Book Festivals and Rumour Mills

Today has been really difficult. Working with Loraine and the Agency has been a bit like working in a bubble, and I’ve completely forgotten how petty, mean and insular the publishing world can be. Today has made me wonder why I’m even in this business. Oh yeah, I like books. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that everyone else in the literary world feels the same way as me. And Fife is being a total bitch, so I’m none too please about that either.

If I’m going to fill you in on the rest of my day, I should probably break this post into several different ones, but I can’t be arsed, so I’m just going to do the headline thing.

Post-Breakfast Dickheads

After breakfast this morning, I popped upstairs to grab my bag and tell Fife that I was leaving. The Agency author would be arriving at the festival around 10am, and I wanted to be there when he got in. Fife was showering, so I stuck my head in and said that I was leaving. He shouted over the water stream for me to wait a sec. He turned off the water, and came out of the bathroom towelling off while saying that he’d be ready in a couple of minutes. He wanted me to wait for him. But it was nearly 10am, and I didn’t want to be late. So I said that I couldn’t stay, and I’d just see him down there.

I got to the venue, introduced myself to staff, and they gave me a badge and took me up to the Green Room where I met the Festival Director. Well, I say ‘met’, because actually he said, ‘Oh yes. They said they’d be sending you. No one else could make it after London Book Fair.’ And he walked off.

Evidently, I’m not important enough for politeness. I made my self a cup of tea, mostly so that I was doing something, and tried to make small talk with someone else at the catering table. I introduced myself, and the person I was speaking gave me her name. I asked what she was doing at the festival, and it turns out she’s an author. I’d never heard of her before, but that doesn’t mean she’s not a good writer. I just hadn’t come across her work. However, she seemed quite annoyed that I didn’t know who she was, and then she made a snickering comment under her breath that people working in the industry should keep up on these sort of things, then excused herself so she could prepare for her reading.

I went and sat down and tried to speak with someone else, this person was a staff member. I said that I work for the Agency. She asked why Loraine wasn’t there, as it was her authors who were reading. I said that she couldn’t make it. To this she said, ‘I guess it’s good they’ve sent someone. Even if it is the intern.’

Which totally annoyed me as I set up the authors reading at this festval (sort of, the other author was in the works, but I finialised it all and completely arranged Conspiracy), so I said that I wasn’t the intern, that I’m an Assistant Agent. She squinted her eyes a bit like she recognised me then asked if I used to be the intern at MNM. I said ‘yes’, and she made a knowing ‘Ohhh’ noise before saying, ‘I thought I knew your name.’ She then excused herself sighting work that needed to be done.

Feeling a bit like a bullied teenager in school, I decided to make a trip to the bathroom, just to get out of there. The loo was broken into two parts: the toilets and another part with the wash basins. I was in the toilet part, and I heard two people come into the other area. They were talking and one was the person I’d just been speaking with — the woman who asked if I had been the intern at MNM.

Essentially, their conversation went like this, ‘I don’t know what all the fuss is about.’ ‘Yeah, I don’t think she’s that attractive. Not enough to have caused all that drama.’ ‘It just goes to show you that anyone can sleep their way into a job.’ ‘Who do you think she’s sleeping with at the [Agency]? Or did he got her the job?’

I knew what they were talking about: my relationship with Goatee. They thought he got me the job at the Agency. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I worked really hard at MNM, and Paris (who I initially approached at the Agency about the job) knew that I was a good worker. Listening to these women, I was so angry, just about in tears angry. I wanted to scream at them, tell them the truth, but I know myself. I’d just come out in a snot and tears ramble, not the most professional way to start the weekend.

So, I sucked it up, walked out of the toilet section of the bathroom, straight to the sink to wash my hands, and I gave them a little knowing nod before I walked away.

Fife and the Fesitval Director

When I got back to the Green Room both the AgencyAuthor and Fife were there. I went and introduced myself to AgencyAuthor who couldn’t have been lovelier. We did the pleasantries, ‘How was your journey?’ and all that. He said then ‘Thank you very much for coming. Everyone thinks I’ve become a bit of an old hat at these things, so they don’t send anyone around, but it’s nice to have a friendly face in the audience.’

I said that it was my pleasure, and we continued to have the most lovely chat.

However, while I was speaking with AgencyAuthor, I kept one eye on Fife. He’s a funny one. He can be so shy, and awkward, and a big kid, and he says the most inappropriate things when he’s with me. But when he’s in ‘author’ mode, he is so incredibly charming. He had a circle of people around him, mostly women, and he was regaling the story of his broken flabertiwangiygook. I’ve already told you guys the story, and it’s an incredibly boring one. His car made a noise. He knew what the problem was so he stopped and got a part. He fixed the car. But, somehow, the way he tells the story his life was in absolute peril and he nearly missed death by ingeniously detecting the problem then using all of his intelligence and strength to correct the problem.

As I chatted with AgencyAuthor, I listened to Fife’s story. I wanted to hear if I was in the story at all. Did he say he fixed the car in front of his girlfriend’s house? Then point at me? Or would he leave that part out? He got to the end of the story and failed to mention me, and after the bathroom incident I was a bit grateful.

Then, just when I thought I was safe, the Festival Director came into the Green Room. He and Fife must have already known each other, because they shook hands like old friends. FestivalDirector asked Fife the obligatory question, ‘How was your trip?’ To which Fife answered, ‘Oh I came up last night.’ He said that since I was going to be here as well, we’d just make a weekend of it.

The way Fife said it, so casual, it was as if FestivalDirector knew about Fife and I. I listened for the Director’s response, while trying not to be too be rude to AgencyAuthor. As it turns out, FestivalDirector was not aware of Fife and I’s relationship, because he turned to look at me, then said quietly (even though we could all still hear him), ‘I had no idea. Good for your old boy’, then he looked over at me and gave me a look that made me shiver a bit. It was absolutely vile.

FestivalDirector came over to speak with me. AgencyAuthor excused himself, and this time FestivalDirector was much more friendly, ‘How are you enjoying yourself? Have you seen the line-up?’ Blah, blah, blah…

I was seething. The petty small minded fuckwits. Women who assume that I’ve slept my way into my job. And men who ignore me until they think that I’m shag candy. This is exactly why I didn’t want people to know about Fife and I. Okay, partially my fault. If I didn’t want people to know, I shouldn’t have agreed to share a room with Fife, but I thought I could keep my evenings separate from my daytime work. I guess I was wrong.

Politely, I said that I had planned on seeing a few readings, and I was very interested in the student panel (the local Uni had a session with their top creative writing students reading). That was starting pretty soon, so I excused myself. I was livid.

Fife came after me and grabbed me in an empty corridor asking why I seemed to be avoiding him.

I was honest and said that I wasn’t ready for everyone to know about us, ‘I don’t want to be a part of the rumour mill.’

Fife said that there was ‘no rumour mill’ and I was being ridiculous, but I disagreed and said that it’s hard enough for a young woman in publishing without everyone thinking that I’m ‘sleeping my way to the top.’ I asked that he ‘Just not make a big deal of us.’ Then I jogged off to the reading I wanted to see.

How Not to Do a Reading

The student readings were absolutely dire. Not because the writing was bad, not at all the case. But because of the way the event was laid out, and the student’s bloody tutor made the whole thing even worse. The students read for way too long.

In fact, here’s a hint to anyone scheduling a reading: never let a new writer read for more than five minutes, although in my opinion three would be better. Over five minutes, no matter how good the story is, the audience will drift off. Also, an author is not always the best person to read their own work — especially if the author is new with no presentation training. Someone reading straight off their paper, hands shaking, does not add to the material. And finally, if you’re going to read something publicly, please chose a piece that is as contained as possible. Don’t leave it on a cliff hanger. Because it’s not published, I can’t go buy the book, so it doesn’t peak my interest, it just annoys me. (Published authors can leave on a cliff hanger so that the audience wants to buy the book.) Oh, and vignettes. These are little stories about boring people doing terribly boring things. Yeah, I can’t get into that on the page, and I definitely can’t get into vignettes when listening to some shaky handed new author. When choosing work for new writers (or for yourself) to read publically, please pick something exciting and punchy.

Oh, and the students’ tutor, who was chairing the thing, was an absolute nightmare. So, ten students read for ages and ages, and at the end it came time for question and answer, but everyone was asleep so there were no questions. So, what does this tutor do? She says, ‘I believe we have an agent in the audience. I didn’t want to say anything before so that it wouldn’t make these our students nervous.’ I thought she was talking about some other agent, then she points at me and says, ‘Would you mind telling us a little about your agency, then giving each reader a little critique?’

Holy fuck! I stopped listening half way into the second author. Shit, shit, shit. I told them about the Agency, then I looked at the clock and noticed that the reading was running way over schedule, so I said that I was sure that people wanted to get to the next reading, but if anyone wanted to come chat to me afterwards, they’d be welcome to do so.

I hoped that everyone would have been too nervous to talk to me (I would have been when I was a student), but I was wrong. I had a queue of people trying to get a critique, push a manuscript on me, or just tell me about their work. Then after the queue of students died down, the line of parents coming to tell me about how bright their daughter/son is, and how they have a manuscript. Then I had the final patch of general public people who wanted me to give them advice on their work, or just tell them that they were on the right track. I listened to everyone, and told them all to submit through the website. And I gave a lot of them my card, and told them to mention that they’d met me in their query letter. I’m not saying that I’ll like their work any more for meeting me, it’s still got to be strong writing, but atleast I’ll take a little more note of it.

I finally got out of the scrum when I noticed that AgencyAuthor’s reading would be starting soon, so I dashed over to that room just in time.

How to Do a Reading

AgencyAuthor did an excellent reading. He read impeccably well and brought the piece alive. He chose a section of his new book that was contained, so he didn’t need to give any back story, but had enough of a cliff-hanger for people to want to buy it. Then he talked enough before and after reading his passage, that it sparked questions and debate, all of which he responded to in a professional but casual manner. He is an ‘old pro’ to be sure, and his lack of needing someone to take care of him (unlike when I do events with Conspiracy) made it obvious that I was here to network. However, with the atmosphere that I encountered upon arrival, I wasn’t sure how easy networking would be. I guess this is where the skills I acquired from six months of interning in such an uncomfortable environment as MNM comes in handy.

Some Nice People are Finally Found

Between AgencyAuthor and Fife’s events, I went and schmoozed. Before going back to the Green Room, I had a look at the programme to make a plan of who I wanted to target. There were a couple of big name authors kicking about, and while I wouldn’t try to pilfer them away from their current agent, I noticed that most were from the same publisher. FestivalDirector must have a connection with that publisher in particular, so I hoped that they’d be in attendance. With business cards and our client list memorised, I went into the Green Room.

I introduced myself to an author and claimed to be a fan of her work, but apologised for missing her reading as I was stuck talking to students after the new author line-up. While it’s true that I was stuck talking to new authors, I’m not necessarily a huge fan of her work. I know the person’s book list, and I’m familiar with her writing, but it’s not my favourite style, so it was a bit if a fib. Although, this fib paid off because we got to chatting and she happens to know MyAuthor. (The fabulously wonderful author I met while I was at MNM.) I haven’t talked to MyAuthor since coming back to Scotland, and I really should. This lovely writer said she’d pass my salutations onto MyAuthor, and also asked if I knew her editor. I stated that I was sure Loraine did, but I haven’t had the pleasure. As if on cue, her editor walks in the room, and it was someone I knew from my time at MNM. (Goatee got invited to an agent’s house in Edinburgh for a Christmas party, and this editor was in attendance and was really nice to me.) Things were definitely looking up.

It was getting nearer toFife’s reading, so I excused myself, but we all agreed to chat again later for drinks.

Fife the Charmer

 I scooted intoF ife’s panel just before it started. He was chairing a discussion on historic fiction, with three other authors, and they couldn’t have asked for a better person to chair. He was casual and confident. When the authors got a bit dull, he got everyone laughing. And, when the subject went off topic, he brought it back around.

Fife is a charming individual, and it’s hard to imagine him tucked away in the stacks in his previous life as a researcher. Then again, when he’s with me, and he gets shy and awkward, it’s hard to imagine him commanding a room.

After the panel, all the authors were signing books. I’d always thought Fife’s market was male. His books include lots of military strategy, ancient politics, and running through with swords. But at this festival, it was mostly women queuing up to get their books signed – all swooning away. It’s funny though, I wasn’t at all jealous (as I’m wont to be), instead I was proud. I was thinking, ‘Yep. That’s MY man!’ I even got to thinking that maybe I was being a bit silly about not wanting people to know about Fife and I. Yeah, I got burned by the whole Goatee thing, and I really shouldn’t have been dating my boss as an intern. But Fife has nothing to do with the Agency, and we’re both grown-ups. Nothing to be ashamed of.

I got in the queue, and when it was my turn I cheekily gave him my book. He looked up, and said, ‘Name please.’ I thought we were playing a bit of a game, and he’d put something rude in my book, but instead he just wrote ‘Best wishes, [Fife].’ Then he said, ‘I hope you enjoy the book.’

What the fuck!

The Green Room

The Green Room was buzzing. It was late in the day, and the wine had already come out. The headliner for Saturday was about to do her reading, then afterwards there was a big dinner back at the hotel for everyone. The festival started on the Friday, and there were a couple of authors who read on Friday and had hung around for the dinner, because despite this festival being small it has a reputation within the industry for having the best parties. In fact, a few more publishers and agents had arrived, that weren’t there earlier in the day, as well as press.

I went and introduced myself to a major book reviewer. I am enamoured with her writing, and I totally respect her reviews. In fact, I’m a bit of a groupie. We talked for a bit as well, before she excused herself to go and see the main author on stage.

It had been a long day, so I decided to head back to the hotel to freshen up before the dinner. I asked Fife if he wanted to join me, but he just turned and said, ‘No, I’ll get my stuff later. I’ve got my own room tonight.’

I didn’t know what his problem was. In fact, I was quite surprised by the attitude.

Between the Bores

The dinner was alright. I was seated next to some author’s husband, who is the dullest person alive. I think he’s in the petrol industry or something; I don’t know but he spent the whole time talking about wind farms like they were bad. On the other side of me was someone with the local Uni who was involved in the festival. Not an English lecturer or anything, but a high-up admin type person. I mean the people next to me where pleasant enough, but not the most stimulating of conversation. All around me people were talking of interesting things, but not me. And Fife, down at the other end of the table, women on both sides, their eyes lighting up as he made them laugh with his silly recounting of Greek myth.

After the dinner, everyone headed to the bar, and I was so happy that the writer who knows MyAuthor (let’s call her AuthorFriend) and her editor grabbed me for a chat. Then the book reviewer joined us, and we talked about what all those in publishing is talking about – ebooks and self-publishing. I could rehash our conversation here, because I believe it was fairly interesting, but by this point I was filled with wine and drink, and our tongues flew fast, and I’m not sure I could recount it all.

However, what I can recount is the journo’s bluntness – or at least her bluntness once she got the drink in her. She stood in very close to me and said, ‘Were you with MNM? The intern with MNM?’

I said, ‘yes’, and was very afraid where this was going, until she said, ‘Well done you. [Goatee] was the industry catch, and I believe you were the closest person to taming him.’

AuthorFriend and the editor piped in. Editor agreed that if she wasn’t married, she’d have been after him in a shot. AuthorFriend said she’d only met him once, and normally doesn’t go for ‘baldies’, but he was a catch no matter the state of his head. Then the journo said, ‘I hear you’re now with [Fife].’

The other two leaned in closer wanting to know if this was true. I was tipsy, and it was getting too difficult to manage the gossip, so I figured that I may as well confess. I said ‘yes’, but it’s a new relationship, so I wanted to keep things close to my chest.

I then told them about how I was worried about my reputation. Women think that I’m sleeping my way into employment, and the men seem to think that I’m fair game. Editor came to my defence by saying that she’d heard about the whole drama at MNM with NonFiction, and how it was because of me that she was even caught. She said that word of me spread about the industry, and a lot of people were impressed. It’s probably why the Agency worked so hard to bring me on when they restructured.

Wow, wish I’d known about this before. And how do they know about this? Oh yeah, publishing in the UK is so small, everyone knows everyone’s business.

The book reviewer said she thought I had a bright future, and not to worry about the jealous types. Then Editor did say something that worried me a little, she said, ‘If I were you, I’d be more worried about the Agency still existing in a year than I would about being a part of the rumour mill.’

I was quite taken back and asked her to please expand. She backtracked a little and said that it was just a rumour. Not to worry, it was ‘nothing really’, but she’d heard that the Agency was having problems financially, and with agents jumping ship things didn’t look good. They knew about Manchester. Wow, publishing in the UK is incredibly small.

Back to My Room

It was getting late, and I’d had too much to drink. A bunch of people were talking about an all-night party, but I needed somewhat of a clear head for the next morning. So I said my good-byes and headed off to bed. Fife was talking to FestivalDirector as I left.

I came back to the room. Fife’s stuff was gone. I laid on the bed and fell asleep for a while. I’ve just now woken up and I can’t get back to sleep. My head’s not as fuzzy with the wine as I thought it would be. Instead, I’m really bummed about Fife not being in the room. I shouldn’t have gotten so worked-up about stupid gossip mongers. I should let that stuff bother me.

I’m off toFife’s room to apologise.

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