Festival Dreams

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    What a brilliant weekend that was! A week on and the post-York anti-climax has just about faded though I still feel like I’m catching up on sleep. No change there, then!

    A friend asked me this week if doing the keynote on Sunday was more or less scary than the Telly Thing. Easy to answer as I don’t think anything will ever be as scary as the Telly Thing! The best bit about doing a keynote event at York is that it’s York. I had moments of feeling jittery but mostly I just enjoyed being there. I met up with lovely friends, I went to excellent workshops (Craig Taylor, Julie Cohen, Eve Seymour and, of course, Debi), I wrote, I talked to writers, I stayed up far too late on Saturday night (but having learned lessons from previous years, successfully avoided the hangover the next day), I celebrated Cloudie/Denizen successes, I felt inspired, I experienced lightbulbs, I scribbled down new ideas.

    One massive difference this year was the number of people who came and introduced themselves to me because they’d read ‘Home’ or because they were inspired by the number of years it took me to get published – I’d given them hope that the long, hard slog could pay off. It felt amazing to be paying forward all the inspiration that I’ve taken from previous speakers at the festival.

    On Sunday afternoon, I spent a useful hour chatting to Susanna, my editor at Transworld, about book two – hugely encouraged that she didn’t run a mile at my (very vague) idea, and in fact talking about it out loud and having someone respond in a helpful way has triggered all sorts of thoughts and ideas and made me realise I’m at a point where I need to talk about the ideas for a bit, which was a useful as I’d been holding back from that.

    The nerves finally kicked in big time as Debi, Susanna and I stood on the stage in the Central Hall and had our microphones fixed and then sat at the table watching people drift in after their last workshops. The adrenaline spiked, my hands started shaking, my voice sounded weird in my ears, and there was a lot of nervous sweating. Then John, Julie, Vanessa and Janette claimed seats centre front and gave me a laugh and from that point on I really enjoyed it (though the shakes, sweats and trembly voice stayed put throughout!) There were a few wobbly moments because it’s hard not to get emotional when you’re talking about stuff that’s really important – the inspiration for ‘Home’, the issues I care about, the people without whom I wouldn’t have been sitting where I was. Then, at the end, Debi asked Susanna and I to share three tips for the audience. Speaking mine out loud – in essence: find your cheerleaders, find your critical friends and don’t let anyone dictate your dreams – that’s when it really hit me that this was really happening and the dream I’ve been pursuing for almost fifteen years had actually been realised. It took an enormous effort to continue talking without howling! I finished by sharing something I’d heard from Andy Walker (@andy-wack), the most extraordinary motivational speaker I’ve ever listened to.

    Dreams stands for:

    Embrace your challenges
    Adapt to change

    Afterwards, everything went so quickly. I signed some books and chatted with more writers and said goodbyes to lovely friends and then it was time to gather suitcases and find our way back to the station. Another York Festival finished. Roll on the next one!

    There is a postscript. For anyone who wonders whether success might go to my head, be reassured. My train arrived home just before 8pm. As it pulled into the station it was dark outside. You can see my house from the platform, but I wasn’t looking because I was too busy frantically pushing the ‘open door’ button and swearing loudly when nothing happened. The train doors beeped. The train pulled away heading to the next station. I panicked. I swore a bit more. I almost cried. And it was only then that I realised I’d been trying to get off on the track side of the train. Fortunately, it wasn’t the express train and Skylark hubby didn’t have far to drive to come and rescue me after I (successfully) disembarked at the next station. Arrival home delayed by half an hour. Feet firmly back on ground.


    I so wish I’d been there to hear you speak, Skylark. You may be tired of hearing it but you really do deserve your success. Not just for Home, which is a fantastic book, but for the years of contributions to everybody who knows you – the encouragement and the example and damn near 100% good nature and positivity.


    Great blog, Skylark. Indeed, it was a great York too, and I’m glad I fought my reluctance to book because it was such a memorable weekend. You came across clearly, confident and inspirational despite any nerves, which didn’t come across nearly as much as you imagined. It warmed my heart to see you realise your dream and I’m so glad you didn’t howl because you’d have set the four at the front off!
    Sorry, but I giggled at the train alighting (or rather, not). Hope you’re laughing at it too now, and can’t wait to hear more about book 2.

    John T

    A great York festival (when I feared it might not be with all the changes at Jericho Towers) finished off with the best possible treat of seeing you assume your rightful place as keynote speaker, Mandy. The nerves didn’t show (much) xxx

    Alan Rain

    Hi, I was there on the Sunday for the closing keynote – one of the latecomers, I’m afraid. My excuse: first time at York and general unfamiliarity.
    I thought you were terrific, and handled any nerves with aplomb. I just wish I’d seen your book first, as the conversations about Jessica (Jezica?) went over my head. Afterwards I did look at the opening page, and thought yep, that is some voice.
    I find inspiration in those writers who’ve gone through the great slog, rather than the instant gratification types, so thought you were talking great sense, and your motivations resonate with me.
    All in, I enjoyed the day, and hope something positive will ensue.

    Debi Alper

    I’ve been to every FoW and there have been many golden moments but none compare to sitting on That Stage with That Author. Glad we didn’t need tissues after all. You were perfect.


    Superb blog, Skylark, and a great pleasure to read. I’ve wanted to go to the FoW for years, with it always a bit out of reach, but this year I really wanted to go for the sole reason of seeing your moment of triumph. (Not to mention hearing your words of wisdom). But there will be more such moments and I look forward to seeing them immensely.

    To those Denizens who don’t know Skylark’s writing, I urge you to seek out Home. It was on the old Word Cloud that I first became aware of what a fine writer Skylark was – she won the Autumn/Winter short story challenge (the ancestor of the new Den challenge A Room With A View, which you can still sign up to, by the way) with a heartrending story called How Wonderful You Are. I then read her story in the Stories for Homes anthology, A Home Without Moles, which also first introduced us to the astonishing voice of Jesika, and that cemented my opinion. (How Wonderful You Are appears in the second Stories for Homes antho, by the way). Skylark is proof that talent plus hard work can lead to success, and that good people can finish first.

    Bravo Skylark


    Oh, brilliant to hear how York was for you, Skylark! And I’m echoing Daeds when he says that you deserve it all, because you are one of the most generous writers I know. (That’s one thing we had oodles of on the cloud – those who were willing to step in and offer help and support to other writers, and I’m glad to see the ethos had carried through to the Den.)

    Gutted I missed it all, but was cheering you on from afar, and will continue to do so. xxx

    Julie Cordiner

    Lovely blog, Skylark and I did laugh at the train incident! Listening to you speak was a perfect end to a very enjoyable Festival. Like Janette, knowing that you were giving the keynote was the number one reason I decided to go for the fourth time in a row, despite the JW changes.
    You handled it brilliantly, with passion and clarity, and we could all see just how much the whole experience of being published meant to you, after such a long road. I’m fired up now to devote more time to my writing and be more productive. I might even join in the comps here now! xx


    Thank you, lovely people! Are you all trying to make me cry?!

    wish you’d been there too but we’ll certainly catch up another time and you’re not half bad at the encouragement yourself

    I laughed about the train once I was safely home! And thank you for not setting me off from the front row!

    same fears as me but it was great, wasn’t it?

    thank you! And I hope you got lots of other positives from the festival.

    A golden moment sitting up there with you – glad it wasn’t someone else xxxxxx

    seriously, I’m trying to hold it together here! Thank you for mentioning Stories for Homes – that’s where it all started πŸ™‚

    you’re very generous yourself! Thanks for all the encouragement over many years xx

    I laughed too, in the end! Thank you for all your encouragement and GO FOR IT!!
    Right, off to work now. Thanks everyone for giving me the best start to a Monday morning πŸ™‚

    Mad Iguana

    Well done Skylark. So delighted for you! Like everyone else, I wish I’d been there for your speech. But it’s great to see lovely people and wonderful writers getting the good stuff that they deserve, regardless of how long it takes.


    Skylark, I have no doubts you were splendid and inspiring, and I wish I’d been there to see you shine. Everyone who knew you there must have been bursting with vicarious pride. What a wonderful boost too, to have the chance to talk through book two with your ed – can’t wait to see where that one takes us. COngrat my lovely!


    Thanks for posting this, Skylark. I, too, was very sorry to miss your speech, but glad to hear about it and glad it all went well. You continue to be an inspiration to others of us who are taking a LONG time!


    Great blog, Skylark, and it’s so good to have seen your journey through the cloud and onto that stage (though I wasn’t there this year, you know what I mean). Long may it all continue! πŸ™‚ Laughed at the train incident though. I did something similar when I was about 18 or so and had a few shandies. Difference was this was an older train where the doors weren’t electric, but the ones with actual door handles where you lean out through the window to open them – and they do open, no matter what. Yep. I felt simultaneously lucky and mildly daft after that…

    • This reply was modified 3 years, 4 months ago by Jonathan.
    • This reply was modified 3 years, 4 months ago by Jonathan.

    It was great to be there, Skylark, and hear you tell your story. So inspiring. I bought Home at the end and you signed it for me. Just the perfect memory of York 2018. It was my first Festival of Writing, hoping for many more.


    Skylark, I wasn’t there to hear you speak, but felt that I was after reading your blog – you’ve obviously inspired so many and there is so much genuine delight at your success. Congratulations and well done you, and I’m so happy that this is happening for you πŸ™‚ I have only read Jessica’s story in Stories For Homes – where it really stood out for me, even back then – and I know I have a rare treat in store when I get to Home.


    Lovely to meet you, Anna. I hope you had a great festival! 😊😊
    Thank you, Kaz!

    Philippa East

    Mandy, it was so wonderful to see you up there. You spoke beautifully: so honest and with such heart. You were a complete credit to yourself and to Jessica.

    I brought a friend with me to the Festival, a fellow writer (Cynthia) from my local critique group. I have been encouraging her hard to pursue her writing dreams. I think for her, hearing about your journey hit home (in a good way) more than my words ever could. So thank you, on her behalf, too.


    Alan Rain

    My small local bookshop, not known for being innovative or adventurous, had put their single copy of ‘Home’ behind, yes behind, a row of Dan Browns.
    When I left the shop it was resting on top of them.


    Well done, that man! We LIKE outward facing books…especially when we know the author!


    @philippaeast Lovely to see you too! Was Cynthia the one I was chatting to with you? I’m pleased to have inspired her πŸ™‚

    Ha! Thank you very much, kind sir πŸ˜€

    Indeed we do!! πŸ˜€

    Philippa East

    Yes, that’s right!




    Coming in late as I’ve been plunged in post-York wip modifications.
    Mandy, you were brilliant, funny, natural, endearing, strong and gracious. Like many, I’ve followed your journey, but to hear it all, from the beginning to now, was just wonderful.
    Seeing so many of you at York really charged my batteries. There were definitely less cloudies this year than in the past few that I’ve been (Jericho miscommunication backlash, I imagine), but the warmth and good vibes were present.
    And seeing Mandy up there, keynoting, yeah!!!


    It was so lovely to catch up with you @giselle 😊😊 Thank you for cheering me on. Hope the edits are going well xx

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