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It's the Bath Festival of Literature again, and so far, the events I've been to have been excellent.

The first was a talk by Dr Alice Roberts, about the Celts.  I had watched the programme which she and Neil Oliver made for the BBC, which was shown last November - its a fascinating subject; so much is known, but also there are so many things which are not known, and cannot be known.

Prof. Alice Roberts

Dr Roberts is an excellent speaker, and her enthusiasm is infectious. She is not, herself an archaeologist; she is an anatomist, and is currently Professor of Public Engagement in Science, at Birmingham University.

She explained the uncertainties about the origins of the Celts (hint: not where you thought) , and the fact that certain things we think we know (such as druids and human sacrifice, and Celtic warriors taking heads) seem to come from just one (Roman) source, with no confirmation..

She talked about some recent discoveries in Germany, and the quality of the work being done there, and waxed enthusiastic about proofs of decapitation.!

It was very interesting, and although I didn't buy a copy of her current book then and there,(It's a big glossy, *heavy* bardback.) I may yet succumb!

After this event, my friend T and I indulged in tea and cakes, and a visit to Mr B's Emporium of reading Delights, where I was very restrained about the number of books I bought, then, after a little more shopping, I headed to the Masonic Hall, to hear Neil Jordan interviewed about his most recent novel, The Drowned Detective.

Neil Jordan.

I have to admit that I have not read any of his books, I was aware of him as the director of films such as The Crying Game, Michael Collins, and Interview with the Vampire. However, I enjoyed hearing him talk about the new book, which is a detective story about relationships, and memories, and a touch of the supernatural, set in an unidentified eastern European country.. it sounds intriguing.

He also spoke about the respect writers have in Ireland, about how he 'drifted' into becoming a director, a little about Interview with the Vampire. I'd have loved the chance to sit down with him for a chat - he's the sort of person who it would be interesting to get to know him better. And I have bought one of the earlier books to get started!

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The Bath Festival of Literature started yesterday evening, and I went to the first of the events I have booked, today. They were very different - one an interview with Mark Bostridge, who is the biographer of Vera Britton, was an advisor on the film 'Testament of Youth' and who has just written a new book, Vera Britton and the First World War. The second event was Austentatious, an improvised Jane Austen play...

I enjoyed both events.

Mark Bostridge was interviewed by Elizabeth Day, who is herself a novelist and a journalist for the Observer. Bostridge explained that he felt Britton's story was a compelling one, particularly in being one of the first to address and explore the grief of the war, rather than its heroism, but also to show how it was possible to move on.

He spoke about the difficulty of writing a biography of someone with a living family; the family will say they want truth, but may not want it when they hear it.. he gave a couple of examples.

One was a letter which Britton wrote to her friend after her marriage, saying extremely uncomplimentary things about her husband on their wedding night, and the other, later, about an unpublished memoir written by her brother Edward's Commanding Officer, in which he disclosed that Edward had been warned by his CO that his letters to another officer were being read. Bostridge linked this to an incident in Britton's novel 'Honourable Estate' in which a character caught having sex with another man deliberately got himself killed by going over the top. Bostridge explained the social and legal consequences of homosexual behaviour, at the time.

He did explain that of course it is impossible know with any certainty whether Edward was gay(although he did attend Uppingham school, which was apparently exposed as being notorious for bullying and "filthy behaviour" . .

He also spoke about the importance of realizing that Testament of Youth was written some 15 years after the event, and that having also read Britton's letters and diary, it was fascinating to see the change to her attitude. For instance, her diaries show a very patriotic, almost Jingoistic enthusiasm at the start of the war, and was enthusiastic about her brother joining up, which is not reflected in the finished work.

Bostridge said that he was, on the whole, happy with the film - other than the scene where Britton learns about Leighton's death. He also pointed out that the film is somewhat misleading in how Britton's parents treated her wish to attend University - he sad that Britton's mother was very enthusiastic and supportive, and that Britton herself had reservations, fearing that going to Oxford would make it harder for her to marry well!

All in all, very interesting. I haven't yet seen the Testament of Youth film but do want to do so.

I then headed over to the Forum, for Austentatious.

Which was a complete change of pace, and a whole lot of fun.

It is an improvised performance of a 'lost' Austen(esque) novel based on a title suggested by the audience - in this case,'Who cares what colour *that* dress is', beating 'Maids in Waiting' (Described by the cast as 'the Made in Essex of its day) and described as one of Austen's 700+ lost novels..

The play was performed by a cast of 5, masquerading as a cast of thousands (well, 10s, anyway) and included a ball, an elopement, some jam, many references to what happened 'last time', and a happy ending for at least one couple!

Photo from @Viv Groskop's twitter feed and (C) Viv Groskop

It was a whole lot of fun. Austentatious are currently touring - well worth seeing if you can (dates on their website, here)

I am looking forward to several ore Bath Lit Fest events next weekend including seeing Kazuo Ishiguro, and Celia Imrie.

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One of the things  enjoy about living here is the proximity to Bath, and the chance to enjoy the Bath festival of Literature every March, and the Bath Festival of Children's Literature every September.

This years BathLitFest started on Friday, and Saturday morning saw me heading into the city to see Jennifer Saunders, talking about her autobiography, 'Bonkers'.

As might be expected of a comedian, she was a very funny and entertaining speaker. She talked about her background, growing up as an air-force child, moving around the country, and of her childhood ambitions to become a three-day eventer.

She dismissed the suggestion that she and Dawn French didn't initially get on, commenting that they simply didn't know one another to start with, when they first met at college.

She spoke a good deal about her habit of procrastinating, describing the increasingly implausible excuses she and Ruby Wax sent to Goldie Hawn when they were supposed to be writing a film script for her - Saunders described how she was, eventually, flown to New York to finish the script, and planned to write on the lane, except, as she explains, one of the effects of having been in Absolutely Fabulous is that flight attendants all assume that she wants to be drunk on champagne all the time, and appear with glasses of champagne on every flight (and of course, she commented, they're right..!), so she arrived with the script still unwritten..

She claimed to have been effectively locked into Hawn's apartment to finish writing, and then to have been taken to see The Lion King afterwards "like a good child".

In response to questions from the audience, Saunders confirmed that she would like to do some panel shows "They have to have women on them now, it's the law!" and that she was less scared as she got older "Once you're past the menopause, you don't care. You just see them all as little boys" And that she will be hosting 'Have I Got News for You'. I shall look forward to that!

She also confirmed that she'd like to be involved in writing another musical, except for the music parts, which are tricky, that there is to be ab Fab movie, and that she feels lucky to have worked with so many friends, and to have become friends with so many people she's worked with.

It was a highly entertaining hour, (and at the end, Jennifer's whippet, Olive, came on stage with her while she signed copies of her book)

I'm not in a position to attend any other Bath Lit Fest events this year, but if I could only see one this year, I'm glad it was this one!
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We're still having horrendous weather - yesterday we went from sunshine and rainbows, to hail, snow, rain, and sleet.Which was not a lot of fun, particularly the drive home through the sleet.

However, the evening was a lot of fun. I went into Bath, to Toppings Book Shop, for an evening with M.R. Carey (Mike Carey) who was there to promote and read from his new novel 'The Girl With All The Gifts'

I've enjoyed all of Mike's previous work which I've read: The Lucifer and The Unwritten series' of graphic Novels, the Felix Castor novels, The City of Silk and Steel novel written with his wife and daughter, so it was pretty much a given that I would be buying this book.. I bought my copy when I picked up my tickets for the event, so I'd read about a third of it before this event.
Mike started by reading from the beginning of the book, introducing us to Melanie, a very unusual little girl, living in a very unusual situation.

After the reading Mike did a Q and A session, explaining, among other things, that the novel has its roots in a short story called 'Iphigenia in Aulis' which was written for an anthology (An Apple for the Creature) - but no two people agree on how to pronounce 'Iphigenia', and anyway the story turned out to be more about Pandora than Iphigenia.

Also there will be a 6th Felix Castor novel, but this needed to be written first.

We finished off with a shorter,  second reading, then Mike signed books and chatted to us, which was fun.

Since Thursday I have finished reading the book. Its very, very good. I don't want to give any spoilers, so won't provide a detailed review -but will say that it far from being your average horror novel - it is as much about the relationship between the 5 major characters, and their individual characters and histories as it is about the apocalyptic world in which it is set.  If you like your horror thoughtful and thought-provoking, and if you enjoyed 'Let the Right One In', then I think you will enjoy this one.

As an added bonus, I was able to meet up with @TazorTam at the event, and we moved on from toppings to The Raven for a drink and a catch up, after the event, which rounded off a very enjoyable evening beautifully.
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Yesterday, I took a trip to Portsmouth, to see Neil Gaiman officially unveiling the street named after his latest novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

I got there early , as I wasn't sure how long it would take me to find, or how easy it would be to find, but felt that a bit of extra time by the sea would not be a bad thing!

In fact, I didn't have too much trouble finding Canoe Lake (no canoes, but giant swan pedalos) and the lane is very close (map here ) and people quickly started to arrive. (including some gentlemen from the council who carefully covered the road sign up so it could be unveiled, and a little later  closed the road and set some chairs up for the visitors, and there was time to catch up with old friends and acquaintances and make new ones.

Neil lived near here when he was a child, and still has family in the area, many of whom had attended. There were also people who had known the family back then - there were clearly lots of people who hadn't seen one another for a while happily catching up, and I overheard one lovely, elderly gentleman saying to his wife's friend "look at all these people, I'd no idea David's boy was famous - did you know?"  I love that he (and others) had come out because it was "David's boy" or a former neighbour who was being honoured, and not just because he is a famous writer!

Then Neil arrived, together with the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, Lynne Stagg (who, to my disappointment was not wearing her full ceremonial robes) and Sam Cox, Portsmouth's Poet Laureate.

Happy Neil about to unveil his road

The Lord Mayor introduced Neil, linking him with other literary figures who lived in Portsmouth (Dickens,  Conan-Doyle, Kipling) and then Neil gave a short speech, and unveiled the road.(there is an audio recording of Neil's speech here ) and we heard 2 poems from Sam Cox.

After the unveiling, Neil stayed around and chatted and had pictures taken. Someone gave Neil a Cornetto, which he managed to eat while making polite conversation and giving an interview to the local Jewish newspaper, someone else, (or possibly the same someone,) got him to sign a giant model cactus, and everyone appeared to be enjoying themselves.

(with thanks to the lovely chap who took this for me, whose name I didn't catch)

And as you can see, the weather was lovely - they'd forecast rain showers, but it stayed bright and sunny (albeit rather breezy) for the whole of the event.

A really enjoyable afternoon. And the evening still to come..
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I've posted before about how lucky we are to have two wonderful independent bookshops in Bath, both of which hold regular author events.

This week I went to another event at Toppings - it was just a smidgen smaller that the last one - I would guess that there were between 40 and 50 people there.

The author in question was Melvyn Bragg (Lord Bragg) - I think he is probably best known as a broadcaster, but he's also written both fiction and non-fiction. I enjoyed his The Adventure of English, which was both a TV series and a book, and I've read some of his other work, and enjoyed other documentaries he's been involved in, so I was interested to see he was coming to Bath.

He was here to promote his new novel, Grace and Mary, which is  based on a re-imagining of the lives of two women who are based on his own mother (who died recently, after suffering dementia) and her mother.

He spoke at some length about his mother and grandmother - he only met his grandmother a few times in his life, and only learned she was his grandmother when he was leaving home, as his mother was illegitimate, and was either adopted or fostered.

He spoke eloquently about the relationship he had with his mother, particularly in her final years, when she had memories of the past, but not of the present.

He made clear that although the key characters in the book are based on his family, it is not a memoir. He commented "a [person writing]a memoir has a responsibility for accuracy. Fiction has a responsibility for truth" and also "I prefer mis-remembering to remembering. It's more interesting"

Bragg also talked about writing, and his writing in particular. "I would never describe writing as hard work because I was brought up with people who really did work hard!" and that he had not, in the past, found writing autobiographical fiction cathartic - indeed, he said, it had left him unable to write fiction at all for some years, but this story he felt needed to be written.  It was a very personal talk - and this is obviously a very personal novel.

The short readings he gave made the book sound interesting, so I bought a copy, although I hadn't originally planned to. I shall see how it goes.

An interesting evening.
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I've written before about Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights, one of Bath's two splendid independent bookshops. They host wonderful author events (the last one I went to was with China Mieville, which I blogged here )

On Tuesday night, they were hosting the Patrick Ness, to celebrate the publication of his new novel, The Crane Wife. I missed Patrick when he visited for the publication of 'A Monster Calls', so I was particularly pleased to be able to get tickets this time!

And to meet some old friends and acquaintances - I knew that Cheryl was going to be there, what with our having bought the tickets together, and it was nice also to see Tamzin, (although my terrible face recognition skills meant I was confused for a moment, there)

As usual, the evening began with music from The Bookshop Band - with two new (and only just completed) songs inspired by the book. They were wonderful.
Patrick Ness

We then had the interview with Patrick, who apparently wrote the book at the same time as writing a new teen novel, (and has vowed never to do that again). The novel is inspired by a Japanese folk tale of the same name, which Patrick learned while a child in Hawaii. It's not one I am familiar with, but he made the point that, unlike most fairy tales / folk tales, it begins with an act of kindness, not an act of cruelty, so he was interested to explore the ideas of how a kind man would react to / deal with his  desires.

The interview also covered other points - the fact that people are complicated ("People are Legion") and don't conform to simple stereotypes; one of the reasons why Patrick rarely writes out-and-out villains, the need to write from the heart - drawing on real emotions.

He read us a bit of the new book (with a few interpolated comments - "I said 'penis' to a room full of people') then there were some questions, followed by delicious food from Made by Ben, and mingling, then further questions, and book recommendations, from Patrick, and the bookshop staff, and guests. Recommendations included Cat Valente's books,(the 'Fairyland ones, pluis Six-Gun Snow WhiteWildwood, The Armed Garden, Shadows on the Moon ,and the Cannongate Myths series.

Then the evening ended with Patrick signing copies of the Crane Wife and others of his books, with, inevitably, more conversation. A thoroughly fun evening.
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This year's Bath Literature Festival ends tonight, and the last event I attended (possibly the last event of the Festival) was a talk by Jon Ronson, about his most recent book, 'Lost at Sea', and the one before that, 'The Psychopath Test'.

I've long enjoyed Jon Ronson's work - he used to have a column in the weekend Guardian, and is the author of 'The Men Who Stare at Goats' and 'Them'. In fact, I blogged about his last Bath Literature Festival appearance, 4 years ago.

Having heard him speak before, I was confident that I was in for an entertaining evening, and I was not disappointed.

Jon started with reading a story which hasn't (yet) made it into a book, about his son, Joel, at the age of 8, wanting to know whether there was a worse swear-word than 'fuck', and if so, what it was., which rapidly caused Ronson, in an attempt to avoid teaching his son anything inappropriate,  to become mired in a swamp of lies, an 8-year old temporarily convinced he has learned the Worst Swear Word in the World, and, increasing guilt "I'd rather he was foul mouthed and accurate than this"

After this light-hearted anecdote Ronson spoke about the starting point for his book, 'The Psychopath Test'.

He described started out by leafing through the DSM ( Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) and determining that he has 12 different mental disorders, including general anxiety and malingering, which led to thoughts about the dangers of self-diagnoses, and then, by a series of steps which all sounded very logical when described, via Scientologists to a prisoner names Tony, who spent 14 years in Broadmoor after faking madness in the hope of avoiding a prison sentence (of 5-7 years) for assault, to the worrying knowledge that around 1% of the population is believed to be a psychopath, but the figure rises to around 4% if you look at CEOs and other people in positions of power...

We also learned that if you have been on a course to become a certified psychopath spotter, and wish to interview important  people to work out whether they are psychopaths, it's best not to write and ask them whether you can interview them to test for psychopathic traits. Asking if you can interview them to ascertain whether they have a specific brain anomaly which may be linked to business success, works rather better..

Ronson then moved on to talk about some of the articles in 'Lost at Sea', such as what happens when you borrow a car from Aston Martin in order to recreate James Bond's drive in 'Goldfinger' (flatulence and dislike, mostly), about debt and credit cards, and who they are offered to, and about rich and poor in America.

The evening ended with a Q and A session, and discussion about the NHS and differences between US and UK attitudes, after which I was able to get my copy of 'Lost at Sea' signed, and to have a quick word with Jon. He's a nice man.

It was a very entertaining evening. Despite the cold, and the snow.
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After Friday night's soiree with J.K. Rowling, last night's treat was an event with Hilary Mantel, author of 'Wolf Hall' and 'Bring up the Bodies' and twice winner of the booker Prize.


I have to confess that I have only read a couple of her books, but they (particularly the historical ones) are high on my reading list, and I was also interested to hear her speak, based on her reputation.

Read more... )

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As you'll have seen from my last post, I wasn't very efficient in booking tickets for this years Bath Festival of Literature, and ended up missing some events I'd like to have seen. One I didn't miss, however, was last night's interview with J.K. Rowling.

Rowling was being interviewed by James Runcie, who, as well as being a novelist in his own right, is Artistic Director of the Bath Literature Festival and also a long-standing friend of Rowling's, which came through in the interview, as they laughed and joked together.

The event was held in the Forum, which seats around 1,600 people, and which was pretty full - I think the event was sold out, or pretty close. Having booked late, I was seated in the very back row of the circle. This may have been a good thing. There were some pretty intense fans nearer the front, from what I can gather!

The event was primarily an opportunity to talk about Rowling's recent adult novel, The Casual Vacancy but also covered aspects of the writers life and, inevitably, Harry Potter.

'The Casual Vacancy' has some very troubled teenage characters, and Rowling was asked about her own teenage years, and specifically, her first French kiss (She was 12. He tasted of cheese and onion crisps). She counter attacked, asking Runcie about his, and he revealed he was 17, pointing out that as a ginger with glasses he was at a disadvantage!

She explained her wish to write realistic teenagers, and that she felt that all of the characters in the novel were real, in that they are not exaggerated - she had known people like that, when growing up, and while working as a teacher (but also stressed that she does not put actual people into the books), and that without seeking to claim to be a 'modern Trollope or Gaskell' that she did the novel as being in a similar tradition of parochial,  fiction, looking at a small and limited group of people. She also mentioned that she drew on aspects of herself in writing Hermione, and was very clear that she wanted Hermione to be, not 'the pretty girl' or 'the tomboy' but a clever girl, and for that to be OK, and to be someone whom she would have identified with as a child.

Rowling described how liberating she had found it, after finishing the Harry Potter series, to be writing without a deadline, and knowing that nothing would ever be the same as Potter - she described having been on a train at Kings Cross organised by her publishers in around 2000, thinking "you will never top this" and feeling, now, that she could either dwell on knowing she'll never top Potter, or that she can see how lucky she is to be free to write whatever she, knowing she can pay the bills even if only 5 people like the new book!

JK Rowling 08.03.13

Those hoping for the possibility of new stories set in the Potterverse were doomed to disappointment - while she admitted one can never say never, she has no plans for any new books; she commented that prequels are, in her view, rarely successful, and that in adding the Epilogue to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows she had made it very clear how things turned out, and that there was a happy ending. "A lot of people didn't like it, but. . .My Characters, My Rules"

However, she did disclose that is she is currently writing a new children's book, but nothing further - the conversation was;
-"Would you like to tell us anything about it?"

- "No."

During the QandA session at the end of the interview there were more questions about Harry Potter. Asked whether she felt that Grindelwald loved Dumbledore back, she said no, that she'd always felt he manipulated Albus, and that he was never able to fully trust or love another after that. She went on to say that one of her proudest moments had been when, after her disclosure that Dumbledore was gay, a young man at the signing told her had just come out, as a direct result!

In response to a question about Harry Potter gaming she said her first experience of them was seeing one of her children playing the Harry Potter Lego game, and repeatedly running Ron over...!

Rowling was very articulate about her love of books and reading, and reported that she'd been asked by one of the children whether she would chose them or books, if she had to chose. Her reply? "You. But I'd be really grumpy"

It was an interesting evening. I came away liking the lady, as well as her books.
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I've written before about the nice people at Topping and Co Bookshop, and the events they organise - there was another one today - they had invited Rupert Everett along (to publicise the new volume of his autobiography, Vanished Years)

I've enjoyed seeing his work on screen, and I had, several months ago, booked to see him in 'The Judas Kiss', at the Theatre Royal, so the opportunity to meet him and hear about the book was too good to pass up!

When I bought my ticket, the event was going to be 'coffee and cake' at the bookshop, but it was obviously more popular than originally expected, as it was moved to the Forum's 'ballroom', which sadly also meant no coffee or cake (never mind. I still have lots of lovely, rich chocolate brownies made for me by my equally lovely (if less chocolatey) brother).

Everett was interviewed by (presumably)someone from the shop, and talked about Noel Coward, playing female roles while at his (all boys) school, and deciding he wanted to grown up to be an actress, and his unnerving experience appearing on the celebrity version of 'The Apprentice' - apparently he'd never seen the programme so didn't know what to expect, and started out deeply confused, having mistaken Alan Sugar for Sid James (which is impressive, as Sid James is dead) and then the horror began, as he found himself on a team with Alistair Campbell, Ross Kemp and Piers Morgan "I felt as if I'd fallen into Hell".

On a more serious note, he spoke about his father's death, the excellent care he had received, and his own assumption that he would die alone and uncared for, on account of not having a wife(!)

He was very complimentary about the Theatre Royal in Bath, and its acoustics, and very rude about journalists (with particular reference to a journalist who quoted him out of context, following Michael Jackson's death, resulting in his receiving death threats.)

In answer to questions from the floor, he said that his ambition is to be able to get the rights to,and produce a TV series of, Greene's 'Travels with my Aunt' ,that he always uses stunt doubles where appropriate, and that he is still insecure about finding work.

Rupert Everett, Bath
He was very entertaining, witty and self-deprecating, and was then chatty and friendly as he signed books for people after the interview.

I had fun. Even without the coffee or cakes.


Oct. 21st, 2012 02:23 pm
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The 4th annual BristolCon took place yesterday, and this was my 3rd year as an attending member. I didn't get into Bristol quite as early as I'd hoped (thank you, projectile-vomiting cat), so missed the 1st panels, but once I was there, I enjoyed myself.
Stephanie Burgis

I attended several panels, ranging from one about toilets (and other bodily functions) in space, to Women in Sensible Armour, to apocalypses and Steampunk.(separately. There wasn't a steampunk-Apocalypse panel, or of there was, I missed it!)

I also went to the launch party for Stephanie Burgis's new book - 'A Reckless Magick', which is the third in her Regency & Magic series. It was good to meet Stephanie and to hear her read a little from the book, and the wine and home-made cookies were excellent, too!

I was lucky enough to sign up in time to attend the kaffeeklatch with Philip Reeve and Moira Young (at which Ben Jeapes was also a guest) and enjoyed the opportunity to hear them discuss their books and writing styles in a smaller, more informal setting.

Next year's BristolCon will be a week later, which I think will put it on 26th October.

(more photos on flickr)
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Since I signed up for Toppings of Bath's mailing list, I keep getting invitations to see all sorts of interesting people.

On Tuesday evening I went to the Assembly Rooms, in Bath, to see David Mitchell. I haven't been to the Assembly Rooms for years, and I had forgotten what an impressive set of rooms they are. We were in the ballroom. It does make one feel that one ought to be wearing an empire line dress and carrying a reticule, ready to exchange witticisms with Captain Wentworth or Mr Darcy. However, no dashing Regency gentlemen were to be seen, so we all settled down to wait to hear from Mr Mitchell.

He started by explaining that he is not David Mitchell the novelist, author of 'Cloud Atlas', and asked whether anyone had attended by mistake (one person admitted to having done so)...

This David Mitchell is the comedian - I am mostly familiar with him for being one half of 'That Mitchell and Webb Look' (one of my favourites is here). He has now written his autobiography, Back Story, and read several passages from it, in the course of an interview.

It's probably not a surprise to hear that it is funny...

David explained that he had been going to write a misery memoir, but didn't really have any terrible traumatic childhood experiences to base one on (except for the lobster incident, obviously..)

He read passages from the book about the lobster incident, about his school and about his early experiences as an actor, before answering questions from the audience.

I think the book will be well worth reading, and of course you can also read David's weekly columns in the Observer newspaper.


Oct. 18th, 2012 07:52 pm
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I spent the weekend in Dublin, for Octocon, and had a wonderful time.

I arrived (later then planned, due to Aer Lingus) on Friday, and met up with friends SpacedLaw and Raven Books for a meal (and lots of conversation)

The Con started on Saturday, but I skipped the opening ceremony and morning panels, and headed to the National Gallery of Ireland, where I spent a happy hour or so wandering around. They have a Caravaggio, Fra Angelico, an early Van Gogh and a Picasso. I also enjoyed finding some less familiar artists - they Gallery has several works by Jack Butler Yeats - I particularly like the latter, more impressionistic works.('For the Road' was my favourite)

Trinity College
 I also wandered through Trinity College and admired their public art works - 

My afternoon at the convention included attending the GoH interview with Liz Williams,and panels about alternate histories, heroism and stoicism, not to mention time spent catching up with friends old and new.

The evening brought a meal out with SpacedLaw, Anabel (and her cousin) and  Ian Sharman at the wonderful 'JoBurger'
Brian J Showers, Deirdre Thornton and R.F. Long - Roots of Irish Fantasy Panel

On Sunday there were lots more panels - everything from the roots of Irish fantasy (Ruth Long had some wonderfully insane books from early 20th C writers) to writing about cultures not your own, when and how a writers words or actions in 'real' life impact on whether you can enjoy his books.

There may also have been quite a large amount of sitting around in the lobby having conversations with other attendees. It was fun.

Spacedlaw and I wound up the evening at The Winding Stair, which is a restaurant with its own bookshop. Or possibly a bookshop with its own restaurant. Either way, the food and wine were delicious.

On Monday morning there was just time to head over to Blackrock to visit Louisa at Raven Books, (and inevitably, to buy some books, before heading back to the airport for my flight home.

It was a lovely weekend, and (as you can see from the pictures) it was even sunny for about half the time!
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Michael Palin has been described as the 'Nicest Man in Britain'. I didn't actually meet him, so cannot vouch for his over all niceness, but he is certainly a very entertaining speaker.

He was in Bath on Wednesday evening, promoting his new BBC series, and book, Brazil. He gave us a whistle-stop tour of the country, and visited everyone from Amazonian tribes-people to street poets and the biggest gay pride march imaginable (in which he rode on the Transsexuals'/Transvestites' float, looking and feeling a little under dressed!)

He came across at the talk, in a very similar way to the way he comes across in his TV shows - friendly, self-deprecating, and  amusing. Had the queue been shorter, or the event on a Friday or Saturday evening, I would have stayed and perhaps bought a book to have signed,. As it is, I shall wait and watch the series (which I gather starts in about 2 weeks)
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It's been a busy weekend.

On Friday I had tickets for another Bath Kids Lit. Fest event - an event with Johan Harstad, a Norwegian novelist and playwright whose first YA novel, 172 Hours on the Moon has recently been translated and published in English.

I was only able to stay for the first half of the event, as I also had a ticket for the theatre, and I'm sorry I couldn't stay longer. Johan explained that he had been asked to write a book to be given away to children as part of a cultural festival, and that the book turned out more frightening than originally expected, so ended up being distributed to older children than originally planned.

He spoke about his love of horror movies and books, and claimed that his intention in writing the novel was to cause people to be scared of the Moon... I haven't read the book yet, but I think it will be interesting!

from Bath Theatre Royal website
 (Mr Rushworth)
After leaving that event, I walked up to the theatre to see 'Mansfield Park', in a new adaptation fr the stage. I love Austen, but admit that 'Mansfield Park' is my least favourite of her works, partly, I think because it was a set book (with an uninspiring teacher) at A-Level, but also because I find it so hard to identify with Fanny Price, one of literature's wet blankets.

This production has slimmed down the cast of characters - there is no Mr Norris, No Julia Bertram, No Mr Yates, and Dr Grant, Mrs Grant and Lady Bertram do not appear on stage. The play moves quickly, and there is a good deal of humour, but perhaps inevitably, a lot of the nuances are lost.

Most importantly, Edmund's kindnesses to Fanny are limited to providing her with paper to write to her brother, when she first arrives, and ensuring that she is included in the trip to Sotherton, which, combined with his infatuation with Mary Crawford made it hard to see what Fanny saw in him....

However, despite this, the play is entertaining and witty. I may even go back and re-read the novel again.

Michael Morpurgo
On Saturday, I was back in Bath for 2 Kids Lit events, and a separate one run by Toppings (on of Bath's two wonderful independent bookshops)

The first event was Michael Morpurgo, who is the author of 'War Horse', and over 100 other books - his event was at the Forum, which started life as a (fabulously Art Deco) cinema - there were around 1,000 there, more than half of them children. 

He spoke about the inspiration for 'War Horse', and claimed that the reason that many of his books feature characters called 'Michael' is because he is "deeply unimaginative". He also commented that there ought to be a requirement to have spent time as a teacher before they could become Education Secretary, and got the biggest cheer of the day!

It was clear that the children in the audience were enjoying themselves, and that Michael was as well!

Anthony Horowitz
Later on, I returned to the Forum for the event with Anthony Horowitz, author of the Alex Rider books, and of a series, Power of Five, which he has just completed by writing the 5th and final book, Oblivion. 

Horowitz came across as very enthusiastic about his work, and talked not only about the Alex Rider books, and Power of Five, but also about his TV work on Foyle's War,and about writing the Sherlock Holmes sequel, A Touch of Silk, It was entertaining, but I was left feeling it was all a bit superficial.

The final event which I attended was not part of the Kids Lit Fest, but the separate 'autumn book festival' which Toppings books are involved with. They had arranged for radio 4 presenter, James Naughtie, to come to speak about his book, The New Elizabethans. 

The book is a series of 60 essays, each of which started as the script for a  15 minute radio programmer. Each  essay is about a person (or persons) who are seen as 'new Elizabethans', so they are all people who are, or were, famous or extraordinary during the 60 years of the Queen's reign. 

The 'Elizabethans' were selected by a panel, from nominations sent in to Radio 4 by listeners, and ranged from Sir Edmund Hillary, to Sir David Attenborough, to Jocelyn Bell Burnell, to others who were perhaps more unexpected - Simon Cowell, for instance...

Naughtie read several short extracts from the essays, and talked a little about some of the challenges - writing to a very tight deadline, writing about  people whom he knew personally, and so forth. I'm glad a went, although sadly I did have to leave just before the end, in order to catch my train home.
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This year's Bath Festival of Children's Literature started on Friday. Although there wasn't any one event this which which leapt out at me as being totally unmissable, but lots that struck me as interesting in one way or another, and I have tickets for 5 or 6 events.

The first was Michael Rosen (well, technically, the first was Ali Sparkes, but I booked that before I knew I had to work on Saturday morning, so I had to miss it, which was a shame)

Michael Rosen's event was in the Guildhall's banqueting hall, and was sold out, which means there were about 350 people there - at a guess, about half of them were small children, and everyone seemed to be enjoying Michael's stories about his school days (back in the Stone Age, when teachers didn't allow children to breathe during lessons, and there was a school dungeon where rats gnawed your toenails) and his poems, many of which involved audience participation.

The event was clearly aimed at young children, but despite neither being, nor having with me, a small child, I still found it lots of fun. An excellent start to (my) festival.
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On Saturday morning, while checking Twitter, I saw Garth Nix tweet that he would be in Bath that evening, which sounded as though it might be interesting, so I went along.

I have enjoyed his books for several years now, particularly the 'Old Kingdom' ones, and I enjoyed his talk, too.

He started by talking about his name (not a pseudonym, despite what people may suspect) and about telling stories, and where he gets ideas from (unlike Neil Gaiman and others, not from a little shop in southern England, it would seem) and the process of making stories.

He also read us a little of the most recent books he has out; 'A Confusion of  Princes' and 'Trouble Twisters' and also a short excerpt from what will, probably, be the prologue to a new 'Old Kingdom' book - 'Claribel: The Lost Abhorsen', which sounds as though it's going to be a book I want to read. 

He then answered questions before signing books and chatting, which was fun.

I was slightly distracted during the talk by the fact that there was some decorative bunting up, which had clearly been made out of books.. This bothered me a little. I couldn't help but notice that the bunting was made from actual pages, not anything printed as bunting.

(It's OK. I went and asked one of the staff members after the reading; they explained it was made from a damaged proof copy of a book, so it wasn't destroyed specially)

I'm currently about 1/3 of the way through 'A Confusion of Princes' which I'm enjoying.

There are going to be more authors, soon. It's the Bath Kids Lit Fest next month, which should also be fun, and I have a theatre trip or two lined up. 

And on an unrelated note, I went to donate blood today. Turns out it was my 50th donation, which means they give me a shiny brooch and a nice pen, and I was surprised at how chuffed I was about it!

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This year's Bath Lit. Fest. opened yesterday, and I had tickets for two of today's events.
The first was a talk by Alain de Botton whose most recent book, 'Religion for Atheists' has just come out. He is an excellent and engaging speaker. His theme was the many positive things which religions offer, and what these can still offer a secular society.

He began by disclosing that he is not, himself, a believer (to give anyone who might be offended the opportunity to leave), and went on to explain how he felt this allowed him, and other atheists to take a 'pick'n'mix' approach to religion and it's trappings, starting from a view of religions as part of our cultural heritage, in a similar way that art, literature and music are.

It seems a far more positive and constructive attitude than the more typical religion/atheist divide. (and such a refreshing change from the intolerance often seen from the extremes on both sides of the divide)

He suggests that religions have a lot in common with big business - big groups working towards a common objective, multi-national organisation, logos, uniform, brand messages, they aren't just collections of ideas, and so seeking to convince people by making arguments over those specific doesn't, generally work - the organisations are so much better at propaganda. Secular culture has, in contrast, remained more of a cottage industry; writers, artists and musicians all working independently.

In effect, de Botton's thesis is that rather than arguing with religions or the religious, atheists should steal or borrow the 'best bits' - the good ideas, the community building, the accessible art, the effective education.

He is a fluent, passionate and entertaining speaker, and he left me wanting to read his book! Following the lecture, there was time for a few questions, unfortunately the first of these was that scourge of the Q&A, the person who cannot, or will not ask a question, but instead starts their own mini-lecture, on this occasion, to 'prove' that there's always a fundamental choice between right and wrong (AKA you must believe in some external force really, you just won't admit it) which was a little wearying.

Over all, however, I found de Botton's approach refreshingly different, and was inspired to buy his book, despite my intention to come for the talk alone!

The second event which I had booked was to hear Claire Tomalin interviewed about Charles Dickens, the subject of her most recent biography, but I first had several hours to kill, so took myself to the Wild Cafe for brunch - pancakes with bacon and maple syrup, after which I found the lure of the bookshops too great, and my resolution to buy no books today a further beating.
Back at the Guildhall, I settled in to listen to Claire Tomalin, interviewed by John Walsh.

I found this less gripping than either Alain de Botton, or Simon Callow's Dickens talk last week - partly, I think, this was down to presentation; Walsh had clearly prepared for the interview, but was reading from notes, which did mean that the interview didn't flow as well as it might have done, and it was very much geared to the Dickens aficionado.

Tomalin clearly knows her stuff, but I didn't feel that her enthusiasm for the subject quite came over to the audience - I wasn't left feeling either that I'd learned anything new about Dickens (which as I'm by no means a Dickens expert, is saying something) or that I wanted to go on to buy the book and read more. I think I shall continue to read Mr Callow, and Mr Dickens himself, instead.

Tomorrow, I shall be back in Bath for further events. Watch this space.
marjorie73: (Default)
So, this week has been mostly dealing with mundane and unexciting stuff, hence not a lot of blogging.

Monday Tybalt had a visit to the vet, so I was very unpopular - he has been having some skin problems, one place on each of his shoulders, and one on his belly, which looked as though he had perhaps been scratched, and of course he keeps worrying at them, making them worse. So he has been wearing a lovely cone-head collar and being dabbled with antiseptic at regular intervals, as well as having an antibiotics shot. The verdict is that this could be a sensitivity to something he has come into contact with, or stress related, or it could just be that he did have a fight with someone and get scratched. However, it does appear that everything is healing now he can no loger get at the sore areas to lick them to pieces, although I am keeping the collar on for a few more days until they are completely gone, for fear that if I take it off him too soon, simply because I feel sorry for him as he walks into doorways, and complains about not being allowed out, he will undo all the good work.

This weekend I am off to EasterCon in London (or rather, Heathrow) - should be fun. Last time I went (to my first ever con!) was EasterCon two years ago, which was at the same hotel and had Neil Gaiman, China Mieville and Charles Stross as Guests of Honour, all of whom are writers I'd go a long way to hear talking about their own work, which is really why I went - in combination, they were irrestistable.

This year, the GoHs are Alistair Reynolds, Mike Carey, Liz Williams and Iain M Banks - I have read and enjoyed Mike Carey's 'Felix Castor' novels, and the 'Lucifer' GNs, and I've read Iain Banks' 'The Wasp Factory', but I think that is all. This year I decided to go because I thought the con in general would be fun, rather than going to see a specific writer.

Hopefully I may meet an online friend or two - I believe [ profile] slovobooks   will be there, for instance..

I'm hoping that there will be internet, both at the Radisson (where the con is being held) and the (much cheaper and less posh) Ibis down the road where I shall actually be staying. If there is, I should at least manage to tweet, if not blog. If I go silent, you will know that internet failed to matierialise...

I should be back home some time on Tuesday, probably in need of some major catching up on sleep....

(Originally posted @ - comment here or there)

I probably ought to go & do some packing, now...


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