The day started with the agent’s session – much better attended than the publisher’s session in the same spot last year, but then everything is more crowded. The building seems to have been heated for February without taking into account the small heatwave we’re having, and everyone is roasting. I try to make conversation with the lady at my table, but she is not chatty. A man behind me holds forth on the dearth of books set in Aberdeen – we need more, apparently. Not sure why? I mean, yes, if you’re looking for a new place to set a series that’s important, but is the population going out looking for more local crime fiction?
The agent is Jenny Brown, and she goes about beforehand handing out prepared questions to get the ball rolling, things, she explains, that she’s been asked loads of times before. The session is supposed to last an hour but over runs by half an hour, and apparently we don’t use any of her questions, which surprises me – things like how to prepare a pitch and whether being indie affects your prospects seem to me fairly standard questions.
Jenny Brown tells us that when she set up her agency 17 years ago, a ‘heavy reader’ was one who bought 12 books a year. Now, she says, a ‘heavy reader’ is someone who buys 6 books a year. We gasp in collective horror.
I’m not sure why I come to these talks. I still don’t want to be mainstream, I suppose, but I’m hoping for tips to make myself a more successful indie. You do need to be a pretty successful indie to attract the attention of an agent, and I don’t make it into that category. I suppose what I want is the endorsement of interesting an agent, of being that successful – a bit dog in the manger, then. And am I unsuccessful because of the writing, or because of the marketing? Of course I’d like to think it was the marketing …
Straight into a panel, chaired by a cheery wee body, Jackie Collins who runs Newcastle Noir. She introduces a really excellent local in the limelight who reads a Doric short story called Day Trip, about a woman going to collect her husband’s ashes from Aberdeen Crematorium. Then the panel is Lucy Foley, talking about her very successful recent book The Hunting Party (I’m halfway through it) and Claire McLeary, talking about her Aberdeen series featuring Maggie and Wilma. Jackie Collins is lovely to everyone, like an enthusiastic nursery school teacher. The panel talk about location, how the north affects the books. A bit, anyway.
At half one James Naughtie takes over and expertly chairs a panel on character, with Vaseem Khan, Yrsa Sigurdardottir and Douglas Skelton. It’s preceded by another local, Eric R. Davidson, who writes police procedurals set in Edwardian Aberdeen. He’s a bit organised and has handouts to direct people to his books on Amazon – he hasn’t tried the Waterstones route. I’ll get one. At the end of this talk it’s my turn to go off to the Authors’ Room.
It’s a bit miserable, at first. Lee, the programme organiser, is very nice, and makes sure she says hello and that I have everything I need. But of course the authors all know each other and are mostly working out who’s sharing taxis with whom, so I sit for a bit, and make sure my friend knows where to pick up her complementary ticket for my bit. Then, bless her, Claire McLeary comes over and says hello, and we have a bit of a chat, then Eric Davidson and his wife hurry in all energy after his session. They seem nice – it would be good to keep up. Finally the room boils down to James Naughtie, sitting behind me, Graeme Macrae Burnet, Stella Duffy, Lee and me, and we do chat a bit about butteries and Aberdeen. Then we’re called through to the theatre, and the nerves go and I enjoy myself – hope others did, too! And my friend is not in her reserved seat, so where is she?
Up at the back, of course, I find at the end of the session, but she’s fine. I hand out some bookmarks to a few people who ask for them, and we head off for a cup of tea.
The evening, then, is Stuart MacBride and Susan Calman (and the excellent – at least permanently unfazable – BSL interpreter who has to try to keep up with them). 800 odd people, a really enthusiastic crowd, and though Stuart has been a bit under the weather they are great. Susan is trying to bag the part of DI Steele if they televise the Logan McRae books, and they discussed his cats, of course. A very funny evening indeed, exactly what we all came for.
Apparently there are photos on Twitter. I'd advise you not to go there!