Next weekend is the event known in crime writing circles as ‘Harrogate’. Whenever crime writers meet the question that almost always come up is ‘Are you doing Harrogate?’. For non-crime writers this means the Theakstons Crime Writing Festival, which takes place in Harrogate, in The Swan Hotel (where Agatha Christie was discovered after going missing).
Events are a great place to attend panels and seminar, catch up with old friends, and also make new ones. However, an event as big as Harrogate can be really intimidating. There are a lot of people and a lot of things going and this can be a little overwhelming. These events are not cheap and it’s important to make the most of the time you have.
Over the years I’ve picked up a few tips along the way:
- Set some goals – I don’t necessarily do this with Harrogate, but ask yourself why you’re going. What is it that you want to get out of it, who do you want to meet, what panels do you want to attend? For example, I’m desperate to meet Ann Cleeves, author of the Vera and Shetland books, and so I’ll be attending her panel. I’ll also be rushing to the book signing tent afterwards to get her autograph!
- Do your research – find out what the event will be like. Are there panels or seminars you need to book tickets for? Make sure you book them in advance so you don’t miss out.
- Pre-event prep – make sure you’ve got everything you need, whether that’s a notebook and pen, business cards or a water bottle to carry around with you.
- Find out who else is going – there will be a big crowd at an event like Harrogate and it will seem really intimidating when you first arrive. Find out if anyone you know is going and arrange somewhere to meet up so you don’t just end up wandering about looking lost.
- Make the most of your contacts – if there is someone specific you want to meet, ask around your friendship group and see whether they know that person. A personal introduction is much easier than just trying to walk up to someone and start talking.
- Eating and drinking – there aren’t organised meal times at events like Harrogate. Panels go on all day and it’s for attendees to sort themselves out. Make sure you allow time between panels to get food, and most importantly know where food can be found near to the event venue. Food available may be expensive and queues can be long if everyone has the same idea.
- Carry a spare bag every day – this gives you somewhere to keep any freebies you pick up. When I arrived at Harrogate last year I was immediately given a fabric tote bag stuffed with free books. Once I’d been back to my hotel to drop off the books, I made sure I carried the bag everywhere with me to keep my hands free.
- Schedule in some quiet ‘me’ time – last year was my first ‘Harrogate’ and I bought a Weekend Rover. It was expensive and I didn’t want to miss a single thing. But with a weekend-long event, you need to pace yourself. I’m planning to attend fewer panels this year, which will give me time in between to take some time out. Make sure you have time to head back to your hotel if you need a proper break.
So there you go, those are my top tips. I will end with one more. If, like me, you’re a bit shy, don’t worry about it. Instead of standing there checking your phone while you’re waiting in the queue for a panel, talk to the person next to you. You may find someone interesting to talk you, or someone who feels as awkward as you do. And if you spot a writer, even a famous one, just go over and say hi. They’re not scary and they won’t bite. At least, I don’t think they will!
Have fun at whatever event you’re attending. And, if you’re at Harrogate at the weekend and you see me standing about looking lost, pop over and say hi. I’ll be delighted to have a chat!
Do you have any other tips for attending an event? I’d like to hear them.