Day 2 of the Brighton festival – a wonderful mash-up of Baileys prize shortlisted and poetry genius.
Shamsie is the author of A God In Every Stone (and a plethora of other novels) which is shortlisted for the Baileys Prize for Women’s fiction.
Kamila Shamsie (KS) was a very interesting speaker, and it was good to get some insight into her novel as I want to read it before the Baileys winner is announced.
KS explained she is an artist who, ‘follows the brush’. A God In Every Stone began in a different place to where it finished, it began in the 1930s and ended up in WW1. She became distracted while writing a WW1 subplot, with the lack of historical reference to the Indian soldiers who fought in WW1 and convalesced in the UK, Brighton to be specific.
‘When you are a writer you end up discovering the things that are fascinating to you.’
Imagine the oddity of coming to England to convalesce and seeing the Brighton Pavillion, a distorted image of your home. The letters they wrote home were a mix of approval and displeasure. Some were happy with their time there, some were not.
It was difficult for these men in England, both heroes and feared. The ‘black man corrupting the white women’ was a prominent fear. A photo was taken of a white female nurse with an Indian soldier, the photo was consequently banned and female nurses were no longer allowed to attend Indian soldiers. The fear was they would steal them from their absent husbands.
KS went on to talk about, Peshawar, the oldest inhabited city in Pakistan. Archaeologists are not even sure how old the city is, as they ran out of money while excavating. Needless to say, it’s seen many cultures pass through.
Questions were then opened to the audience:
An interesting question was asked about Archaeology and their role in history. KS did not intentionally want to challenge archaeologists who have pushed their own agenda but did want to highlight that Archaeologists have a very important role in what is regarded as history.
A God In Every Stone is a story about loyalty, on a public and personal scale, and from the extracts KS read I can’t wait to read it. My notes ended with ‘this woman is awesome’, so I think you can guess the tone of the event pretty much from that.
Jackie Kay in conversation with Ali Smith
Jackie Kay is a poet, playwright and author. Ali Smith is the author of How To Be Both (and a plethora of other novels) which is also shortlisted for the Baileys Prize for Women’s fiction.
Ali Smith (AS) and Jackie Kay (JK) are the best friends, they were brilliant chatting away. Their friendship completely lacks any competition or ego. It was the best pairing to chat about Jackie’s career.
‘With such good friendships like ours you have a past before a present’ – JK on her friendship with AS
JK read a selection of her poetry over the event, some of it went over my head a little, but it was generally amazing. Full of colloquialism, which I felt gave it authority.
AS began by asking if JK felt like a Scottish writer. JK explained that she both does and doesn’t feel like a Scottish writer, a sentiment AS shares. She has an interesting sense of place, often feeling like ‘an outsider that often comes home’. She didn’t always know she would be a writer, before a bad Motorcycle accident she wanted to be a runner or an actor. She explained that at first she wrote in other voices, but soon found her own.
AS and JK discuss Jackie’s memoir about finding her birth father. JK explained she didn’t intend to write a memoir, but then she went on the search for her birth father and it happened. That there is a lot of responsibility as to how you represent people in memoirs, you don’t want a self-pitying tone. It’s a balance between ‘tone, tense and time’.
AS asks JK if she feels art makes things happen. JK felt that it does, it changes the way you view something. JK explained she has had people write to her about her poetry. I felt that way too, reading had certainly changed how I viewed the world. JK asked the question back to AS, she agreed, feeling the process was circular.
An audience member asked JK why she wasn’t bitter to be characterised as a black Scottish lesbian, and what drives her. JK gave a rather inspiring reply. She explained we all have an amount of bitterness, but believes it is important to forgive and move on – bitterness is more painful for the holder. JK has had some awful experience of racism. When she was a child she was pushed to the floor and force fed mud, with the children saying she came from a mud hut so she must eat mud. She’s also proud of her parents for not being old and bitter, there is no point wasting life on being bitter.
The talk them moved on to answer more of the audiences question.
JK told a funny story, which I am now going to ruin by reciting and sucking the soul out of, but nevertheless:
She wrote a poem about a small newsagent in the north of Scotland, they happened to laminate it and put in their window. She was pretty chuffed and told her dad. His response?
‘Oh great, So Carol Anne gets to be Poet Laureate and you get to be Poet Laminate.’
All hail Jackie Kay, poet laminate!