The Long Weekend….
17-20 April 2008
I was delighted to be able to attend part of the Second Scarborough Literature Festival.
Real-life activities prevented me from being there for the first two days but I made up for it by booking tickets for all of the Saturday events and most of Sunday’s too.
For many years I played at the Scarborough Chess Congress, in October, at The Corner Café. Although the Café is no longer there (flats are being built on the site), the weather seemed to be just as I remembered it (very cold with a permanent threat of rain), despite the difference of several months. However, as the activities were all indoors, the outside temperature had little bearing on proceedings.
Rather than go into too much detail about the specific works of the authors on show (a simple Google search will speedily lead you to their individual websites) I shall give a little overview of the weekend as I experienced it.
The main venue was the Scarborough Library Concert Hall - and what a magnificent room it is. Tastefully done out in purple and lilac, there were approximately 220 seats and nearly all were filled for every panel I saw.
The first one I attended featured Helen Dunmore and Deborah Moggach and was hosted by James Nash.
As this was my first such festival, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect; this panel nicely set the scene for what was to follow. The format worked very well. James made an excellent host and knew exactly when to speed things along and when to allow conversations to run their course. A general discussion with both authors was followed by a deeper talk about their individual work. This led to readings by both guests and then questions from the audience. The final part was a quick chat based on books recommended by the audience as being well worth a read.
An impressive Crime Panel assembled for the afternoon session, featuring Mark Billingham, Stephen Booth, Denise Mina and Natasha Cooper, with the latter in the role of host. A loose theme running through the hour was to show that crime writers, despite the grisly body-count, are actually nice, normal people. Sex scenes were discussed also, with Mark making the point that writers can provide detailed descriptions of horrible murders, with nobody believing the authors have ever committed such atrocities, but as soon as a sex scene is committed to paper readers assume it’s written from experience!
Blake Morrison was a very interesting guest. His early life was recently filmed ('And When Did You Last See Your Father?'); surely a mixed and interesting experience for anyone. He spoke about that for a little while but there was plenty of discussion about his poetry and his most recent novel, South of the River, from which he read a couple of sparkling and witty passages.
The final event of the Saturday was an extended (90 minute) panel with a terrific mixture of personalities. Christopher Brookmyre, Justin Cartwright and Jasper Fforde are all very successful writers with completely different styles to each other. They told how they all became writers and discussed lots of other aspects of literature before reading fascinating passages from their own books.
I have read a number of books by Sunday’s first guest, Steve Cole. A lot of his more recent writing is for young children and for his hour the Concert Hall was packed with enthusiastic Astrosaurs fans. Steve certainly knew how to pitch his talk perfectly to his predominantly young audience and his lively readings kept everybody amused and entertained for the full hour (not an easy task with children, believe me).
Carol Drinkwater came directly from her home in France for the Festival and proved to be an especially popular guest. A very natural speaker, she needed no host but had the audience enthralled by the story of her life and how she became so involved with olive trees and the genesis of her writing on the subject.
It was very interesting to hear that most of the writers don't always know how their books are going to end and in some crime cases aren't even sure 'whodunnit' until quite late on. The strong central idea is always in place but the characters often take the author in their own direction.
Another thing most authors happily agreed with: the writer's life is not a secure one and they are forever expecting someone to tap them on the shoulder and demand they get a real job!
Guests I didn’t manage to see included Ian Rankin, Susan Hill, Joanne Harris and Simon Armitage. Maybe next year!
As can be clearly seen, the Festival attracted some very big names. Judging by the amount of people in attendance and the various comments I heard over the weekend, the whole thing was a resounding success. I certainly had my horizons broadened, my enthusiasm fired and my imagination inspired. The wallet was not too depleted though, as prices were very reasonable. For example, a day ticket for all of Saturday’s events was just £19 and I think that is excellent value for money.
In addition to writing tales and tips, plenty of other insider knowledge was revealed over the weekend. For example, ‘staff recommendations’ in certain shops are actually more like paid adverts by publishers; and ‘3 for 2’ offers are financially sweetened by publishers too, to the tune of a five-figure sum. Fair enough - but it’s easy to see that big publishers are holding all of the aces in that particular selling battle.
North East England needs more events of this calibre. Hopefully, this time next year, I will be writing about the third Scarborough Literature Festival.
Well done to all concerned for producing such an excellent and inspirational event. I’m sure the hard-working staff will feel their efforts were all worthwhile.
Further information, including a list of all of the event’s sponsors and supporters, can be seen over at the website: http://www.scarboroughliteraturefestival.co.uk/