Tag Archives: Ways with Words

Ways with Words and the Point of Literary Festivals

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?

Queuing for Shirley Williams

Queuing for Shirley Williams

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.

269 SeriousSweet cover

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

  1. AL Kennedy is also a stand-up comedian with the ability to ad lib on a topic;
  2. She is very reflective and self-aware;
  3. 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.

269 KNorrisCwood

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.

Christopher Wood, self-portrait, 1927, Kettle's Yard, Cambridge

Christopher Wood, self-portrait, 1927, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge

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.

269 Wood for the trees cover

What is the point of literary festivals? To learn from experts and enthusiasts, and about newly published books.

And finally …

101 RWA coverWhat 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.

 

 

Related Posts

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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Filed under Books, Publishing our book, Reading, words, Writing

Ways with Words

Ways with Words is a ten-day ‘Festival of Words and Ideas’; the setting, a beautiful estate in Devon, Dartington Hall. 108 Courtyard

And on Monday 7th July all these are on the programme:

  • Noah and the flood
  • Rod Liddle
  • HRH Princess Michael of Kent
  • Angela Neustatter
  • Jill Dawson
  • The Wordsworths
  • Bloomsbury Group foodies
  • Dylan Thomas
  • And us, Eileen and me … promoting our about-to-be-published book.

It’s the first public outing of our book Retiring with Attitude: approaching and relishing your retirement, published by the GuardianBooks on 24th July. A public outing and also an opportunity to promote it.

101 RWA coverWe are in the Great Hall at 7.30 for a session with Angela Neustatter who has recently published The Year I Turn … a quirky a-z of ageing. We have been put together in a session called Growing Older.

Growing older is just that – a time to grow. It is possible to become more active, read that novel, learn to dance and mainly to keep changing. (from the programme)

I am very familiar with being in the audience at Dartington. I have been to previous Ways with Words Festivals and sung in the choir of the Summer School, as well as attending concerts there throughout the year. The Great Hall is a beautiful setting, especially on a summer evening when the windows are open. Inside the high ceiling, the baronial banners, the huge fireplace, the wooden floors and stone walls make an imposing setting for any performance.

108 Great HallI used the Great Hall in an unfinished short story, as the setting for a renown author’s reading and Q&A. He has been asked about a book he referred to, which no one in the audience knew of. It’s the moment before the denouement of the story.

The lecture room was quite still. Sounds from the outside drifted in through the open widows, calls of young people playing with a Frisbee on the grass quadrangle, a bird singing in the creeper under the window, footsteps on the flagstones, greetings, a distant dog. A breeze brought a hint of newly mown hay from the fields beyond. A member of the audience coughed.

I am a little in awe of the setting as well as the company. But I’m confident that we have something to say. I have been working out my contribution today. You could join us and see how we do.

You can pre-order our book from Hive here, or from other on-line book sellers. Or buy a copy at the Ways with Words Bookshop.

 

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We interrupt to bring you some breaking news …

We interrupt to bring you news of our new publication: Eileen Carnell and I have just received 10 copies of our new book: Retiring with Attitude, published by GuardianBooks.

101 RWA pilePublication date is 24th July 2014 (but available now for pre-order from on-line booksellers and bookstores near you).

Copies will be available at the Ways With Words Festival at Dartington, Devon. We are appearing with Angela Neustatter, author of The Year I Turn… A Quirky A-Z of Ageing, on Monday 7th July at 7.30pm in the Great Hall, for a session called Growing Older.

It is very exciting seeing the pile of ten actual books! We have published books before, but not a major trade book like this one.

We will be blogging more about the process of publication anon!

101 RWA cover

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5 ways other people decide my reading

Do you have a tall pile of books-waiting-to-be-read? I certainly do – that’s mine in the picture. And how did they get into the pile? Mine are mostly the result of other people’s actions. I have identified five ways they pick my reading.

Reading pile DSC00137

1. Recommendations:

  • Newspapers (especially The Guardian Saturday Review) eg Diego Mariani’s New Finnish Grammar which was highly recommended by Nicholas Lezard in his weekly choice. I read all those end-of-year choices. You know, the ones where writers, or readers, or columnists write half an inch about two or three books they have enjoyed in the last year. Then the paper sits around for months until I transfer the items I’ve marked as interesting into my notebook, or polish my walking boots on it.
  • Literary publications (such as London Review of Books, Slightly Foxed, Mslexia). I tend to read the very erudite reviews in LRB, instead of the book. But occasionally I follow up a review by actually reading it: eg Robert Macfarlane The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot.
  • Blogs were invented for people like me. It was a review on Book Snob blog that led me to Marghanita Laski’s Little Boy Lost. I read a review of Miss Ranken Comes Home by Barbara Euphon Todd on Cosy Books and now I want to read that too. Both these books are published by Persephone, by the way, in their tasteful and elegant grey jackets, endpapers that reproduce a relevant fabric design and – delicious treat – tucked inside is a matching bookmark. I love a book that is beautifully produced.
  • Radio programmes such as Woman’s Hour, book and arts programmes. Radio was invented for reading aloud: poems, children’s stories, serial chapters, short stories and god bless public service broadcasting.
  • My friends always talk about what they have been reading. Out comes my pen and notebook and I make a note, or I borrow from their shelves, or pitch in with my recommendations.
  • Literary prize long- and short-lists. Some of the literary prizes are like The X Factor for the literati but I think these work well when they bring unknown but brilliant writers to our attention, like Alison Moore’s The Lighthouse, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2012. I would never have met Futh without the MBP. And for non-fiction you can’t beat picking from the shortlist for the Samuel Johnson Prize.
  • Literary events such as festivals and readings. At Ways with Words in Devon I heard Anita Desai talking about the importance of place in fiction and read The Artist of Disappearance. Nadine Gordimer at the South Bank Centre told the audience she was most pleased with The Conservationist and Burger’s Daughter. I’m reading the latter at the moment.
  • Writing classes can produce great recommendations through the examples provided by the tutor, and discussions with participants.

2. Book Club. One of the joys of a book club or reading group is the requirement to read designated books. Some people avoid them for that reason, but I love serendipitous discoveries, like The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. We wont dwell on Absolom, Absolom!

3. My local library. It doesn’t exactly select my books, but it adds to the randomness of my reading because reservations arrive in any order and I have often forgotten the impulse that made me request it. I like the idea that others have and will read the same copy.

4. Gifts. My sister sends me books from time to time, which I love. She introduced me to Barbara Kingsolver a decade or so ago. I like to set an example by giving books to friends and relatives.

5. Subscription. For Christmas this year I bought a subscription to Peirene press for which I get three books a year and access to other goodies. They are translations of books that are best sellers and award winners in their countries of origin. What a good model for a small independent publisher. And, as a bonus, they are beautifully presented, great design, nice paper. I loved my first volume: The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke, translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch – what a treat.

If this makes me seem like a reader at the mercy of other people, well perhaps I am. I don’t suppose I am alone. And although I don’t have a reading plan, I manage to satisfy my intention to read more foreign fiction and more classics and to read as a writer. I’m more than happy to receive your recommendations.

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