Monday, 14 November 2011
A dynamic writer friend called Emily Carlisle is one of the organisers of a brand new literary event due to launch next year. The Chipping Norton Literary Festival takes place in April 2012 and promises to be a treat, packed with writing workshops, author talks, book swaps, readings, signings and debates.
Over the weekend I’ve been helping (in a minuscule way) with the website and as I worked I got to thinking about some of the very best literary talks I've been to over the years. Two instantly came to mind. One was the late Sir John Mortimer, the beloved creator of Rumpole, who spoke at the Kings Sutton Literary Festival in 2008. I’ll never forget my teenage son’s engrossed face as Sir John regaled the audience with memories of Laurence Olivier playing his dad in A Voyage Round My Father, tales of Harold Wilson’s jollity and the fact that QCs keep their silk stockings up by wearing suspender belts designed for outsized hospital matrons.
My other favourite was hearing Martin Amis at the Oxford Literary Festival last year. He was interviewed by the poet and critic Craig Raine (who as a postgraduate student taught Amis at Oxford). I loved the way Raine dumped his bag on the floor, unravelled his scarf and then admitted cheerily to the audience that the pair had rehearsed “very little, if at all.”
But the friends’ hour-long conversation was enthralling. They covered everything from Amis’s view that for women, “having it all suddenly became doing it all” to his realisation that age is “very comic and tremendously humiliating.”
The most fascinating part of the discussion came when Amis spoke about his early novels. He said his writing style had “changed unrecognisably” and that he’d been “aghast” when he’d recently re-read three or four pages of his first novel, The Rachel Papers. “A first novel is about energy and originality,” he said, “but to me now it looks so crude. I don’t mean bad language – it’s so clumsily put together. The sense of decorum, the slowing a sentence down, the scrupulousness I feel I have acquired, aren’t there. As you get older, your craft, the knack of knowing what goes where, what goes when, is much more acute.”
I’m sure the Chipping Norton events will be just as illuminating. If you’re keen to hear the likes of Joanna Trollope, Sir Andrew Motion, Susan Hill, Jill Mansell, Katie Fforde and many more, you can sign up to the mailing list here.
PS: James Corden is one of the funniest men on the planet but my admiration for him soared today when I read an interview with him in the latest ES magazine. Asked what he would do if he was Mayor of London for the day, he replied: “Make sure that Boris bikes came with helmets. It’s terrifying that they don’t.” I’ve been thinking the same since the cycle hire scheme began. We urge everyone to wear helmets when they’re riding their own bikes, so why not when they ride Boris’s?