Friday, July 08, 2011

In Conversation: Lucy Coats and Nicola Morgan

Click on the photo to be taken to the Offical ABBAlitfest Site

This weekend is the stupendously cool Awfully Big Blog Adventure Literary Festival.  What makes it superb is: it's an online festival.  Which instantly makes it accessible to anyone who has internet access, which translates into an international festival the likes I've never seen.

Like many other aspiring writers and a big fan of various authors, I have never actually had the chance to attend a  literary festival.   I know, I have no one but myself to blame but as I was chatting to Lucy about doing something for ABBA to help promote the LitFest, she suggested (in this calm way of hers): how about talking about the importance of literary festivals but not just actual ones but also online ones, like we will be having this weekend?

I could have hugged her.  Yes! I wanted to know all about this.

So, she grabbed the Crabbit aka Nicola Morgan and wrestled her into doing a Q&A and this is the result:


Nicola Morgan eats, drinks and talks with Lucy Coats about the wonderful online literature festival organised by the Awfully Big Blog Adventure this weekend - 9th and 10th July. It’s going to be exciting, fun and fascinating. And hectic!

Hello, Liz, and thank you for inviting us to come and talk about the first ever online lit festival organised by children’s authors! Lucy Coats is hugely busy with her role as Publicity Campaign Director, so we decided that I (Nicola) would write up our thoughts. Lucy, along with Sam Mills, Penny Dolan, Ellen Renner and John Dougherty, is one of the driving forces behind the whole festival. I’m not – I’m a mere contributor, and eater of chocolate fondue. But that was Lucy’s fault.

We made the enormous sacrifice of meeting for lunch in the glorious surroundings of the Court Restaurant at the British Museum in London. So, over a glass of dry white wine and some delicious food, I picked her brain about the festival and we discussed how online stuff, counter-intuitively, makes us more connected to real people.

I asked Lucy about the aims for the festival. “I see it as reaching out to an even wider audience,” she said. “The ABBA blog is full of fabulous content and has become a really strong community, making wonderful links between writers and readers, but with the third birthday of the blog it seemed time to do something different, something to make a big splash, something to celebrate and shout a bit, and get even more people involved. We children’s writers are very proud of what we do, and we want people to see that.”

Lucy has seen the blog’s stats rocket since the announcement of the festival went out a couple of weeks ago, so something’s working already. There’s been masses of press interest and all of it positive—there’s been coverage by The Bookseller, Reading Zone and Mslexia, as well as approaches from The Sunday Times and the Guardian. ABBAlitfest has even been mentioned in papers as far away as the Dallas Morning News (USA), as well as on countless snippets, author interviews and general chat on blogs, Twitter and Facebook. The ambition over the festival weekend is to get #ABBAlitfest trending on Twitter!

Lucy and I decided to focus our chat on why there was a need for an online festival when there are so many actual ones, such as Cheltenham, Edinburgh and Hay. Some people might think we should all spend less time online and get out more, meet real readers. Well, frankly, Lucy and I could talk for Britain on the subject of the value and advantages of online activity and how ungeeky and actually human it is, but at this point the waiter arrived with this…

Whereupon, frankly, it all became a bit messy. So, what you will now get is not so much a conversation as a list, and you could imagine the bullet points as the unavoidable chocolate splodges at the corners of our mouths. (Note to self: if you want to look elegant, do not talk while eating chocolate fondue. This also explains why there are no pics of me and Lucy.)

• One might think that online activity takes us further from our readers, that it becomes impersonal. But actually it allows us to connect with far more readers, in far more countries. Those readers are less inhibited than if they had to pluck up courage to come and talk to us, and we end up often in lovely conversations by email or on blogs or Twitter.
• Once we’ve struck up relationships via the internet, whether with readers, fellow-writers, editors, journalists, book bloggers, librarians or booksellers, we often find ways of meeting in real life, too. Both Lucy and I have met countless people after getting to know them online. Most authors would say the same.
• Similarly, those online conversations have often led to new writing opportunities for both of us. So, not just enjoyable, but useful – a real way of opening doors to unpredictable possibilities.
• After the rise (and, apparently, wane?) of book groups, an online litfest seems like the next big step, bringing forums for discussion and opportunities for writers and readers to engage as fully as they wish.
• Sometimes, it feels as though physical literature festivals have a certain demographic but online is fully open to all, whatever class, income, ability, background. Basically, if you know about it and can access a computer, you are our guests and equally welcome.
• It’s green! Lucy was very keen that this festival should be green – so, no travelling, no expensive electricity generators for the marquees, no printing of brochures. OK, so there was some carbon footprint to the production of our meal…
• It doesn’t matter if you’re late or even if you’re away that weekend – all the blogposts from the online festival will go into a separate bit of the blog, easily accessible forever.
 All of which seems like a mass of very good reasons for doing it. We hope you will all pop by and see what’s happening – something different every half hour through each day.

Oh, and one other thing – when you join us at the weekend, Lucy and I and all the other ABBA bloggers will be there but you will never know whether we have chocolate on our mouths. We (and you?) might not even have got dressed. How’s that for an advantage to an online festival?

Lucy Coats is the author of the highly-acclaimed Atticus the Storyteller’s 100 Greek Myths and many other books for children of all ages. She tweets too much at @lucycoats and is currently wearing a fetching ABBAlitfest Publicity Campaign Director’s Hat.

Nicola Morgan is an award-winning and best-selling writer, mostly for teenagers. She is also founder of Help! I Need a Publisher! and the author of the new best-seller, Write to be Published. She also tweets too much, at @nicolamorgan.


Lucy Coats said...

Thanks for having us, Liz. Much appreciated. :-) And let's hope everyone enjoys tomorrow as much as you're planning to!

Nicola Morgan said...


Nicola Morgan said...

Mmmm, chocolate. Gargrgrgrglenom