Books in Mr B’s Bath

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may remember my excitement back in July when my story ‘Big Bones’ was shortlisted for the coveted Bath Short Story Award. I mentioned this in the ‘Other News‘ tab above (which I update regularly with events unrelated to Tree Magic).

18 out of the 1100 entries In the BSSA were shortlisted, and I’m proud to say that these stories have now been published as an anthology. You can see it in the photo and buy it here.

My prize (to myself) was a trip to Bath for the anthology launch party. You can read about it here on the Bath Short Story Award website  – or you can continue reading below for my version of the party. Actually, you can do both.

I haven’t flown anywhere for at least 5 years, so discovering how Ryanair now works, with all its restrictions and website defects, was, um, interesting? (meaning that I used lots of swear words). Luckily, the flights were fine, and I discovered the cheap and cheerful Park and Trip car park near Bordeaux airport, which was recommended by my friend Jane and is run by some friendly guys.

I also noticed how fast British travellers walk. I seem to walk much faster than French people in the streets. But I was outraced by the Brits in the airport queue. Has anyone else noticed this? I suppose they were keen to get home to their grey skies after being subjected to too many snails and oysters.

Did I say ‘grey skies’? Well, I actually had crisp, sunny weather for the whole 3-day trip. But I won’t bore you with weathery stuff. No, I have something exciting to talk about today.

Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights.

Anyone who knows this totally amazing bookshop in Bath will now have a smile on their face. Because. And I’m not just saying that because I found this when I arrived:

No. That was coincidental, and probably due to the efforts of my lovely publicist at Impress Books.

When you enter Mr B’s Emporium at 14-15 John Street, you feel as if you’re walking into someone’s  – a book lover’s – home. And this someone has a house worthy of your dreams. You’re not treated as a customer, but as a book-loving friend of the welcoming staff. Which, of course, you may well end up becoming!

It has a series of little rooms on three levels, and reminded me of Shakespeare and Company in Paris – though with its carpeted upstairs floors and well organised bookshelves, it is cosier and more British. I later noticed a poster on the wall stating that Mr B’s is twinned with Shakespeare & Co.

After explaining why I was taking photos, I signed Tree Magic and learnt that the staff have a project to collect authors’ signing pens and display them on the ceiling. This is just one of the ideas that show how invested the staff are in their ‘home’. They also sell gifts, including a Reading Spa: a kind of bibliotherapy in which your ‘therapist’ will recommend books to suit your tastes. This would make a perfect gift for a friend (*clears throat* in case family / friends are reading this).

Mr B’s bookshop was the venue for the BSSA launch party, and when I returned for this in the evening, I was welcomed by the award organisers: Jude Higgins, Jane Riekemann and Anna Schlesinger. They are authors in their own right, as are many of the competition entry readers.

It was, of course, wonderful to meet the other authors, some of whose names were familiar from other competition shortlists. Once we’d done the scary reading from our stories, many of us went to the pub around the corner, where we spent a great evening discussing writing and reading. I met another Jon McGregor fan, found a lady who has a house only 20 mins from me, and discovered someone’s daughter had read Tree Magic and loved it.

Many thanks to everyone involved in the event, especially Jude, Jane and Anna for their dedication. And thanks to Chris and Anita for photos.

If you’d like to read the amazing stories in the anthology (I still can’t quite believe mine is there alongside such jewels), you can find it in Mr B’s bookshop and here on the BSSA website.  And they have just opened entries for the 2018 edition of the Bath Short Story Award, judged once again by Euan Thorneycroft from the AM Heath Literary Agency.

Now the literary fun and games of the last few months are over, I can get on with my exciting new project… You may not hear from me for a while.

 

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Competition for National Tree Week

It’s National Tree Week in the UK from 25th November to 3rd December. This initiative is run by The Tree Council, who are organising lots of tree events all over the UK.

My publisher, Impress Books, has added its support and is holding a Tree Magic competition via the Love Books Group blog. There will be prizes!

Check out Love Books Twitter account here to find out more tomorrow, 25th November. The competition will run until Sunday 3rd December 2017.

Good luck!

 

Being Benevolent

What could be better than spending 4 days at Cognac’s European literature festival, surrounded by books?

OK, winning the lottery, maybe. Or creating world peace.

But within the constraints of my little bookish life, what did I find even better than just attending last week’s Littératures Européennes, as I do every year?

The answer is being a volunteer (in French, we say a bénévole). Yes, I had my first voluntary experience there, last weekend, in a team with the 40 other book-loving volunteers and it heightened my appreciation of the whole literary festival.

As you’ll know if you’ve read my 2015 and 2016 blog posts about the festival, the idea is to get to know our fellow Europeans better through reading books. Each year one country or region is selected: for this year’s 30th edition, the theme was the Mediterranean islands.

The Littératures Européennes association chooses books set in the country of honour and translated into French. The shortlisted ones are sent to libraries and schools all over Poitou-Charentes, who vote for their favourites. All the authors are invited to the festival to meet the public, and the winners in each category receive prizes.

courtesy of Le Texte Libre

I have avoided volunteering up to now (apart from odd slots at my favourite Le Texte Libre bookshop stand) because I like to be free to explore, to listen to the talks and to meet the authors. I thought that as a volunteer I would be stuck in one place, dealing with complaints and telling people where the toilets were while exciting events sparkled all around me.

No, Harriet. Wrong again! Well, some people did ask where the toilets were – and I must admit that I made a fab list of the most bizarre things I was asked – but I certainly wasn’t stuck in one place. We were able to take part in our choice of events, since we worked in pairs. And instead of suffering complaints, we were kissed with compliments.

It was great to work alongside the other association members and get to know them while we welcomed authors and translators, prepared rooms for round table events and helped out visitors. In fact, if this blog post is rather light on photos of people, it’s because I was far too busy looking helpful to use my camera!

La Salamandre (Courtesy of the VIlle de Cognac)

I knew that the festival was free and that you could watch discussions between authors on specific European themes. These take place at La Salamandre conference centre, which has an auditorium, an onsite literary café and smaller rooms.

I’d also been to the popular panel between shortlisted authors for the Prix des Lecteurs, (readers’ prize) which is held at Cognac’s Avant Scène theatre.

Prix des Lecteurs, Avant Scène theatre

What I didn’t know about were the numerous events organised outside the boundaries of the talks, prizegiving ceremonies and bookshop stands.

Thursday was dedicated to secondary school pupils, who came for special activities led by a selection of authors. The booktubing session – where real-life booktubers Lizzie and Gwendoline filmed pupils talking about their favourite festival books – was a highlight for me. It was also useful because a high school will be booktubing on my own novel, Tree Magic, next spring.

Friday saw high school students take over the conference centre. Their sessions taught them about careers in publishing and they also filmed each other interviewing the authors. And primary schools were not forgotten, as children’s authors and illustrators drove all over the region to speak to classes.

Children were also an important focus of the festival during the public opening at the weekend. A whole room was allocated to children’s workshops, films, musical siestas and readings, which ran all day on Saturday and Sunday.

This year the variety of public events was much wider. Authors gave readings, which you could listen to on headphones while drinking a coffee or wandering round the stalls. There were photography exhibitions, performed plays, book signings, film projections and readings accompanied by music.

I loved the fun ‘tarot-card’ game with mysterious goddess Circe, who would find the text to match your mood and read it to you. In the evenings, festival partners provided entertainment, including a play at Hennessy’s theatre, ‘Les Quais, Ici ou Ailleurs’, and a film projected by Eurociné.

As the theme was the Mediterranean Islands, you could hear authors speaking in Italian, Sicilian, Greek, Corsican, Cypriot, Maltese and Croatian. There were also plenty of discussions about insularity, war, the Mafia, leprosy and the refugee situation. I did hear one British accent among the authors: Emma Jane Kirby dropped in and talked (in excellent French) about her novel The Optician of Lampedusa.

Other authors present included 2012 Goncourt winner Jérôme Ferrari and the current writer-in-residence, Sicilian Davide Enia. Davide is the author of Palermo boxing novel On Earth As It Is In Heaven, and was everyone’s darling. The audiences laughed at his jokes and he spoke in a charming choreography of Italian gestures. During his six-week residency he worked hard, visiting schools, libraries and bookshops throughout the region to talk about Sicily and his work.

I had a coup de coeur for Sophie Chérer, author of L’Huile d’Olive Ne Meurt Jamais, which is based on a true story about mafia resistance. She talked to a group of secondary school pupils and made them think about what success actually means, in terms of a book. She also asked them how they felt about books being put in competition with each other to win a prize, and explained why she found this odd. Ironically, Sophie later learnt she’d won the secondary school readers’ prize.

One of my favourites from a previous year (see my 2015 blog post about the London edition of the festival) was also present. Henriette Walker, etymologist extraordinaire from the French Academy, was back to fascinate the audience with her talk about the origins of language in the Mediterranean islands.

Imagine my delight when I saw that her latest book was all about the names of trees. Needless to say, we had an interesting discussion, which ended with a simultaneous book signing.

Sunday evening’s magical, musical reading by refugee story-collector François Beaune, was followed by clearing up and then a drink and pizza for the volunteers.

We’ll be meeting again in a few weeks for a debriefing – which is, of course, an excuse to catch up with all our new friends.

Next year’s festival, held from 15-18 November 2018, will be honouring the countries around the Baltic Sea. Why don’t you come along and discover them through their authors’ voices?

Love Books Group review of Tree Magic

Goodness! I’m blown away by this amazing review of Tree Magic by the award-winning book blogging website ‘Love Books Group’. Thanks so much to Kimberly Livingston, who obviously enjoyed the read. Receiving feedback like this makes the hard work worthwhile.

Love Books Group

Today, Kimberly is here with her guest book review of Tree Magic by Harriet Springbett.
We received a copy of Tree Magic from Impress Books in exchange for a free and honest opinion.

pasted image 0 (1).pngBook Synopsis

Thirteen-year-old Rainbow discovers she can communicate with trees. But that’s just the beginning. Her magic hands can shape trees at her will, but her gift is dangerous and has fatal consequences. An accident that leaves Rainbow unconscious leads her mother to make a confession that will change Rainbow’s life forever. Are her abilities a gift or a curse? Can Rainbow really trust her mother? From England to France, through secrets, fears and parallel worlds, Rainbow’s journey to understand her powers takes her beyond everything she’s ever known. To find the truth, she must also find herself

The Review 

There are good debut novels and then there are incredible debut novels, and Tree Magic by Harriet…

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Location, Locution author interview

The Displaced Nation is a website that explores how it feels to live away from your country of birth – and I’d almost forgotten that I was interviewed by one of its columnists earlier this year.
The interview, which focuses on the importance of setting, has just been published.
Many thanks to Tracey Warr for the beautiful page design.

The Displaced Nation

Tracey Warr is back with her latest interview guest, Harriet Springbett, an Englishwoman who is now rooted in south-western France and has seen her creative life blossom as a result.

Greetings, Displaced Nationers. My guest this month is Harriet Springbett, an English writer who lives in the Poitou-Charentes region of France with her French husband and their dual-nationality teenage daughters.

Harriet grew up in West Dorset. She qualified as a manufacturing engineer before discovering she preferred people to machines and words to numbers. It was the mid-1990s, and she thought about applying for an MA in creative writing, a degree that was rare at the time, but her boyfriend was French and she ended up moving to France to study French for a year at the Université de Pau. As she writes in one of her blog posts: “I finally opted for love in an exotic setting.”…

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Joining the Dots

(A wrap-up of the 2017 Charroux Literary Festival):

Have you ever been to a series of unrelated performances and found that a common theme emerges?

This is exactly what happened at this year’s Charroux Literary Festival, and I wasn’t the only one to notice an intangible thread weaving through the author talks. See if you can spot it from my summary below.

So, for this second edition of the Charroux festival I was a speaking author, which meant I was invited to the pre-festival dinner (ah, the joys of fame!).

I was so excited about meeting everyone that I arrived a few hours early and had plenty of time to walk around the medieval village. This included discovering the fascinating abbey ruins where I dawdled among the spirits of times past.

I also came across the house where French writer Robert Charroux lived, and learnt that he was a pioneer in Ancient Astronaut theories: the pseudoscientific theories that suggest aliens visited Earth in antiquity and prehistoric times.

I knew I wouldn’t have a spare minute for contemplation once the festival began – and I was right. Even without the festival, Charroux is a superb destination for a day’s exploration (and I’m not just referring to the pub that has Guinness on tap).

During the 3 days, I went to 4 talks involving historical authors Barbara Erskine, Tracey Warr, Alison Morton (Roma Nova) and James Vance (World War II). I’ve never been tempted to write historical fiction because I know nothing about history and would be afraid of getting everything wrong. But the discussions I heard helped me understand why writing historical fiction can be so alluring.

For Tracey and Barbara, who write about the medieval period, there is very little documentation. We know what the historical figures did but we don’t know why they did it and how they felt about it.

This means that joining the dots to create a picture of events leaves plenty of room for imagination – which is exactly what novelists like to explore: in other words, the ‘unknowability’ of the past, as Tracey quoted.

Even the facts themselves can be dubious: there isn’t just one story about what happened, there are many stories – and bards and pilgrims played a role in this as they passed on news orally. The difference between Welsh and English records for the same events are a good example of this.

All four authors talked about being conscious of the past when they visit historical places, as well as the importance of imagining their characters going about their daily life in those places. Barbara added that it’s as if the past is trying to get through to the present, an idea she explores fully in the ghostly elements of her fiction.

Nick Inman, author of Mystical France, talked about the idea of science being able to explain how mystical symbols and sculptures were created, but not being able to explain why it was done. He suggested using your intuition when you visit ancient places to try to find your own answers.

He has done this over the last five years, and he captivated his audience with the slideshow of mystical symbols and sculptures he has collected during his travels around France. No wonder so many people surged forward to buy his book after his talk.

Not quite so many people rushed to buy Tree Magic after my session about the road to publication, even though a major theme is how science can’t explain certain spiritual aspects of life. I guess I have some lessons to learn from Nick Inman there. But I did sign plenty of copies and get some great feedback – and nobody actually fell asleep.

The talk that created the most discussion was Mike Welham’s presentation about mixing fact and fiction. His novels are based on events that have never been satisfactorily explained; for his chosen themes, he has researched and summed up all the mysterious inconsistencies to suggest huge cover-up operations, which he has published as fiction.

He presented his conspiracy theories about frogman Buster Crabb, The World Trade Center Building 7 and David Kelly’s death. We were lucky to have Andrew Lownie, an author who has spent decades researching Guy Burgess, in the audience, as well as TV and Foreign Office specialist Jane Lythell. Their points of view as experienced researchers added to the charged atmosphere during the session.

The common thread (have you spotted it yet?) didn’t reach all the creaky-floored rooms of the Maison Charlois during the festival, as the sessions on the craft of writing had nothing mystical about them (although you could argue that the whole writing process is rather mysterious).

photo by Jacqui from French Village Diaries

This category of talks included a useful analysis of humour with Chuck Grieve; a detailed session on playwriting with Gordon & Jocelyn Simms; an exploration of character and an insight into psychological thrillers with Jane Lythell (what a lovely lady); and workshops with Vanessa Couchman.

I talked about writing for Young Adults and persuaded my audience to wield their pens – which produced some promising beginnings.

There was also a New Writers Workshop, chaired by Susie Kelly and including Jane Lythell, myself, Alison Morton and Blackbird publisher and author Stephanie Zia. This was an interactive event in which we all gave our advice for new writers and then circulated among groups to answer questions.

The author talks are, of course, central to the festival and I wish I’d been able to find a Harry Potter time turner so I could attend them all – both French and English. But they were far from being the only element to the three magical days in Charroux. The other elements came from the festival supporters.

There’s nothing like having a drink or a meal with other festival-goers; or having a laugh with the lovely ladies of the Hope Association tea tent, who delivered a constant supply of drinks, English food and good humour. Cheerful volunteers were everywhere, from the helpful people at the reception desk, in the bookshop and at the Enfants de la Rue charity stand, to the behind-the-scenes drivers and hosts. It was great to see so many familiar faces and make new friends.

But my biggest thanks have to go to Kate and Chris, the festival organisers, who made this all possible. Did they create the mystical thread on purpose, or is it just in my head?

photo by Tracey Warr

Charroux 2019 seems a long way away. Luckily, we have the 2017 edition of another intimate literary festival full of interesting people in October: Parisot. Perhaps I’ll see you there?

Teen Time at YALC

If your teenager likes reading, he/she may surprise you with a request to go to the YALC at the London Olympia one July.

When this happens, say ‘Yes’. And if you like reading or writing, make sure you go along with him/her, because the Young Adult Literature Convention (yes, that’s what YALC stands for) is the highlight of the bookish YA year.

Put a booky teenager in a group of other teens and they’ll generally be shy and feel nerdy. But leave your teen at YALC and they’ll be in heaven.

Imagine a giant library with carpeted floors and cushions. Instead of library books, you have brightly decorated YA publisher stands giving away free samples of forthcoming novels, free proofs of yet-to-be-published books, postcards, bookmarks, badges, tote bags and lots more goodies. And as well as librarians, you have 100 authors, all mingling with their teenage readers and chatting to them during hours of book signings.

If you happen to be a budding writer, you can go to writing workshops, publishing talks and agent 1-2-1s, which are all included in the ticket price. Best of all, there are nonstop panels of authors talking about their work and discussing common themes.

I was lucky enough to be one of the authors invited to speak at this year’s YALC. As a newbie author, I was on a New Voices panel, which gave me free, 3-day access to the book bonanza – as well as a pass to see Benedict Cumberbatch, John Cleese, Pamela Anderson and Christopher Lloyd and lots of other film stars featuring in the Film and Comic part of the convention on the lower floors.

But I didn’t bother with famous filmstars in the crush of Cosplay fans. I was far too busy upstairs in the comfort of the bookish world.

To begin with I felt a little lonely as I watched the joyful reunions of authors from the UK, US and Ireland. But that all changed when my publicist arrived and took me to meet the wonderful YA book bloggers I’ve been chatting with on #SundayYA for the last 6 months.

photo Kelly

The most inspiring event for me was a panel with Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan, the co-writers of one of my favourite YA books, ‘We Come Apart‘. Did you know they co-wrote this verse novel while living in different countries? Listening to them talk about their approach to writing made me want to pull out my notebook there and then.

I instantly warmed to Patrick Ness, interviewed by Juno Dawson, because of the way he cares for teenagers. And I was encouraged to learn that Laini Taylor works in much the same way as me.

But the most amazing person there was without doubt Katherine (Katie) Webber, author of ‘Wing Jones‘ and chair of many panels. Her fun, efficient and friendly chairing largely set the tone for the whole event.

I didn’t actually do any work until my panel on Sunday morning – actually, that’s a lie: the hardest job of the weekend was helping out at the bookselling stand.

The brave Waterstones booksellers let me press buttons on the cashtill, scan books, swipe loyalty cards and stamp points cards for an hour.

It was really difficult! Don’t underestimate the concentration your booksellers need when they sell you a book. Luckily the YALC clients were patient, and the best moment was when I took payment for a copy of my very own ‘Tree Magic’.

Many of the non-teen audience were YA writers, and I joined them in several workshops – including a useful talk by literary agent Ben Illis and a meeting with Chloe Seager, both of whom were interested in my work.

photo by Steph

At last, Sunday morning arrived and, with a thudding heart, I joined the other 10 debut authors on stage. This was a huge number to manage, but Katherine Webber was more than equal to the task. I had read most of their books before YALC, so it was fascinating to listen to their experience of getting published.

The 2-hour slot for signing was hardly long enough to sign the, um, handful of copies put into my hands.

This is not really surprising, as I believe it’s as difficult for small publishers to get books placed in WHSmith and Waterstones as it is for writers to find an agent.

Anyway, I had lots of interest following my talk, and the signing quickly became a highlight of the weekend when the lovely Kelly from Kelly’s Ramblings gave me a packet of my favourite chocolates (Cadbury’s Boost, since you ask).

After 3 days of fangirling and being fangirled (well, a nice young lady did say, ‘Are you Harriet?’ when I sat in the empty chair beside her. That counts, doesn’t it?) it was time to leave the friendly faces.

Many thanks to the YALC team, to my friend Hester for hosting me and my publicist for organising the tickets.

Find out more about YALC from bloggers Kelly, Steph, Ellie, Bex and Cora.