Tuesday, 30 June 2009

The Art of Bookselling

   What aspect to concentrate on? In a journal or diary everything goes in pell mell...but in a blog - just to take the Tapeley Park weekend that featured in the last entry for an example - which aspect to highlight? The Collective and interplay of artists and works? The event itself and all that was going on? The party in the evening at that notorious venue the permaculture garden...?! Or the writing side - the book stall and writer-visiting-site-featured-in-book? Well the first would be a Collective blog, the second was the last blog entry, the third - and again - who wants suing? So this entry will concern the fourth. 
   The book stall was all a matter of attitude - I turned up and till lunchtime had stomachache (can't remember what I'd eaten, but that's unimportant) - and surprise surprise, despite the many people, no one came... What's up? I wondered. 'It's your attitude! Obviously stressed, fed up or weary and that's not approachable!' was muttered to me. Now in a way this was news to me - I've been to festivals where there have been stallholders that spat venom, but what they were selling - whether really cheap old books to army surplus necessities, still drew in customers...but - new books without the backing of a huge publisher? In another way, it wasn't news at all... After lunch I felt better, and launched into the selling persona that we all have - yes, I mean it! however shy or reserved or downright anti-social you are, it's in there! trust me. And that's when the sales began. I told people what it was, called out to them to draw their attention, smiled, and was ready with information and offers of cards, flyers, and the offer of a free gift with each book bought. It worked. The world's lousiest direct sales bod had sold all but one copy by the end of the day. It's true what they say - it's all in the attitude - YOUR attitude. The trick is to remember the hard-won, difficult-to-learn skills that you gain in such an environment and integrate them into what you do and how you operate. Tough? yes. Worth it? Undoubtedly. It could make the difference between success and failure.

    The next day was kind of special too - having said goodbye to Wayne, Ben, Len, Andi, Mandy and co., (two of whom had passed out on the lawn after the night's partying), we went off to Exmoor to visit the Beacon - for the first time since having finished the 'Porlock the Warlock' book (it being Porlock's residence), and (for various reasons) my first time at the very top. It was strangely moving. Everything was just where I'd expected to find it - the chimneys for his bedroom, Vag and Rag's bedroom...the top of the kitchen and the library, his view of the Sea was just how I'd imagined...it was very odd and I even found the 'front door'...it was, well...one of those inexpressible times when you have a gut feeling that it was the right thing to have written, and the place you're in somehow makes it feel more 'meant', - if that makes sense? And all the recent worries about Spoken/Written receded for a time, and I felt my belief in 'Porlock' become stronger...
   And one thing you need is to have a strong faith in the books you write. But there is - as the stall experiences confirm - a difference in a private faith, however complete, in the work and a faith which you can usefully communicate to others about the 'product'. Thanks lastly then to Dunkery Beacon, home of Porlock, and all the lovely people who bought books, I hope they're enjoyed.

Monday, 29 June 2009

A Weekend's Wackiness

Had a crazy weekend performing and having a book stall at the Summer Science Day at Tapeley Park a few days ago, part of the North Devon Festival. Yolande of Bideford College had booked the Junk Carnival (one of the many workshops/events that the Collective offers) and us storytellers plus 'Porlock the Warlock' stall. The weather started cloudy, and rained a bit on the way...we looked at the sky warily. Tapeley Park front lawn being one of the windiest venues we regularly do, as the wind comes straight off the estuary and sea below! A fantastic view, but...I remember last summer, and out of the three events we did there, one time there seemed to be a force 10 gale blowing off the estuary, and there were only four of us battling to put up the Pavilion (there's an image of it on the Collective homepage etc.) and it had ideas of its own about turning into a giant kite, and whisking the lot of us off to Oz... 
   This time, however, we had better weather! Having looked gloomy, it cheered up, only spat and then got sunny later. The wind was a bit of a trial - laminated posters are all very well, and cards in plastic boxes, books are good and heavy, but flyers... But the stall kept together nonetheless. It was all go, with the Pavilion on one side, and an awning on one of the vans. Our big new, if homemade - sign for the website looked eye-catching, and Wayne made a stand for it there and then with his customary skill. We caught up with one of the Collective's newer members and partner, and performed in their own stylish awning-space which went up a bit later on... So that we were quite a set up! Pavilion, large van plus awning, even bigger van plus another awning, with various spaces in front for flag making and carnival dragon construction...! I sometimes think the Collective could put on a festival by itself... There was lots going on, and many attractions, fellow storyteller Deor warmed up the audience for the magician, who then passed on to us, who then handed over to Victorian re-enactors from Exmoor Zoo. - Including a very convincing Charles Darwin - complete with tarantula, skunk, and the rest! We met some interesting people, and the Junk Carnival itself was packed - kids and parents making and painting flags and banners, all the recycling rubbish we'd been saving up put to excellent use in some wonderfully effective and quirky musical instruments! The parade seemed to go on forever, at 3pm, and the video is now up on the Carnival's microsite. The prize giving was terrifying as hordes of small folk surged about, and I pointed out the judges so they could surge that way instead, for the prize giving. It looked like a miniature army - or was that the sheer number of flags and drums and having been to one too many Civil War battles...? Krafka the She-Troll and Darwin awarded the prizes, including a 'Porlock' book, and altogether it fitted well with the event which was a great success and very well attended. 
   Other stuff included making a juggling video on Sunday morning for another new associate member, and the party on Saturday night...the music was great - pure electronic dance/trance/house, but the volume - was that legal?? Still, the glade was a great place for it and the lights did the business. 
   Thanks must go to 'Charles Darwin' for being such a sport and a good judge, and Yolande for organizing the whole thing with such unfailing professionalism and good-humour!  

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Swings and Roundabouts

Being in the arts is an odd business. Last week, I went in to Phonic FM radio station, having been kindly asked to be a guest on the Waves with Words programme...and had a really good laugh - reading bits from Porlock and The Books of...Trilogy, and more importantly meeting the presenters Jennifer Mono and Eden Dart, and being part of their fresh new show. It really is a great format, mixing Q&A, extracts, banter (but not of the mindless variety!), non-playlist music (which is one of the station's flagship boasts), and all in an informal, open to ideas setting. Eden and I stayed around to talk about the next show on ancient poetry...and four hours later we really HAD to separate and get on with what we were meant to be doing! It's not often you meet someone who's read everything from Sophocles to Flaubert and asks if you've read Cicero, Catullus, and Marcus Aurelius... 
   So when I heard the news the day after that Spoken/Written's funding was to be cut...I found it hard to sink under the waves after such an injection of cultured conversation. And then the donations, most from subscribers whom I have never met, and voluntary subscriptions started coming in, words of support, offers of help in kind...it's hard to express either one's feelings of oppression when something one has worked for and with, seems as if it's all about to fold...And equally hard to express how much it means when people rally round with words of praise and support; with money to help keep Spoken/Written afloat on stormy seas; and with other kind offers. Big thanks must go especially to Rachel of the Poetry Stanza for offering to feature the Bulletin at future events, to Shirley formerly of the Glastonbury Poetry&Words Tent and close friend of the late great PVT West, to Jennifer and Eden of Phonic FM, and Keith of the Poet's Cafe at Trereife House in Penzance (looking forward to the promised tea and cake!). 
    Thanks so much to all the subscribers who have contributed so far. If you haven't done so yet, please do! The PayPal button is on the main web page of the Spoken/Written site, or you can e-mail me, the Editor for where to send a cheque.
   Here's to sun after rain.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

The Rain it Raineth Every Day...

Heard this week that Arts Council funding will not be renewed for Spoken/Written. Something of a blow, as I'd taken care to go through all the points system with a fine toothcomb, making sure that the application met every need. Sure enough when the letter came, it said that Spoken/Written's application had indeed fulfilled all the criteria and was eligible...but that they had had to turn down even perfectly good applications this time round. And of course, having been funded before put Spoken/Written and I in a weaker position, as the Bulletin is not like say a theatre, i.e. a regularly funded organization, but a series of grants for different aspects of the project. Last time I had to fill in an application for funding, there was a 50% success rate. For this year the figures have dropped to 38%. Spoken/Written just happened to be in the unfortunate 12% - a consequence of the Arts Council's own funding cuts. It feels like two months of sheer stress and going through the endless form and information notes at every spare moment was like a waste of time. However, after having worked to build up Spoken/Written into the valued resource it has become, I'm not going to let it go to the wall without a fight. After 38 Editions, and being its founder, it feels like too much energy has already gone into it to just grind to a halt. And the Quotes page on the website is a testament to how much subscribers and readers value and like it.  The proposed back issues/opportunities for writers website will still go ahead. It is just shaping up to be a Google free site, rather than one with a lot of fancy features to it. It will host advertising to help keep the Bulletin going. The Bulletin itself will have to charge for some entries, and voluntary subscription fees will be solicited. 
   As said in a previous post, six pounds for readers, eight pounds for artists/professionals, ten pounds for small organizations and so on does not seem unreasonable when looking at 10 editions a year, always over 10 pages, more often 12 (the last was 14) and often with a supplement of three pages plus. Cheques are best as PayPal take a portion - for example 30p from a three pound donation/contribution and 40p from a six pound one. 
   Whether through a mixture of donations, advertising, GoogleAdSense, voluntary subs or other sources, Spoken/Written must earn its keep, as it takes a third of a working year to put together. Huge thanks to those who have sent in amounts so far, especially the twenty pound cheques! it's all vital to keeping Spoken/Written going. 
   Big thanks also must go to Rachel McCarthy of ExCite Poetry, the Poetry Society Stanza for E.Devon for hosting Spoken/Written at the launch party of the Poetry Stanza at the lovely Devon and Exeter Institution last Wednesday, and Mel Scaffold of Apples and Snakes S.W. for having a Spoken/Written stall at the Gallery Session's Brian Patten event at the Queen's Theatre in Barnstaple this Wednesday. It will help raise Spoken/Written's profile further, and that can only help in securing a future for it.  
   After all the sunshine, the pouring sometime torrential rain and thunder seem to match a mood I hope won't last any longer than the storm... 

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

The Vikings are Coming!

And then there was the gig at the Crediton Festival, the 1,100 year anniversary celebrations to commemorate the founding of the Bishopric of Devon. Initially (as explored in the 'Porlock' novel!) it was in Crediton, but moved to Exeter. Not least due to the invasions of Vikings (again as in 'Porlock'!), and we were storytelling there at the re-enactment battle 'The Vikings are Coming' (to attack Saxon Crediton). It was a good atmosphere, although few people we spoke to seemed aware of the 1,100 theme, which we tried our best to remedy, telling anyone who seemed interested of the C10th Exeter Book and it being part of the move from Crediton to Exeter in Bishop Leofric's library which he donated to Exeter Cathedral. We performed the odd piece from it, as well the more usual folktales, and the Porlock stall was a success, selling a fair number of copies, even being asked to sign a couple (embarrassing, but kind of people to think of asking for a scribble). It looked the part, and the new signs did the business. When we turned up it was raining, and Deborah from the covered stalls came and asked if we'd like to be under cover? We accepted gratefully. After lunch the weather cleared up to be hot and sunny, and one was then thankful for the shade the market offered! Andrew of the organic apple juice stall and Deborah and Mary of 'British Pork on your Fork' were friendly stallholders to be between, and altogether I was pleased with how the day went. Deor did sterling work captivating the crowds and then pulling them in to check out the books. One person did know all about the Exeter Book, and bought a copy, and someone else came along who had seen our show at the Autumn Festival, saying to her friend 'these are the people who did the Epic of Gilgamesh - I won't forget that evening' - so that left us glowing! 
   Still new to being a stallholder, my verdict was; quite hard work in that you had to meet people's eye, and be alert (not easy for the shy or reserved), shout one's wares a fair bit, all while attempting to be welcoming and keep on the ball with the right change! But having a good 'float' helps, and making the signs as clear as possible. Give people flyers to take away if they've no spare cash that day, and free gifts if possible. Lay books in lines as well as a stack, and generally fill the table. And always have plenty of cards with your website address... Thanks to Paul for having us, Deborah, Mary and Andrew for being nice to work alongside, and all the folk who bought books!