One of my favourite ‘virtual offices’ (local cafes, libraries or other spaces I drop into to catch up on emails, notes, writing or just thinking) is Panaro’s Restaurant in Newcastle-under-Lyme. It’s recently moved from one end of the High Street to larger premises in a more central position on the same street, next to the market hall. The owner, Tony Panaro, is a serial entrepreneur, cyclist, published author and chef – and very enthused by the Sporting Stories project. So Panaro’s seemed the perfect location for the first of what I hope will be a series of ‘Meet the Author’ events, where we invite our contributors to an informal social gathering to eat, drink, swap stories and meet old and new friends.
With generous support secured from Panaro’s, who provided the venue and canapes, we sent invitations out to over 100 contributors (and for our younger authors, their parents as well) and were delighted when nearly 40 turned up on the evening. With hindsight, picking the first Thursday of the summer holidays may not have been the best date to get everyone along – we had a lot of apologies from people dashing off on holiday – but as a test run it was a fantastic evening. We were blessed with some local ‘sporting royalty’ – Jean Gough, Sir Stanley Matthew’s daughter, and her husband Bob; Jenny Booth, Paralympian swimmer, gold medallist and world record holder; and Angela Smith, former world squash champion and chair of Stoke City Supporters Council. But as importantly, we had local club runners, cyclists, cricketers, life-long football fans, a top-end sports photographer, poets, artists, cartoonists and more. Even a former winner of the Isle of Man TT. Exactly the mix I’d hoped for!
There was no agenda for the evening, no speeches, no formal business at all. Just delicious food, plenty of prosecco and good company. For me it felt a bit like a wedding reception – you know, where you’re chatting for the whole evening but don’t feel like you’ve properly caught up with everyone you wanted to. But if these become regular social evenings (I was thinking quarterly perhaps) then there’s plenty of time to catch up with lots of authors, contributors, artists and the rest, over the year.
Possibly my favourite bit of the day was right at the end of the evening, with just a few of us left, having a laugh about my ability to swim in circles and getting priceless advice from Jenny Booth on why.
Roll on the next one…
All photos courtesy of Beki Hooper