5 things I learned at the Emerald Street Lit Fest - Janey Robinson

Janey Robinson

5 things I learned at the Emerald Street Lit Fest


Last month I attended the Emerald Street Literary Festival on a damp Saturday at the Royal Geographic Society in London. I’d pre-booked three sessions and brought my notebook for any writing opportunities. Here is what I have mulled over and taken away from the day.

There are always rules with writing.

It can be overwhelming, you write because you have to write. Then you seek to learn how to write better and each time come away with a new set of commandments until every notebook you own has “must do’s” from all sides of the publishing industry. The Faber Academy’s Richard Skinner shared his 5 tips for writers (see below) during his The Bare Bones of Stories workshop. They are a little elusive in that you have to think about each one to really decipher them. My new approach is to listen to any new rules, decide if they make sense and are of use to me, then move on, keep writing and stay focused.

There’s a lot more swearing.

Fifteen minutes into The Muse, The Miniaturist: Talking to Jessie Burton interview we were an overflowing handful of expletives down and I felt like a schoolgirl trying to suppress giggles. I was at a real adult event, with swearing. Most of the literary events I go to are focused on children’s literature they are a lot of fun, the speakers are real entertainers because they spend a lot of time visiting schools, libraries and bookshops whipping up groups of children into a creative imaginarium to promote reading and writing. But it is a distinctly PG affair. I enjoyed veering from the path for the day.

The only way to do it, is to do it.

All of the sessions, but particularly The Muse, The Miniaturist: Talking to Jessie Burton interview, reinforced a theme I’ve become more and more aware of; achieving your goals. Jessie Burton wanted to write a book, so she did, and she wanted to get it published, so she did. It sounds simple because it is. If you want to do anything in life the only way it is going to happen is by actually going and doing it. We spend so much time talking about what we’re going to do, it’s exhausting, and years go by and you’re still just talking about it. I like to have this concept reinforced, it motivates me to keep going and do more doing.

Never underestimate an armchair.

Between sessions you could chill out indoors at the pop up cafes – including an aperol spritz bar which had people enjoying orange cocktails at 11am – the pop up Waterstones bookshop, or the tent on the lawn. Adorned with rugs, coffee tables, sofas, tables, wooden chairs, armchairs and beautifully arranged flowers the tent was naturally where I found myself in between sessions. I was lucky to find an armchair to lounge in and that writing opportunity presented itself. I always find a busy environment works for me when I write. Getting up to leave I silently thanked the armchair for it’s reassuring hold of me.

Research and knowledge are king.

The final session I attended was a panel discussing What has the EU done for women? The panel was pro-remain – they couldn’t find a woman to represent the leave campaign, interestingly – and the majority of the audience were pro-remaining in the EU. Activist and author Caroline Criado-Perez was on the panel promoting the high standards the EU upholds for women’s rights and female empowerment. What impressed me most was that she had done her research, thoroughly, and had retained that knowledge accurately. I felt in awe of her ability to do both. In the aftermath of Brexit I hope fearless female campaigners like Caroline can help ensure women’s rights remain a priority.

I’d expect to see the festival back next year, hopefully it will be, the best way to stay tuned is to sign up to Emerald Street’s daily email. Until then I’ll be saving armchair inspiration on Pinterest, and staying focused, of course.

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