Literature Festivals - Melvyn Bragg, Margaret Drabble, Ben Okri, Mark McCrum and Murder . . . .

I've just spent the day at the Words by the Water book festival in Keswick.  A cold, clear winter's day in the Lake District with an icy wind from the arctic - definitely the weather for curling up with a book.
Derwentwater from the Theatre by the Lake
The first session was a discussion on the state of publishing today with Melvyn Bragg, Margaret Drabble and Cate Haste - chaired by Mark McCrum.  Very lively and informative.  Melvyn confesses to being a dinosaur, writing with pen and paper and letting someone else do the typing.  Not a computer man and definitely not an ebook person!  His wife Cate Haste admitted having a Kindle, but said she could never find the charger.  Margaret Drabble, unexpectedly, was very enthusiastic about ebooks - not just reading them on a Kindle, but about the whole publication scene, which made more money for writers.  Very clear-sighted and progressive.  I bought her new book of short stories, which she admitted having to badger her reluctant publishers into publishing.  If writers of her reputation and calibre have trouble getting short stories into print, then there's no hope for the rest of us.  The collection is called 'A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman'.

As it was international women's day, the next event was aptly titled 'Women in Dark Times'.  I listened to Jacqueline Rose eloquently talking about the lives of Rosa Luxemburg and Marilyn Monroe.  Rosa - a Polish Jew - fought for socialist democracy in Germany at the beginning of the century and was murdered for her activism;  Marilyn Monroe proved to be more political than her legend has allowed her to be seen.  She too, died in dubious circumstances. The book covers much, much more including 'honour' killings and the lives of contemporary feminists.
Jacqueline Rose
Mark McCrum gave the Royal Literary Fund talk on the ups and downs of a writer's life and demonstrated very clearly the need for the Royal Literary Fund's support.  Most of us have stories of 'the book that never was'.  An excellent relationship with publisher Christopher Sinclair Stephenson came to an abrupt end when the firm was bought up by someone who didn't share CSS's enthusiasm for Mark's work  On another occasion he had an editor who was very enthusiastic about his work and about to sign him up, when she was rushed to hospital and died.  Another book - primed to be a best-seller in a well-timed media storm - was scuppered by the death of Princess Diana the night before publication.  Since then, Mark has ghosted books (a hilarious account of going on tour with Robbie Williams) for celebrities, including Prince Harry, and spent time Castaway on a Scottish island to write the story of the TV story (which proved more controversial than the broadcast version) and worked as a travel journalist.

His latest book - independently published - is Fest, a murder mystery set at a literature festival. At Mold on the Wold, an eminent and rather savage literary critic is found dead and there are a whole host of suspects with red hot motives. Fest is very funny, incredibly well-written and stylishly plotted.

I thoroughly enjoyed my day meeting up with fellow writers over coffee or tea (I was driving) and catching up with the literary gossip. My Kindle is now loaded with new reads.  The day closed with Ben Okri and I had high expectations of the event - he is a magical, mesmerising speaker and has a lot to say about mythology and the importance of stories for our culture.  But it was an 'in conversation' event and was badly marred by some banal and insensitive questioning, so I left early - half an hour with gritted teeth was enough!


  1. Gosh, can't resist "Fest" - just downloading that one now! Thanks very much for the recommendations, Kathleen, sounds like a fab day out!

  2. Ditto re Fest. But what was the 'chair' doing not managing the Ben Okri event? It does sound like wasted opportunity, and your early departure a very necessary one.
    I've really enjoyed this account of the day though. Thank you

  3. I read Fest in 2 sittings and thoroughly enjoyed it - particularly trying to figure out which authors the various characters were based on. Carol S - unfortunately it was the chair who was 'interviewing' Ben. Not his fault really - just a mismatch.


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