Looking back at a year of The Riff Raff
One year ago, Amy and I were in the pub, having a glass of wine. OK, a bottle.
Fine, two bottles.
"Wouldn't it be awesome," she said, "if there was somewhere you could go when your first book comes out, where you could promote your work and meet other authors."
Everything she said struck a chord. When my first book, Confessions of a Tinderella, came out three years ago, I didn't know any other writers. I was shocked that I was able to legitimately call myself a writer. And I had f*ck all ideas about how or where to promote my book beyond where my publicist directed me.
If writing the book had been lonely at times, its birth into the world was even more isolating.
I swallowed my wine, looked Amy dead in the eye and said: "By jove, let's do it." Or something like that, my memory is hazy.
First, we needed a name: something fun, something about writing and something that reflected where we saw ourselves. We were outliers, a scrappy start up that offered safe harbour for all writers and bridged the gap between the experience of manically typing at home in your pjs and the juggernaut publishing industry.
It took us about 40 minutes. It involved a thesaurus. I think there was more wine. But as soon as we hit upon The Riff Raff, it stuck. And no, we do not rap.
We hit Twitter, built a website and set a date for our inaugural event; now we just needed some authors.
Our first stroke of luck was to be invited to the Bloomsbury offices by publicist extraordinare Philippa Cotton and we figured that if Bloomsbury were taking a punt on us, we must be doing something right.
In the end, we couldn't quite believe the calibre of our final line up: Vanessa Potter, Helen McClory, Fran Cooper, Paul M.M. Cooper and one Amy Baker, who's book Miss-adventures: A Tale of Ignoring Life Advice While Backpacking Around South America had come out the month before.
The event was a riot. Our authors read and discussed their writing journey with poise and insight and our (packed out) audience listened and responded with equal aplomb. Our authors sold copies of their books. We all drank too much wine. We had a format that worked and a growing audience on social media, so we knew that we were filling a debut-author-shaped hole in the market. More than that, we'd created a community that we would have wanted to join as novice authors ourselves.
Our events have continued to be the cornerstone of The Riff Raff. So many highlights spring to mind: Vanessa talking movingly about losing, then regaining her sight. Lauren Berry giving a powerpoint presentation, and Simon James Green bringing the house down. Charlotte Bowyer, our youngest ever Riff Raff author at just 17, talking with the insight of a writer twice her age. Welcoming Libby Page, first as an audience member and then as a debut author. Our Halloween special and our Christmas get-together, both a triumph.
Our events are a source of advice and inspiration and a cosy, friendly meeting place for writers at every stage of their career. I have learnt so much myself, not just about how to write but what sort of writer I am, and the type of writer I want to be. Every month, I listen to our authors in awe but the takeaway is always the same: you have a voice and you deserve to have it heard.
If that all sounds terribly worthy, I should add that The Riff Raff events are also a wallop of joy across the chops. One of the things Amy and I wanted most was to make our event fun and sweet Mary Jane, we've done that with bells on.
Maybe it's something about our venue at Effra Social, which looks like a cross between a working man's club and your nan's living room, or maybe it's the friendly and helpful staff that work there. Most likely, it's down to you, our audience, who come back month on month and make the whole thing a blast. Thank you.
In the 12 months since launching, we have interviewed over 70 authors, held 12 meet ups and created The Riff Raff Podcast, which has now reached 30 episodes. We have talked at The Writers' Summit, where we also joined a panel discussion. We hosted drinks at London Book Fair. We have appeared in Time Out, Book Machine, Book Brunch and The Brit Lit Podcast to name a few. These things are all important in order to grow our community and promote what we do, but that's not how I define our success.
Being part of The Riff Raff has proved that you can build something from nothing if you're willing to persevere. It has shown me that the dream of writing a book can come true, and that it is an opportunity open to anyone and everyone who is willing to work hard and be vulnerable to the wins and losses of creative pursuit.
There is no secret to success, no blueprint for a bestseller, so if you have an idea, start by writing it down and try not to doubt yourself along the way. It's hard but most things worth having are.
This Thursday, we will welcome another five debut authors to our stage: Guy Gunaratne, Kate Leaver, Anne Patterson, Samuel Fisher and Zelda Rhiando; I cannot wait to hear them read and to soak up their wisdom. And because it's our birthday, there will be some birthday surprises in store (yes, there will be cake).
We will also be making history by recording the event and putting it out on The Riff Raff Podcast. Not everyone can make the events, and we know we have something that's too good to keep to ourselves. Will it become a regular thing? Watch this space...
A few thanks to finish: to all the amazing authors who have supported us, attended our events and recorded for The Riff Raff Podcast. To all the fabulous agents and publicists who bring a steady stream of authors to our door. To Effra Social for hosting us, and to Alice Lubbock our awesome photographer, as well as Isis Pealing, Michelle Noel and Phil Scullion who have taken up camera duty.
To all of you Riff Raffers, without whom we wouldn't have a community.
And finally to Amy, my co-founder and spirit animal. She's the driving force of The Riff Raff really, so anything we've done, thank her. Love you, dude.
Here's to our first birthday, and many more to come.