Sep 16, 2012

Friday and Saturday - by Ric

For me, the festival began on Friday night with performances by Oliver Daldry and Space Pirates of Rocquaine in the Barclays Hub. By the time Oliver and his band took to the floor, it was beginning to get dark, and there was a campfire-esque atmosphere to the hub which was ideal for their hushed and heartfelt folk songs. The Space Pirates followed with a more raucous set, singing about limpets and witches before ending with their own version of Sarnia Cherie. With some excellent lyrics and a clear love of the island, they were a great choice to add some music to the Guernsey Literary Festival.

First thing to catch on Saturday morning was Chuma Nwokolo, reading some of his short stories and discussing how and why he came to write them. Chuma is a Nigerian writer and lawyer, and much of his work is filled with a sense of justice and informed by his interest in the systems of politics. When asked whether his stories were autobiographical, he answered that the advantage of being a writer of fiction is that he is able to, “make nice endings out of nightmares.” Stories such as, ‘Orange Crush’ and ‘Glutton’ had the crowd laughing, and I liked the way Chuma took tiny details and made big narratives from them. He also spoke about the way he likes to publishing stories on his blog in such a way that he can play games with his readers’ expectations.

Which segues nicely into the the Future Of Book Publishing panel discussion I attended immediately afterwards. I think that digital publishing is something that will affect all readers and writers more and more, and possibly faster than we think, so it was good to hear what the experts have to say. There were plenty of issues to cover and the discussion took us on a whistle-stop tour of new technology including apps for classics (including an exclusive walk-through of a new Clockwork Orange app), digital ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books and Booktrack (ebooks with ambient soundtracks). There was also some discussion of the creative process, of balancing the needs of writers and developers, and of using beta-testing to make sure new books will hit the spot with readers. All of the panellists (see pic below) spoke well and provided a lot of food for thought.

In the afternoon it was time for a quick flit from one century to another, rounded off with a guide to making sense of it all. A packed Hub heard Lucinda Dickens Hawksley cover a lot of ground in just under an hour with her captivating talk about her great-great-great grandfather Charles. Next, Metawars author Jeff Norton dragged us from the 19th century and into the future with his talk about his futuristic adventure series. It was interesting to hear Jeff speak about the very real dangers of cyberworld and the need for online education, some of the issues that underpin his books. With all of the above to digest, it was a good job that Ella Berthoud was up next to offer some tips on how to form, maintain and get the best out of a book group. She peppered her talk with examples of how to approach various writers, from Ali Smith to Hamid Mohsin, to the extent that I think the main thing I took away with me was a list of more novels to look up.

The books would have to wait though, because soon it was time to hotfoot it to St James’ where Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke were sharing a stage. Both poets read some old and some new work, which gave Carol Ann chance to read a selection from her landmark collection The World’s Wife before finishing with a poem penned in response to the Hillsborough investigation. She read with a poise and wit so sharp that she soon had the audience spellbound, turning them one way or the other with the interjection of a single word. Gillian’s piece about the second world war massacre at Oradour-Sur-Glaine stood out amongst a set of beautifully crafted poems and hearing the background of the story, and of the genesis of the work, added to it greatly.

Rushing onwards again, by the time I got to the Fermain Tavern Attila the Stockbroker was already onstage. He performed honest and confrontational poems, with laughs that enhanced rather than outshone the serious issues at the heart of his work. ‘Never Too Late,’ a personal piece about his changing relationship with his dying stepfather, packed a wonderfully human emotional punch. As the audience packed in and the heat increased, Lynton Kwesi Johnson took to the stage and explained that it had been years since he had played in a similar venue. For such a lauded literary figure he came across as an incredibly humble and charming man as he spoke about the background of his work. Performing, he stood stock still, fixed the crowd with a steely gaze and spoke in a steady rhythm, his stance and his mesmerising voice a fixed point at odds with the powerful violence in his poems. His set traced an evolution from his early work documenting the sus laws and Brixton riots through to more recent causes such as death in custody and ethnic cleansing, and it was truly inspiring to see a poet who has fought for so much, and is still fighting. Rounding off the evening were Ruts DC, who lead the crowd dancing into the night.