Friday, 14 October 2016

Thoughts on my first chairing experience - and three amazing years!

I wrote a post in the early hours of yesterday morning about Thursday night's incredible experience at Waterstones Piccadilly and about how things have changed over the last three years for me. Sharing it now - also, if you want a recap of the event check out this Storify of tweets from people attending, especially the fabulous @charlieinabook!
It's 4 o'clock in the morning and, having originally collapsed into bed as soon as I got in last night, I've now woken up and been hit by a huge adrenaline rush and can't get back to sleep. So I will do something that is increasingly rare for me and actually write a blog post.

3 years ago this week, I went to my first book event since moving down to London. Juno Dawson and Maureen Johnson gave a fantastically entertaining panel, I got over my near-paralysing shyness to introduce myself to my friend Debbie in person for the first time (admittedly I nearly didn't manage it but I had a copy of In Bloom I'd promised to lend her - thanks Matthew Crow!), and I saw just how much fun an event can be.

Last night I was on the other side of the table for the first time as I chaired a panel with two authors who I know fairly well, Non Pratt and Lisa Williamson, and YouTube superstar and Girl Hearts Girl author Lucy Sutcliffe, who I got to meet just before the panel. All three were utterly fabulous and it was a complete pleasure to be able to facilitate discussion between them.

It has got me thinking about the last three years and how much things have changed, though. Back in October 2013 I'd been down in London about a month, was still fairly ambivalent about whether I'd stay in my new job past Christmas, and hadn't actually managed to really talk to anybody outside of work. I was painfully shy, hated my voice, had just stopped being teetotal after a year or so of not drinking, and I'm not sure I'd ventured far enough outside of the streets of London I knew well to even go to any bookshops except a few branches of Waterstones and Foyles Charing Cross Road. There were, as far as I'm aware, zero photos of me on unlocked social media sites, except for a head shot on Facebook/LinkedIn. I also was at the stage where I wasn't making long term plans because, after being made redundant 15 months earlier and then failing to get a job I thought was pretty much mine, I couldn't face thinking ahead more than a few weeks as I was convinced there'd be nothing good to look forward to.

I am still really shy, to be honest (especially without confidence-boosting Prosecco, a fact that's been brought home to me as I recently ended a three month spell without alcohol!) And I still hate my voice. But I've managed to work around both of these things, the first by getting to know some truly wonderful friends and by expanding my social circle through stuff like #DrinkYA (the next one is 6:30pm Wed 19th October, by the way, at Clerkenwell & Social, and if you're 18+ and based near enough to London to come you should join us!) And the second by doing various things that built up my confidence that however much I dislike the sound of myself talking, other people manage with it. (HUGE thanks to Down The Rabbit Hole for helping here, having me on twice - once in a pre-recorded section, interviewing Siobhan Curham (arranged by the brilliant Hannah Love!) and once as a live guest with awesome author Harriet Reuter Hapgood, and the superb co-hosts Katherine Woodfine and Melissa Cox. And there are now just a FEW photos of me around, mainly thanks to my constantly changing profile pic - I blame/credit David Stevens and Abi Elphinstone for getting the tradition started there!!

Speaking of thanks, I owe so much to so many supportive people! I am blatantly going to miss someone out and feel awful about it when I realise, but a partial list - obviously Non, Lucy and Lisa for being incredible panelists! Everyone at the three publishers - David Fickling Books, Barrington Stoke, and especially Rachel Phillipps (who originally asked me to chair the event) and Lucy Richardson (who took over as my main point of contact about it) at Scholastic.

Despite Debbie's first words to me at that Juno/Maureen event being "You can't sit there" (not the most promising of starts!), she has gone on to be an incredibly supportive and loyal friend who's always been there for me when I need someone. Similarly, Charlie, Julianne, Faye, Caitlin, Daphne, Stacey and Chelle have spent a staggering amount of time over the last two or three years supporting me, reassuring me when I'm down, and generally being some of the best friends I could ever have dreamt of making. (Also Daph trusted me to hold gorgeous Theia last weekend in my most popular ever profile pic!) Thanks also to Ming, Robin, Louise, and Karen McCombie for being there last night - along with Debbie, Charlie and Julianne - and for talking to me about it afterwards and saying how much they'd enjoyed it. (Breaking off into a new train of thought for a minute to say that when I first restarted reading MG it was Karen McCombie's Ally's World Series that really got me hooked - meeting her last year in person was incredible, talking to her for the third or fourth time last night I was still fighting the urge to pinch myself!) Also thanks to Anna James and Katie Webber - two consistently excellent chairs - who were incredibly generous with their time and advice in giving me tips to prepare. And my family, my parents and my sister Lucy, for their amazing support throughout my life.

(Speaking of how things have changed over the past three years, I met Robin and Ming for the first time at two #drinkYA events - both were unpublished at those points. I am now reading Robin's FIFTH fabulous Murder Most Unladylike mystery, Mistletoe and Murder, and she is established as one of the UK's most popular MG writers, while Ming has an essay in The Good Immigrant - crowd-funded by hundreds of people including JK Rowling, selling brilliantly and receiving huge critical acclaim, and being used as a pillow by Lin-Manuel Miranda. WOW!)

Going back to where I was three years ago, since then I've grown to love my job (most of the time!) and taught hundreds of wonderful students, I've visited a decent amount of London's bookshops and even, incredibly, created Teens on Moon Lane for my absolute favourite one, Tales on Moon Lane. (Sorry, Waterstones Piccadilly, it feels ungrateful saying that after last night and you will always have a special place in my heart, but Tales just can't be beaten!)

I am not only actively looking forward to things that are, in some cases, months away, I even have a 40 things to do before I'm 40 list and have actually managed to check 4 things off as of last night when I completed the 'chair a panel' goal.

The point of this blog post (other than being something to do when I'm awake and too excited to go back to sleep!), is that things can change. Over a comparatively short amount of time, so much in my life became much much better, due to fabulous support and due to me working really hard on things I struggled with. Five years ago, when I first found out I was likely to be made redundant and lose a job I loved and had been doing for most of my adult life, I couldn't imagine being where I am today. Now, I can't imagine being anywhere else.

(The other point, once again, is to say a massive THANK YOU to all the people mentioned above. And maybe just a TINY bit to boast a little about my first panel!!)

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