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October 23, 2014 / ljbradburn-Smith

After the Party

litfest

 

I was certain that I was going to love the Cheltenham Literature Festival but even I hadn’t quite imagined how much it would feel like my spiritual home. The phrase which sums it up for me best is “book heaven”. If they had thrown in chocolate which has no calories and the squishiest sofa in the world then I would have been convinced that I had actually died and found myself on the right side of the pearly gates.

As my Mum and I wandered around the festival tents, in between talks, and found ourselves in the Waterstones’s queue for the third or fourth time that day, with towering piles of books and drunken grins on our faces (letting us loose together around books was a bad idea for our purses), I couldn’t have been happier. Even queuing was enjoyable as everyone there was excited and keen to talk about who they had been to see and which books they were buying. With polite book recommendations flying around it probably goes without saying that it was the most civilized festival vibe I have ever experienced.

As for the talks themselves, we went to see:

Kazuo Ishiguro – who talked about his past and future novels and his inspiration behind them. I found his description of his creative process and reasons for choosing his subject matter fascinating, in particular his lack of research and the way in which he writes things based on his own imagined or remembered experiences. I think that this lack of research only serves to add to the wonderfully unsettling, ethereal feeling that his writing evokes.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – lead by the enigmatic Micheal Rosen famed for his children’s book We’re Going On a Bear Hunt. Not only was it special for us because we got the chance to see an author whose book I had been delighted by so many times, as a young child, we also experienced Rosen’s enthusiasm for Roald Dahl’s writing light up the stage, were taught by Quentin Blake on a video link to draw Willy Wonka in his distinctive, quirky style, had the chance to win a special edition Charlie and the Chocolate Factory book complete with a real-life golden ticket and (as if that wasn’t enough) every audience member was presented with a chocolate upon leaving. Okay, this talk was mainly for younger children and their parents but my Mum and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Lure of Dystopia – This was a discussion about what counts as dystopian fiction and why it is so popular at present. I actually came away a little bit frustrated with the lack of depth to this talk as I felt it skated over the topic of dystopian fiction and the audience were presented by three authors, all of whom said that they wouldn’t necessarily have classed their fiction as falling into the dystopian genre. That being said I still enjoyed the discussion and made some notes of some more dystopian titles to add to my ever-expanding “to-read” list. Talking of notes I made quite a few during all of the talks I went to as I found it fascinating to hear what everyone had to say and I wanted to make sure I didn’t forget anything as my memory is so terrible! It made me think nostalgically of long ago University lectures.

and Rose Tremain – who read one of her short stories from her new book. As expected her short story was beautifully written and had several layers to it that I have come to expect from the talented Rose. As well as reading to us Tremain also talked about the short story as a concept and summed up my feelings on short story compilations perfectly when she described them as being more stressful to read than your average novel. I have always found them slightly more unsettling as I am busy getting to know the characters only to have the story end and be expected to move on to the next one. That being said though a part of me relishes that feeling of being completely immersed in one story one minute only to be transported far away the very next.

We had hoped to get tickets to see Margaret Atwood as well but was lucky enough to spot her just as she was packing up after her book signing and after I had finished welling up with excitement, I asked her to sign my copy of her new book of short stories. I also met Ishiguro and Tremain and had the chance to tell them in person how much I admire them. Despite spending my time in the queue trying to think of something profound and memorable to say to my idols telling them I admired them was pretty much all I could manage in my starstruck state.

In the way that books have the power to transport me to so many different times and spaces, immersing myself in the festival felt like entering a thousand different worlds at once and with only a day to experience as many of them as possible I found myself wishing that the sun would never go down.

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