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One week on and still musing…

A week since the Book Festival finished and I’m still mulling over the experience.  Here, in a random order, are some of the things that I learnt or was surprised by this year:

  • the amazing way that AS Byatt trusts in her sub-conscious.  During the interview there were several instances where she said she didn’t immediately have an answer, and she’d need to think about it.  But she didn’t stop to think.  She kept on with the conversation, cogently and intelligently, dropping pearls of wisdom at regular intervals.  You would never have guessed that she was at the same time ruminating until she would interrupt the flow to give the answer she’d been searching for.  All this was done without losing the thread what she was saying.  I kept thinking, I wish I could do that.
  • that Kelly Link, the short story writer and publisher, prefers to read novels in the order: beginning, end, middle, much to the horror of her novelist friends.  However, she was shocked beyond measure to discover that people dipped in and out of short story collections, reading them out of order.  She found this horrifying because so much thought goes into getting the stories in the right order.  So the moral of the story seems to be, never trust your pesky readers!
  • how many of the writers I listened to emphasised, again and again, the importance of story.  I found this incredibly heartening, because I had been feeling there had been a move away from narrative in literary fiction, almost as if it is something cheap and worthless, to be ashamed of.  I listened to lots of different writers, poets, short story writers, children’s writers, novelists and writers of different nationalities and native languages.  The one thing that kept cropping up again and again was the story.  Does this mean narrative is now back in literary fashion?

And finally, I asked myself, what is the point of a book festival anyway?  While a part of me completely concurs with the view that a book should speak for itself, I think listening to the writer can add a new dimension.  Personally, I relished the opportunity to listen to intelligent conversation and indulge in a heady diet of ideas in the company of people who don’t automatically link “literary” with “pretentious”.  I enjoyed the peek into writers’ minds, methods and preoccupations.  I was made to think of things in a different way – surely the bedrock of the writer’s job-description. 

And it wasn’t all deep and philosophical, many events were also highly entertaining too – AL Kennedy and AS Byatt with their different brands of dry wit; Liz Kessler, who could potentially avail herself of a second career as a stand-up comic judging by the way she sparked off the audience – to mention but a few.

But now it’s time for me to stop wallowing in intellectual mud and get on with the business of writing…

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