Hay Festival, London, and the Australia & New Zealand Festival!

So in the last few weeks I had the pleasure to fly into the United Kingdom for the Australia and New Zealand Literary Festival, held over the end of May to early June at King’s College in London. I spent two weeks in the UK and even managed to sneak on stage at Hay Festival in Wales to talk books.

Hay Festival

I was in London a few days before travelling across to Hay on the train. The countryside was amazing – so much green! It was about three and half hours, plus a half hour car ride, to get to the festival site. This was my first time at Hay Festival, both as a presenter and a visitor, and I have to say I’ll be heading back in future years. I could only spare the afternoon, for my event and signing, but some of the people they had on stage, like Stephen Fry and Jennifer Saunders, would have been worth seeing.

Here I am in a totally not staged action shot, reading in The Cube to an audience of a few hundred folk:


Hot, right?

I was worried I wouldn’t be able to fill the time, a whole hour, but we actually went over by about five minutes. The session contained a reading, some discussion on how I write stories, then some links to my fiction from the counterterrorism and security side of the fence. I spoke on border security and reading body language, which led to a whole lot of questions at the end—some even about the books!

The Hay Festival was an experience, despite how little time I managed to spend there, and after the presentation they gave me not only a white rose but a crate of red wine. It’s like we’ve been friends for years.


The train ride back to London was an experience. The rugby final in Cardiff had been the same afternoon, and the train back to Paddington was… busy. Heh. To say the least. In the space of an hour I went from rubbing shoulders in the green room with the likes of Stephen Fry, to being crammed into a ‘standing room only’ train. Rubbing shoulders, indeed. I ended up crammed into the toilet with four other blokes, all pissed out of their minds. If we’d had something to get into the crate of wine, those bottles wouldn’t have lasted ten minutes. Still, it was hilarious. If not for the festivals and the people I got to meet, 3 hours in the train toilet may have been the highlight of the trip. 😉


I had a few days in London after getting back from Hay before the opening night of the ANZ festival, so when I wasn’t working I went exploring. The hotel (Clarendon Grange in Bloomsbury) was within spitting distance of not only the British Museum, but an easy 10 minute walk down the Strand. Of the highest priority, I found the best bar in the area – which just so happened to be the Holborn Whippet. Oh they had 18 craft beers and ciders on tap. I’d try them all before I left a week later.


Also a damn decent kitchen – with currywurst and awesome, saucy pizza.

I met up with a friend for a few nights of drinking and exploring, and in between all that I scraped a few pages from the word mines, but nothing of real significance. I had all these plans to write down on the Thames, but alas for that.

Australia and New Zealand Festival for Literature and Arts

I had two events the weekend of the festival, both surrounding YA fiction. Well, three events, actually, as I also attended and did an hour’s talk at City of London School on the Monday, which went really well. I got to meet some fantastic people, authors, and artists. The opening night I had the privilege to listen to Tim Winton read from his new novel Eyrie and enjoy the open bar afterwards. You know me and open bars – often viewed as a challenge.

I won.

My events were on The Dark Side of Teen Fiction and Teen Fiction and the Land. My first event on the Sunday was just after lunch in an ornate council room at Kings College. Here I am with the panel:


In the teens vs. the land panel, I was in discussion with Geraldine McCaughrean, Lucy Christopher, and Anna Mackenzie. So I was feeling a little out of place, not only as the only bloke, but as to the quality of authors on either side. I was in good company.

I just recently finished reading Lucy Christoper’s book, Stolen, which was fantastic and absolutely nailed the desolate isolation of the Western Australian desert. Need to write up a review of that one, actually.

My second event for the day was around 4pm, and I was on a panel with the likes of Bruce Pascoe, Mandy Hager, and Nicole Hayes – we discussed the dark side of teen fiction, and writing about issues ranging from violence, to suicide, to mental illness, and so on. We were all in agreement that these issues are important within teen fiction and should be discussed. Here we all are:

Pascoe Dark Side

The City of London school visit was fun. I did a reading to a group of fourteen/fifteen year old school kids, in place of their daily English class. We talked counterterrorism and some of the finer points of how to turn words into a story. Believe it or not, they even had copies of The Reminiscent Exile series in the library – which marks the first time I’ve ever seen those books out in the wild. Rather exhilarating.


Also did a cheeky signing in the school bookshop:


And so ended my time in London and the U.K. Over too soon. My writing career has been on the rise for the last two years, and I’m going to keep running with my words and these events, until folk wise up and realise I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. Heh.

Back to the word mines,


On Keeping a Writing Log

One of the biggest problems I’ve found while playing this writing game is the actual writing bit. That is, sitting my ass down and blending some fine Irish word whisky. To that end, I’ve started keeping a writing log. A writing log, you say? What, oh you magnificent Shakespearean word smith, does this writing log entail? Well, I’ll tell you.

A spreadsheet.

Click to enlarge this bad boy

The real benefit, I’ve found, of doing this is I actually get to see the progress being made, day by day. Or lack of progress, as the case may be. Regardless, my word count churn out has increased significantly since I started keeping track of just what I’m accomplishing each day. This all comes back to another key I’ve found that unlocks my awesome and devastating writing ability–set a word count target, and stick to that word count target come hell or high water.

Plan to a point – then just start writing. The best, most well thought out plan in the world does not a novel make. I enjoy having written, I don’t so much enjoy the writing part. At least, not always, so have a solid target. Treat this like the work it is.

Commit to a daily word count based on your lifestyle/schedule. A 1,000 words a day is not unreasonable. If you have a solid enough plan, that could be hammered out in 30-60 minutes. Consider that at a 1,000 words a day, you’ll have an average sized novel in two months. That’s worth the commitment.

Or, if you can, 1,500 words a day. 2,000. Have a target, sit your ass down, and don’t get up until you’ve met that target. Hardest part about writing a novel is finishing the damn thing.

You won’t know if it’s worth your time until it’s done. What you produce may need scrapping. But it may not. Or some of those words may carry over into another, better story, which benefits from what you learned the first time.

You’ll make mistakes, we all do. But finish – don’t give up or switch projects. Finish. A bad finished novel is worth more to you than a dozen half-finished manuscripts.

And keep a log of your awesome progress.