What is the point of a literary festival? It is an aspect of the business side of publishing books. It provides writers with a platform for their ideas and, if the author is lucky, a pot of jam or some such in payment. It provides revenue for the venue, and B&Bs in the area. And for the punters? What’s in it for them?
Ways with Words, a ‘festival of words and ideas’, is held annually in July, in Dartington Hall, Devon. I live less than 10 miles away so I can pick and choose my sessions without spending a fortune, and this year I picked three.
AL Kennedy, Serious Sweet and extending herself.
Extending yourself for others. This is how AL Kennedy described writing, and thereby claimed it as an act of love. She read from her new novel Serious Sweet, published in May. The reading was excellent, bringing alive both dialogue and inner monologue. It was also funny, witty, sharp, a bit sweary and very perceptive.
She was asked some questions, the kind one might anticipate. Who are your influences? Why are you AL Kennedy not Alison? Tell us how to write! Her answers reminded us that
- AL Kennedy is also a stand-up comedian with the ability to ad lib on a topic;
- She is very reflective and self-aware;
- She has a wonderful way with words.
The answer to how to write is to find a place of safety, do your best, ‘and the rest is grammar, which you can find in books’.
You can find her website here.
What is the point of literary festivals? To hear writers such as AL Kennedy, and be enthused all over again about the value of writing.
Katy Norris and Christopher Wood
Which came first, the exhibition or the book? This question was asked after Katy Norris had told us about the life and work of Christopher Wood. She is curator of Pallant House, Chichester, where there is an exhibition of his work. She told us of her enthusiasm for the research, looking at the many influences on his life, and the circles he moved in in the 1920s in Paris and England.
The book and the exhibition had progressed together, a dynamic process whereby the one informed the other. Sounds like the best non-fiction writing process.
What is the point of literary festivals? To hear a new perspective on an art exhibition. Last year I learned about Eric Ravillous.
Richard Fortey in the Woods
The third presentation was my only celebrity event. Richard Fortey was scheduled against an even bigger celebrity, Shirley Williams, and still managed to fill the hall. He told us about a year in his woods, a 4-acre beech wood in the Chilterns. We learned how interconnected are the history, geology, biodiversity, changing economics, changing land use, and effects of different life forms from mountain bikers, to grey squirrels and a moth that infects trees. These last three can all cause damage, but Richard Fortey appears to be a force for good, which means biodiversity. He’s published a book called The Wood for the Trees: one man’s long view of nature.
What is the point of literary festivals? To learn from experts and enthusiasts, and about newly published books.
And finally …
What is the point of literary festivals? Two years ago Eileen and I got our own moment in the spotlight when we shared a session called Growing Older with Angela Neustatter, grandstanding our previous book Retiring with Attitude. It’s about getting a platform and a pot of jam.
Ways with Words July 2014, in which we anticipated our presentation.
Ways with Words – part 2, in which we reflected on our presentation.
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