yourself and want to see how authors play around with their work, do please drop in. The videos are being updated once a week, on every Thursday, but if you are really keen, the best thing to do is to subscribe to the channel so that you are told as soon as a new video is uploaded. I have to admit, the latest was enormous fun to make (as you’ll see if you watch “Writing Tips Q&A”). I’m hoping to get more questions from viewers to supplement the basic videos about me and my books, so do please comment or email me.

And that is it for now. I hope you’re enjoying this gorgeous weather too. I’m off now to make a start on my next little project: making a watercolour paintbox. Down at the bottom are the first pics of my imitation Roberson paintbox.

Take care and thanks for reading!

The box with the dimpled lid aside

The box with the dimpled lid aside

Top and base of my Roberson style paintbox

Top and base of my Roberson style paintbox

 

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