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Making Book Festivals Work for You by Jack Byrne

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Jack Byrne

Jack Byrne

All writers want their work to be read, but how to reach those elusive readers?

Well, one way is to get yourself out there. This requires stepping out from behind the keyboard and reaching out to other writers and then to literary festival organisers. Even if you have an agent and a regular publisher you can’t assume that they will do this for you.

Surprisingly, you don’t need to be an international bestseller for this to work, although that would obviously help. If you have self published or just released your debut through an indie publisher you can still find a way to appear in front of real people.

What you do need is confidence, perseverance and an idea. Most festivals like to host ‘events’, not you telling everyone how great your book is. One of my first festivals was Liverpool Irish Festival. My books are crime mysteries set within the Liverpool Irish community. In Under The Bridge a body is discovered on a building site near the docks. A story of crime, murder and police corruption emerges as we follow two emigrants from Wicklow to Liverpool from the 1950’s through to the 2000s. So I contacted a historian Greg Queiry, author of In Hardship and Hope a history of the Irish in Liverpool, and together we presented an ‘event’. ‘The history of the Irish in Liverpool, in Fact and Fiction.’

Across the WaterMy second novel is set in Liverpool and Wicklow. I had the idea of inviting Paddy Osborne to join me, Paddy is the author of Baxter’s Boys set in Dublin, with a leading Scouse character. So my idea was, ‘Writing Across Borders’ to explore my Liverpool Irish characters, and Paddy’s Dublin based Scouse football manager. Paddy then suggested we invite Jane Buckley a writer originally from Derry, who after a long time abroad was now back in her home region.

All good, except that what started as a cultural exchange, between Liverpool and Dublin, now had to deal with the immediate and historic political situation. The day we were having the online panel event Boris Johnson was in Belfast trying to stitch together his coalition of reactionaries. He had marched the D and T UPs to the top of the protocol hill and marched them back down again, ‘over my dead body’ he announced about checks in the Irish sea, the checks were not over his dead body and the ‘oven-ready Brexit deal’, turned out to be dangerously undercooked.

So how do we talk about writing and borders in this situation? In preparation for the event, ideas were spinning around in my head, borders can be legal, geographic, cultural, or political, they can be imposed by the straight line of imperialism as in Africa or The Middle East, or they can be demanded by national struggles for self-determination.

The phrase that allowed me to gain some kind of perspective was Everything or Nothing, in British Irish relations, the borders meant everything and nothing.

Nothing for my parents and the tens of thousands of migrants who came from Ireland over the decades and hundreds of thousands over the centuries, no immigration process, no passports, my grandfather came in through Garston Dock and went out to his death in the channel in the final days of WW2. The ebb and flow in the Irish sea were of people to and fro, unencumbered by borders.

Everything if you were nationalist in The North where your life and many deaths were defined by opposition to the border. A border imposed as a denial of the self-determination of the Irish people, as expressed in the 1918 general election where Sinn Fein won an overwhelming majority. As a loyalist, the border was the backbone of your identity without which the state and your world would collapse.

It is within space between everything and nothing that we could discuss how our characters experience the world, in a way to open the audience to our work as writers.

The key is to engage with other writers, find out what you share, genre, location, theme, history, or how you diverge and see the same things from different angles. Confluence and contrast are the basis for all our discussions, find this with your peers. Tie this in with current trends, and bingo. You have the basis for your own festival appearance.

Then of course, you have to do the legwork of contacting all the Festivals you can find with your idea.  But, trust me, it’s worth the effort, to find and meet readers after all that is what we are here for isn’t it?  Of course you can wait until you become a best seller and the stage is yours alone. Until then the key to success, one reader at a time, is peer to peer cooperation.

‘Writing Across Borders’ has been scheduled for the Wild Atlantic Words festival in Dingle in the Autumn. If you would like to host this event at your festival contact jack.byrne.writer@gmail.com

My new novel Across The Water published by Northodox Press is available here.

(c) Jack Byrne

About Across The Water: 

Following the events of Under the Bridge, Vinny and Anne travel to Ireland in search of Vinny’s father, Paddy, who mysteriously disappeared not long after returning to his homeland in 1974.

We piece Paddy’s story together as he returns to Wicklow to lie low after a killing in Liverpool. DI Barlow of Special Branch wants to use him to disrupt an IRA gun route. Facing danger on every side he struggles to fit in. A devastating experience in Dublin forces him to reevaluate his life and seek a better future.

A story of emigration and return in three narratives that span recent history in Ireland and the UK.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

I was born and raised in Speke Liverpool, (Paul McCartney lived in the street behind us for a while) although my parents first lived ‘Under The Bridge’ in Garston, and all my family goes back to Wicklow in Ireland.

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