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Mumsnet Blogfest review – an account of a nervous first-timer

I would have been altogether a lot less nervous about my first blogging event had I not signed up for Dragons’ Pen. They called it a Dragons’ Den style opportunity to pitch your book to an editor, and as places filled up extremely quickly, I was lucky to spot the e-mail in time to get a place with Sam Eades, senior commissioning editor of Trapeze, a new Orion imprint. I’ll be honest, I would have been a lot happier and relaxed that day if I hadn’t booked a place, but I’d also be kicking myself forevermore if I didn’t take a (very very) deep breath and go for it. I’d also for the rest of my life be wondering if I’d missed my chance to wow an editor in person. Would she snap up my work the second she heard it? Would she whip out a three book deal contract for me to sign?…..

Well as it turned out, she didn’t. In fact she didn’t even take away the synopsis and first chapter I’d spent hours I didn’t have the week before refining them. Oh well, it was worth a try! We had two minutes to give a pitch and then eight minutes to discuss where to go from here. Sam Eades was lovely and friendly and gave me no cause to be terrified, though I did hear my voice wobbling as I read out the first couple of paragraphs of ‘Mrs Underhill’s Fantastical Circus.’ She was encouraging and said nice things about my work, but I’m kind-of taking that with a pinch of salt because she seemed too nice not to, regardless of how good or bad my writing actually is! I’ve come away with a useful list of agents that could be interested in my genre, which is absolutely fantastic as that sort of research takes ages.
I’m so happy I did take the plunge as you never know, those contacts, or just that fact that Sam Eades might recognise my name in some future slush pile, could make all the difference in getting this book published. That reminds me, I’m still very annoyed with myself because I missed the perfect opportunity to mention the fact that I’ve been published before. As I walked in, Sam said she thought she recognised me from somewhere and asked if we’d met, but I just said no, I didn’t think so. Why the hell did it not occur to me to mention that we might have been at the same literary do back in the days of ‘Be In The Place‘? Oh, I’m such an idiot!

Anyway, back to the day in hand: It was a 4:45am alarm call for a long day ahead and pro-plus was top of my packing list! The journey was fine despite being stuck behind a very slow tanker on the windy roads towards the train station – I hadn’t been to that one before so wasn’t sure how long it was going

Blogfest16

Blogfest16

to take. I needn’t have worried – I had twenty minutes to wait when I got there so I could’ve tried to curl my fringe under after all! No problems with the train, nor the two undergrounds I had to get to make my way to King’s Place near King’s Cross station. In fact I arrived only five minutes late, not the forty-five google maps had predicted, so I was very pleased about that.

The first session was called ‘Women online – where to from here?’, which was mainly talking about Donald Trump. Gladly, the conversation turned to how women have an excellent platform to express ourselves on the internet and social media in order to be heard. We do have to develop a thick skin though to put up with the likely abuse we might get at anything with feminist tendencies or remotely controversial. We have to be loud and noisy and stand up for ourselves and each other.

Then it was a quick morning break when Jess from Mum Under Pressure kindly came over and said hello as I was clearly on my own. It turns out we have quite a lot in common and I had had a stall at one of her Little Pickles Markets. Go check out her blog.

Blogfest writers' conference

Blogfest writers’ conference

There were four options for the second session and I wanted to go to three of them and suffered from severe fomo when we had to choose! I went for the ‘From Pitch to Publication Day’ to see if there were any tips to pick up for my pitch later in the day. Also Meg Rosoff was originally announced to be on the panel and as I’m a fan of her work, I would’ve loved to hear what she had to say, but she wasn’t there unfortunately. I can’t say I particularly learned much as I’ve already devoured most of the How to Get Published type books on the market, but it was really interesting hearing the experiences of the authors on stage. Everyone said it was important to get an agent rather than deal with a publisher directly, which again, I knew really, but it was good to hear it said by people who know (rather than the author of a book who was probably once an agent). I’m also going to check out Sarah Perry’s novel as it sounds really interesting.

I stayed in the same hall for ‘Thinkbombs – Five minute idea blasts to inspire and entertain.’ The speakers

Ed Balls

Ed Balls

were comedian Lucy Porter, journalist Bryony Gordon and former Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls (although he filmed his from the training room doing Strictly). The blurb on the Blogfest website said to be prepared to come away fizzing with ideas, so I expected them to give us a load of ideas to blog about. However it was five minutes each talking about themselves, which was interesting and entertaining, but I’m afraid I didn’t get any ideas from it. It was inspiring hearing how they worked through particular challenges though.

It was lunch time then, and we were given a small bowl to fill with noodles and salad. I have no complaints about the food; it tasted delicious, but this is the point in the day when I felt completely awkward. For a start there’s nowhere to sit, so you have to balance everything you have with you, plus a paper bowl and a drink and try to eat without dropping it all. Also, when you don’t know anyone, it’s extremely difficult to stand and eat next to a stranger. Spilling a glass of water down your cleavage and having half a noodle hanging out your mouth is not an easy time to strike up small talk. I walked around looking for a private place as I have a thing about eating in front of people anyway. I felt very uncomfortable. In the end I leant against the bannister at one end of the room on my own. Someone else

The Scummy Mummies

The Scummy Mummies

awkwardly stood next to me, but didn’t seem keen to chat (probably because she was trying to eat), so as soon as I’d eaten half, I walked away. I was too nervous about the Dragons’ Pen thing to eat it all, so sadly I had to throw the rest in the bin and found somewhere quiet upstairs to write my pitch down in my notebook.

So, after hiding through lunch, I went back down for the Scummy Mummies sketch show, which was really funny. I loved their PTA song at the end – particularly as I’ve been on the PTA from pre-school to Secondary school.

I chose ‘From Blog to Business – Building a brand’ for my next session, It was really interesting learning how Steph Douglas built her business ‘Don’t Buy Her Flowers‘ from the success of her blog, and slightly scary that she waited till she had 20,000 viewers in order to do it. (I hope at least that that was per month, not per day!) I really enjoyed it, but didn’t really learn anything about branding.

Then it was upstairs for Emma Conway (Brummie Mummy of 2) talking to Louise Pentland (Sprinkle of Glitter). I’ve dipped in and out of her You Tube

Brummie Mummy & Sprinkle of Glitter

Brummie Mummy & Sprinkle of Glitter

channel for a while, but have watched regularly since she announced she was growing up her style. It was very cool to see her in actual real life, and she was just as friendly, articulate and lovely as she comes across in her videos. I’m jealous of her wisdom!
Unfortunately it was my pitch afterwards, and by that point I was in a terrible state about it, so didn’t hang around after the talk to meet Louise or ask for a selfie or anything. I’m kind of regretting it, but I probably would’ve made a fool of myself so it’s ok.

So I missed the mingling at the afternoon break, as I just stood outside the Dragons Pen room waiting for my

Blogfest 2016

Blogfest 2016

turn. When that was over, it was back into the main hall for a session called ‘Know Your Voice’ with a panel of several people on stage: Zoe Williams (chair), Sara Pascoe, Stella Duffy, Miranda Sawyer, Liv Little (gal-dem) and Cash Carraway (The Comeback Mum). Again, it was very interesting and entertaining listening to their stories, but I didn’t learn anything about how how to ‘make my voice stand out from the crowd’ as it was advertised to.

Davina McCall came on stage next to give a bit of a speech. She was refreshingly honest about being pleased when someone commented that she looked too thin on her instagram, and then went on to talk about how

Davina McCall at Blogfest

Davina McCall at Blogfest

thankfulness helped her stay clean and get her life on track. I’d heard most of this before as her interview on This Morning to promote her autobiography came up in my recommended You Tube list recently. I found it very moving then, and just as much so in real life. It inspired me to buy a book called the 21 day self-love challenge, so I’ll let you know how I get on with that! The well-deserved winners of the blogging awards were then introduced and given lovely bunches of flowers.

I met and chatted to a few people at the drinks reception afterwards, but it got to the point where it was so loud in there, I simply couldn’t hear anyone. I wondered outside where I realised for the first time we were right on the banks of a canal (quite probably the same one traveled on by the characters of my book!) and although I only intended to have a small break before going back in; I just couldn’t face it, so I decided to leave. I was so so tired, I just couldn’t manage any more. I picked up my goody bag and ended up walking back to the station with two lovely ladies, Karen and Sarah, who I hope to stay in touch with.

I felt like the event was extremely well organised with people on hand all the time to help out when you didn’t know where to go. Tea, coffee and water was available all day, along with snacks during the breaks, and only once did I have to queue for a loo! Timings of the talks were strictly adhered to so the whole day ran smoothly. My only gripe is that I wished the changes in speakers were announced on the website sooner, as I’m one of those Be Prepared people who researched all the speakers I was going to see. Also, there was a change of one of the Dragons’ Pen people and I would have been extremely annoyed if that had been for me. They got Sarra Manning instead of someone else and I knew I knew the name at the time, and now I remember she wrote a review of Be In The Place for Elle Girl magazine. I’d have been so pissed off if I hadn’t had chance to check that sort of thing out beforehand. And if I’d realised at the time, I could have said thank you for that, and also thank you for the fact that her novel Guitar Girl got my daughter reading proper books.

King's Place for Blogfest

King’s Place for Blogfest

I did have a go at videoing the day, but with so much going on, there isn’t a lot to show, so I’ll combine it with a What’s in my Goody bag video and edit it onto the end of this post when it’s done in  couple of days! It was a great day and I will definitely go back again next year if I can, because it was a chance to actually meet people who know about what you’re doing. In general the people I meet don’t even know what I mean if I tell them I’m a blogger! I felt a tiny bit excluded by the fact that I didn’t meet anyone who wasn’t writing a parenting blog. Parenting blogs didn’t exist when my two were little, so I felt I couldn’t relate to their experiences in that way and struggled a little to find common ground to talk about sometimes. However, I met some great people and made connections I hope to keep and came away with a strong sense of women supporting each other.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Events, Out and About,
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Writer, pyrographer, renovator, crafter, photographer and maker of bohemian clothing and costumes.

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