An insight into the publishing world…

Archive for the ‘Book and Publishing Events’ Category

Hull Central Library Book Fair – attracting top quality authors!

This is just a quick post to highlight the quality of events that are happening in Hull now. Hull has been awarded the title of City of Culture for 2017 and has since held a large number of literature and book events, a lot of which I’ve attended. When I heard about this book fair at Hull Central Library, I was very excited. It was a chance to meet a hell of a lot of extremely talented local authors.

Below are just a few people who exhibited at the event, and I outline why they are so important to literature in and around Hull.

Myself talking to authors at the Hull Book Fair

Myself talking to authors at the Hull Book Fair

Exhibiting at the event was Louise Beech, author of the brilliant book How to Be Brave. Her book is set in Hull and follows the story of a mother and daughter whose lives have been turned upside down by diabetes and the struggles that are brought with it. Running parallel to that story is the story of her grandfather, Colin Armitage, who is left stranded on a rescue boat when his trawler sinks in the middle of the North Sea. Louise’s book has become hugely popular since publication and looks to continue to make waves throughout not only our community but the larger publishing industry.

Louise Beech signing

Louise Beech signing a book for a eager customer

Margaret Dickinson, a legend of Hull’s and an phenomenally successful author, was exhibiting at the event and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have a chat with her.

The hugely popular Margaret Dickinson

The hugely popular Margaret Dickinson

Published by Pan Macmillan, Margaret is a local Lincolnshire author whose vast numbers of published works have touched hearts and invited readers from far and wide to experience her wonderful writing. I felt a little bit like I was meeting a celebrity when I talked to her. She described to me how her writing process was a lot like how a painter works – sketching in the outlines first, writing a quick first draft of the novel, before going back and adding in more detail, colour and life.

Brian Lavery, fellow Hull Alumni. Photo credit: Martin J Goodman of Barbican Press.

Brian Lavery, fellow Hull Alumni. Photo credit: Martin J Goodman of Barbican Press.

Brian Lavery, author of The Headscarf Revolutionaries, was exhibiting and, as always, brought warmth, humour and a general friendly and happy atmosphere to proceedings. Brian is a great friend of mine as we did our English with Creative Writing BA degrees together a few years ago. Since we graduated, he has written and published the enormously successful The Headscarf Revolutionaries. It’s a creative non-fiction book that takes us through the story of the Triple Trawler tragedy in Hull and the story of Lily Billocca, a widow who campaigned tirelessly to bring in new safety regulations for the trawlermen.

Marion Gamble and her children's books

Marion Gamble and her children’s books

I had a chat with Marion Gamble, local East Yorkshire children’s author. Marion works in education and has enjoyed big success with her books, with Moon Cat a particular favourite. Her beautifully illustrated books are igniting passion for the print book in a new generation of readers, when it is needed more than ever.

Anna Bransgrove, author of Simple Dame Fairfax

Anna Bransgrove, author of Simple Dame Fairfax

Anna Bransgrove particularly impressed me with her new novella Simple Dame Fairfax, a kind of ‘spin-off’ from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre which focuses on the character Mrs Fairfax and tells her own as of yet untold story. For more info on this, visit this link.

Annie Wilkinson

Annie Wilkinson

Last but not least, the final author I spoke to was Annie Wilkinson, a best-selling novelist who currently lives in Hull and whose novels are based there. Her books fetch 4-5* on Amazon and I cannot wait to read her latest, The Land Girls. She was a wonderful author to talk to.

There were many stands and authors that I didn’t get the time to visit – but all the more reason to attend more upcoming events. Hull has so much to offer.

Overall, what struck me was that sense of community and pride in Hull and the North, and I think this needs to continue to be communicated and shared through literature. A big passion of mine is to continue to promote publishing, books and literature in the North and organise and promote book events which show just what the North has to offer. Keep tuned for some upcoming events run by yours truly!

Introducing Helen Smith, Author and BritCrime Online Literature Festival Founder

The lovely Helen Smith

The lovely Helen Smith

A couple of months ago, I was extremely lucky to be asked to be part of BritCrime, an incredibly successful online literature festival which saw 45 crime writers come together on social media to discuss their work and writing crime fiction. I made a lot of new friends at the festival and feel privileged to have been part of something that is part of a growing phenomenon – the online festival. These are growing in popularity – see my interview with Sam Missingham – and I was so lucky to be involved in such a successful one. Here Helen Smith, Author and BritCrime Founder, discusses Britcrime and its successes.

Please introduce yourself and give us a brief overview of your career.

My name is Helen Smith and I live in Brixton in south London. I had my first book published in 1999. Since then I have written poetry, plays, children’s books and screenplays, but at the moment I’m making a living writing novels. I’m currently writing a mystery series featuring an amateur sleuth called Emily Castles. It’s a lot of fun to write.

Can you explain what BritCrime is?

We are 45 British crime writers and one American who are collaborating to put on free online crime fiction events to connect with readers around the world. Our first event was a three-day festival in July 2015. Our next event will be a Christmas Party. We have another festival planned for next summer.

How did the idea of BritCrime come about?

The authors involved in BritCrime love attending crime fiction festivals, but we often hear from readers who are disappointed they can’t attend. I offered to set up an online festival to see if it would be a good way to connect with readers around the world while protecting our writing time.

How did you go about marketing BritCrime and generating interest for it?

I set up a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a website and a mailing list. Our publishers were very generous about donating books as prizes so I set up several giveaways to promote the the festival. We also held a draw for a Kindle Paperwhite for new subscribers to our newsletter. Interestingly, the buzz began as soon as the website, Twitter and Facebook pages went up as people in the industry speculated who was behind the idea. Once we shared the idea with readers and book bloggers, there was a lot of enthusiasm for the festival. We gained a lot of new followers very quickly.

What was your method for getting authors on board? Did you already personally know the authors, or did you have to approach them to get them on board?

It was self-selecting. I put up a post on Facebook saying that I planned to set up a one-day online crime fiction festival and needed twelve writers to join me. A couple of minutes later my friend Alex Marwood responded with an enthusiastic yes… and we were off! I tried to cap the numbers at 30, then 36… Within about 24 hours we had 41 writers involved and the date set for a three-day festival. I liked the serendipity of it. Had I approached writers individually, it would have taken weeks to set up. Also, as everyone involved had approached me and asked to join, it meant they were engaged with the project and they were fun to work with. As time went by, we were approached by various creative partners and I said yes to all of them for the same reason, and the partnerships were productive because they were all so keen to be involved.

BritCrime-Logo

What were the challenges of hosting an online festival? How much work goes into the logistics of hosting an online festival?

It was all quite straightforward, really. We used the free platforms that were available. There was a quite a bit of of work involved in planning and programming the festival – which I enjoyed – and a lot of admin involved in getting the information for 41 authors and their books up on our website and blog. The other authors helped out promoting it and running the Twitter and Facebook accounts, but I worked non-stop for six weeks, 15-19 hours a day to set it up and make sure it worked properly.

For the festival itself, we hired two assistant producers. One of them, Stephanie Cox, is asking these questions. I wanted them to be involved in the creative/logistics side of the festival and to have fun while they were doing it, so I kept them away from the admin and gave them clearly defined creative roles that were challenging and interesting and took advantage of the skills they had to offer. It was really useful to have a dedicated resource to help me that weekend.

What were the highlights, for you?

The creativity and the collaboration: I loved creating the virtual world where our online festival would be held, including The Slaughtered Author pub and the BritCrime Readers’ Cafe. Making the opening ceremonies and thank you videos was fun. I loved the “Our Authors Prepare” and “BritCrime Writing Dens.” photo galleries we created on Facebook. Working with the other authors was wonderful. If you get 41 creative people collaborating on a project, something exciting is going to happen.

Do you see the online literature festival as a concept that will grow in popularity?

Yes!

What were the biggest lessons or insights learned from the experience?

I was reminded how much fun it can be working on a creative project for the hell of it, with no expectation of any financial reward. I knew there would be a lot of work involved in setting this up, but I hadn’t appreciated how much love I would get back, from authors and readers – and publishers, too. I got a lot of love for doing it. It was humbling and gratifying.

Have you received positive feedback from it?

Yes! The readers, bloggers, authors and publishers involved have all been really enthusiastic. We surveyed everyone who participated. The feedback was all positive. As soon as this festival ended, people started asking when we were going to do the next one.

What’s next for BritCrime and the BritCrime team?

We’re currently planning our Christmas party, the BritCrime Ball, which will take place Sunday 13th December, with a Twelve Days of Christmas Treasure Hunt in the run-up to it. It will be completely different from the summer festival and should be fun for everyone who participates! There will also be a festival next summer, with more authors involved.

Helen Smith is a novelist and playwright who lives in London. She’s the founder of BritCrime.
Website: http://helensmithbooks.com
Blog: http://emperorsclothes.co.uk
Twitter: http://twitter.com/emperorsclothes
Facebook: http://facebook.com/authorhelensmith
BritCrime website: http://britcrime.com
BritCrime blog: http://britcrime.blogspot.com
BritCrime Twitter: http://twitter.com/britcrime
BritCrime Facebook: http://facebook.com/britcrime

Do you have any questions for Helen? Please post them below and I’ll make sure she gets back to you!

Matt Haig talks to Russ Litten at Head In A Book, Hull!

Last month I was lucky enough to attend a fully-booked author event in Hull Central Library, featuring the enormously successful Matt Haig, author of The Humans and Reasons To Stay Alive (and who, by the way, is a fellow Hull University alumn and I had no idea!)

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Matt’s most recent book, Reasons To Stay Alive, was the main focus of the book event, but he discussed most of his novels and writing. In a Q&A session with Hull author Russ Litten, Matt talked at length about his continuous struggles with mental illness and depression and how it shaped his writing and reading habits over the years. He began with an explanation of his breakdown which happened to him in his early twenties – how he was in a constant state of pure panic, how the breakdown was physical as well as mental, how he was in terrible discomfort for a week and couldn’t eat or sleep. He felt suicidal, and even when the worst of it passed, it was a condition that never quite went away.

“Even when I was at my best, depression and anxiety fluttered around at the back of my brain like butterflies – I was never completely free of them.”

Back at his parents’ house, where he spent his time in recovery, he found that he couldn’t bring himself to read.

“At my lowest point, I couldn’t read at all,” he explained. “My anxiety was at its loudest volume and I couldn’t cut through that long enough to concentrate on reading.”

Even when he did start reading, he could only bring himself to read his childhood books, and nothing more. Reading was a source of comfort for him, but only when he was reading things that were familiar. He couldn’t face anything new, or, essentially, the ‘unknown’. As someone who has a family member diagnosed with GAD, I could understand this perfectly. Familiarity often makes us feel safe, and a familiar world within a familiar book is one of the safest places to be – at least mentally.

So, how did Matt’s struggles with his mental health affect his writing and the novels that we, as his fans, have come to love?

When asked if he enjoyed much creative writing in university, before he suffered the breakdown, Matt quipped, “Are you kidding? I barely even wrote my essays!”

However, he did begin to write after the anxiety and depression kicked in. A lot of Matt’s writing is in some way influenced by his struggles with depression. His first novel, The Last Family in England, was written soon after his breakdown occurred, and he was suffering from separation anxiety from his girlfriend. His mum was battling cancer and he was unemployed, and needed something to occupy himself and fill the time.

So, did he start writing novels expecting to be published?

“Of course not!” he giggled. “You don’t start writing with a view to getting published, only to start writing in the point of view of dogs and writing mild satires of Shakespearean plays! Initially when I started writing, it was a coping mechanism. Getting published was an added bonus.”

After a number of rejections from agents and publishers, the book was finally published. At the event, he described The Last Family in England as a “selfie of the mind” – a reflection of how he was feeling at the time. He wouldn’t write anything like that now, he explained, but it needed to be written at the time. He described how a lot of his writing at that time involved short sentences, short paragraphs and a lot of white spaces. He wanted to make his work accessible, something that wasn’t hard work or which took a lot of effort to read. “I was recovering from the depression, but I still wasn’t completely back to normal,” he explained. “I needed to deal with something that wasn’t too difficult or heavy. I wanted to have fun, to keep my mind off my predicament, and this novel helped me do that.”

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Russ Litten tweeting about Matt Haig minutes before the event kicked off.

Matt’s second novel Dead Father’s Club was much darker, he explained, because he was sinking bank into illness and depression. It was a tough time; he suffered from ‘second novel syndrome’ and looking back, he said, he could tell in his writing that his mind was in a darker place. Dead Father’s Club tells the story of a young boy who loses his father and is visited by his ghost (and is in this way loosely based on Hamlet.) It deals with a noticeably more serious subject matter, and is therefore another of his works that was influenced by his emotions.

Haig’s book The Radleys is based on a family of vampires who attempt to curb their appetites and desires in order to fit in. They have to make compromises in order to appear normal to the outside world. Matt highlighted the parallels between the stigma of being a vampire in the novel and the stigma of mental illness in the real world. “I have always been very resistant to stigmatising and I fight against discrimination of people with depression and anxiety, because I’ve been on both sides myself.”

So that explains The Radleys, Russ Litten commented. But why did you decide to write a novel from the point of view of an alien?

“When you’re writing, sometimes you need to take a big step back and look at the bigger picture, like when an artist is looking at a painting they’re working on,” Matt explained. “With The Humans, I was able to do that. I was able to write a narrator that looks at the human race from the outside in, and in this way I could easily show how alien the world can seem. I don’t have answers to the big questions in life, and so The Humans allowed me to ask the questions and ponder why we are the way we are. The alien is an outsider and that’s how I often felt when I was ill.

“On the other hand, I didn’t want it to be all doom and gloom. I injected humour and light-heartedness into the novel, because, let’s face it – the human race is pretty damn funny!”

The discussion then moved on to his most recent novel, Reasons to Stay Alive. It was recently published to enormous acclaim and achieved instant popularity. Many have described it as a ‘Zen Bible’ and is a true testament that positive feeling and thinking can prevail. “I tried to explain through this book that the cliché of depression is a model that doesn’t fit everyone. I also wanted to give a positive message to my readers – as bad as life gets, there is always a reason to stay alive, and I truly believe that.”

In light of your occasionally fragile state of mind, Russ Litten put to Haig, how do you deal with negative criticism?

“Badly! As is to be expected, I loved praise, but hated criticism. That said, I don’t think the book blogging and book review world is critical enough! All of these bloggers who receive free copies left, right and centre – they’re too scared to look nasty or to give genuinely critical reviews. They want to be liked and to continue getting books but they need to know that it’s OK to criticise something. This fake culture isn’t healthy for the book world. We can’t evolve with fake praise.”

“That said,” he continued with a chuckle, “I still don’t want to see bad reviews of my OWN books. I’ll pretend they’re not there!”

When asked by Russ Litten if writing helped his condition, Matt launched into a powerful and moving discussion of literature and books. He explained, “Writing has always given me something to focus on. Paid writing in particular gave me a real boost, a reason to live, if you will. Talking is therapeutic, but it can be both physically and mentally hard to speak when ill. Writing can help overcome that – when I wrote, it felt like a lightening of the weight in my brain. Taking something painful and giving it language, a thing that is shared by all humans, tames the problem and makes it manageable. When I was depressed, I felt alone, divorced from the world. But language is the umbilical cord that connects us back to each other, and to life….

“Being bookish is a way out of loneliness. You can find comfort and a friend in a book. It can help you find a way back into life.”

“A story, in its most basic form, is a form of change. When you’re feeling ill and trapped, all you want to do it buy into the idea of change. I grew a taste for stories that I was previously cynical about. This is why books and stories can therapeutic to atheists…they give us hope, and a reason to stay alive.”

Matt is just as brilliant with words and language in person as he is on the page. This was a truly inspiring event to be a part of. No matter what Matt Haig was feeling when he wrote each book, as a big fan of his I can truly say that he wrote some truly fantastic novels. As he said repeatedly, each piece of his work has been affected in some way by his state of mind but that in writing each one he helped himself to come to terms with it and make sense of it in a wider context.

A parting word from Matt: “Strange as it sounds, I am glad I’ve had depression. In some ways it changes you for good.”

It definitely resulted in some truly amazing work.

A big thank you to Head In A Book for making this event happen!

Russ Litten tweeting about Matt Haig minutes before the event kicked off.

The Print vs. Digital Argument – Should Sentiment Be Ignored?

So here we go again: the Digital vs. Print debate. I fully understand that there are many, many posts on this subject, and I can’t even pretend to know in depth or to have studied intently the data and statistics behind this huge publishing topic. I have read numerous articles from a large number of sources, all more equipped with and informed by numbers that I personally don’t have. But I guess I’m not pretending that this article is going to be backed up by lots of figures and graphs, etc. I want this post to be a little more personal, sentimental and emotional than a market analysis.

Now, I’m not going to pretend that any amount of my friends can be used as a sizeable enough sample – but just like the topic and nature of my post, I don’t want to look at this like a scientific or quantitative experiment. I want to look at it from a sociological and qualitative point of view. And I’m taking a look at the world directly around me. To this end, I asked my friends on Facebook which they preferred: digital or print?

print v d

Out of 23 friends who answered, all but two of them said they preferred print. But again, it’s not really the numbers that mean anything, but rather the reasons behind their decisions.

What I’ve noticed that with all of the responses I received is that those who answered that they prefer digital, or prefer print but still like digital, gave purely convenience and practical-based reasons. For example, one friend has severe arthritis and using a Kindle makes reading far easier for her than reading print books. Another friend has vision impairment and finds the ability to adjust font size a real help. One preferred to be able to carry around large numbers of books without using up a lot of space.

Those who preferred print, however, tended to give reasons that were rooted in emotion and senses. And that’s the general theme of my post.

6 or 7 people claimed to love the smell of books. 3 people mentioned that cuddling up to read a good book somehow ‘doesn’t feel as cuddly’ when you’re holding onto plastic and metal. Many said that you can’t beat going into a good book shop and buying a physical copy, and that it reminds them of their childhood. One friend stated that ‘you can’t beat a gorgeous cover and pages to turn.’ (It’s also worth pointing out that print was also deemed to more ‘practical’ than digital in a number of ways, too – you can’t leave it hanging around on the beach, it makes people’s eyes blurry, charging is a pain). Two of my friends – Kevin Duffy and Mark Moreau, both of whom are publishers – also professed their love of print.

print v digital

Sentimentality and emotions play a big part in the book-lover universe. In my view, there is only so far that convenience can take priority over sentiment and emotion. We need our comfort, senses and emotions in life in order to make life worth living. In a world where I am reading more and more about Big Data and having to look at readers as statistics and figures, it just kind of helps the sentimental girl in me to look at things from this kind of perspective. To engage with other readers and take a look not at how their buying habits combine with others to form a large dataset (as critical as they are in today’s business, I admit) but rather at their emotions and their feelings toward the print book and its counterpart.

I would also like to discuss this subject on a publishing business/community level as well. I’d want to talk about this year’s London Book Fair.

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At the London Book Fair, I attended the Real ‘New’ Publishing talk with a panel of publishing professionals – Katharine Reeve, the Course Director for Publishing at Bath Spa University, Caroline Harris, the co-founder of Harris & Wilson, Vince Medeiros, publisher at TCOLondon Publishing, and Miranda West, publisher at the Do Book Company. The purpose of their talk was to discuss what independent publishing companies are doing differently to traditional publishers, and also how they are preserving the creativity in this creative industry:

A new generation of independent publishing companies, starting from scratch, are doing things rather differently. They are creating highly-desirable publications, putting editorial and design, innovation and creativity at the heart of what they do, and setting new trends and communicating with their audience.

Each publisher spoke of the importance of preserving the print book in an increasingly digital age.

Katharine Reeve kicked off proceedings by discussing the changes that are happening right now in the publishing world. Publishers are having to experiment with new, different formats to get their voices heard and their products noticed – among those are social media, talks and events, multi-channel marketing and, most importantly, experimenting with different types of print.

The print book is still dominant, she said. And there are a number of publishers who are using that to their advantage. As well as this, new publishers don’t have that awkward transition from print to digital with their backlists – they can start both from scratch and make their products an art form.

I think that was also an underlying theme in this discussion – that the print book, or pamphlet, or newsletter, or whichever format publishers are playing around with these days, can still be made into, and considered, an art form. The finished product means something to the owner.

Miranda West of Do Books Company acknowledged customers’ appreciation of well-crafted, well-designed books. She pointed out that smaller publishing houses can think more about layout and the creative look of a book. They have complete creative freedom, and can use this to create a strong brand and a strong identity. Overall, she emphasised that books – and print books especially – can change lives and inspire, as well as being genuinely useful.

Vince Medeiros of TCOLondon explored the idea of print and how it was majorly disrupted by the economic crisis and the growth of digital. But he also stressed that print and physical literature and books can give the reader things that digital will never be able to achieve. Magnets and heat sensitive paper are just a couple of his ideas for ways to be creative with print. He explained that these kinds of things can inspire a level of excitement that digital just can’t touch.

The London Book Fair at Olympia.

The London Book Fair at Olympia.

Books are the perfect medium, he argued. Even some of the largest companies, like Apple, are producing print publications for their employees. And why print books? Because they add value. The scarcity of a finite print run gives them value. They are tangible. We can physically interact with them.

This is not to say that print lovers and those who are still advocates of the print book are not moving with the times. Embracing print does not mean ignoring digital, and vice versa. As Caroline Harris of Harris & Wilson discussed, in these turbulent times publishers need to start positioning themselves as ‘brands’, and in order to achieve this publishers need to create a beautiful and well-crafted book or publication, and then build an online community by supporting the publication with extra media channels. It’s about publishing professions being responsive and agile. It’s about taking a look at the current climate and trends and being able to adapt your business to keep up with that, without losing the core focus and love of the print book. We can keep our love of the print book at the heart of what we do – it’s just that we can’t put all of our eggs into the ‘Just Books Basket’ any more. Business needs diversification.

Her final point was that print books have even more value now, and are more desirable precisely because the general reading society perceives there to be a threat. Again, sentimentality and emotion kicks in here. We want to preserve what once made our culture so great.

Perhaps I’m wrong, but I did get a sense here that the general argument was that we’re not necessarily now living in a ‘digital first’ era, but rather publishers are using digital in order to strengthen the particular book or publication. In other words, the whole thing becomes a brand rather than a product. And a brand can produce a core idea or value in many different formats. For this reason, and this is just my own point of view, I think that while this is true of business, one format will not kill the other. We need sentimentality just as much as we need convenience. One does not necessarily trump the other.

My overall argument here is that the reason I don’t believe that print will go the same way as other outdated formats and become completely obsolete is because, while there are still humans out there, there will always be some level of sentimentality. And I believe there is enough sentimentality and love out there to keep the print format alive. It may be smaller than before, and it may be facing opposition – but this publishing enthusiast believes it will always be around. Call me old-fashioned.

Or maybe I’m just a bit sentimental.

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Me and my book shelf – can you tell which format I prefer?

What do you think of this ongoing argument? Which still has your heart – print or digital?

The Headscarf Revolutionaries by Brian Lavery

In this review I’ll be discussing Brian Lavery‘s The Headscarf Revolutionaries and also the book launch that took place on the 26th May at the Maritime Museum in Hull – in fact, my very first attendance at a book launch!

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I would just like to take the opportunity to thank Brian for sending me a review copy of the book – I’m extremely grateful and will take good care of this signed copy!

In the harsh arctic seas of 1968, three trawlers from Hull’s fleet sank in just three weeks. 58 men died. Lillian Bilocca put down her filleting knife, wrote a petition, and stormed into action. With her army of fishwives she took her battle to the docks and led a raid on Parliament. They changed the shipping laws.

Lillian Bilocca became an international celebrity. The lone survivor of the tragedies made headlines too. In a tight fishing community, it’s dangerous to stand out.

What I should first point out is that, while the fishing industry has been slowly dying out in Hull in recent years, the culture and camaraderie of those times are not lost. My granddad on both sides worked in the fishing industry. So did my parents. I come from a thoroughly working-class background right up until today’s generation and while mine is the first generation in my family to not be involved in the fishing industry, it’s still been very much a part of my life growing up. This isn’t just Hull’s history, it’s mine and my family’s. And that’s why I was so pleased when Brian sent me this book.

In fact, I took this home with me to Hull one weekend and my mother, who is by no means a regular reader, took the book and wouldn’t let of it for a week. I had to drive back home without it. She read it extremely quickly, and even before I’d gotten my eyes on it I knew it was accurate due to her commenting every now and then, “Yep, I remember that. Yeah, your granddad was part of that…” etc.

VIP at the book launch - not too shabby!

VIP at the book launch – not too shabby!

The book tells the story of the triple trawler disaster, in which three trawlers (the St. Romanus, The Kingston Peridot, and The Ross Cleveland) sank between January and February 1968, killing all but one man on board. It also tells the story of the safety campaign that followed, spearheaded by Lillian Bilocca, in which she and a number of other trawlers’ wives fought, against much hatred and death threats, for better working conditions for men at sea.

His words and descriptions are factual and yet artistic, which makes it an enjoyable read for me, primarily a reader of fiction. This book is described as “literary non-fiction” by the author himself and that couldn’t be a more accurate description, as the writing is matter-of-fact and yet poetic at the same time:

Men are rightly fearful when the ship climbs and drops, but that becomes terror if she moves from side to side. Huge waves must be faced head on. Taken sideways, they can send a ship to the bottom of the sea in seconds…When it goes wrong no one has time to act. Only luck can save her. Survival is by accident…If you are on deck, you are gone. Below deck, in a blink, the ceiling is now where one of the walls once was. The floor goes from you as you are thrown.The freezing sea is through the portholes. In the remaining minutes you drown or freeze to death. Your lungs will collapse in the cold before you get the chance to drown. If you get to a life raft a further miracle needs you to be far from the ship as she sinks or she will take you and your raft with her.

Despite the fact that the author Brian Lavery, who was a classmate of mine at Hull University (you can learn more about him in my interview with him here) is originally from Glasgow, his understanding and love for Hull shines through the pages. Even in the early pages of this book in which he is really just setting the scene, he manages to capture that kind of close community that Hull had on its streets years ago, when everybody knew everyone and looked out for one another.

It turned out Robert’s uncle Skipper Philip Gay of the Ross Cleveland had given the deck boy his old gear. Robert was Skipper Gay’s sister’s lad and he had been asked by the mother to “talk to the boy” – a euphemism for “talk him out of it.” Philip Gay paid lip service to this. He knew he would never be able to talk the boy out of his chosen adventure….

Jim also knew the cook Brian Wilson’s missus had just had a baby girl and he noticed too that Tommy Williams’ boys, John and Melvin, just twenty-one and twenty-two respectively, were aboard. Tommy was a pal of Jim’s dad, Fred.

Brian did a fantastic job of stirring emotions and building up the reader’s loyalty to Lily Bilocca, Mary Denness, Yvonne Blenkinsop and Christine Jensen. What he also did was enable the reader to understand that even though the abuse, death threats, and resistance that these women faced were terrible, the circumstances of the time meant that reactions such as these were inevitable. Many trawlermen did not want women and wives in the public eye, did not want them interfering with their jobs. Many other wives also believed the women to be trouble-makers. Brian could have painted a black-and-white picture in which he outlined the abuse and portayed the women as heroes and the public as quite simply bad, unreasonable people. But his book goes into much more depth than that, and gives a rich cultural and historical background which explains that, whilst horrible and wrong, the opposition was born from tradition, rigid rules, superstition and fear. Brian allows us therefore not only to understand and get to know these brave, influential women, but also to understand society at that time.

Brian also gives the reader an insight into the personal lives of these men and women; he did not rely solely on media and newspaper coverage – his research was extensive. You really feel like you know the characters as people, rather than figureheads. You get to know their families, their home lives, their fears and their struggles. It brings Hull’s history back to life.

‘Hiya, Mam. I’ve put the kettle on – and I got your favourites – custard creams.’

‘Oh, that sounds grand, Virginia.’

‘How did it go in London?’

‘I’ll tell you all about it later. Go and put the kettle on, pet. It was great though. We have done it, love. Them politicians said we’d get all we asked for. As we left that fella Peart said to me, “We’ll do all we can, love.” I told him to talk straight and he did. He called me love, so he’s all right in my book.’

‘That’s fine, Mam.’

The narrative and story-telling in this book is incredibly authentic and educational. Brian captures the speech and dialect of the people of Hull in 1968 perfectly. He also paints a picture of Hull in the 60’s that is so vivid, it makes the reader feel like they are there. His characterisation of society at that time is spot on, too. He captures the resilience of both women and men who lived through current hard times:

When Chrissie put her phone down in her little terraced house in Hessle Road’s Flinton Grove, she had to smile. Her trawlerman husband did not even let her go to the cinema unless he was ashore. She would be in big trouble when he got back from sea. Like a lot of the women, she feared the wrath of an angry husband, chastising her for “dabbling in men’s business”, more than she feared any fight with the bosses. But she was determined.

Then he got angry and felt he was letting down his wife and baby by dying. He would not allow that to happen…Just keep going, Harry. Just keep going.

The book taught me so much about Hull’s history that I personally knew nothing about. It’s a shame that before this book and before the press coverage, many people like me have no idea about the tragic and triumphant history of their own city and their own roots. Each city and community needs a Brian to help highlight and remind them of its past.

The Book Launch

Brian signing copies of the book.

Brian signing copies of the book.

On the 26th May, I attended the book launch for The Headscarf Revolutionaries at the Hull Maritime Museum. I was incredibly proud of Brian. As cheesy as this sounds, we all recognised Brian as someone who was incredibly talented and likely to forge yet another successful career (before university he enjoyed a successful career as a newspaper journalist.)

The book launch was attended by the Lord Mayor Mary Glew (as pictured below) and featured singers singing fishing ballads, press coverage, and a unveiling of plaques in honour of the four women who campaigned on behalf of the trawlers. There was a Q&A with the publisher Martin Goodman of Barbican Press (a publisher which I interned for last year) and a discussion with the audience. It was a packed-out event and a real triumph for Brian, Barbican Press, for the trawlers’ wives and Hull, City of Culture.

During the Q&A, Brian told Martin that the story had been “overlooked for far too long”. He stressed that he needed to keep in mind the feelings of those involved in the story and who are still alive today. He was considerate of others before beginning this project (which, I should point out, was his PhD thesis.) However, as he pointed out, “The story HAD to be told.” And he’s told it extremely well.

Brian Lavery with Lord Mayor of Hull Mary Glew.

Brian Lavery with Lord Mayor of Hull Mary Glew.

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ITV news attended the big event.

ITV news attended the big event.

It’s worth noting that at the book launch, Mary Denness, one of the women who campaigned along with Big Lil,, announced this book to be “the most authentic account of what happened in 1968 that I’ve ever read, and I would recommend it to anyone.”

I second that, Mary.

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