My Edinburgh International Book Festival Debut

Me reading "Here Be Dragons", an extract from my novel-in-progress, at the Edinburgh International Book Festival

Me reading “Here Be Dragons”, an extract from my novel-in-progress, at the Edinburgh International Book Festival

Earlier this year I moved to Edinburgh, Scotland. I wasn’t quite sure what the year would bring but I was full of optimism, ambition and just a wee bit of apprehension at what surprises lay ahead.

If I could go back and talk to my past, newly-arrived-in-Edinburgh self, I would have a few things to say. There would be a lot of, “Yes, Digestive Biscuits are heaven in a £1 packet, but, you don’t really need a pack a day.” As well as some, “Pants mean underwear in the UK. Trousers.  Repeat after me. Trousers.” But mostly I would say, “Girl! Don’t you worry your little head about job hunting. In a few months you’ll be working at a castle. That’s right, a freaking CASTLE! The very one you ogle over every day. And all those writing ambitions? Forget visiting the Edinburgh International Book Festival, you’re going to be part of the line up. You heard me, you’re on the program.”

Of course, my past self would have undoubtedly laughed in the face of future me at all this. Working at a castle? Reading at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Digestive Biscuits at only £1? An unlikely scenario.

And yet, here I am, with at last some time to reflect on the whole whirlwind adventure to date, and feeling just a little bit astonished at how the year has turned out.

The Book Festival is the major contender in all the incredulity. Of all the festivals in August, this was the one I had been looking forward to the most. I had read about it, talked about it, probably even dreamed about it. I couldn’t wait to attend, to browse the books, meet the authors, mingle with the masses, and generally soak up all the literary goodness.  Naturally, in all this I imagined myself as the overenthusiastic attendee; lots of squees and just a little bit of author stalking.

Of course, there were still lots of squees (and between you and me, just a little bit of author stalking), but under entirely different circumstances.

You see, when you’re unemployed and job applications are being sent out in the hundreds to no avail, suddenly opportunities that under normal circumstances would seem far-fetched or ludicrously beyond our capabilities, all of a sudden become rather appealing and quite within our means. I confess I became rather trigger happy when it came to applying for any possible opportunity that might see me emerge from my unemployment pit of hell. Supermarket Manager? I figure if I go to the supermarket therefore I could surely run one. Lion tamer? I had a cat once, that’s the same thing, right? As you can see, completely delusional. So when I saw the City of Literature’s call out for “new and emerging writers to read their work as part of Story Shop at the Edinburgh International Book Festival”, I thought why not? Sure they wanted someone comfortable with public speaking (TERRIFYING), at the biggest book festival in the world (OMG), but I’m a professional (I’ve written stuff), I can do this (can I?!).

Mostly, however, I just assumed that along with all the job applications I’d sent into the netherworld, I’d never hear anything of it again.

Except I did.

When I received that email saying I’d been successful I was completely and utterly shocked. Me? Reading my own work at the book festival? In front of real live people? Getting paid for it? Holy rainbows and unicorns! Whose life is this?

I was terrified of course. I don’t like being the centre of attention, and I’ve never enjoyed public speaking. But part of me knew this was something I had to prove to myself I could do. Writers are no longer allowed to indulge as they once could in a reclusive, quiet life in some dark dingy room. No, these days a writer needs to be able to sell his/her work under the spotlight. Book signings, social media, interviews – it’s all part of the process.

And so begun a new adventure. One that involved photo shoots, a public speaking workshop, rubbing shoulders with famous authors, recording an extract at a recording studio, and the big finale – reading my work to a live audience.

And you know what? It went well. Better than I could have imagined. I’d be the first person to admit it if it hadn’t, because I expected to stumble over every word and freeze up on stage. But I didn’t.  I could see my audience listening. I could feel them hanging on the next word. There were no yawns, no fidgeting, no coughs. No one got up to leave. Dare I say, I even enjoyed it?

And after it was all over I even had a few people ask where they could find my work.

Reading to a live audience was a whole new experience. I can now, more than ever, see the appeal that once was all the rage amongst novelists like Dickens, who would perform live readings of his work around the country. There is a kind of unspoken power that stems from not only being present for the immediate response of your audience, but in the influence you have to sway that response with the tone, pace and pitch of your voice, with your body language, eye contact, and how you interact with that audience.

Of course, it goes without saying that this experience hasn’t suddenly made me some sort of public speaking superstar. I can safely say I would need many many years of practice to feel confident stepping on stage. But I proved to myself I could do it. I received some wonderful feedback. I met some incredibly talented new and emerging writers. As well as some not-so-emerging writers like Neil Gaiman and Margaret Atwood. I even got to wear a pass that said “Author” on it.

And if the Edinburgh International Book Festival says so, it must be true.

Festival Pass

*Find my story extract, bio, a not so great audio sample (recorded pre having overcome fear!), and more about the Story Shop program on the Edinburgh City of Literature website, here.

Advertisements

A Patchwork of Fairytales

bb915cc9c4d4924bb4b3bf2648e05bc3e4b736c2

Just over a month ago I received an email from a lovely Edinburgh based writer named Ali George who, amongst other wonderful achievements, is known in certain corners of the world wide web for having written 12 books in 12 months.

As you do.

In her email she asked if I’d be interested in contributing a story for an ebook she was putting together to raise money for a children’s theatre company.  “Homespun Theatre,” she explained, “came together through a shared love of storytelling.  From JRR Tolkein to Dick King Smith, from Jim Henson to Studio Ghibli, we love magic and adventure in all forms.  As a theatre company, our MO is simple – we want to make something new from something old, blow dust off forgotten tales, and find the magic around the edges.”

Finding the magic around the edges is pretty much my MO for all things in life, so of course I said yes.

The cause? In 2012 Homespun debuted their first children’s show, East of the Sun West of the Moon, at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.  It went so well that they want to take it on tour in 2013.  Money raised from the ebook sales will go towards redevelopment, production costs and developing wonderful children’s theatre for all to enjoy.

Some of you will remember my story, The Dragon and the Moon, from the UNICEF fundraising ebook I submitted it to this time last year. Sadly I couldn’t find the time to write something new, but even if I had, this story just seemed so fitting for the cause. Regardless, if you enjoy fun, quirky fairytales, and even if you’ve read my story before, I beseech you to check out the collection. I’ve just started making my way through the other 34 contributions, and they’re good. Real good. From stories of dragons, giants, selkies and sheep, I feel particularly honoured to be published in the company of such creative talent.

And so, all that is left is to announce the happy news that the ebook is now ready for your reading pleasure. What better inexpensive virtual stocking filler for yourself (or someone special) this Christmas?

Do it for the children!

Homespun Threads (A Patchwork of Fairytales) is available from Smashwords for $9.99 and from Amazon for £6.17 (That’s 18 pence a story! Bargain!).

C is for Castles

Perhaps the highlight of the entire trip was castle spotting.

Whilst I absolutely love living in Australia, the laid back way of life, the climate, the land and the people, it is a sad fact that for all this we, as a relatively ‘new’ country, miss out on the history that countries in Europe have to offer.

One of the perks of said history is the castles.

Standing in front of a Katy sized doorway at Wawel Castle, Krakow

Big or small, new and old, crumbling or unspoiled, extravagant and simple. I don’t care how they come, but boy oh boy do I like a good castle.

The idea of secret passageways, miniature doorways and hidden rooms just makes me all warm and fuzzy inside. Of course, this all stems from my love of fantasy stories, naturally. But what amazes me most is that no matter how many castles I see I still feel as if I am being transported back in time to a moment when castles were alive with nobility, scandal and intrigue. The feeling is so overwhelming that I’m certain were I to close my eyes, I could see the nobles wandering the castle grounds and the stable boys attending to the horses.

Like I said, I do love a good castle.

The first castle that caught my eye was in Krakow, Poland. We visited Wawel Castle at night when all was a bit eerie, but it was still perfectly beautiful, made even more so by the fact that it sits on the hill that hosts the Dragon’s Den, a limestone cave said to have been inhabited by the legendary Wawel Dragon.

My Auntie and I with one of the canons my grandfather made

Whilst the cave is closed during the winter months, the appeal of a city and a castle built upon the ashes of a dragon was all quite extraordinary to this impressionable young mind.

Now to England, where we find ourselves in the ancient town of Rye, which happens to be where my father grew up, his father before him and, some many years later, where I also did some growing up of my own. But more about that in another post.

Ypres Castle was built in 1250 and is one of the oldest surviving buildings in Rye. Once used as a prison, it now hosts the Rye town museum.

It’s a small fortress, but I love it all the same, especially after hearing of my grandfather’s part in the making of the canons that now sit outside the castle, as well as my father’s accident falling off one of the castle walls. Boys will be boys.

Ypres Castle, Rye, England

When I was 16, I went on a student exchange to Italy where I stayed with a host family for three months in the small town of Ferrara, about an hour south of Venice. The following year I went back to visit my host family. About three years later I moved there to study for a year. A few years after that I returned again for a visit. And this year, just over a decade after my first visit at the ripe age of 16, I returned once more to my host family, host town and host country.

Castello Estense, Ferrara, Italy

Needless to say, Ferrara and Italy both hold a place close to my heart.

Did I mention Ferrara has a castle? And a moat? AND a drawbridge?

Yep, The Estense Castle is pretty impressive. Smack bang in the centre of the city, this moated medieval fortress has bared witness to every stage of the city’s colourful history since its foundations were laid in 1385. Whilst some amazing stories about the castle have been told to me in Italian over the years, I’d be well pressed to do them justice with a poor translation and my dreadful memory, but I would nonetheless recommend a visit to this beautiful castle if you’re ever on your way North to Venice.

My first view of Edinburgh Castle, from the Grassmarket

The last castle I’d like to share with you is the gem of them all.

Having never before been to Edinburgh, I was absolutely taken aback by its beauty. The streets, the buildings, the architecture – it was all nothing short of amazing. Of course Edinburgh will get its own post, but its castle, well, it made such an impression that it probably deserves its own post too. Alas…

When I first spotted this magnificent structure, I was being taken on a tour through the streets by my dear Italian friend who now studies in Edinburgh. The irony of an Italian showing around the British born Australian was not lost on us, although it was even more prevalent when I found myself cooking her my Italian host-mother’s pasta sauce recipe. But I digress.

Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland

We were walking down the cobbled stone streets of the Grassmarket, admiring the beautiful bookshops, architecture and quaint little narrow passageways between buildings, when one of the wider side streets opened to reveal a towering rock cliff face, which literally morphed into the castle perched atop it.

I was absolutely speechless. Without getting all melodramatic on you, it was for me so overwhelmingly magnificent that I actually felt a bit choked-up.

Truly, this is the moment and the place that will stick with me as the absolute highlight of the entire trip. I was completely enamoured. I felt like I was standing before a castle from a fantasy story, in Westeros or in Middle Earth.

It made such an impression that I was compelled to write a poem about it. As I’ve said before, poetry is far from my forte and this is certainly no prize winner. But raw as it is, the meaning is clear: I love you Edinburgh Castle!

A Kingly Embrace

I walk cobbled streets
You hide behind stone
But with each passing crossroad
I catch glimpse of your throne

As cliff becomes castle
Turrets touching the skies
All turn to your fortress
With passionate sighs

You observe from above
The tenderness of others
The embrace of a friend
Brushing lips of two lovers

But when friends have long gone
And love starts to wither
The distance between us
Brings a tremble, a shiver

For in heart and in soul
I belong in your towers
Perched upon rock face
Dreaming for hours

And though distance remains
Between me and your grace
Please await my return
To your kingly embrace

Edinburgh Castle emerging from the cliff face

“The Dragon and the Moon” – Now on ebook!

Hi all,

I’m pleased to announce that my short story, The Dragon and the Moon, has been included in a collection of short stories compiled by That Fantasy Blog, which is now being sold on Amazon.

While this would certainly be news enough for this aspiring author, what’s even more wonderful is that all proceeds from the sales of this ebook will be going to children’s aid organisation, UNICEF, who work so very hard to overcome the obstacles that poverty, violence, disease and discrimination place in a child’s path.

Needless to say, I’m thrilled for the opportunity to be a part of such a great cause this Christmas.

While The Dragon and the Moon is more of a whimsical fantasy, the other stories featured are predominantly horror/thriller based, so hopefully there will be something to appeal to your reading tastes.

Download your ebook straight to your Kindle (or any device where you can download the free Kindle app) by searching for my name, Katy Hulme, or the book’s title, Scream for Charity. Alternatively, visit the amazon page here:

http://www.amazon.com/Scream-for-Charity-ebook/dp/B006PFCEBC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1324670970&sr=8-1

Before I go, I must share with you something else that made me smile this week.

When writing The Dragon and the Moon, I found myself working with an alarmingly imminent deadline. When I was done editing, it was 1am and I needed to send it off but feared doing so without a fresh set of eyes giving it a once over and a thumbs up.

Cue Twitter.

Another magnificent blogger, the lovely Joakim, offered to read it over for me and all was right in the world.

But the story doesn’t end there.

The next morning I awoke to a Tweet from Joakim, who, after reading my story was inspired to sketch what can only qualify as my very first piece of fan art (although he assures me his 4 year old holds claim to the title after he read the story to him).

I think it’s extraordinary and all I can say, is thank you Joakim!

Merry Christmas all and happy reading!

~storytelling nomad~

The Dragon and the Moon by Joakim Arbro

NaNoWriMo Update: Day 10

So it’s Day 10 of the NaNoWriMo challenge and I feel it as good a time as any to provide an update on my progress.

With a rocky start and a healthy handful of every day life issues going on, I have pleasantly surprised myself with my perseverance.  I’m the first to admit that when things start getting too hard or I see myself falling behind, I have an unflattering tendency to stand down and look to something else to succeed at.

Strangely this has not been the case, despite being behind in my word count since day one.  I can only attribute this to the following:

  1. Seeing other WriMo’s and their word counts soar have motivated me to keep up with the masses and tell myself that I can do it too.
  2. I took some advice before NaNoWriMo started, which was to tell as many people as possible that I was participating and would end the month with 50,000 words. It has made me vulnerable to the expectations of others, and so if I fail, I won’t be the only one who’s disappointed.
  3. My own expectations.  With life taking a bit of a tumble at the moment, that feeling of achieving something amazing for myself and following through with such a huge undertaking, is definitely something I know is worth working for.

So yes, I am behind, but I feel like I’m still winning.

The actual writing? It’s not brilliant, but it’s not awful either.  Okay, so there are some pretty awful bits, and a lot of it is more stream-of-consciousness writing, but it’s moving forward nonetheless.

Now it’s time for some NaNoWriMo fun facts!

Wordcount: 10,019
Words Remaining: 39,981
Days Remaining: 21
Words Per Day To Finish On Time: 1,904 (eek!)

Name of Protagonist: Arrow
Other Characters’ Names: Old Man Cracker, Eliad the Dragon, Prince Xander, Manacor, Dual, Lani
Places of Interest: The Kingdom of Dragarthion, Winter Hollow, The Forest of Whispers
Magic: The Mace (Defined by the abilities of Manipulation, Alteration, Communication & Evocation) once ran strong through the royal blood line, with each new generation of royals being trained as Wielders of the Mace to protect their kingdom and help it prosper.  But with the slow extinction of dragons along with infidelity within the monarchy, the Mace has become weak within the royal bloodline and a bastardised strain of it now runs through the common folk, untamed and undisciplined.  A true, full strength Wielder of the Mace has not been seen in many generations.
Animals: Are rare and seen as a symbol of wealth and power. Mace Wielders once had the power to communicate with all animals.

The Story So Far:
When Arrow loses her parents in a horrifying accident, she is appointed to serve as a maid in the castle with the other orphans of the city. When one day the prince’s cat, Manacor, talks to her, Arrow fears she has some skill for the Mace, and maneuvers to wait on the prince during his training sessions in the hope that she might uncover what her ability might mean.  Meanwhile, a threat grows in the South, and the truce that the royals once made with the Dragons of Dragarthion is threatened by corruption.

Extract: The Forest of Whispers
Once upon a time the trees whispered to each other. They cared more than they’d like us to know about the troubles of man. Sway they would, to encourage the voices of mortals to wander close with the breeze, passing from leaf to leaf, speaking softly until the words faded to a just a sigh. They loved especially to hear stories of friendship, tales of courage, and words of love, for in those words was a nourishment that brought colour to their leaves and strength to their branches. They fed off man’s desires and grew tall with their dreams.

Then came a time of great darkness, when whispers of love, courage and merriment became scarce. The trees shook desperately, yearning for the breeze to bear the pleasant tales of old, but instead the gentle winds brought them only grim tidings. Stories of war and death delivered a coldness that made their branches brittle and their leaves withered. They drooped heavily with the sadness that overcame them and the leaves fell from their limbs, forlorn and heartbroken.

Over the years they ceased whispering to one another, all hope lost at ever hearing again the happy voices of men. It is of common belief that in that time of darkness the trees lost their voices and their lives with the happiness of mortals.

***

How are you guys keeping motivated? And how are my fellow first timers finding the NaNo experience?

~storytelling nomad~

A Storytelling Utopia: Melbourne Writers Festival 2011

So I mentioned a few posts ago that I had a number of reasons for my recent absence, and today I’m going to share with you one of them.

In Australia there is an ongoing rivalry between the city of Sydney and the city of Melbourne.  Those who live in Sydney claim that they live in the superior city, and those who live in Melbourne claim much the same.  The general consensus, however,  is that Sydney is a financial city, and Melbourne a cultural city.  The Melbourne Writers Festival plays a significant role in this widespread understanding and the number of highly acclaimed national and international guests that attend from year to year, is testament to the festival’s success and the city’s appeal.

This year, I was lucky enough to be selected as a volunteer for the Melbourne Writers Festival.  Woo!  The festival is an annual event that has been running since 1986, and this year joined forces with four other international festivals to form the Word Alliance, now made up of:

  • The Melbourne Writers Festival
  • The Edinburgh International Book Festival
  • The Bookworm International Literary Festival in Beijing
  • The International Literature Festival in Berlin
  • International Festival of Authors in Toronto.

Totally rad.

So what kind of guests are we talking? Pretentious editors? High literature writers? Celebrity journalists?  Well yes, I suspect there are some of those, but the Melbourne Writers Festival is far more than that, and unique in that it observes all kinds of storytelling, not just the award winning, ostentatious kind.  The website elaborates:

Each year, MWF invites novelists, playwrights, poets, screenwriters, journalists, songwriters, bloggers – anyone who’s part of the world of words. We host politicians and artists, policy wonks and pop culture icons, crime writers and high culture theorists. The festival program features an enormous range of literary activity including entertaining discussions, debates, readings, film screenings, interviews, literary banquets, performances, workshops and book launches, as well as a lively schools’ program for primary and secondary students.

Festival Background

Last year they hosted Joss Whedon.  Enough said.

The Golden Ticket

So, as a volunteer I get to make sure people are being orderly, scan their tickets, give directions, have a chat, make sure the guests are comfortable and answer any questions that patrons might have.  My fellow volunteers have so far been awesome, the shifts fun and the patrons very well behaved.  I also get to wear a groovy volunteer shirt.  Win.

The major perk to this gig, however, is my volunteer pass, which gets me into any event over the entire festival.

When I attended my orientation day a few weeks ago, I was astounded at the wide array of events, panels and workshops that were taking place and began to get quite excited at the prospect of attending these events in between my shifts.

One event, the Martin Martini In(k) Concert, merges sounds and image with musician Martin Martini playing in concert whilst four artists illustrate to the tune and inspiration of the music, their images projected onto the walls of the venue.  A totally unique experience, demonstrating that the art of storytelling is far from limited to just words on paper and can be inspired and influenced by anything around you, even sound.

Author Kate Grenville

Today, I attended a session called Why I Read, featuring prominent authors Kate Grenville (pictured left), Tess Gerritsen and Chris Womersley, all discussing the books that they read growing up and the impact it had on their calling as writers.  They also discussed how reading has changed, an echoing theme throughout the festival, and how we can encourage children and teenagers to read more.

Another highlight of the festival is the collection of city walks.  From specialist bookshops to the city’s origins, the guided walks highlight the Melbourne that is inspiration for writers, readers and storytellers.  My favourite of the walks is called Melbourne’s Hidden Dragons, and it takes you on a tour of the stone guardians and silken mascots that are scattered around the city and explores the mythology of the beasts and their presence in storytelling.  Seriously cool right?

One of Melbourne's hidden dragons

And, on Tuesday evening I hope to attend Edinburgh Unbound, described as “Part reading, part gig, part party”.  Basically it is a fusion of Scottish and Australian musicians and storytellers coming together to present an evening of performance, music, film and stories in celebration of the partnership between the Melbourne Writers Festival and the Edinburgh Book Festival in our sister UNESCO City of Literature.

It is heartening to note that the attendants of the festival have so far ranged from toddlers to grannies, with no gaps in between.  I like to think this is a positive indication in light of recent discussions regarding ‘the death of the book’ and even ‘the death of the reader’, which today I was assured were both myths.  Yes, fellow writers, you can rest easy.

Young and old, we are still fascinated by the art of storytelling, whether it be through the traditional or graphic novel, music or art, the written or the spoken word.  How we tell the stories may be changing, evolving even, but the fact that we are still telling them and interested in how others tell them is what’s important and is what will keep the art of storytelling alive for a long time to come.

The festival runs from Thursday 25th August to Sunday 4th September and all the information can be found on the Melbourne Writers Festival website at http://www.mwf.com.au/2011/.

~storytelling nomad~