Emirates LitFest at Cheltenham – Part 4
LitFest organisers Isobel Abulhoul and Yvette Judge flew into Birmingham, courtesy of Emirates Airline, to take in as much as possible at the oldest Literary Festival in UK, The Cheltenham Literature Festival. Here we present Yvette’s diary of last weekend’s events.
Having enjoyed reliving the seventies with Dominic Sandbrook and Joan Bakewell, I moved on from memories of homework by candlelight and entered Writing Britain. Based on an exhibition at the British Library, this session was a journey through the British landscape, focussing on how writers are inspired by their surroundings and how evocative the descriptions are. It was also thought provoking to note that literature can have an effect on places, with the effects of R D Blackmore’s Lorna Doone inspiring an interest in the West Country and creating Doone Country, and the Dracula industry which has sprung up in Whitby!
From famous landscapes to famous people, Artemis Cooper brought to life Patrick (better known as Paddy) Leigh Fermor with her eloquent and entertaining session based on her biography of him. I confess to knowing little about him but was left with the desire to know more about this hero, traveller and adventurer. The audience asked informed questions, leaving me to be embarrassed by my own ignorance! The joy of Festival like this and our own in Dubai is finding a gem of a session like this one.
I indulged myself with an hour in the company of Alan Garner. In the late 1960s I was lucky enough to be introduced to his children’s books and after 50 years or so he has completed the Weirdstone of Brisingamen / Moon of Gomrath trilogy with a novel for adults. I was enthralled as he read from from Boneland, and talked about why he had finally written a third book. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall was a perfect end to the day.
Saturday was devoted to children’s authors, and allowed me to sit back and enjoy Debi Gliori talking about her writing life and sharing her new story about Mr Wolf with us. I may even be inspired to try drawing a wolf, having been given a few pointers during the event. Michelle Paver entertained us enormously with news of her new series Gods and Warriors, and it was fascinating to hear about her meticulous research for all things historical. Robert Muchamore spoke to an audience of mainly teenage boys, and it was wonderful to see how engaged they were by his writing.
However, the highlight of my day was the wonderful Judith Kerr. Having spent a lifetime reading The Tiger who came to Tea, which never failed to enthral an audience, it was an absolute joy to meet the amazing author, who is now 89 years old. She spoke of her escape from Germany in the 1930′s, her stays in Zurich and Paris and her eventual life in England. She is truly amazing and her new book about a team of super heroine grannies gave me as much pleasure as old favourites such as the Tea-taking Tiger and Mog the cat.
For me, the day ended with Ben Miller inspiring the audience to be enthusiastic about science and I came as close as I ever have been to understanding the Higgs Boson particle and the search for it at CERN. Ben’s desire to persuade us all that science is fascinating was infectious, although Isobel seemed unconvinced by his lack of faith in homeopathy!
Sunday was a great autumnal day – cold but bright, with the leaves falling and showing their lovely colours. A brisk walk later, Isobel and I met Ben Miller who proved to be a delightful chap, and tolerant of Isobel’s love of homeopathy, which he feels has no scientific basis!
I then spent a fun-filled hour in an event with Tony Robinson. This was for children, and he involved the audience in his session, much to their enjoyment. He talked of his lack of formal education once he began acting, and his interest in History which led to his books and TV series. Baldrick got a mention of course, although many in the audience were a little young for Blackadder!
We also met with Rachael Castell to talk about Digital Theatre, which sounds brilliant: top performances of drama are filmed, and then when shown to an audience, comments from the director and those involved in the backstage area are included. This would be perfect for those studying drama at IB or GCSE / A level, and requires only a screen and a large room. Although if Fiona is at hand, she can also talk about the play as it is being shown, pausing the screening in appropriate places.
Fiona Lindsay has been heavily involved in the Festival here, and we also managed to have a long chat with her about her November trip to Dubai and plans for LitFest 2013 in Dubai!
The day ended with a cultural delight – Darcey Bussell talking about her career and showcasing some of the fabulous photographs in her latest book. And I didn’t know that singer Bryan Adams is also a photographer.
Isobel has perfected the art of getting to the front of the signing queue, and so managed a quick chat with Darcey and her publicist.
Before a chilly walk back to the hotel, we spent a lot of time with Pippa Claridge who runs the Educational aspects of all the Festivals in Cheltenham, which was very useful, and I talked to Jo James about what works in Cheltenham in terms of organisation pre each event. Some of it will work for us too!