by Cari Hunter
Back in January, just after I had signed the contract with Bold Strokes Books for the publication of my first novel Snowbound, I received an email inviting me to a BSB event that would be held over a July weekend in Nottingham. There was to be an author’s panel and readings, and a chance to meet with UK readers and other UK BSB authors. When I was shivering in January, July seemed a very long way away. I cheerfully signed myself up, comfortable in the knowledge that I would have half a year to steel my slightly-less-than-sterling nerves.
Well, time flies when you’re having fun (or working a mystifying pattern of day and night shifts), and July crept up out of nowhere. On the round-robin email, a schedule appeared listing me on the Romance panel. Oh hell. Snowbound is a romantic novel in that two women most certainly fall in love, but there is an awful lot of blood, action and death-defiance inconveniently complicating matters. After much deliberation, I opted for a quiet scene that seemed to follow the mandate of being romantic but not ‘giving too much away’, and I set about practising reading it aloud. My cats were entertained for hours.
Bags, snacks and pillows packed, my partner and I headed out on the Saturday morning. Later, when the BSB authors on the panel were asked about working for the publishing house, several likened it to being part of a family. I can honestly say that that felt true from the outset. Once in Nottingham, we were welcomed like friends, were given buckets of tea, and fell into chatting about topics as diverse as the right way to boil a kettle and the benefits of visiting a barber’s shop. All of which was lovely, because it stopped me from being so very nervous.
Three p.m. crept around. In the events room of Waterstone’s bookshop, plenty of people were already gathering, browsing through books and publicity material. I was shown into the author’s green room, introduced to the authors I hadn’t already met and told I would be reading second. I persuaded myself this was a good thing: less time to panic.
I had been to author’s readings before, but only ever as an audience member. I took my seat on the panel and tried not to look too out of place. A sea of friendly faces looked back at me. I spotted my partner in the second row and waved. After a short welcome, I. Beacham read beautifully in a soft accent that I couldn’t place. When she had finished, I vaguely heard my biography being read out and realised my hands were shaking. The second I stood up, I realised my legs were shaking as well. I wondered if I would just appear as a vague blur if anyone took a photo. I started to read too fast and forced myself to slow down. I knew the passage well, so I tried to look up from time to time, to give the dialogue meaning, to make it obvious which of my characters was speaking. I didn’t stumble too often and smiled as people applauded. My partner gave me a ‘thumbs up’ and I was able to settle back and listen to everyone else as they read. By the time the Q&A rolled around, I was happy to be asked a couple of questions and found myself thoroughly enjoying the experience. After the questions wrapped up, books were bought and signed and a steady stream of women set out to the pub for a meet and greet. Sidetracked by fabulous fish and chips, we arrived late, settling at the back for a chat and a chance to decompress.
Too much caffeine, ice cream and cookies led to a sleepless night, but luckily Sunday was sponsored by Starbucks who laid on coffee and biscuits for a panel all about the publishing process. Two BSB editors and a diverse group of authors ranging from novice to those with too many awards to list were on hand to answer questions about their experiences of publishing and offer advice to aspiring novelists. It was a fun, lively and informal panel with a good-sized, enthusiastic audience. Short readings from upcoming works rounded out the session, and I managed to get through the section I had chosen without too many tongue-tied moments. A BBQ in the sunshine at the New Foresters pub brought the weekend to a close. We sat with new friends, went pink in the sun and sneaked bits of burger to the pub dog. Tired but elated, we reluctantly said our goodbyes and headed back across the city to set off for home. I’m already looking forward to next July, when hopefully the whole event will happen all over again. It still seems slightly surreal that I’m a paramedic who wrote a story that’s now in the process of becoming a novel. If my mates ask me what I’ve been doing over the weekend, none of them would believe the answer!