Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Some thoughts about Shakespeare's birthday... or a literary kind of post

Oh dear. This blog is in danger of becoming a dead blog, deceased, no more.  I am not quite sure why, but I suspect Twitter is partially to blame. However, I do occasionally have things to say that require more then 140 characters, so the blog is here to stay, and I will sporadically keep posting...

It seems of late I have been spending a lot of time doing things of a literary nature. Which is fine by me. Literary things being my life blood as it were. However, with the constraints of family life, I don't get as much time for indulging my literary leanings (apart from the writing of course) as much as I would like.

Anyway in the last week, I have had plenty of opportunities to indulge myself, which has been just fine and dandy with me & it being Shakespeare's birthday week as it were, seemed like a good opportunity to blog about them too.

So last week, saw me at the London Book Fair. I try to go every year, but since they've changed the venue from Olympia to Earl's Court, the date has also changed, and now it invariably ends up in the Easter holidays, so I missed it last year.

The London Book Fair is were the great and the good of UK publishing meet their counterparts from around the world & strike up those amazing 6 figure deals you're always reading about in the papers. The first time I went, around twenty years ago, I was working for Scholastic and spent two days working my rocks off on their stand, meeting & greeting people. It was fun, hard work, but in the main entertaining. And luckily I didn't draw the short straw like my colleague who had the unenviable task of wandering round the Fair dressed as Postman Pat. In those days, LBF as it's known was more, well, parochial then it is now, and dare I say it, slightly more relaxed. Now it's very very shiny & a recent innovation, particularly with the advent of POD, self publishing and the ability to download your entire oeuvre onto Kindle is that authors now turn out in their droves. In my day, you hardly saw an author at the Fair, which was ever so slightly odd, considering it's all ABOUT THEM, but it was seen more as an opportunity to do business deals & sign contracts, whereas now promoting your author by actually having them there and getting them to meet potential publishers is actually seen as a good thing.

When I was first freelance, I used to go along to catch up on the gossip of my mates in publishing, as I missed the business badly when I was at home with small children (truth be told, though I LOVE writing, I still miss it.). And it was also an opportunity to make new contacts, and get work. Nowadays, I have less need for that, and usually pop in for lunch with my agent (and this year my editor), who tends to apologise for dragging me up there. Apologise? I say, WHAT ON EARTH FOR?

The truth is, that for people who are actually there on proper business, LBF is bloody hard work, but for hangers on like I am now, it's a jolly day out (I don't get many of those), an opportunity to get the feel of how the business is at the moment (thriving I'd say, despite the perennial gloom and doom about technology bringing about the death of books - which has been predicted pretty much constantly in the 24years I've been knocking around this business), and a chance to meet up with friends old and new. Because despite the fact that it is shinier and busier then it used to be, it's also still small enough to bump into people. So within minutes of being there, I'd run into my old sales director, and when going to meet my lovely author friends Kate Harrison and Jill Mansell, I bumped into an ex colleague and good friend whom I haven't seen forever. I had a great and informative lunch with my agent and editor, and was disappointed to have to tear myself away at 2.15 because I had to do the school run.

I had originally intended to go for two days this year, as I wanted to meet another friend who was around on the Wednesday. I'd also planned to stay longer on at least one evening, so I could meet up with more people I knew (disappointingly I missed a tweet up on Tuesday, and despite waving at lovely Danuta Kean across a coffee table, had no time to chat.) Memo to self, don't leave it till the last moment next year...

However, as I said, I've been having a very literary time of it of late, sooo, I had to hoof it from the book fair, to not only go home and do my mother thing, and cook tea for everyone, but hare off to the girls' school with eldest to see Carol Ann Duffy who some genius teacher had persuaded to come and do a talk. It's not every day you get to meet a Poet Laureate. And in fact, Carol Ann Duffy was my first (and probably last). I LOVE her poems, particularly the ones in The World's Wife, and although initially I thought she might not be that great at reading them aloud (not all poets are), once she was in her stride, she was absolutely mesmerising. I was particularly entranced by some of the poems from her recent collection, The Bees. The funniest one was a poem entitled Mrs Schofield's GSCE written in response to the preposterous banning of one of Carol Ann Duffy's poems as being an incitement to kids to take up knife crime, instead of understanding the true meaning of the poem, namely to bring kids out of poverty via education, so they WON'T get involved in knife crime. As she said to the Guardian, the best response for a poet, is to write a poem.

But the two poems that stood out for both no 1 and I were two of the most personal: about the death of Carol Ann Duffy's mother, Water and the very touching and beautiful Premonitions. Water begins with her talking about filling up a glass of water in a hospice cup and giving it to her mother, linking it with the times her mother gave her water as a child, and now she does the same for her own daughter. Given what we have recently experienced a family, it couldn't fail to strike a chord. But Premonitions, just blew me away. In it, the poet imagines getting to know her mother backwards, so at her death she is a total stranger. Oh dear god, how that poem could have been written for mil. She talks about the birds singing (we drove over to the hospice at midnight the day Rosemarie died, and I have never heard such a loud dawn chorus); imagines the wheelchair and commode disappearing, talks of her "unenglish" accent, and towards the end of the poem remembers her mother in front of the magnolia tree. In their house in Wallington, my in laws had a magnificent magnolia tree, and every year in spring, I think of it. I suppose, that's the universality of poetry, but it was comforting none the less.

Not only were the poems and the reading wonderful, I was really impressed with Carol Ann Duffy's good humour and interest in us when we came to get our books signed. She chatted for longer then she needed to, and seemed genuinely interested in no 1's choice of career. It was a fabulous experience, and not one you get very often on a rainy evening in a school hall.

Last Wednesday dawned, and with it my first proper foray into creative writing teaching, which was my other excuse for not getting to LBF that day. I've just volunteered to take part in enrichment activities at youngest's school, so now find myself teaching seven 7-10 year olds about writing for the next six weeks. My idea is simply to try and get them to express themselves. Oh, the incredible DULLNESS of writing in the National Curriculum, the most prescriptive way of teaching writing I have ever come  across. Not the teachers' fault, but dear god, these poor kids have every scrap of creativity drummed out of them, as they are obliged to write stories following the same plan. So when I suggested they just write what they like, they were a) enthusiastic and b) baffled. I kick started them  off by reading them some poems (Daffodils/Tiger Tiger/Father William), to see where that took their imaginations.  A lot of them chose to use pictures to tell their stories, but one bright spark produced a wonderful concrete poem inspired by Tiger Tiger. The boys then moved onto the computer games that inspired them, so there were a lot of things being blown up/goblins/zombies in their stories, but hey, at least they were creating stuff... This week I'm planning to play them some music, so it will be interesting to see where that takes us...

My literary day finished with book club at my house, which was fun, but sadly true to form I hadn't finished the books we'd chosen. Normally, I am too busy, but this time it was because my kindle had died. I am now in possession of a a new Kindle (thank you Amazon), and am playing catch up...

This week of course, we've had the Bard's birthday, which was the nominated day for the second World Book Night. I have to fess up to saying that last year I was a tad cynical about WBN, but when it actually happened it looked such a hoot, I was kicking myself for not getting involved. So this year, I was delighted to get the opportunity to take part, in a wonderful event organised by Surrey Libraries at Guildford Library, in which 30 local authors chatted to any person enthusiastic enough about books to want to come in and talk about them. And enthusiastic they certainly were. I shared a table with two other authors, Adrienne Dines a fantastic Irish author I know) and Zara Davies, who was new to me, but was equally interesting and fun. The evening was billed from 7.30-midnight, and thanks to a combination of  motherly duties (I hadn't quite finished cooking tea, oops), bad weather and Guildford's thoroughly confusing one way system, I arrived a couple of minutes before the event kicked off (sorry about that chaps), and was fairly sure that everyone would have gone home by 11pm. But amazingly, not only did all these wonderful people trek out on a rainy Monday night, but they all STAYED. So we left at midnight after all.

It was a really fun event, I met lots of aspiring authors, several published authors, and most importantly, READERS, people from all walks of life who are so interested and keen on books, they are prepared to give up a whole evening to talk about them. It was a very sound reminder of why us creative types do what we do, and how important our audiences actually are. I basked in reflected glory when one lady mentioned she liked historical writer Elizabeth Chadwick, and I mentioned she's a writing buddy, and Adrienne and I did our best to push Marian Keyes as being not the light fluffy read people seem to erroneously think. Highlight of the evening for me (but probably not her) was meeting Richard Hammond's mum, as his dad was there promoting a book of his own - well I have to do something to impress the kids these days...

All in all it was a great evening, and reminded me of why I got involved in this business in the first place. I don't get to do enough things like that in my daily life anymore, but boy when I get the opportunity to, is it fodder for my soul.

But now, sadly, it's back to reality. I have a book to rewrite (of which more in a later post) & a creative writing class to plan. So Adios Amigos, and Happy Birthday to Bill. He's half the reason I do this, you know...

1 comment:

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

It's a tricky one this blogging thing isn't it? The instantaneousness of Twitter is seductive, but I've kept on with blogging (kinda) to allow space for longer expressed thoughts.

Like this lovely post about your experiences of the LBF and other things bookish.

For me, I've found FB more practical (not quite so constrained as Twitter for expression, and more easily accessible via mobile and work) but I like keeping the blog going for space.

I'd be sorry to lose your presence in blogland - mostly for these longer expressive pieces. But I know it's hard to keep multiple things going.