Monthly Archives: September 2011

Samantha Harvey and Jake Wallis Simons

Right; a weekend to recover and we can carry on telling you what happened during the Festival. Here’s how the chat between literary fiction authors Samantha Harvey and Jake Wallis Simons went down at the Cafe of Good Hope:

L-R: host Rachel Holdsworth, Jake Wallis Simons, Samantha Harvey

All proceeds from tonight’s event will go to the Jimmy Mizen Foundation: The café we’re in was set up in Jimmy’s memory.

Tonight’s event is underway, with Booker longlisted novelist Samantha Harvey (The Wilderness) & Jake Wallis Simons (The English German Girl)

Harvey introduces her book, The Wilderness, which is about an Alzheimer’s sufferer called Jake. The book’s style mirrors Jake’s mental state

Harvey reads a short extract from her book, giving a taste of how it works, as conflicting segments of narrative spark confusion on the page

Harvey describes her book as a mystery, as readers must piece together the story from the suffering protagonist’s (mis)remembered fragments.

Harvey talks about the research she did: she did meet some Alzheimer’s sufferers but didn’t interview them or directly use their experiences

Harvey describes herself as “someone who’s interested in how humans work” and says the research into Alzheimer’s is therefore v interesting

Jake Wallis Simons introduces his book, The English German Girl, centred on a Jewish girl in Germany, starting as Hitler comes to power.

The central character in Simons’ novel travels to England on the Kindertransport –

Host Rachel is amazed how detailed the novel is in its coverage of contemporary Berlin and the Kindertransport. Lots of research evident!

Simons was also drawn to the Kindertransport as a topic because there were so many people who’d been involved still around to interview.

It’s clear Simons wanted to be as accurate as possible as he describes how much material he’s read, archives he’s visited etc

Most of the secondary characters in The English German Girl are actually real people who existed, and a glossary at the back gives more info

Simons says it’s useful, actually: without the readers knowing about the Holocaust, it would almost have been too harrowing for them to read

Harvey agrees: since we know her protagonist will die, the ending is clear and she’s able to focus her efforts on getting there well

In Harvey’s next novel, she tries to imagine Socrates living in the modern world – “quite a domestic tale”, apparently!

Talking about person and tense now. Simons doesn’t mind present tense in books: “it’s just like past tense, but a bit sooner”.

Both books in 3rd person, despite clear central character. Harvey says she’s a bit of a first-person-phobic: “I should probably get over it”

Despite both books covering potentially depressing topics these are quite life-affirming books; Simons liked Kindertransport for that reason

Simons’ next novel, a thriller, is v different from his last; so much so he’s dropped the “Wallis” part of his name to avoid disappointment!

Q&A time. What reactions have authors had from people with personal experiences of Alzheimer’s or Kindertransport?

Audience member says she’s glad she came along tonight as hearing Harvey talk about & read from the book has reassured her about reading it.

Simons was touched when daughter of people who came here on Kindertransport said his book helped her understand what her parents experienced

Harvey’s also had good feedback, but does recount the tale of someone who didn’t think she had the right to write about Alzheimer’s

Audience member with familial Alzheimer’s experience praises the question “What reason to be anxious?” in the extract Harvey read earlier.

Moving exchange between author and would-be reader, who’s started the book a number of times but sees it as an “unexploded bomb” by her bed.

Tonight’s keen audience has enough questions to overrun by 10min before Rachel brings another enjoyable, thought-provoking event to a close.


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Double celebrations at St Swithun’s

More photos to come soon, honest, but here’s an interlude to tell you about an event happening immediately after the Literary Festival ends. We’ve been at St Swithun’s church hall a lot, and on Saturday and Sunday the church itself is holding a double celebration: of the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, and the 100th anniversary of their beautiful reredos.

On Saturday, there’s matins with the community choir at 11am, followed by storytelling and art for young people with Sarah Rundle and Katrin Salyers (12.30pm-5pm). Then from 6pm you can hear readings from and inspired by the King James Bible – with a cocktail in hand. Terribly civilised.

On Sunday the church is open from 12pm for youto have a look round (and it is a beautiful building; we’ve traipsed through carrying microphone stands rather a lot this week), followed by poems, stories and music between 6pm-8pm.

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The story so far…

If you haven’t seen, we’re live tweeting a lot of the events over at @LewishamLitFest (thanks to @bitoclass who takes over the account and has a much stronger signal at St Swithun’s than us!). Here’s what’s been happening so far…

Firestation Book Swap

More cakes have arrived: impressive baking, Lewisham! Firestation Book Swap starts in a short while, with guests Evie Wyld and John Harding.

Host Scott Pack introduces the idea of this evening, the three Bs: banter, baked goods and book-swapping, then brings on the authors

Evie Wyld is the first author to offer a book to swap. She offers up her copy of Things We Didn’t See Coming by Steven Amsterdam

After a bidding war in the audience as everyone talks up their books, Wyld opts for a copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

John Harding’s the next guest author; also swaps a book – somewhat reluctantly but the audience forgives him as he baked delicious brownies!

Discussion kicks off by considering Wyld’s first novel, After The Fire A Still Small Voice, in which the protagonist is male. Hard to write?

Book Swap panel L-R: Scott Pack, Robert Hudson, Evie Wyld and John Harding

Wyld says not hard to write as a man & guest host Robert Hudson agrees: just another type of character different from yourself to get into.

After more chat about writing (while your live-tweeter sought signal!), Pack delved into his basket of random non-literary Qs from audience…

Questions included “Cats or dogs?” (Wyld dogs, Harding cats) and “Who’s your favourite Today programme combo?” Original!

Pack praises Wyld’s idea of putting ‘deleted scenes’ from her novel online. She says it’s partly to shed light on writing process – and fun!

Authors talk about where they call home. Wyld loves her place in south London: “Tried living in Australia; it’s nice, but it’s not Peckham!”

Question: “What is the best bus route?” Wyld likes the 76: “it takes a long time to go from Peckham to Liverpool St, but it gets you there!”

Scariest experience? Harding was out running & was hit really hard; thought he’d been attacked. In fact a squirrel’d fallen out of a tree.

“Were you a tall or short child?” Wyld: “I was a fat child – so kind of tall but width-ways?”

After some more Qs – “you won’t get incisive probing like this at any other literary event” – Pack draws things to a close

Independent Magazines

L-R: Darren Atwater from Snipe, Alex Musson from Ambit, Martin Bax from Ambit, host Rachel Holdsworth and Matt Haynes from Smoke

Ambit started when its editor realised litho printing was a relatively accessible way to print an arty magazine

Snipe’s editor ran a similar publication in Vancouver; on moving to London he wanted an alternative to Time Out less aimed at rich tourists!

Smoke’s editor used to run record labels, which he got into from fanzines in the ’80s. Smoke’s like a fanzine but about the city, not bands.

Comedy magazine Mustard started because its editor missed doing print design, and wanted to do a project with friends.

Alex from Mustard thinks it’s harder to get art contributors than writers, partly because weak art stands out in a way weak writing doesn’t.

Alex got lucky at the start when chance mtg with Terry Gilliam secured Mustard a first interviewee: easier to get future big names then too!

Matt from Smoke gets sent lots of writing for inclusion in the magazine, much good but rather too much of the poetry, er, not quite so good!

Alex from Mustard asks if the others also find the quality of submissions is inversely proportional to the self-confidence of the submitter!

Talk moves to distribution. Matt from Smoke explains how complicated the process is to get it into the big bookshops, who won’t deal direct.

Once took Smoke directly to shops but big bookshops’ insistence on using distributors & distributors’ insistence on exclusivity stopped this

Shops like WHSmith require payment for counter-spots but Smoke got left there by staff unused to personal deliveries

Onto extracurricular activities: Ambit has branched out into events, with one coming up next wk, which help promote the mag & reward readers

Smoke’s never been interested in a web presence, but has just recently begun experimenting with some online spin-offs, like a character blog

Smoke also produced a board game last year, based around a Soho pub crawl – “I’ve just always liked board games,” says Matt

Snipe’s had a web version from the start, but plans to ramp up the coverage for next year’s mayoral elections, and hopes to run some events.

Editors agree they do print despite web as they love the finished printed product. Matt says he likes the finite focus on filling 52 pages.

Darren of Snipe says length’s a dividing line between web & print: nice to sit down with a long read, but short listings etc fine on a phone

Q&A time. What advice would eds give someone thinking of starting a mag? Apart from “Don’t!”, advice includes doing it for love, not money

For Books’ Sake

For Books’ Sake editor Jane Bradley, hosting, introduces the panel. First up, Karen McLeod is going to read part of one of her short stories

Karen McLeod reading

McLeod’s story, Never Can Say Goodbye, was a charming and witty tale of a lesbian couple on honeymoon, from this book:

Next, Ellen Lindner is talking about her mainly self-published comics, while showing pages from them on the big screen.

Lindner, from US but now in New Cross, is trying to revive “comics culture” in UK through various initiatives to promote & distribute comics

Last speaker: children’s author/illustrator Sarah McIntyre. She gets children to draw aliens as “you can’t do it wrong”!

McIntyre shows slides of book illustration process & says when she shows kids they often think she manually illustrates all copies of book!

McIntyre’s children’s book about sheep & rabbit Vern&Lettuce is set in Pickle Rye: “thought it’d be fun to take Peckham & put animals in it”

In Vern & Lettuce’s parallel London McIntyre happily drew a Tube escalator on which it’s permitted to slide down the bit between the flights

Another of McIntyre’s books is Morris the Mankiest Monster, which looks pretty disgusting – so all the children utterly love it, of course!

Panel now discussing how they came to be doing what they now do. McLeod used to be more of a performer, incl dressing as a huge fish finger!

McIntyre used to draw picturebooks but was put off comics by too many women portrayed as bimbos – but then Lindner showed her *good* comics!

McLeod worries sometimes when she sees people read her novel’s synopsis & put back on shelf that they may be being put off by lesbian plot.

On the other hand, she doesn’t want to second-guess people’s motivations, nor change what she wants to write about too fundamentally

Meanwhile, McIntyre has to remind herself that her audience of children’s more focussed on interesting stories & funny details than artistry

Lindner says Kindle’s 150dpi, black-and-white screen doesn’t lend itself to comics but the iPad and its rumoured future Amazon competitor do

Joe Dunthorne and Lee Rourke

Lee Rourke and Joe Dunthorne

Rourke opens by describing his novel The Canal, about a man one morning deciding to walk to a canal, instead of to work – and what ensues.

Rourke’s now reading from his novel – a thoughtful extract as his protagonist’s mind wanders while alone at the book’s titular canal

Rourke’s character muses, in defence of boredom, that those who’re not bored are “merely lost in superfluous activity: fashion, television…”

Rourke’s extract finishes with a remembered tale of loving and loathing from the protagonist’s schooldays.

Dunthorne’s chosen extract deals entertainingly with educating commune children in the ways of television advertising (and disbelieving it).

In the novel’s commune, the done thing during commercial breaks is to mute and use AdGuard – a square of shower curtain pulled across the TV

Discussion starts after the extracts as host Rachel asks Lee Rourke how he researched his novel. Yes, he has spent a lot of time at a canal!

Rourke’s novel’s mostly fictitious but does include some vignettes of things he did see while at the canal

Rourke took a lot of inspiration for the philosophising in his book from Heidegger:

Dunthorne’s interested in communal living, but not into “spiritual stuff, crystal healing…”, so he avoided too much of that in his novel.

Rachel suggests both authors’ books are more about character development than plot; Dunthorne jokes “not through choice – plot’s too hard!”

Discussion turns to voice used in authors’ books: Rourke used a first-person narrative in The Canal as it needed it for a sense of immediacy

Dunthorne opted for first-person narrative in Submarine as much of comedy came from the gap between what narrator says & truth reader infers

Dunthorne found it a challenge to switch to writing in third person for Wild Abandon but relished the freedom it gave to jump between people

Rourke’s written both fiction & non-fiction; prefers fiction. Dunthorne does prose & poetry; prefers whichever he’s not doing at the time!

Dunthorne was offered chance to write script for film of Submarine, but he’d just written the book and didn’t want to write the story again!

Dunthorne describes surreal experience of wandering on-set at the film shoot and seeing thoughts made up in his bedroom 6yrs ago played out!

The Canal’s in development as a film now too, with Rourke as co-writer. Took a lot of mental adjustment to rewrite novel as film script.

Rourke’s scripting started weakly, but he’s v happy with how it’s turned out. Dunthorne: hard to be objective & drop bits you wanted in book

Dunthorne visited communes when researching Wild Abandon, but met some reticence: many journos’ve visited to write uncomplimentary features.

There’s plenty more coming up – but it’s much more fun to be here…

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Swapping tips

If you’re coming along to the Firestation Book Swap tomorrow, don’t forget to bring a book. (It’s like when Roy Walker used to host Catchphrase – say what you see.) Unlike some other Book Swaps, however, you won’t be milling around trying to find out what other people have brought. There’ll be assisted swapping.

One of our lovely hosts will come into the audience and see if anyone wants to swap. You’ll need to describe your book or – if you’re feeling a bit shy – Scott or Robbie will describe it for you. It’s even funnier if they haven’t read it. Then other people can bid for your book by describing what they’ve brought, and you get to choose. It sounds like chaos. It’s really not.

Scott will probably go through these handy tips for successful swapping tomorrow, but we thought we’d tell you about them anyway:

  • If you don’t like the book you’ve brought – lie. Nobody will know you secretly hate it. And they’ll be more likely to want it if you say it’s good
  • Play the long game. Even if none of the books offered for yours take your fancy, if you swap now you can always bid for someone else’s book later on
  • Don’t be too picky. You came with a book you didn’t want, you’re not losing anything if you go home with something you’re not wild about (you can always give it as a present to that ‘difficult’ relative)
  • You can make counter-bids for books that are being offered for something else. Love a bit of three-way swapping

Also don’t forget that if you bake a cake, you get in for free…

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Books and tea

So. You’ve seen a couple of brilliant authors being brilliant. You want to pick up a copy of their latest book to enjoy their brilliance in the comfort of your own home. You could go to Amazon, or Waterstone’s… of course you could… but why not buy a copy from the Festival’s very own bookshop and then get the author to sign it?

Crystal Palace’s Bookseller Crow on the Hill is putting together a pop-up bookshop at most events (we like to think it’ll work like one of those pop-up tents, but probably not) with books from all the writers appearing at the Festival. Who needs a Kindle, eh?

And if you feel a thirst coming on while you’re book browsing, or get a bit peckish, never fear. At St Swithun’s there’ll be a cafe selling hot and cold drinks, plus cakes. And the Cafe of Good Hope will go one better – it’ll be a bar! But they’ll still have cake. Cake is important.

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Questions, questions

If you come to the Firestation Book Swap on Friday you’ll encounter something known as The Question Jar. This is a jar – or sometimes a tupperware box, or on one memorable occasion an Iranian vase – filled with random, anonymous questions written down by you, the lovely audience. The Book Swap hosts will occasionally delve into the jar and pluck out questions to fire at their guests.

It’s such a good idea that we’re rolling it out to all the panel events. So, as well as hearing the authors read from their books and chat about them with each other and the host, and being able to ask questions at the end, you’ll be handed a pen and a piece of paper and asked to scribble down a question about anything at all, so long as it’s not about books or writing (keep those for the Q&A at the end).

Questions that have come up in the past include:

  • Beer or wine?
  • Where are you going on holiday?
  • What’s your favourite smell and why?
  • What do you have for breakfast?
  • Marmots or ocelots?

You get the idea…

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Poet: Nii Ayikwei Parkes

Nii Ayikwei Parkes, writer, performance poet, publisher and social commentator will be performing some of his work at our poetry night on Thursday 15th September.

Former Poet-In-Residence at the Poetry Café, Nii has performed poetry in the UK, Europe, Ghana and the US and was Associate Artist-In-Residence with BBC Radio 3 in 2005.

Nii is the author of three poetry chapbooks; eyes of a boy, lips of a man and M is for Madrigal, and the self-published shorter, which is a vehicle to raise money for a writers’ fund in Ghana. Nii also co-edited the groundbreaking Tell Tales Volume I short story anthology with Courttia Newland and regularly edits x magazine. His novel, Tail of the Blue Bird, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize and Michael Marks Award.

Here, Nii performs his poem So What – plus an extended riff on what the poem’s about.


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