Freedom From The Mundane - A Writer's Blog

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Submerged at the Book Festival

What a wonderful few days. I've been totally lost, nae submerged in the world of literature and the expressive arts. It's been a hell of a ride and there's STILL MORE to come.

Tuesday 22nd

To catch up, on Tuesday evening I attended two talks with best selling authors. The first was with Manda Scott, who gained fame as a crime writer but was at the Book Festival (BF) to talk about the fourth book in her "trilogy" about Boudica. All of this was new to me, but the power in her conviction and clearly excellent knowledge of world history was amazing.

She came across as a very quiet but assured woman, who seems very comfortable in the fact she is now a full-time writer and what she is writing about.

After a quick break I had a session with crime writers, John Harvey, Mark Billingham and Declan Hughes. This was a much more active hour, with all three authors approaching the stage clutching glasses of alcohol of some kind.

First up was Billingham to read from his book, and as a former stand-up comic he was absolutely hilarious. Never mind the quality of his writing (which sounded wonderful as he read), it was pre-reading speech that I'll probably remember most.

Next up was Declan Hughes, the "new crime writer on the block" who, as a former playwright, not only read from his latest novel but performed it as well. He was right into it and it was totally engrossing to watch.

John Harvey read a short story he had written but admitted that he didn't normally drink as much Highland Park whisky before going on stage as he had tonight. He was funny throughout as he tried to keep himself awake, nodding off at times but chirping up with some quick-witted and intelligent remarks.

The debate about crime writing was fascinating. There were some good questions from the floor that challenged mainly Billingham versus Hughes in that Hughes writes in 1st pov and Billingham in 3rd. It was a crying shame when the hour was up because everyone was just getting into it when we had to stop.

When I got home I felt totally invigorated. It was so good to have been sat listening to authors who were all from such different backgrounds, but who have got to where I want to be. I took so much inspiration from their words and advice, which they were all eager to impart, by the time I left I felt like a new writer.

The main thing I took from it was the fact they they are all from different backgrounds and experience. Scott was a vet and hated it, Billingham wrote comedy for TV and hated it, Hughes was a playwright who had toyed with writing his novel for 15 years before he felt the time was right to go ahead with it. And as for John Harvey, he is a legend in crime writing circles and has been for a long time.

Wednesday 23rd

I was exhausted after last night because I couldn't sleep for thinking about it all. I was back up at the BF by 10am (I took the whole day off to do BF stuff) for coffee and pastries with writers Alan Bissett , Nick Brooks and Michael Cannon. This had a Scottish fiction slant to it and it was a great way to start the day. There was a lot of humour, as there always seems to be, and I enjoyed it, though not as much as last night's crime session, I have to say.

Afterwards I joined the massive queue that was stretching around the interior of the gardens. This was one of the big events of the BF; a reading and talk with Andrew Motion, the UK Poet Laureate. He has just released his auto-biography, which he read from, but sounds more like a work of fiction in how it is written. What I mean is, it read beautifully, poetically almost (as you would expect from Motion), as he has not gone for the traditional method to writing his book. His is written in parts in present tense, which made it fascinating to listen to.

Motion is a quiet-spoken man, and very polite. He reminded me very much of Charles Dance but it his grasp of the English language that came across most, both in the reading of his book and in his discussion with the host. It was fascinating stuff as he recalled sections of his life and shared them with us, but also very sad in the circumstances of his mother's death when he was 17. He read from the section of the book when his mother has just had her horse-riding accident and it was a harder man than me who didn't admit to having a lump in one's throat.

The nerves kicked in as soon as the session was over; soon it would be time for the performance poetry workshop with Anita Govan. When I arrived there were about a dozen others, who all looked less nervous then myself. I took my seat in the circle inside the Writer's Retreat tent and soon the session began. Anita is a lively and spontaneous person, which helped as far as making it easier to relax.

We began with personal introductions, then by some ice-breaking/trust enhancement exercises, such as ball-throwing, making eye contact with other people, breathing and relaxing exercises. It was all very strange, but I soon got into it.

Then we had to do readings that Anita had brought with her as a way of teaching the basics of it all. Things to consider; what the poem is about, the tense, the meaning, the feelings etc. We paired off to prepare and I read On The Ning Nang Nong by Spike Milligan; a great poem that I've often read to Laura. I read it on the stage with another lady (sorry - forgot her name).

We were fast running out of time once we had all been up so we got straight into personal readings. The session was 90 minutes long and only some of the group managed to read their own poetry out. I never managed to, unfortunately.

Nevertheless, that apart I was glad I did it. It was totally nerve wracking but the things I took from it were invaluable. I will approach my poems differently, use what I know to improve and advance them and of course the confidence factor has been greatly boosted. Just talking to similar-minded people was a rush in itself, never mind getting up on a stage!

And so it was over before I really knew it. I made some good contacts and I feel myself moving towards attending Poetry Slams in the near future. I don't think I'll perform at the first one I go to, rather just get a feel for it, but I reckon I'm definitely moving in that direction.

I met up with my mate at dinnertime and we did a wee tour of some of Edinburgh's finer establishments. I really, really needed a pint after the last two days and, well, it was 3am before my "pint" finally ran dry.

Thursday (today)

Back to work today, but with a giant headache and major body-tiredeness. 3am finishes just aren't as easy to handle as they used to be.

Still, I felt like a new person after spending so much time around books and other writers over the last two days.

I did some editing on the poems for Poolside Poetry and made some notes for NaNoWriMo. I'm really looking forward to that now, in fact, I feel like there is so much writing in me I just want to take a year off!

But the best thing about today was meeting up with Tania Rocha and Valentine (living statue performers). They are great people and if I am going to take anything from this years festival - apart from what I've spoken about so far - it is that I am really happy that I have managed to get myself out there and meet so many different people from all artistic backgrounds. I have truly moved out-with my comfort zone and feel so much better for having just gone with the flow.
Colin 12:42 pm


Great, stimulating stuff.

Harvey is also an outstanding poet and jazz enthusiast. I've gone to some of his poetry/jazz gigs -- outstanding. If you ever get the opportunity, seize it.

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