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Our Maiden BookSlam Voyage

Last Thursday, Chipping Norton's Winebear was erupting with laughter and writerly support, as we held our very first BookSlam, or Pop-up Literary Festival (#PLitFest to some).

Our authors read from their work, and were met with a warm reception and plenty of encouragement. The atmosphere in the room was one of goodwill, cheer and uplifting positivity, as many members of the family met for the first time in the flesh, having previously only interacted online. It was very special to witness writers come together and build each other up in such a familiar way. I don't think they'd mind me saying that they got on like a house on fire. The abundance of gin may have helped, too.

The audience was delighted by a rich assortment of readings: some powerful and stirring, others light-hearted and marvellously witty. All shared something personal about the writer, and reached out in vulnerability to connect with listeners. I think this is what made the evening so deeply enjoyable. The community was alive with raucous laughter over many a joke shared, but there was an underlying sense of honesty, of each writer coming as they are and offering their perspective.

This feeling might not come across in the photos, but I hope you get a glimpse of what a lovely evening this was.

The line-up featured eight of our talented WZ writers.

Risaria Langley kicked the whole thing off with an enlightening, empowering speech, and taught us how visualising ourselves in a place we are totally comfortable can do wonders for our drive, confidence and happiness. True inspiration, we learnt, does not come from fear but a different kind of positive, practised motivation.

Next up was Tony Judge, reading from a printed copy of his novel Sirocco Express. This was a hard-hitting performance, as the book narrates one man's story through the dark world of human trafficking and smuggling. The dark, twisting narrative evokes the ever-present dangers Adebayo faces on his journey.

When the thunderous applause for Tony had died down, Robert Cole stepped up to the mic to read from his poetry collection, London Poems. His selection delighted with intense urban imagery, with some emotionally gripping turns, clever phrasing and perceptive observations along the way.

After an intermission, filled with sausage rolls and chorizo, WZ editor Martin Baker read a rather racy extract from his novel Version 13, which had everyone alternately blushing and roaring with enthralled laughter.

Gary Farmer then charmed us all with his moving anecdotes and self-effacing humour. He read from his memoirs Hopping Around the World.

Our penultimate scheduled reader was Alan Monte, reading from his mysterious novel The Sands. He took us deep into digging up the past and the world of dark family secrets.

Finally, Deborah Hadfield blew everyone away with her saucy story of passion, Crossroad Angels. Who knew texting could be so titillating?

Just before we wrapped up the evening, Andy Isaac hopped up to the mic for a surprise, largely unprepared (I believe) speech about the importance of being yourself in one's writing. Takeaway quote: 'You don't need to be 'somebody', you just have to be YOU.'

To round off, our director Paul English spoke about family, encouragement, and not underestimating the power of telling one's stories. This was, indeed, a night to remember.

The whole time, of course, our dedicated social media team were going mad on Twitter and broadcasting each reading to live audiences on Facebook Live, with hopefully not too shaky a hand. The videos are all on our Facebook page, if you want to catch up on the action and excitement.

Plans are already in the making for the next Wet Zebra literary event, so don't worry if you couldn't make it to Chipping Norton. We will be announcing a date very soon for our next Book Slam, which will feature the same spirit but in a different geographical location.

The WZ family is looking forward to new voyages, and growing in friendship and numbers. These events are great opportunities to get stuck in, enjoy some food, drink and excellent company, and take part in the sharing of stories.