Showing posts with label Cheltenham Literature Festival. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cheltenham Literature Festival. Show all posts

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

JK Rowling at the Cheltenham Literature Festival

There can’t be many writers capable of filling the cavern-like auditorium at Cheltenham Racecourse – but JK Rowling is one of them.

All 2,000 seats for the Cheltenham Literature Festival event at the weekend had been snapped up in a trice, with people travelling from all over the world to hear their heroine speak. When interviewer James Runcie threw the session open to questions at the end several tearful young fans stood up and said “I love you,” while one woman told her: “I hope you know how many lives you have touched.” “Don’t make me cry,” said Rowling, clearly moved by her words.

Rowling was ostensibly there to promote The Casual Vacancy, her  first novel for adults, but she proved generous with her time and her willingness to answer questions about everything from her favourite The Casual Vacancy character (Fats) to her favourite overall character (Dumbledore).

A tiny, blonde figure in a chic, black jacket, matching trousers and high heels, she rushed to the side of the stage to accept a letter from one awestruck young girl, crouched down to talk to her for a couple of minutes and gave her a hug.

Along the way she revealed that the next book she publishes will be for children, that Lucy Shepherd, the teacher who taught her A level English, was in the audience that night and that taking part in the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony was the “proudest moment” of her life.

“I was terrified, absolutely terrified,” she said. “Walking out on to the hillock at the Olympic ceremony was extraordinary. I think I will see it on my deathbed. It was breathtaking and I felt extraordinarily proud to be in it.

“When the huge Voldemort grew up out of the middle of the stage my entire body went cold and I thought ‘how the hell did this happen?’”

Asked about books she read as a teenager she mentioned Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird and Lord of the Flies, while she revealed that the character from children’s literature she most adored was Jo March from Little Women. One book she’d read recently and loved was the Orange prizewinning The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller.

Asked which of her own books was her favourite she confessed to a three-way split. “I love The Casual Vacancy – it’s what I wanted it to be.” Her favourite Harry Potter title is Deathly Hallows and “then for obvious reasons, Philosopher’s Stone – which changed my life.”

She said she made up stories for her own children but “they are very much tailored to my children. I don’t think they will be appearing in book form.”

At one point she also spoke about her own battle with depression. James Runcie, who described The Casual Vacancy as “Hardy with heroin,” asked her if she would ever write a comedy.

“I think this book is comic in places but the humour gets a little dark,” she replied. “I do have a tendency to walk on the dark side sometimes. I have suffered from depression. I know how that feels and I probably have an innate inclination that way. Writing is necessary to me and does help with that.”

At the end of the evening the queue for JK Rowling to sign copies of The Casual Vacancy stretched down the stairs and right round the building. She’d agreed to sign one book per ticket holder and people stood patiently, clutching their copies of the book and waiting their turn. Goodness knows what time they all got home.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Michael Wright and Carol Drinkwater on living in France

Soon after I signed on the dotted line and the House With No Name officially became mine (help!), I wrote my first and only fan letter. Well, actually it was an email, but it was to a journalist called Michael Wright.

I’ve been reading Michael’s Saturday column in the Daily Telegraph for eight years now and I’m still as gripped as ever by his tales of leaving his safe South London life for a dilapidated French farm with only a cat, a piano and a vintage aeroplane for company. In the intervening years he’s married the lovely Alice, a childhood friend and former intensive care nurse, and they now have two little girls.

Actually, my fan letter turned into a rambling missive about how Michael’s hilarious accounts of moving to the Limousin had steadied my nerve about buying my tumbledown wreck with a dodgy roof and years of building work ahead of me.

But within hours an encouraging email from Michael pinged into my inbox, cheering me up no end with its positive talk. “The secret with your farmhouse is, I think, to make friends with some of the local French and to ask around about a good builder who is sérieux,” he wrote. “Make friends with this man, and make him feel that he wants to help you. Ask him to recommend people too, to do the things that he won't touch. One day it will be, I feel sure, a wonderful house again.”

Wise words, so when I spotted that Michael was speaking at this year’s Cheltenham Literature Festival I booked a ticket straight away. He was teamed with actress Carol Drinkwater, who played Helen Herriot in the BBC’s All Creatures Great and Small and has written a clutch of bestsellers about her olive farm in Provence. The pair hadn’t met before the event but they made a great duo. Carol told how she and her now-husband, TV producer Michel, found the olive farm (and fell in love with it and each other at the same time), while Michael recalled how moving to France on his own helped him “to become the kind of man I always hoped to be when I was a child.”

Along the way the two writers reminisced about their early years in France. Even though Carol is married to a Frenchman, she perfected her French by doing a course at Nice University. Michael, however, took a slightly different approach. As well as chatting to neighbours and poring over Balzac and Baudelaire, he found that reading photo love stories magazines helped him learn colloquial French. He also joined the local tennis club, where the art of losing with aplomb, he said, was his “contribution to international relations.”

The massive marquee was packed to the gunnels for the event and we were so entranced by the pair’s tales that afterwards scores of us queued up to buy signed copies of their new books – Michael’s Je t’aime à la Folie and Carol’s Return to the Olive Farm. I snapped up both but didn’t look at what Michael had written inside my book till I got home. “To Emma,” he’d scrawled. “Cheering you on in your dream!”
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