Picture the scene – a genteel English country garden, a vintage van selling chilled prosecco, a bunting decked barn and a marquee full of what my husband would call “highbrow Guardian-reading types” listening to a talk by an author on the importance of owls whilst my 6 year old and his new best friend thrash around on the floor, technically outside the marquee but most definitely within earshot of all involved, having a vigorous wrestling match. Occasionally, one of them will punctuate the muffled grunting by yelling ‘oh my buttcheeks!’. Marvellous. My friend Sally and I watch in silent horror, wonder at what point we could slink off and leave, pretending they are nothing to do with us. The alternative is to further interrupt the talk by yelling their actual names, thus claiming ownership of this feral behaviour, and we’re not sure which is worse.
The litfest in question was the Wealden Literary Festival which I went to because I won third prize in the writing competition this year (read the piece here). I was pretty pleased to get the chance to chat to the organisers at the event and confirm that there were actually more than 3 entries, which was the first question my mum asked upon hearing about my win. Thanks mum.
Having talked my prize up from ‘entry to one of the talks’ to ‘entry to the entire festival thanks very much’ I was excited to see what a literary festival was all about. (Books, I presumed, but I was once wrong about something in 2009 so it was possible I might have been surprised, but no. Books it was.) The festival was billed as a celebration of all things natural, the world and our place in it. This was apt, as I was beginning to question whether my children should have a place in it, after the third hour of telling them to be quiet.
Anyway, I digress.
What I really wanted to write about is the fortuitous connections we make, and how you just never know where things will lead. This was one of the reasons I was really keen to go and see what the litfest was all about, even though, as my husband was away that weekend it would mean taking my children and parenting solo. The festival was in Kent, which is a part of the world where I know no-one, have never been, and to get to for the weekend involves navigating my way round the M25 on a friday at rush hour. Fun.
With nowhere to stay, the prospect of a 4 hour car journey alone with 2 kids, and let’s face it, the reality of their inevitable boredom at such an event, it would have been so much easier not to go. The only way I thought it could do it without killing everyone would be to have adult backup, so I made a mental list of friends who might be interested in coming, one of whom was Sally.
Now Sally and I have met precisely twice. The first time was at a bloggers party hosted as we both wrote for Essentials Magazine about two years ago. The second time was when I invited myself to drop in to her house for tea on the way back from a family trip to Norfolk. We’d kept in touch on whatsapp and I felt like I knew her probably better than I actually did because I have no sense of social etiquette but luckily it turned out fine.
It was a pretty long shot that she might come to the litfest, as Norfolk to Kent is probably just as bad as my journey, but in the spirit of boldness I asked her anyway. Because I like her. She is cool, and I thought it might be up her street. What I didn’t expect was for her to reply to my text ten minutes later saying that she’d checked with her mum who lives in kent and we could all go and stay with her parents, kids and all. Result.
The long version of this goes on about how it could have been really weird to turn up to stay with the parents of someone I barely knew and stay for the weekend, but it couldn’t have been further from the truth – we were made so welcome, and had the best weekend. The shorter point is that actually as adults, we can get stuck in a rut doing the same things with the same people. How often have you met someone and thought – this person is ace! I’d like to get to know them! but then taken things no further because you don’t want to feel like some stalkerish billy-no-mates weirdo?
I concede it’s possible that that is EXACTLY how I came across to Sal, but I put those feelings aside and asked, and we actually had a brilliant time. Adult friendships can be hard to navigate, but one of the things I’ve resolved is to just be straightforward about spending time with people I like, with people who ‘get it’, and forcing myself to make the extra effort to take the opportunities which are presented to me.
Yes, taking the kids to a literary festival is probably not something I will do again in a hurry, but what this less-than-perfect scenario afforded me was the chance to meet in person with an author I really admire. To chat to people who work in an industry I want to understand. To follow things up on email, and receive incredible, first hand advice on my next steps, and for that I am so grateful.
We don’t make progress by standing still – you have to CHOOSE to act. Choose to take a risk and get to know people. Go to the things that are logistically a pain in the ass. The only way your life will change is if you yourself make it happen, and often, that will be by taking a path which looks nothing like where you think you should be going.
Yes, I got stuck on the M25. I forgot to pay my Dartford crossing toll and am probably heading for an astronomical fine. I heard precisely zero talks at the literary festival 200 miles from my house. But on the other hand, I cemented a friendship. I made connections with people, and discovered a part of the world I’d never seen before, and on balance I know which of these in the long term are the things which matter.
Sally, my brand new bestie, writes a brilliant and very, very funny blog called Wife of a Wig Wearer which you would not regret reading, and following. She is genuinely one of the funniest people I’ve met, and her blog is nothing short of brilliant. Go read it now. Go on, off you go. (dislaimer: no wigs, obvs.)
If you fancy going the Wealden Literary Festival next year, find out what they’re all about on their website here.
The author I met was the brilliant Katherine May, whose book The Electricity of Every Living Thing has the best cover I’ve ever seen. I can wholeheartedly recommend it.
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