Showing posts with label Henley Literary Festival. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Henley Literary Festival. Show all posts

Monday, 1 October 2012

Jeremy Vine at the Henley Literary Festival

How can a whole year have flown by since the 2011 Henley Literary Festival? And how can this year's autumn weather be so different ? Twelve months ago I listened to Bella Pollen and Kay Burley talk about their books in sweltering sunshine. This year the audience at Jeremy Vine’s event were all in winter coats, scarves and (in my case) fingerless gloves.

But who cared about the chilly temperature when Vine was there to treat us to a hilarious hour of anecdotes about his journalistic career – from his cub reporter days on the Coventry Evening Telegraph to his 25 years at the BBC.

Interviewed by the Daily Mail’s Sandra Parsons, Vine received a rapturous reception at Henley’s packed Kenton Theatre. A tall rangy figure clad in jeans, dark jacket and bright turquoise socks, he talked at top speed for 60 minutes, barely pausing for breath. Along the way he listed his top five DJs – Kenny Everett, John Peel, Terry Wogan, Chris Evans and Steve Wright – and his top four TV interviewers – Richard Dimbleby, David Dimbleby, Robin Day and Jeremy Paxman (or Paxo as he called him).

Even though I often listen to Jeremy Vine’s lunchtime show on Radio 2, I’d never realised what a brilliant mimic he is. Talking about his days as a political reporter at Westminster (and his trip round the UK in an ancient VW camper van during the 2001 general election) he got Peter Mandelson down to a tee. His Terry Wogan impersonation wasn’t half bad either.

I loved Vine’s recollections of working as a reporter on the Today programme. Those were the days when the late, great Brian Redhead was at the helm and Vine recalled Redhead’s habit of smiling when he turned his microphone on. “And when he spoke you could hear the smile in his voice,” said Vine in awe.

It’s All News to Me by Jeremy Vine (Simon & Schuster, £18.99)

Monday, 3 October 2011

The art of writing a novel - Penny Vincenzi at the Henley Literary Festival

After snapping up tickets for loads of literary festivals in quick succession, I’d resolved not to blog about them for a while. But then I went to a talk by Penny Vincenzi at the Henley Literary Festival and she came up with such good advice for would-be novelists that I’m reneging on my promise.

Vincenzi is a big hitter in the novel-writing stakes. A former journalist who cut her writing teeth on the Daily Mirror (her great mentor was the legendary agony aunt and columnist Marje Proops), she writes massive tomes about love and loss, hope and despair. Her first novel, Old Sins, was published in 1989 and since then she has written 14 cracking bestsellers and sold more than seven million books. Whether she’s writing about the aftermath of a terrible motorway pile-up, as she did in The Best of Times, or about a child caught in the middle of a harrowing divorce, as she does in her latest, The Decision, her books are heartrending (they often make me cry) and utterly compelling.

A tiny figure with hair cut in a chic blonde bob and wearing an elegant cream jacket, Vincenzi charmed the audience who’d assembled in the echoey hall at Henley Town Hall on Saturday.

The Decision runs to 757 pages and took her 18 months to write, but she admitted that it had originally been 70,000 words longer. “I write too much and I talk too much – it’s all the same thing,” she said self-deprecatingly. Down-to-earth and highly disciplined, she works at her desk – either at her home in Wimbledon or her cottage on the Gower Peninsula – seven days a week and writes from nine in the morning till three in the afternoon. After lunch and perhaps some additional research, she returns to her laptop and doesn’t break off again till The Archers starts on Radio 4. When she finally gets to the end of a novel she pours herself a very large whisky – “whatever time it is” – even though she never drinks whisky at any other time.

The best bit of the talk came when interviewer Philippa Kennedy asked what advice she’d give to budding novelists. Quick as a flash, Vincenzi offered the following three suggestions:

1. “Characters are all. If you get your characters right they will sort out the plot.”

2. "Every book has an Act Three, a turning point when something happens that means nothing can ever be the same again.”

3. "The monster in the cupboard” - a secret that the readers are in on but the characters have no idea about – until, of course, the monster springs out of the cupboard, often with devastating repercussions.

PS: Vincenzi doesn’t read other people’s novels when she’s immersed in writing but her favourites are Maeve Binchy, Jilly Cooper, Joanna Trollope, PD James, Ruth Rendell and Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga. The book she first read as a teenager (and which inspired her to write) was Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind.

The Decision by Penny Vincenzi (Headline Review, £19.99)

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Kay Burley and Bella Pollen at the Henley Literary Festival

I bet the organisers of the Henley Literary Festival could scarcely believe their luck. Of all the weeks to host their five-day event, they’d chosen the glorious last days of summer, when the sun shone, temperatures soared and we all bared our legs again.

Sitting on the terrace at Bix Manor, a pretty country hotel two miles up the road from Henley (above), everything seemed right with the world. I sipped afternoon tea, gazed out across the fields and listened to a journalist I vaguely recognised relating why she’d written a piece about her sex life in one of the morning papers.

I’d booked a ticket to hear Sky TV presenter Kay Burley and writer Bella Pollen discuss their new books. They’re both highly successful in their fields but I was mystified as to why they’d been teamed up. Burley’s first novel is a bonkbuster about a lothario prime minister and the women in his life, while The Summer of the Bear, Pollen’s latest, is set in the Outer Hebrides and tells of three siblings struggling to cope with the loss of their father. The women’s totally different styles were evident by the outfits they’d chosen - Burley wearing a sleeveless silk dress and heels, Pollen clad in jeans and Converse.

But despite the incongruity, it worked a treat. Burley has spent years interviewing the best known politicians and showbiz names in the world on live TV, yet was surprisingly nervous. She admitted that her hands were shaking and that she’s “a novice on the literary circuit.” Not only that, when it came to reading an excerpt from her book, First Ladies, she suddenly panicked that she’d left her glasses outside. Pollen immediately leaned over to offer hers – and Burley’s face lit up with gratitude. In a way the gesture seemed to bond them and after that the event whizzed by in a flash (brilliantly chaired by journalist Philippa Kennedy).

Burley reckoned that her thirty-year TV career was down to “ninety per cent hard work and ten per cent luck.” A single mum, she revealed that her teenage son was starting university that very day – he’s studying politics at the LSE – and that she’d often had to drop everything at the last minute to rush off on stories. She decided to write her novel after being approached to do her autobiography and said she’s “in advanced discussions with Hollywood” about a movie of First Ladies. She's already delivered her second novel, Betrayal, to her publisher. In fact she wrote much of it in the back of a van on the front line in Libya (how impressive is that?) and it’s due out in 2012.

I hadn’t read First Ladies before the talk so when I got home I downloaded it. Hmmm. I don’t want to be mean but it’s not a masterpiece. The plot seems old-hat and the prose surprisingly wooden. During the talk, Burley had talked movingly about her beloved late parents falling in love when they both worked in a cardboard box factory and her “humble beginnings” in Wigan. If she could write a novel based on all that, then I reckon she’d be on to a winner.
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