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  • Writer's pictureKerry

Fruit Salad (a Spring/Summer round up of Book Festivals)

I spend a long time on my own, squirreling away in my front room of dreams, working on new artwork and story ideas. So when the opportunity pops up to get out and about amongst actual people, I tend to grab it with both hands.

One of the results of working on my own means that I've come to rely a bit on the world of social media for connection. Over breakfast and lunch, I spend some time scrolling through Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and now Threads. This was how I discovered the Belper Children's Book and Art Festival - a local town hosting something that felt like I needed to be part of, back at the beginning of May. It was only their second year of running and was organised by Jo, Editor of Boom Magazine, which is a free publication for families wanting to find out about local events. I contacted Jo inquiring about potentially getting involved next year (I had seen the advert on Instagram pretty late), and to my delight she said there was space for this year's event if I could bring my own table, chairs and art activities.

My lovely parents happened to have a spare table and camping chairs, which did the job perfectly! The festival was held in a gorgeous space in front of the library. It looked newly developed and was in a square shape, so all the gazebos were set up to face each other and create a space in the middle. My little stall was next to Helen, who hand sews little felt characters and nursery rhyme books to encourage interaction in storytelling - perfect! However, as soon as I was set up, I realised my table was rather small compared to everybody else's and without the all-singing-all-dancing banners that other stalls had, I was concerned I would be too hidden for people to discover me. Luckily people seemed to find me (I guess the location next to the car park helped) and it was a surprisingly successful day.

It was a real mix of people buying greetings cards as well as my books, but the big hit on the day was my "Lucky Dip" cards for a £1. The whole event had a real school fete vibe to it - lots of children racing around, lots of parents and teachers from local schools attending, so I was pleased that my last-minute idea for the surprise Lucky Dip card had worked.

Whenever I do an in-person event, I always make sure that my products are a special offer price. I think if people have made that special effort to attend in the first place, it's a nice reward knowing that they can buy something for the best price available. A few friends and family members came to support me, which always genuinely means so much. It can really lift your mood if the day starts to slow down.

This was my first outdoor event ever, so aside from all the usual anxieties (Will anybody come? Will anybody buy my stuff? Will the card reader work? etc), I had the added bonus worry of "What will the weather be like?"

It turns out that it was one of the first warm sunny days that we'd had. There was a cool breeze every now and then, but not enough to send my stock flying off the table. I felt slightly settled knowing that I would be under a gazebo, but the panic about the weather is ever present.

I was asked to bring a free activity for children to take part in, so my trusty "cake activity sheets" came in handy once again. I am starting to think that I need a new activity for these events, but children do seem to love creating their own imaginary greatest cakes, and it's always a good talking point for breaking the ice by starting the conversation about my book, The Greatest Cake.

I always love seeing how different the drawings are; no two cake designs are ever the same. I have said this so many times before, but I often feel so inspired when watching kids just come up with an amazing design on the spot in the space of about five minutes.

Only a couple of short weeks later was the Spring/Summer edition of the Derby Book Festival, held once again at Derby's Museum of Making. Following the success of last year's Autumn/Winter Book Festival, I really wanted to take part in this event. This time the table and chairs were provided and it was inside, so no need for the weather panic.

It was great to see some familiar faces and also meet some new people. What I love about Derby's Book Festival is that there is a huge variety of different stalls offering varied book related gifts. This time I was next to the lovely Gila who is an online Pilates instructor. She had recently published her own book, a Pilates journal, to help encourage people to stay motivated, flexible and healthy.

One of the joys of social media is connecting with like-minded people and when you get to meet them in real life, it feels like there might actually be a point to all that scrolling after all! Twitter is how I first connected with local children's poet, Attie Lime. She simply turned up on the day and we had a great chat about the life of an independent children's book author/poet. I feel like we could have talked much longer, and I am sure we will meet up again in future.

Overall this event was an extremely quiet day compared to the Autumn/Winter 22 event. Coupled with the fact that my card reader played up a few times, it made for a bit of a disappointing day sales-wise. Generally the Spring/Summer event seems to be a quiet affair, lots of factors probably contributed: it was a nice day, lots of other nearby outdoor events were held on the same day and it was at the very beginning of the Book Festival, so maybe people weren't aware that it had started.

However, greetings card sold quite well along with the books, and I had a lovely day meeting all kinds of people. These events tend to bring out the quieter types of people who maybe aren't shouting about their work quite so much on the socials, and it makes you realise that we are all just trying to get by, doing the things we love.

When you're having one of those slower days at an event, it's amazing what a boost it can be for a random stranger to come and give you some attention! The delightful Charlotte Lunn (another local poet I later discovered), came over to my stall with the words, "You're THE Kerry Dilks?", which naturally made me laugh, but above all SEEN! Lovely Charlotte had already seen my books and exhibition at Erewash Museum, so she was familiar with my work. I am now following her career with interest too and I am sure we will cross paths again.

The final festival that I was part of was the Wollaton Arts Festival, held on Sunday 9th July at the stunning Wollaton Park. I was asked if I would like to join in through some friends who attended the Belper Children's Book Festival, and because of the glorious setting, I quite fancied spending the day there. Again, this is a festival in its infancy, so I really had no expectations. I liked the idea of being surrounded by nature (and as it turns out, rabbit poo), forgetting my fears of being outdoors at the mercy of the unpredictable British weather. Plus it was a nice change to be part of the Nottingham creative community.

This time I had to provide everything: my own gazebo, tables, chairs and free arts activity, so I enlisted the help of my parents! Somehow we managed to squeeze everything into my Dad's car, and once we had cleared away a few rabbit droppings, we were ready to start setting up. Once Dad had set up his gazebo, he spent a good portion of the morning fixing my broken easel. Mum was on bunting duty and kept us all fueled with her excellent picnic. I minced about with my stock displays and created a cushioned area for families to come and (yes, you guessed it) draw their own Greatest Cake!

It was probably the best my stall has ever looked and I couldn't have done it on my own. I'm always trying to promote the idea of shopping with small independent businesses on the socials, so it was no different here! I used all my Holly Tucker posters, which just happened to match my pink glitter bunting perfectly.

The Wollaton Arts Festival was a beautiful sunny day full of music and creativity. We were situated opposite the stage, with a big grassy area directly in front of us. When things were quiet we were able to watch the performers. Loads of talented musicians, dancers, theatrical performers, poets, singers, choirs...all from different cultures and walks of life. It felt like a real celebration of local arts and I was so proud to be a small part of that. I was generally kept quite busy, helping children to colour in their cake designs, and once again the Lucky Dip cards were a big hit.

Each of these events take a long time to prepare for, and I couldn't do them without the help of my family. I can't thank them enough for their constant support. I am aware that I take up a lot of their free time to drag them to these places! However, I think they agree that we always have fun and therefore they are always worth doing. For me, it forces me to join the "real world" and actually have human interaction. When you combine that with anything arty or creative, I can't imagine a better way to spend a day.

Oh, and if you're wondering what the "Fruit Salad" in the title is referring to, that is the reference to the fact that I seem to have dressed as the retro sweet all Summer! Thanks for reading. xx

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