Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Last two LitFest events: Mark Lawson and Margaret Drabble

I finished off the Chester LitFest by going to two talks: one by Mark Lawson on his new novel, The Deaths, and another by Margaret Drabble, who talked about her novel The Pure Gold Baby.

 Mark Lawson's talk turned out to be question and answer session with questions devised by himself.  It was very funny and covered topics such as why it had taken him eight or nine years to write another novel (the answer was that he had, in fact, started three other novels only to have to abandon them when it turned out other people were writing similar novels, or he encountered the real-life daughter of someone he was going to feature in another, or what he'd planned to write as fiction became fact).

His novel, The Deaths, is about a series of very wealthy people and are a reaction to the idea of TV book clubs that the characters in a novel should be ones that the reader can 'care about'.  That sounds good to me: some of my favourite novels feature despicable characters.  I'm looking forward to reading this one.

Margaret Drabble's novel, The Pure Gold Baby, is based on a girl who spends her life in a state of grace - being liked  by everyone and loving everyone in return.  In other words, a 'special' child, and one who will never be able to read a book.  The book was written over several years without anyone reading it out of admiration of the 'pure gold baby' and the mother that devoted herself to raising her.  It has a complicated narrative structure: the narrator seeing the mother through the Pure Gold Baby's eyes - without actually being the Pure Gold Baby.  It sounds intriguing.

This was the last talk of this year's Litfest.  Congratulations to Paul Lavin and his team for putting on such excellent entertainment.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Vagina - A Literary and Cultural History

The setting of the last of this year's lunch-time talks of the Chester Literary Festival was the splendid council room of Chester's town hall (pictured after the event).  The topic was one I believe had been never discussed there before in its long history: The Vagina - a literary and cultural history.

Emma Rees, a senior lecturer in the English department at the university of Chester, felt moved to consider the apparent taboo surrounding female human genitalia after the denial in a guidebook of what she was seeing in Kilpeck Church: namely the Sheela-na-Gig corbel.  I'd not heard of the Sheela-na-Gig before, but there are examples of these odd little gargoyle-type sculptures throughout Europe -  no doubt come from a less prudish time than ours.

Emma described how the title of her book was in some ways unsatisfactory since it described just part of the female genitalia rather than the whole, but that she was unable to come up with anything better because the alternatives are either considered obscene or ridiculous.  In her book she examines the paradox of female genitalia through five fields of artistic expression: literature, film, TV, visual and performance art.  I am looking forward to reading this - just as soon as I have finished the excellent Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to all Creation.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Dressing and Undressing in Pride and Prejudice: Reading Austen's Novel and its Screen Adaptations

The town hall was packed on Thursday evening for the last of the free university events of the Literary Festival.  The talk was about one of the most popular books in the English-speaking world: Pride and prejudice by Jane Austen: in particular the relationship between the novel and two screen adaptations of the work.

 Professor Deborah Wynne described how in the 1940 film version starring Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson the costume was not historically accurate.  The dresses were wide and tended to dominate the screen.  This was because of the time in which it was made - a fantasy reaction in gleaming satin to the austerity imposed by war.  The costumes of the 1995 TV adaptation starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle was more true to the times, but featured scenes of undressing that didn't actual feature in the novel, but certainly added to the appeal of the film to modern audiences.

It was a very interesting and well-paced lecture much appreciated by the audience and there was a lot of interest in other similar lectures that are going to take place in the university on the near future.  I am looking forward to these too.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

I feel a new project coming on... I availed myself of a few books at the local library today.

I'm looking forward to this!  There's an impressive selection on the shelves.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Gothic Debate

Last night I went to the Chester Debating Society - one of the 'fringe' events at the Chester Literature Festival.  The motion, proposed by Helen Jennings (right) and opposed by Die Booth (left) was 'This house believes that Twilight has brainwashed a generation.'

Interestingly, the majority of the audience had not heard of the Twilight Series, which is perhaps an indication of the effectiveness of the different networks at reaching their target audiences.  It was good humoured and entertaining.  The general consensus was that everyone learnt a lot - especially about sparkly vampires.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Polygonia c-album

Hodmandod Minor found a butterfly today
- in mid October.

A tramp of an insect:
its chipped and battered outline
a blackened leaf

when its pages are closed.

The single comma on each verso and recto
revealing not just its name
but the promise of an illuminated interior.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Chester Writers' Performance Evening...


Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Peeled Banana

It's ten o'clock on a Saturday morning and I'm heading for Liverpool.  Gradually the train fills: a family of four then a girl on her own, a group of three men and then another man in dirty jeans. 'Sorry to interject,' Dirty Jeans says lurching between our legs.  He's drunk.  We all know it.  Not just from the alcohol on his breath, but the way he moves, the way the words slide too easily one onto another.  'Now can you tell me,' he says to the white-haired man next to him, 'if I got out at Saint James...'  The conversation goes on.  I stop listening.

A few minutes later, the drunk is out of his seat again...and then back again, hovering around this novelty of a man who talks back.  A tipsy moth.  'What're you reading?' Dirty Jeans asks, and I feel I can't tell him.  About the ancient Greeks, I'd have to tell him, a friend's book, an episode when some Trojans ...

'You're embarrassing her,' the middle-aged man says, 'Leave her alone with her Fifty Shades of Grey.'

We exchange grins.

'What you want to do is get off at the next stop,'  he says to the drunk,'go on, hurry up.  You'll miss it.'

And so the drunk is off, swerving up the bank at a place he doesn't want to be, the rest of us considering how sad it is to be so well oiled that time in the morning.  And how little time he has left.

The Centre is just a short walk from Central station.  It is not how I remember it.  When I went there last it retained its old-school atmosphere - from a time when Liverpool could afford to bestow an indulgent charity on the uneducated poor - but now it is has been modernised following a 'City of Culture' grant in 2008.  There is a cafe.  A woman at a desk.  The door to the meeting room is only accessible by means of an electronic key - as if the uneducated poor must now be kept at bay.  It smells of disinfectant and reminds me of another school - the one I used to go to over thirty years ago - another experiment in concrete and raw hard building surfaces, and plastic chairs, and spaces that fill with harsh unmuffled sound.

So we sit and listen to a talk by a children's author on how it is necessary to have 'iron balls' to get what you want to do: to interrupt auditions with demands of your own, to heckle an editor with emails reminding him again and again what you have to offer, to put up with being tied up in a sack and kicked by year six pupils in the name of 'literacy', and to offer Skype and feedback on social networks.

For lunch we are served doorstep sandwiches and chips - with a bowl of fruit as a nod towards healthy eating.

In the afternoon, we listen to a man who has crossed Africa by foot: a place where there are no doubt more 'uneducated poor', and I learn that Lake Malawi is an inland sea - so large that when there are storms, boats are lost - and I gaze at the magnificence of the Victoria Falls and long to see them.

Then it is time to go.  The gluten-free brownies are gone - complete with the packet - and in the bowl of fruit, that no one seems to have touched, is one peeled banana.  We look at it.  The fact it has been peeled.  The fact it has been put back.

We retire to a pub near the station: empty and quiet like the abandoned outpost of an empire.  There's broken glass on the table, a drum-kit on a stage at one end, a bar that runs out of wine after filling one glass and a sign on the cash-only bar that tells us that a code is needed for the toilet.

'Now what do I do - eat it?'  asks Lisa when she returns, showing us a piece of paper with numbers like a lottery ticket.

So we take leave of each other at Lime Street: one south to London, another north to Carlisle, while I am just in time for the Wirral line train for Chester.  My final day as Chair - and strangely I feel I'm just getting the hang of this.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

What a Wonderful World Blog Tour: Leg 7

Today, the Blog Tour of What a Wonderful World arrives at Keeper of the Snails.

I have had the chance to have a quick look through said book and hereby pronounce it 'a mighty fine thing', and even the evil all-round genius Dr. Grump learnt more than a thing or two.

At the end of it, Grump and I got together to think up a few questions provoked by the first ten chapters of the book.  

The book won't actually answer any of these questions (because they are not very sensible) but I am hoping that the esteemed readers of this blog will do so. The three best answers will win a copy of Marcus's book sent to you by Marcus's publishers, Faber.

By 'best' I mean the most weird, imaginative and/or beautiful answer you can think of - it doesn't have to be at all 'right'.

Please read the following rules very carefully:

1.  Choose one question that you'd like to answer.
2.  Answer it in the comment section of the blog: remember to make it as weird, imaginative and/or beautiful as you can 
3.  Then please email me your answer so I can contact you by email if you win.
4.  Closing Date is Midnight (GMT) on Wednesday 16th October.
5. 100 words maximum.

1. Inside you there are 10,000 aliens - what are they all thinking?
2. What is the best way of recharging your ten million power packs?
3. How can walking backwards lead to wondrous miracles?
4. Where is the start of you?
5. How can you sing your body electric?
6. When did you last sew yourself out of danger?
7. What can you do with a fertile crescent?
8.  How can you mow an electric field?
9.  What is the ultimate 'multi-task'?
10. What is your most bankable commodity?

If you want to find out more about 'What a Wonderful World', here are some excellent blogs to visit:
3 October  ElizaDoLots     
4 October  Buried under Books                
5 October    Recovering Agnostic             
6 October    Live otherwise  
7 October    Atifa’s Book Shelf:
9 October    Keeper of the Snails  
11 October  The Book of Lost Nights       
13 October  Keris Stainton
14 October  Teen Librarian  
15 October Penguin Galaxy
16 October Open Democracy

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Norton Abbey. Runcorn

Now that I have finished my book, I decided to test out my 'Weaver's Bottom' with a gentle five mile  stroll 

around the walled garden of Norton Priory near Runcorn

- where fancy chickens in feather boots peck at apples.

It is a gentle Autumn

after a warm summer: golden leaves 

and chestnuts are poised to fall

and mushrooms are sprouting fungus bouquets.

Outside the priory we saw a strange green mound 

and then a series of stehles marking the route to 'Big Wood' 

that turned out to be merely a copse, with carved totem-trees.

It is a pretty, but not a tranquil spot.  

Turn away from the serenity of the Bridgewater canal

and the cooling towers of Fiddlers' Ferry are a reminder that this small part of Britain is still industrial.

Friday, October 04, 2013

The First Edit

The first edit is finished.  The book, alas, is just a little slimmer (a mere 20,000 words lost out of the original 199,000) but I think it's firming up...which is more than can be said for me.