Sunday, 10 November 2013

Blogfest 1

     I’m calling this BlogFest 1 because frankly, yesterday was so amazing and thought provoking that ideas are just spilling out of me to the point that I’ve had to start writing them down because I don’t want to forget anything, and I know I’ll be writing more about it soon.

     The absolute standout highlight for me was the afternoon session ‘Cracking yarns and tall tales: how to tell a better story’, chaired by Sarah Crown with a panel  that featured Lionel Shriver, AL Kennedy, Cassandra Parkin and Rosie Fiore. Four incredibly talented and diverse female writers who have a wealth of experience and knowledge that they shared with us, informatively and at times, hilariously.

     AL Kennedy said on the importance of writing a strong beginning to your work ‘What you’re doing is establishing trust between yourself and the reader. You’re saying ‘We’re going to start here. Come along with me (she mimed holding hands), it’s fine.’ Then gave a creepy, disturbing smile and raised eyebrow to the audience that made me howl.

     But mostly it was about finding your voice, about building a bond with your reader, about really caring about and believing in what you’re saying, what you want to express, in whatever form you are writing in – a novel, a blog, an email, even just a tweet. It’s about that connection that you are creating when (hopefully) someone reads your words. Words have power (as we saw demonstrated later on during the ‘Mummy Blogger vs Feminism’ debacle – short recap: Feminist said you can’t be a mummy blogger and a feminist, uproar, a panellist talked about a personal decision, more uproar, heckling from the audience, explanation from the stage, more uproar, surge of anger, more heckling,  Mumsnet break the glass and release the emergency Jo Brand).

     And then AL Kennedy absolutely nailed it. Talking about books, she made the point that ‘Your words might be company for someone in a very dark place, no matter how trivial they are.’ Then talking about totalitarian regimes, she went on ‘They burn books, not shoes, because shoes don’t save lives.’ And I wanted to jump up and down and scream ‘YES! That’s it, EXACTLY!’. When I tried to kill myself nearly four years ago, I was in the middle of reading ‘Saving Grace’ by Ciara Geraghty. And even as I shovelled pills down my gullet, I can remember feeling pissed off that I hadn’t finished reading it before my demise. Not because it’s an especially profound book, but because it was so well written I was head over heels in love with it, and wanted to know what happened next. Of course I didn’t die, and I finished reading the book, so there’s a happy ending right there.

     So of course, that got me thinking about writing (for a change). And why I write this blog. I said last week that writing is my therapy, that it’s a way of releasing whatever’s stuck in my head. It’s more than that though.

      Later in the day, I was chatting to bloggers who make money, serious money, from their blogs because they write reviews for various companies, they have adverts, they host content. I felt a bit awkward when they asked me why I don’t have adverts on here, because I didn’t want to seem as though I thought myself somehow superior for not doing so (I don’t, I just don’t want adverts on here). I just sort of mumbled something about not really writing stuff that would attract advertisers.

     And then I had a bit of an epiphany later on when I was chatting to a woman during a fag break.  She said she didn’t host adverts either, because she blogs in much the same way as I do. Then it hit me. This blog for me, is about readership. I just want to be read, to have my voice heard. To maybe make a difference to the way people think about things, or to develop conversation with people. I’m not writing this to make money. Other people are, and that’s great. One woman I spoke to is a single mum with a young child, and for her, blogging provides for the pair of them, she can do it from home, bring up her son, and make money from it. If you can do that, then why the hell not? And obviously if anyone does want to throw money at me, my paypal account is….

     But this is all about my words, finding people who want to read them, and hopefully us getting to know each other better. This has been an incredible year for me, all because of writing. There have been some really terrible low points in it, but the highs have made it worthwhile. And the biggest difference in it has been what Mumsnet Bloggers Network have done for me in terms of getting this out there, and read, and my voice heard. Not only that, but yesterday. Yesterday, bloody hell. Blogfest was beautiful, wonderful, empowering, infuriating, inspiring and completely surreal. To actually meet so many fellow bloggers and rejoice in the glory of blogging was pretty much transformational. But I do have one regret.

     At lunchtime, I was at the bottom of the stairs, on my way up to outside and a sneaky fag break. Coming down the stairs was Kate Williams, one of the Mumsnet Bloggers team, and an absolute star. We exchanged smiles (hers radiant and warming, mine shy and starstruck) and passed each other. I really wish I’d found the courage to thank her in person.  Because if I didn’t have this blog, if I didn’t have the marvellous tweeps, if the Mumsnet Bloggers hadn’t been such a brilliant support to me, then I would have missed out on blogfest. And I would have missed out on possibly the best day of my life*.

*Usual birth of children etc disclaimer applies.


Sam said...

Wow. Sounds amazing! Maybe one day I'll go to one of those too. Interesting to read about the different ways in which people view blogging. It occurs to me that (time allowing of course!) it would be possible to have more than one blog to fulfill different functions if necessary. For example I am currently devising a new blog - to be written completely anonymously - as I'm finding it increasingly frustrating not to be able to say certain things or restricted by the need not to offend, piss off, or just generally alienate certain people in my life. When I read blogs like yours and Lottie's I am inspired by the freedom you have to say what you need to say - its so much more like a journal of your true thoughts - so much more cathartic.
On the other hand you could also start a purely financially motivated blog in order to separate your creativity and expression of who you really are from a more business-oriented affair.
As I say this would, of course, involve time and maybe suck all other activities out of one's life! Hey ho!
Glad you enjoyed yourself and got inspired. X

Meeshie said...

Sounds like an amazing day. I'm glad you went. :)

I don't use adverts right now either. I plan on being open to the idea 'later' but only for things that I really believe in and that relate to what I'm doing (breast feeding, helping mothers, etc). Or.. maybe not. I like the freedom of just putting myself out there for now.

Lucy Benedict said...

Sam, I've been really naive, but LOADS of people manage to maintain more than one blog, which has stunned me, 'cos I never thought of it in that way. I'm not sure if I could manage it, because I like just throwing thoughts and meanderings out there to give a more complete version of me, but I am seriously impressed by people who can do it.

Meeshie, the freedom of blogging away on here has been incredibly important to me, and made such a difference to how I write. I don't feel like I could sacrifice that freedom. At least, not yet. If anyone wants to write me a very large cheque I may be persuaded to change my position.

Anonymous said...

Lucy, your blogging keeps me sane. Seriously. It also challenges me to think seriously about whether this is something I might aspire to do when I get my head out of its self pitying arse, which is where it has been stuck for a while. I am full of excuses as to why I don't write - most of which centre on being self-deprecating - but with today's technology, the chance of anonymity and the endless possibilities out there, I know I am just making excuses. I take my hat off to you for NOT making excuses and thank you - genuinely, sincerely - for sharing your words with me. xx

TalesofaTwinMum said...

It was great wasn't it? Shame we didn't get to meet up - there were so many people I wanted to say hello to but it was so busy. I'm gutted I missed the session you mentioned as I heard from everybody after that it was really inspiring. Words are powerful and so is blogging. Both for the writer and reader. Blogfest has introduced me to so many new blogs so I look forward to reading more of yours. xx

Lottie Lomas said...

I am SO GOING NEXT YEAR! Will you come with me?

Lucy Benedict said...

Anonymous - that's funny, because writing keeps me sane too ;-) although I appreciate it may not always seem like it.

I am evangelical about writing, whatever form that takes. I find it really does change the way my thoughts tend to brood over various things, and I think you should give serious consideration to giving it a go. It's the first post that's the hardest because you're putting yourself out there. But hardly anyone will read that, so you can give yourself the time and space you need to really find your voice and decide what it is you want to say.

And if you are who I think you might be, you are one of the best, brightest, warmest and kindest people I know. And you are not in the least self-pitying. You've kept me sane, and for that I thank you more than you will ever know.

Lucy Benedict said...

Tales... I only met about four people I intended to meet, but I must have spoken to at least 50 other people! It was a little bit overwhelming to begin with, but once I realised we were all in the same boat, I just chatted to anyone! My blog list now is insanely long, but the more I read, the more I write, so it's all good!

The writing session was so inspiring and it felt like these incredible writers were saying to us 'You're just like us too, we value your words just as much as you value ours.' It was in Hall One, so hopefully at least some of it got recorded. I'd happily listen to a podcast of it every day for the rest of my life.

Lucy Benedict said...

Lottie, if I have to drag you there next year, you're coming with me! I feel on such a high afterwards, even after mummy bloggergate. So many of us, quietly changing the world with words, and so many of us being inspired by incredible bloggers like you.

Sam said...

I'd love to say drag me too!! But I'm still trying to get my head round how so many 'mummy' bloggers managed to get away from their offspring to do so! Maybe the 15-month-old thing is the killer (separation anxiety lately too after I spent the night at my sister's in order to attend a training course for work in Caterham (I heard someone else from Surrey Police telling someone on the phone "I'm so far east my ears are bleeding"!) but I digress.

Lucy Benedict said...

I was lucky Sam - Alistair wasn't working on Saturday, my mum's staying with us at the moment and my children are 8 & 5, and their cousin was staying, so it was fairly easy! There was a newborn and a (possibly) 9mo in attendance at BlogFest.

But in twelve months time, your 15mo will be 27mo... Just saying.

(prepares the dragging mittens)

Sam said...

I'll have to do some research into the activities of a 27 month old because I can't remember what the four year old was up to back then! As long as it doesn't involve clinging to their mums' legs and wailing inconsolably when they leave the room (let alone the house!) then the dragging mittens may be deployed!

Lucy Benedict said...

I have honestly no idea what they were like at 27 months either. Were my kids ever 27 months? I don't think they were.

(admires just how impressive the dragging mittens are)

Sonya Cisco said...

I too loved the creative writing session. I am now on the hunt for a flat cap and some pink wellies so I can try and channel some of that genius. I found the day really inspirational, and can't wait to do it again next year!

Emma Bliss said...

Firstly, I am so pleased you got to finish that book!!!

AL Kennedy said lots of great things - the fact that it is the ultimate privilege to be in someones head - which you are a s a writer, was the bit that stood out most for me.

As for what your blog is for, I have been through that debate with myself several times, and I have started heaps of blogs for different purposes, but in the end I found its easier to just have one. I post all manner of stuff on it, but it's all relevant to me. People only have to read the bits they are interested in. Essentially I write it for me, but bizarrely other people read it too, and it makes me money sometimes, but I don't ever promote anything that compromises my morals or ethics.

It was great to meet you. hope to see you again at a future conference

and I am looking forward to your Blogfest 2 post