Book festival special

And a special book festival it is too!  I am having a brilliant time.  Lovely atmosphere.

I’m a bit behind with blogging so let’s have a quick catch-up of the last couple of days (not in order.  Maybe in order of my enthusiasm).

Alice Oswald‘s recital of her long poem ‘Memorial‘ was probably the most memorable poetry event I’ve ever been to.  She recited from memory for one-and-a-quarter hours without moving at all (except her left foot tapping along with the rhythm).  This incredibly focused recital seemed ideally suited both to the origins of the piece (it’s based on the Iliad) and the content (how 200 ordinary soldiers died).  Better critics that I have reviewed the work extensively – I’d recommend you go and find them – but I found the precision and personal detail very moving (the stabbed soldier who ‘bit down on the spear tip’, the ones who had just got married, the ones who asked for mercy and were denied).  Really, it could be any soldiers – the fact they are from thousands of years ago is irrelevant.  If you ever, ever get the chance to see this it is unmissable.

Nick Coleman‘s event was also totally engaging though in a very different way. He was telling the story (as his does in his book) of his sudden neurosensory hearing loss, its massive impact on his life (particularly as he’s a music journalist and arts critic) and the subsequent recovery process.  I just loved how well he could describe the experience of having tinnitus – I guess his music writing experience was the ideal background for being able to describe all the weird sounds.  After his hearing loss, he couldn’t get anything out of music at all, but was advised by Oliver Sacks that ‘the only way to be able to hear music is to be able to remember music’ – the brain activity is the same. So in the book he writes about the music he loved and how he came to love it.  I think I’d be more interested in the neurological bits of the books than the music bits but he was a marvellous speaker with a tremendous story.  It was a shame there was no time for questions, because I’m sure there would be people in the audience with common experiences to share.

James Geary and Sam Leith‘s talk was called ‘Unleashing the Persuaders’ and it was about the techniques of persuasion through metaphor and rhetoric. I loved this.  They were really funny, and amusingly bitchy about bad writing, but mostly I loved that I learnt a lot in the talk.  Who knew that you use 5-6 metaphors a minute in normal speech?  I keep spotting them now!  In poetry, we know that words that seem similar can have different connotations and that’s the same with metaphors too – they trigger particular associations.  I really enjoyed Sam’s dissection of Barack Obama’s inaugural speech and the American traditions it was plugging into, and his discussion of how politicians try to make their answers seem inevitable. And James’s explanation of aphorisms while juggling was certainly a highlight.  I definitely want to read both their books – I is an Other and You Talkin’ to Me.

Paddy Ashdown is doing more than one book festival talk, but the one I went to was about his book on the Cockleshell Heroes – the 1942 canoe raid on Bordeaux (there’s a decent short account of it on the BBC site here).  I loved his enthusiasm for writing – “I absolutely adore the process of writing a book” – although I wished he’d read slightly shorter extracts and just chatted more.  He’d found out some really interesting stuff in the archives – particularly the German archives which showed pictures of the (limited) bomb damage done on the raid.  Also his own experience in the Special Boat Service gives him a personal connection to what these people did. The book has got to be a good Christmas option for that hard-to-buy-for uncle!

Jon Grey and Jamie Keenan had loads of fascinating information to impart about book cover design, and I loved how they illustrated the talk with their own cover designs – even the ones that had been rejected!  However, presenting all twenty of their ‘immutable theories of book cover designs’ in an hour is always going to be challenging timewise and I found their presentation frustrating, particularly when they sped up at the end.  I’d rather have seen 5 or 6 theories discussed in a leisurely manner with time for questions, or all twenty presented in a well-rehearsed, focused way with single examples.  And their reading off clipboards made it a bit primary-school-play.  A shame because the content was brilliant – I’m amazed at how many of their covers I recognised and loved, and each individual theory was really interesting.

I’m back out blogging for Clicket today – book fest and DanceBase. This is my last proper day going to the festivals so I’d better make the most of it!
Note: I received free tickets through Clicket for all of these events except Alice Oswald.

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