Going Geek in Cheltenham with Weirdos and Pants

imageI know it’s on its side, but I haven’t got to grips with modern technology. Anyhow, lie on your sofa and you’ll see a photo of me outside the Cheltenham Literature Festival. A fine, fine place to be.

I’ll tell you a not-so-secret secret. Before an Event, I get stupidly nervous. Nervous to the point that I talk gabbling nonsense to anyone in a 5-metre radius. It was under these conditions that I met the incredibly youthful Mark Lowrey (author of the fabulous Pants Are Everything) and the impossibly rock ‘n’ roll Natasha Desborough (author of the stupidly funny Weirdos vs Quimboids). If you haven’t read them – do.

Let’s rewind. On the way to the Writer’s Room, I was delightfully accosted by the artist, Diana Bell who owns the third biggest book in the world. When you’re feeling nervous, this is a bit surreal, but what she was after was a signature in her Huge Book. I’m of the mind that, when you’re nervous, any distraction is a good distraction. But, once I’d got to grips with what she was doing, I found myself becoming a very small part of a very big work of art. I know, I know: still sideways. image (2)


Anyhow, I made it to the Writer’s Room and met my two cohorts. Mark Lowrey is a right old ball of energy, fizzing with stories of his latest adventures and somehow turning even a domestic tale into something far more exciting. By contrast, Natasha Desborough is very laid-back; happy to chat, in a very cool, collected way  – like an auburn Keith Richards. But without the wrinkles.

I, however, babble. Like I need some conversational driftwood to latch on to. At the same time, we met our chairperson, Canny, who was wonderfully unruffled and part of the ‘Let’s See What Happens’ brigade – which I like. Although an unstructured event scares the proverbial out of me, I prefer that to a rigid framework; there’s a certain amount of freedom involved.image (3)

So, the call came and we were on. As we walked down the hallway to our personal Coliseum, I noticed that Steven Moffat was doing a talk about Sherlock and Dr Who. Oh, how I would have loved to have seen that – I’m a huge Who Geek and getting a titbit about Peter Capaldi would’ve blown my tiny mind.

So we turned up at our ‘space’. I love empty auditoriums. They remind me of my time as a Stage Manager for Alan Ayckbourn at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round; there’s all that uncrushed velvet, just waiting to support some attentive backs; it’s exciting and terrifying, yet riddled with comfort at the same time. We got miked up and, after some pre-show banter, people started to come in.

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Danny fired out some good, thoughtful questions, which gave us room to talk about our personal experiences and the way we approach writing. Keen-eyed members of the audience may have noticed I kept touching my ear. That’s because I’d been doing an online NLP course for the previous month, to help get rid of  my nerves – and, amazingly, it did seem to have some effect.

I’m sure it seems weird that I get so worked up about these things, what with my Showbiz background and all, but, as I’ve said before, doing plays and telly gives you the luxury of speaking someone else’s words and telling someone else’s story. When you’re doing the author thing, it’s about you, your words and your story – which makes you kind of vulnerable. But – when it goes right – it’s also amazingly rewarding.

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Highlights of the event for me were Natasha talking tampons and Mark doing his reading. I’m still a bit unsure about reading. Until I’d met Julia Eccleshare in Edinburgh I’d stayed away from reading my own words. The way I saw it, I was writing the story of a 14 year-old and the sound of a 43 year-old voice wouldn’t cut the mustard. However, Julia told me I should act it. Since then, that’s what I’ve done.

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I did my reading, which was received well, and then Mark read a bit from his book. He played a blinder, reading a bit involving boobs and Coco Pops. Top man.


Event done, it was Signing Time and I got to chat with a chap who wanted to go into Acting. Natasha and Mark were superbly engaging and their fans obviously got a kick out of meeting them.

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So that was Cheltenham.

I never did get to meet Mr Moffat – but there’s time yet.



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The Bath Literary Festival Geekathon

The Bath Literary Festival. Blimey; it was only a day, really – but a busy one, full of Good Things. It started the day before. I wanted to get there earlyish, but there was a lot of traffic – although this is one of the lorries I got stuck behind and took it for an omen of some sort:



I arrived in Bath and dropped Karen Saunders a line, to see if she was around.


I’d just done the Edinburgh Festival with Karen and it was lovely to meet someone who cacks themselves as much as I do. She’d just done an event, so was all relieved and laid-back when I went to go and meet her in some Mrs Miggins-style tea-shop near the Abbey. Also present and correct was Jo Nadin.

Jo is the author of the Penny Dreadful series and a very cool cat, to boot. She also seemed ridiculously calm about the whole thing. For normal folk, this might be reassuring. For me, it just kind of added fuel to my Fire of Fear – which was already lit. Anyhow, I went back to the hotel and watched some TV (which I don’t get to do, normally, as I don’t have one). Actually, I must confess – I watched the X-Factor and felt more than a little dirty, having done so.

The next day kicked off with a school visit to St Gregory’s: 170 Year 7’s – who were really rather good fun. A couple of hours later, I was picked up by a lovely lady called Pat, who was a rep for the Bath Fest, and whisked off to the next school: Hayesfield School. Hayesfield School is an all-girls’ school, which often sticks a different dynamic into an event. What’s great about it is that they get a look inside what the boys in their orbits might be thinking and I get to find out answers to Big Questions that boys have, like:

Why, when you know a guy ‘likes’ you, do you send your friend to go and talk to him -instead of doing it yourself?

If there are any guys reading this: the answer is weirder than you could ever believe.


Another couple of hours later, I was back at the hotel and Tired. But, I had a mission up my sleeve. Since the release of the first Geekhood book, I have been lucky enough to receive the support and loveliness of a blogger, called Jesse Owen. On the release of Mission Improbable, he put together a video/vlog/whatever it’s called about ‘the voices in your head’ – in reference to Archie’s Internal Monologue. Here it is:

I found it very touching, humbling a beautiful, and was determined to say hallo to this Champion of Geek. Jesse, by his own admission, is a bit of a shy chap – but he was true to his word and we met up (more by luck than design) outside Green Park, in Bath.

Fast forward an hour or so and we were yapping away like old friends in a Thai cafe, in an Italian-style square. If you do meet Jesse – don’t be fooled by his quiet demeanour; he’s a very astute and observant chap and, give him a little time, and he gets into the conversational flow like a seasoned pro. Good man, very funny. En route to the Guildhall, we found someone reading a copy of my book:



And then it was Nearly Time. In the Green Room Jo was there, being all cool and laid-back and then Holly Smale rocked up. Holly and me had done the Hay Festival earlier in the year – which was her first event. Now, with a few more under her belt and a book that’s doing incredibly well, she seemed really relaxed and up for a laugh. But before we were turned loose on-stage, we were interviewed by Lucy Powrie – another lovely blogger, whose support has been also very humbling. She turned the interview into a video – which looks like this:

But, finally, we were up on stage. I get SO nervous about these things it’s untrue – but I think the two school events earlier had worn me out to the point where I just didn’t have the energy to spare. Jo was a superb chair, with a very telly style of interviewing; I could see her doing a chat-show or hosting a radio thing; she was calm and very in control – but allowed me and Holly to ramble if we needed to.


Holly was her usual self-deprecating self, but did a great recital of  poem she wrote when she was six, all about a unicorn. And then there was a quiz, which involved the audience as well and then it was over. 60 minutes done – just like that.

Afters, we hooked up with Karen and Jo and Sarah Benwell and hit Bath, in a literary stylee.

There was singing. It was McFly. That’s all I’m prepared to reveal.

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