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Stop! Baileys Time

Or collaborate and listen, Alice is back with her brand new invention.
Spoiler alert, it’s neither new nor my invention.

I’ve been inundating you with Brighton Festival posts, and as much as I would like to fit my recaps into May, I know that reading about one topic can be tiresome. To wit, I have decided to take a late jump on to the Baileys Women’s Prize shortlist readathon wagon and tell you about my mission to read all six before the 3rd June.

I’m currently mid-way through The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters (I didn’t realise until reading that she is the author of Fingersmith, a novel I loved) and at the beginnings of How To Be Both by Ali Smith. How To Be Both is taking a while to get into, as all I only had small snippets of time in which to read it, I’m looking forward to revisiting it after The Paying Guests.

I should, and planned to, have read The Bees by now as I wanted to try to partake in the Shiny New Books book club. But it’s still sat on my shelf waiting to be read, sorry book club!

And after listening to Kamila Shamsie talk about her novel, A God In Every Stone, at this year’s Brighton Festival, I can’t wait to begin it. It will be interesting to see my hometown through the eyes of an Indian soldier in the early 1900s.

Which of the shortlist have you read so far? Do you plan on reading any?

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Brighton Festival 2015 Days 5 & 6: Ruth Scurr & Jeanette Winterson

This post concludes my first week of volunteering. The festival ends next weekend, and I don’t want to think about writing these posts without the excitement of the next event.

Ruth Scurr on John Aubrey

Ruth Scurr, Historian, literary critic and biographer of John Aubrey (the man who redefined the way in which biographies were written) was in conversation with Erica Wagner.

Ruth Scurr (RS) began by talking about John Aubrey and his role in revolutionising the Biography format.

RS explained Aubrey was obsessed with the past from a young age. ‘Born in the shadow of the reformation’ he gathered manuscripts scattered from the monasteries. He was an antiquarian wanting to preserve the past.

Unlike biographers of his age, who wrote based on documents, Aubrey went and interviewed people who knew the person he happened to be writing about. (He interviewed Milton’s widow after his death – people were surprisingly open to talking to him.) He was interested in the details others overlooked, details that went beyond the academic. Eventually, Aubry compiled Brief Lives, which is how we know what we do about his talented (art, science etc..) contemporaries.

RS came to Aubrey as she wanted to give a biography to the man who did so much for the form. She also wanted to step back to restoration after previously writing about the French Revolution and Robespierre. Unfortunately, Aubrey did not keep a diary like Pepys did, so RS compiled all the scraps of information on him and decided to bring them together into a diary-like format. To write his tale, RS explained, as fiction would have gone against how he felt about writing. Aubrey was never interested in fiction, he cared about detail.

Jeanette Winterson

Jeanette Winterson is an author of books such as Sexing the Cherry and Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. This event was hosted by New Writing South, their 5th annual lecture.

I’ve been a big fan of Jeanette Winterson (JW) since reading Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit a few years ago.

This was a wonderful lecture on the importance of storytelling and reading.

JW began by talking about stories in everyday life. Language is a memory system, we pass information on through each other.

“We created language so we could express ourselves to ourselves and others.”

JW argues that nothing is objective, stories of one event can be told differently. Oral history changes like Chinese whispers as they are told and retold.

She explained that ‘we delight in the digressions along the way’, and novels are compiled of digressions along the way.

Language is necessary for storytelling, and stories are necessary to connect to the past – without communication your ideas are stunted.

 

We learn through storytelling.

‘Imaginative fiction does more that tell a story, it gives us a language to tell our own story.’

Where fiction reveals our feelings language gives us the missing words to describe them, to express them. The more we read, the more our vocabulary expands, the more we can express who and what we are.

The fiction and poetry that has lasted carries a lot of weight – a resilience of language. Complex literature lights up the brain. These stories don’t necessarily represent their time, but they address the human. Jane Austen never wrote about war, she wrote about how cute the militia were, focusing on the people rather than the event.

Reading is a very personal experience, and often two people who love the same book read it very differently. We each have our own version of events, our own vision of the story.

JW expresses that reading is a different pace to the rest of the world, even if you read quickly. People say they don’t have the time to read anymore, and that should be a warning sign and not a fact of life. New tech is rewiring our brain and we’re not quite sure how yet. (Although, I think it makes us unable to concentrate as well and crave short bursts of information over anything long.) It’s important that we don’t see reading as a chore to be done.

Questions followed, including one very funny woman asking why JW is ‘so delicious’. She meant, of course, her writing, but that wasn’t made quite clear at the first asking.

Usually I end these posts with questions for you, but today I want to end with the following JW quote:

‘Reading is good for my brain, good for my mind, good for my heart.’

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Brighton Festival 2015, Day 3 & 4: Liberty & Carol Ann Duffy

I’ve been very lucky this year, Brighton Festival has been packed full of some of my wonderful writers and poets. And I’ve not even told you about Jeanette Winterson yet.

But I shouldn’t get ahead of myself, before Winterson there was Liberty and Carol Ann Duffy:

On Liberty

‘On Liberty’ was an event to ‘highlight the role our Human Rights Act plays in protecting us all‘. Shami Chakrabarti hosted the evening of readings and music, joined by Ali Smith, Neil Bartlett, Jackie Kay, Alison MacLeod, Rachel Holmes, Bidisha & Billy Bragg. 

Liberty campaigns for civil liberties and human rights in the UK. As director of Liberty, Shami was a very passionate and enthusiastic host. Readings ranged from fiction to accounts from asylum seekers, with Billy Bragg adding a musical element to the evening.

[Agnes and I met Alison MacLeod before the event, she was absolutely lovely!]

I didn’t take many notes from this event, it was far too engrossing. Rachel Holmes read an account from an asylum seeker’s time in the UK and Bidisha spoke about the work she does with asylum seekers and as much as I enjoy the bookish side of the events, it was these parts that particularly moved me. The time those seeking asylum spend in England is degrading and disgusting, I was never more thankful to live the privileged life I do than in that moment.

Considering the current political climate, now more than ever is an important time to support such a crucial organisation.

Carol Ann Duffy

Carol Ann Duffy, poet and Poet Laureate from 2009 to 2014, was joined by LiTTLe MACHiNe a musical ensemble that sets poetry to music. 

Carol Ann Duffy (CAD) took the audience on a wonderful journey through her poetry. She has a very dry sense of humour which catches you off guard. It felt at first as if she was reading short stories, which was a reminder to me that not every poem reads as it is written. I soon eased into the form, and found a real enjoyment to CAD reading aloud.

Went to the Zoo.

I said to Him—

Something about that Chimpanzee over there reminds me of you.
– Mrs Darwin, Carol Ann Duffy

My favourite poem read was Mrs Schofield’s GCSE, combining hilarity with intellect. You can read it here.

Explain how poetry

pursues the human like the smitten moon

above the weeping, laughing earth; how we

make prayers of it.
– Mrs Schofield’s GCSE

The poem was a response to a woman who complained to their MP about another of CAD’s poems being included in an exam paper. The MP spoke to the exam board and her poem was quickly removed from the paper with, ‘This page has intentionally been left blank’ in its place. CAD then said something slightly naughty that she sternly told us not to tweet, oh how I giggled.

After the interval, LiTTLe MACHiNe took to the stage. I can’t remember what I thought they would sound like, but they exceeded expectation.

Here is them singing, So, we’ll go no more a-roving by Byron

Also, they have a skull maraca, which says it all really.

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What do you think of putting poetry to music? What’s your favourite poem?