APART FROM the fact I spent a sleepless night while World War Three appeared to break out on the streets of sleepy Monmouth, I had a wonderful weekend at the Rhondda Book Fair.
Thanks Books & Pontyclun, David Norrington, Colin R Parsons and Emily King (and everyone else who helped) for their dedication to the cause of us writers in arranging the first-ever such event.
The setting itself was a wonderful old building known as the Soar Centre in Penygraig, an imposing former Baptist Chapel which has become a big asset to the local community.
For me coming down from ‘that’ London it was a step into the unknown – very similar to the journey my hero character Gareth Marshall makes when he moves to the Welsh valleys in a bid to escape his violent past. I was expecting to be mugged by feral kids running wild on the streets, or accosted by giant rugby players declaring “Oh, you’re English are you butt? We don’t like your sort around here.”
What I received instead, though, was a welcome in the hillsides (or valley sides in this case) which made me keen to go back in future. This being the inaugural event – with the competing attraction of the Rugby World Cup going on throughout the UK – those attending were mainly the relations and friends of the authors on show. Hopefully, though, the message will spread and next year it will be packed out with readers keen to sample some very fine literature.
Each author had a space in which to set up around the room and I shared a table with Maxine Ridge, mum of one with her second due on Xmas Eve. Maxine very kindly shared her tablecloth with me and then told me all about her children’s fantasy novel “When The Crow Flies”, the first in a trilogy published by Stairwell Books. When she told me about her story it put me in mind of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the Narnia books by CS Lewis I loved so much as a child. Throughout the book there are colourful illustrations provided by Maxine’s talented Aunt Helen Ridge, who sadly passed away through illness on the day after the book deal was signed. I couldn’t resist buying one, thinking it would probably be right up the street of my middle grandson Marley.
Which set the tone for the day really. It was great to meet other authors writing in a variety of different genres and I couldn’t resist buying some of their works. In turn, they no doubt felt it was rude not to reciprocate and visited my table. I bought as many books as I sold. Still, Xmas is just around the corner. Though it didn’t lead to the bumper sales I was hoping for I got one big surprise –school friend Colin turning up out of the blue to renew our acquaintance after 35 years – and all in all I had a lovely day shooting the breeze with fellow writers.
I picked up some useful tips too. While Liz sneaked out to buy me a little Welsh flag and a rugby ball key ring to help liven up my stall, other writers were thinking altogether bigger. Many of their works were showcased on massive banners decorating the entrance to the building, and photographer Lis McDermott overheard my moans about not having anything quite so striking to attract customers. She told me that provided you had really high quality, high resolution pictures of your book covers then most printing firms can make you up a banner these days. “But don’t put any words at the bottom,” she confided, “they will probably be hidden behind boxes of books or whatever”. I will be investigating the possibility of having a banner designed soon, but I’d better get writing some more books first! (Lis, by the way, took the picture of us at the top of this entry)
The event was rounded off splendidly when prolific author Catrin Collier gave an inspiring talk in which she was quite happy to give away some trade secrets (I won’t repeat them here as I can’t afford to be sued!)
After that, with wife Liz and daughter Olivia in tow, we returned to Monmouth and another night experiencing the Battle of Agincourt Square. If you ever choose to visit this beautiful town in Wales on the weekend I’d avoid staying in the Kings Head Hotel, next to the late opening Wetherspoons. The Food and drink were very reasonably priced, which was great, but perhaps that only served to fuel up the locals for their loud street invasion late at night.