EVENT KNOWHOW Being an event chair

Whether your event is online or in person, an event chair can make a real difference to an event. KnowHow editor, Eleanor Pender, shares her first chairing experience. 

My first ever official chairing event was with Patrick Ness at the 2015 Edinburgh International Book Festival. In front of some 300 school children. So, no nerves there. 

I had admired Patrick Ness ever since I’d read Chaos Walking, he is such a good writer. Would it have been easier if I chaired an event with an author I did not know so well? Maybe, maybe not. But this was my first time flip-flopping between all the questions I might ask as a writer, a reader, a fan of his work. I realised that the simplest way to approach it was to think about the story he was telling, the reasons why he had chosen to share this story and to bring it back to his work and his journey as a writer. 

The event itself was for The Rest of Us Just Live Here, a funny heartfelt novel about a group of friends living in a small American town that is oddly besieged by zombies, magical creatures or other odd events but soldier on through it all. Imagine living in Sunnydale but not being in the Scooby gang with Buffy and her friends. The Rest of Us Just Live Here is a story about how everyone else survives. Naturally, there was so much to talk about! 

I wanted all of my ducks in a row before the event. I read the book and had themes and ideas mapped out. The festival let me know I would meet Patrick onsite in the hour before the event. At the time, this was nerve-wracking – only just before the event! But Patrick was happy with my ideas, and we covered what he wanted to add and what the students were likely to ask about as well. 

The event went off without a hitch. My notes kept me on track, and I was struck but how much it felt like a really good conversation about the book and his writing process - though I won't lie, I was nervous! The audience asked some great questions, and we could almost certainly have carried on well beyond our allotted time. 

Over the last six years, I’ve gone on to chair events at festivals, conventions and in bookshops across the country, and of course, online. I’ve had the great pleasure of meeting so many wonderful writers, and even made some good friends. And for me, this is what chairing comes back to, it is a friendly conversation with a writer, and the audience happens to be listening in! I see my role as the chair is as a guide, helping readers hear that bit more about the characters and the worlds they have fallen in love with -and to help guide writers through all of the audience questions! 

Main Image of Edinburgh International Book Festival by Eleanor Pender

Do you have any suggestions for KnowHow? If there's something you'd like to know how to do or know more about, tell us. Email KnowHow editor, Eleanor at knowhow@britishscbwi.org

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