Sunday, March 19, 2023

Authors Assemble!

Buxton Assembly Rooms, March 17 2023 

Zoë Sharp


On Friday of last week, I was one of eighteen exhibitors at the first Authors Assemble event in Buxton. There were authors in various genres, both fiction and non-fiction, from sci-fi and horror, through crime to historical and wartime sagas, a memoir, local history, and children’s literature. Also present were displays by a writing school, several small publishers, and a marketing and communications guru.


The event was organised by Kerry Fox and her team from the Buxton Crescent Heritage Trust, and took place in the magnificent Assembly Rooms at one end of the Crescent itself. The aim of bringing together such a varied selection of authors was to highlight the former use of the Assembly Rooms as the town’s library from 1972 to 1992.

pic courtesy of Shirley Mann

As well as table displays, there was a series of talks by eleven of the authors on topics such as ‘The Amazing Women of World War II’ (Shirley Mann), ‘The Grotesques of Buxton’ (Terry Newholm), ‘Writing the Dance’ (Tricia Durdey), ‘Women and Business in Georgian England’ (Dr Peter Collinge), ‘Crime Fiction in the 1920s’ (Celia Harwood), and Writing a Long-Running Series and Keeping it Fresh’ (That would be me).



All in all, a very interesting day.


Different Approaches

What particularly interested me was the format. Apart from the original Bodies in the Bookshop at Heffers in Cambridge, I have not taken part in many events where you are given a table, along with a crowd of other authors, and left to display your wares. It was fascinating, therefore, to see the different approaches taken by the other exhibitors.

Some, like myself, just had their books on their table, with maybe a sign-up sheet for their newsletter list. SR (Ste) Dunham had gone further by having QR codes to the eBook versions of his titles.


Former BBC radio and television journalist, Shirley Mann, had background information and photographs, as well as one of the awards won for her romantic saga novels, set during WWII.

Children’s author, Sue Wilkins has not only written stories for children, illustrated by Liz Furness, but she has produced soft toys of the characters, which were also available to buy.

Dr Peter Collinge was awarded his PhD on businesswomen in Georgian Derbyshire from Keele University, and – as you might expect – had very professional banners illustrating his subject.

Communications and marketing expert Lucy Rennie – author of Clarity, Communication and Connection – had brought a mind-bending game to lure people to her table, although I failed to take a clear picture of it, unfortunately! But it certainly worked to break the ice.


The Derbyshire Writing School had made an amazing display with their table, signing people up for upcoming courses, being interviewed on their podcast, or offering writing prompts and tips.

So, not only an interesting day, but one that was educational as well.


Buxton Crescent

It isn’t often you get to do a writing event in such glorious surroundings as the Assembly Rooms at the Crescent in Buxton.


The Crescent is very reminiscent of the Royal Crescent in Bath, but has been described as being more complex and more richly decorated. The ceiling of the Assembly Rooms was certainly elaborate.


But everywhere you looked was fine detailing.



And more gold leaf than you could shake a stick at.


Outside, the Grade I listed building is magnificent. It was built for the Fifth Duke of Devonshire over nine years from 1780 to 1789. At the time, a Post Office and variety of shops were located along the arcade, while the Crescent itself housed a hotel and lodging houses, as well as the Assembly Rooms, and it was considered the centre of local high society. At one point, there was stabling for up to a hundred and twenty horses for guests.


The Crescent became entirely comprised of two hotels – the Great Hotel at the eastern end, and St Ann’s at the western end. By the twentieth century, the eastern end, including the Assembly Rooms, had become council offices, as well as housing a clinic and the library.

The pump room, with the western end of the Cresent behind.

After structural problems were discovered in 1992, the entire building stood empty, until it was purchased by the council and enough grant money secured to prevent further deterioration. There were many delays while partnerships were formed, grants and loans obtained, and a lot of legal hoops were jumped through, before restoration could begin in 2003. The revamped five-star hotel, natural baths, visitor centre and specialist shops, finally reopened in 2020.

The Assembly Rooms at the eastern end of the Crescent.

The Architect

The Crescent was designed by architect John Carr, and was said to be his favourite work. Carr was born in 1723 in Horbury, near Wakefield, the eldest son of a master mason and quarry owner, Robert Carr. He trained under his father, learning practical construction skills as well as draughtsmanship, which stood him in good stead when he struck out on his own in 1748.


Carr chose to remain in the north of England rather than move to London, but his work was well-known and well-respected. He was the only provincial member of the London Architects’ Club. A prolific architect, mostly in the Palladian style, he was responsible for Ripley Castle, Harewood House, and Castle Howard in Yorkshire, Holker Hall in Cumbria, and also worked on Chatsworth in Derbyshire.

John Carr, painted by Sir William Beechey.

(Plans are for the Buxton Crescent) 

In York, where Carr was a magistrate and served as Lord Mayor in 1770 and 1785, he twice surveyed and repaired York Minster. He also designed bridges, racecourse grandstands, prisons, and other public buildings, including the Assize Courts, the Bishop’s Palace, and the Bootham Park Hospital, all in York.


Many of John Carr’s works survive today, thanks to the soundness of their construction and design.


To mark the 300th anniversary of Carr’s birth, the Assembly Rooms at the Crescent will be the venue for a Birthday Ball in April, with an optional regency dance workshop that afternoon, for those who want to learn the steps. Georgian attire or black tie and ballgown. Carriages at 11pm.

This week’s Word of the Week is something you use every day but probably cannot name, unless you are a linguistics scholar: schwa, derived from the Hebrew shewameaning emptiness. It denotes an unstressed vowel, and you may be surprised to learn that the schwa sound is the most common vowel sound in English; some one-third of the vowels we use in conversation are unstressed. For example, the 'a' in machine, the first 'u' in pursue, the 'e' in camera, the 'o' in memory. My favourite instance is the second 'o' in photograph contrasted with the first 'o' and the 'a' in photography. Schwa vowels appear in many languages and their occurrence is obviously affected to some degree by local accents.


  1. What a lovely blog, so generous to all of us and now I've learned so much about the fabulous building we were in! Thanks Zoe!

    1. Thank you, Shirley. I confess I knew very little about the Crescent before attending Authors Assemble and doing the research for this blog, so it was fun to have an excuse to find it all out. A delight to see you there, as always.

  2. Zoë, you have a knack for finding the most interesting book event venues...and bringing their storied surroundings to life. Then there's this week's "word of the week," one that had me looking for the "schwa in Crescent." Hmm, that sounds like a dish to be found in a Jewish Deli.

    1. Thanks, Jeff. This was quite a place to hold an event! And once you know about 'schwa' you find them everywhere...