After attending the book launch for Annika Spalding’s sixth book ‘What’s Your Story?’, I fell asleep with my notebook under my cheek and my pencil in my hand, ready to give life to the poetry book that I have been casually working towards. Understand, it was the kind of event where you leave, not just inspired, but keen to make movements towards writing the book. Publishing it. Telling the world about it. Doing the damn thing. Based off the conversations after the event, it seems that many of the writers went home with the same kind of eagerness that I had. Before you read any more of this review you need to know that. You need to know that in one evening the launch inspired people to begin and/or complete projects they have been sitting on for months, years.
Annika Spalding is a Mother, Award-Winning Author, Mature Student, Writing Coach, Self-Love Advocate, Queen and a glowing Inspiration for a young woman wanting to make a living from writing. Having spoken with Annika before the launch, I was already aware of how calming she can be. On the evening of the launch, she channels this same serenity, never having to do much to seize attention and commanding a room full of writers and creatives with smiles and advice. She eases us into the event by explaining that her “writing experience is a journey”. She does not treat herself as though she has all the answers (although her excellence proves that she probably has most of them) and she explains that she is not going to teach us how to write; tonight we’re sharing and experiencing ourselves and each other.
Space and Location
M Party Lounge housed Annika’s book launch and it worked in several ways for the event. Firstly, as you immediately walk in you feel grown. You know when you walk into an event and you see that impressive bar, that low lighting, that neat and clean carpet that you’re about to experience something only for the grown and sexy (Jay-Z Excuse Me Miss voice). It was strange though. Annika managed to do what many people struggle with, she didn’t let the environment dictate her atmosphere rather she let her story and event form the atmosphere and the location played a secondary part in dictating the feel. I say this because even though everyone dressed up and looked ready enough for the candle-lit setting, they still participated and adapted accordingly to the day time, writers club, share-your-piece kind of vibe. It definitely felt like a work-shop in a gorgeous bar where everyone could wear heels and highlight.
Aside from this, I think the space worked well for networking and group discussion. Again, this was down to the nature of Annika’s work and how it speaks over provided atmospheres, but it was interesting to see people willing and eager to speak and laugh and move freely in the interludes which at first seemed threatened by the glamorous space.
Undoubtedly, the event was dedicated to promoting self-belief and it was very clear from the start that it was going to be an evening of necessary over-sharing and rediscovering the beauty of vulnerability. By the end of the event the majority (very nearly all) of attendees would have spoken on the mic, feeding back their personal writing, feeding back from group work or asking questions. The atmosphere at the launch was unashamedly dedicated to discarding with timidity and standing firmly and bravely in your voice, as a writer and as an individual. Annika set this scene very early on when she spoke openly about her experience publishing her first book. She explained that her first book wasn’t perfect and it didn’t have to be. Fact is, she wrote that, she published that. She explains that it had punctuation and grammar mistakes and that was okay. She grew and developed her writing style. It made me think about my situation, as an aspiring published writer. In fact, later I will discuss with Remani and Steffan about some ideas that I have for the coming poetry book and they will tell me not to wait and to make active steps to publish it. They tell me they’re waiting for it. It is that kind of night, where Annika has opened the stage to reflection and honesty about self and others so that people I have known for a while and people I have just met will advise me to get the book going and will offer themselves up as accountability partners.
I have a similar conversation with another set of friends who speak to me about how powerful the event is already purely because you’re able to hear people give voice to their work as they create it. We talk a little bit about how the school curriculum doesn’t allow for the kind of creativity that Annika’s book and writers group promotes. It is beautiful that the event prompts these kinds of discussions to support one another and to share thoughts about institutional blockages for creativity. You know I love a deep convo or two per event, so I’m more than happy that the book launch invited that kind of discussion all by itself.
I’ve never been to an event where you get live demonstrations of some of the writing activities inside the book. The first activity was the ‘Dear Inner Child’ writing prompt. Annika told us to close our eyes and listen. This one was a challenge to write a love letter to our younger selves. When Annika opens the stage for people to share, there is readiness and queues to share some of our most vulnerable work produced in 10 minutes. Pause and try and understand what kind of an atmosphere we were working in.
The next activity was fun. When we walked in we were asked to take a folded piece of paper out of a bowl. We were now unfolding these pieces of paper and writing based off the prompts with the groups of people around us. I loved the way this activity encouraged the childishness within us. We had to open up and we had to be creative on the spot and this is what made it work so well. There were so many prompts and it was so diverse. Jodi and I write according to the prompt ‘How would you write a poem/Song with the title ‘One Last Chance’. Other writing prompts included: write about a time you almost gave up, write about a time you said no but could have said yes, list three reasons why you haven’t written a book yet. Everyone seemed to dig this activity and were really honest with themselves and others. When feeding back, someone mentioned that “writing can be a lonely journey and it can be easier if you have a community.”
After this we had an exclusive review of the book from one of three people who had read it in the world. The host, Paula Hemmings, tells us to expect lots of practical advice, lots of surprises and talks about where the book took her and her writing. She doesn’t want to give too much away to us who are waiting (im)patiently to get our own copies of written gold so she tells us that it is f*cking amazing. (she tells us twice).
After this, we had Question and Answers time with Annika. The questions ranged from how we, as writes, can find time for writing, why Annika became a writing coach, debates around self-publishing and copy-writing, writing for audience and even the possibility of loosing love for what you are writing.
This felt like an intimate moment with Annika, even though she has been hyper-present during the event, here is one moment where she is sitting, relaxed, in her element speaking comfortably and advising attendees of her writing group and new faces. Later I speak with Annika and some members from her Writing with Confidence writing group and both parties express a similar sense of pride for the other. Annika speaks endlessly about how proud she is of her writers and seeing their evolutions and when I speak to her mentees they are equally proud of her event tonight and are eager for her to do more of launches or talks.
Finally we get our books, which are packaged thoughtfully in little bags. I feel like we could have left without them though. I feel like we came to the event and were filled with so much and were given so much that it would be easy to go home and forget that there is one more gift for us.
There was not a single non-smiling face in the room at the close of the event. I got so much similar feedback from everyone- it was a warm and inspiring event. Annika spoke about how proud she was of a lady called Tina and so I was quick to interview her. Tina talks to me about being dyslexic and the struggle growing up in an age when there is not enough attention or knowledge to detect it. She says that “Annika is the only person to get me writing, she is so selfless, it is not about her, it is about everybody else”. This is beautiful to hear and makes me really think about the power of inviting and progressing a writers’ community as Annika has done. Tina continues to tell me about her experience within the writing group: “everybody is really supportive at the group. You don’t fee like anybody is judging you. [Annika] is younger than me and because I am not an ageist I have watched her journey and she has watched mine.”
This was also the kind of event where you meet online connections in person. I met Rebecca Hemmings face to face after liaising with her last year and spoke to her about the event: “tonight was motivating, to hear Annika in the flesh talk about her journey was brilliant. It helps me make connections between my own journeys and hers. It makes them a little more attainable and realistic.” I love this. I love that Annika, who previously that night told me with relief that she hasn’t had her glass of wine yet and she might not need it because stress hasn’t hit her, was motivating people so deeply, so easily. Rebecca also suggested that Annika branch out a little bit; try other cities or the next town. People know her online and now people need to see her in flesh.”
I also spoke to Esron and Cheryl who were enjoying the vibes from the back. Esron tells me that the launch “encouraged [him] to make those edits, and after a year, to pick up writing again“. The event sparked the necessary discussions too, Esron appreciated the debates about publishing or self-publishing and the possibility of e-books. As a non-writer, Cheryl found it inspiring. She explained that the writers in the room had “the opportunity to accept the talent they didn’t realise they had and to expose that and make the dream more tangible”.
Interviews with Annika
Finally finally, I go to sit down with the beautiful and (maybe probably) magical Annika. After I congratulate her on her 1000th win of her career (surely), I ask her what she wanted to achieve tonight. She responds “I wanted them to experience the book. If I put it out onto Amazon people wouldn’t have known or experienced it properly. This launch makes them experience the activities in the book and helps them be more open to [trying] them”. I ask her if she got a chance to speak to people and get a feel of how the event has been received. She tells me she has been checking in and people seem to be enjoying it, a lot of people staying behind to chat. And this is true, the photographer, Gavin Telfer, was busiest come the end of the event, snapping photos of Annika with people ready to talk to her up close or ready to talk to people and connect. This is another thing, Annika speaks a lot about how amazing it is for her to see her writers outside of the workshop space. I’ll have to quote her directly because it is too cute to paraphrase “I had to tell them ‘this could be you’. when they’re finishing their books, this could be them doing a book launch, why couldn’t it be? If you’re amazed at me then let someone else be amazed at you.”
It was also a special night for Annika who got to meet one of her online clients for the first time. This links on to my next question which was ‘what was the best thing about tonight?’ where Annika told me that it was nice seeing people willing to come. She tells me how much it meant to see her nan and granddad at the launch and how nice it was to see everyone so receptive and willing to take part.
We go on to talk about our favourite moments of the night and then landed on how the the launch and the book isn’t really about Annika. She explains that ” It’s not about me. This is meant to help you. This book is coming from a place of love not a place of ego because I want to give you what I know”. And this is definitely clear, ‘What’s Your Story?’ hasn’t even got Annika’s name in large letters on the front cover. And yet still she is renowned enough and valued in the creative scenes across the UK. We speak about how Annika’s largest following is actually in London. I take the cheeky opportunity to discuss the possibility of Annika branching out beyond Brum and touring in other cities. Annika reveals that she was considering the idea earlier that day. Even if not to recreate the event in its entirety, at least to take ‘What’s Your Story?’ down to London.
So, after the success of the event the big question is -what’s next? Annika has her writing workshop at the end of October and she would love to get connected with more writers. She is also working on book number seven which is an exciting journey for her as well as flourishing within her Creative and Professional Writing Degree. We also spoke about goals and we manifested that Annika will be doing more talks- TEDX Brum talks to be specific. And so it shall be ;). Aside from that, Annika is ready to be booked for community groups or school groups to take her expertise and guidance into those spaces.
Ultimately, it was a perfect event, one to inspire, reflect on self and writing and one to learn directly from the community of creatives around you. A book launch has never been so humbly and effortlessly executed and I look forward to the blessings coming Annika’s way and I suggest we all get involved and invested to watch them manifest. You can order Annika’s sixth book – What’s Your Story- here. Also, be sure to follow her on social media (Instagram and Twitter) to keep yourself motivated and updated. You can join her mailing list via her website to get exclusives, discount code and first dibs on events and workshops.