You can hardly open a newspaper this month without there being articles featuring comments, opinions and stories by, from and about celebrities.
Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis on why she’s banned from wearing bright clothes on screen; David Cameron talking about his daughter asking if it’s true he was prime minister; former Radio 4 Today presenter John Humphrys accusing the BBC of bias…
And many more… But why now?
Easy: it’s literature festival time and these celebrities have been appearing at one or another – because they’ve got books to flog.
Nothing wrong with that. It’s good marketing. And I’d agree, even going so far as to say that some of the comments, opinions and stories are quite interesting – although I’m not sure that Emily Maitlis having to wear dark clothing so as not to clash with the studio’s fuchsia sofa is ground-breaking enough for me to care.
I even accept that bookshops in literary festival towns will be full of books written by these celebrities.
They’ll tell you they can’t stock your books because they’re far too busy filling their shop windows and shelves with the latest (possibly ghost written) ‘novel’ by some famous footballer, chef or gardener. (‘Ooh, look, this memoir will make a lovely Christmas present for Tabatha, she loves that cricketer…whoever he is.’)
It’s the casual disregard for other, lesser known authors that annoys me; writers who could do with just a smidgen of the publicity that gets meted out to the celebrity world at this time of year.
If you’re published by an independent publisher, self-published or, heaven forbid, using print-on-demand, you’ll be bottom of the pile as far as most literature festivals are concerned.
Of course, they want the ‘big draw-big names’ on the ‘main stage’ because they want guaranteed bums on seats not a local author who’s ‘doing quite nicely, thank you’. What the organisers don’t realise is that a ‘local’ author can be a draw in her/his own right and may well attract quite a large audience given the right pre-publicity.
On the fringe
And, as if to prove the point, a group of Yorkshire authors got together to appear at Ilkley Literature Festival this year – albeit the Fringe – and played to a full audience.
Co-author Sue and I appeared at Ilkley Fringe a couple of years ago when we were interviewed by a television presenter about our books.
This year, we appeared with an organization we’ve recently joined, Promoting Yorkshire Authors.
PYA is a member-led organization with the purpose of promoting and developing the work of authors who have a close connection with the county of Yorkshire.
The Fringe event featured seven PYA authors performing chapters from their books: John Jackson, Kate Swann, Nick Morrice, Darren Walker, Peter Caunt, and Sue and I. We had support (and acting abilities) from other writers: Paul Smith, a driving force behind PYA; Susanna Lewis, who directed the event; and Marla Skidmore.
Sue and I performed a chapter from the third novel in our Friends trilogy – A Forgiven Friend – to be published in November.
The chapter featured our two ‘heroines’ Teri and Lee visiting a spa, the Gentle Slopes Women’s Retreat and Sanctuary, run by the delightfully dotty Kalisterenia Kostanechi, played by Susanna complete with twirling skirts, tinkling jewellery and the promise of buckwheat tofu for tea.
We had a great reception from the Ilkley audience – despite there being no external signage on the venue (another gripe). But the feedback we had was that they appreciated a fresh approach to the promotion of our books.
And we sold copies of the first two books in the Friends series, A Falling Friend and A Forsaken Friend.
Lunch came later with a visit to Betty’s. I don’t think it could have been a more fun event had Emily Maitlis popped up with her fuchsia-coloured sofa.