The highlight for me was the talk by crime writer Sophie Hannah. Her talk was entitled The Nuts and Bolts of Crime Writing and she did indeed talk about her own writing techniques. She starts with an irresistible plot hook, usually some psychological obsession. There is often a strong component of real life. Her latest book Did you see Melody came about because of an incident when she was given the wrong room in a hotel which was already occupied by someone else.
Details matter, such as choice of names for characters. As the new novel is set in the USA she chose a name which was pronounced differently in the UK. The inspiration for the book came as a result of a case which was reported widely in the USA but not in the UK.
She is a great planner and writes the whole book in note form before she does her first draft. Provided the events she describes can happen at least once she was ready to use that for her plot. She described how when she was searching for an agent and publisher, she received advice about how unlikely her plots were and she was almost ready to give up when her husband suggested she tried a man who would just say yes or no. So she did. He said yes and sold the book before she’d signed anything.
She wasn’t interested in cataloguing urban crime. She didn’t like red herring, but preferred the reader to mislead themselves. There are those Poirot books as well and she told us how she came to be asked to write those by Agatha Christie Ltd. Perhaps that’s another post.
She was an interesting speaker, her talk highlighted by personal reminisces, often very funny.
There is always a good exhibition somewhere in London, often too many. A trip to the Royal Academy on Picadilly is usually worthwhile. We wanted to see the Matisse exhibition this time. How fascinating. There was not an enormous number of painting but they were exhibited alongside some of the objects he used for his work. The idea was to encourage the viewer to look at the objects the way an artist might. I love his use of colour and textiles and this exhibition was no exception. I’ve often thought that if I was asked what books I would want on my Desert Island, a copy of Matisse’s work would be the first thing I’d chose.
There was also an exhibition of the work of Charles Tunnicliffe in the same building.
He was a Royal Academician best known for his illustrations for books. Think Tarka the Otter. (Memo to self – must read.) What became more interesting was copies of the cards he did for Brooke Bond Tea. The cards were in the packets of loose leaf tea and one could send away for a book in which to stick the cards. Seeing those cards and the book brought back all sorts of memories. I’d collected the Birds of Britain. We started talking to the room steward who told us his had collected the Birds of Africa as he had lived in Uganda as a child. He showed us the Ladybird series of books ‘What to Look for in Winter’, and it’s companion volumes. Tunnicliffe was an amazing artist and deserves to be remembered.
I am going to digress from the excitement of London and tell you about the sleepy town of Budleigh Salterton. I say sleepy as everything is closed by seven o’clock. However for a few days each year it is alive with talks on literature, biography and memoirs, politics and power. I didn’t go to all the talks but every day I went to something.
Grammar has never been my strong point and I hoped a talk by David Crystal might give me some tips on how to get it right. But, no we were treated to a thesis on the verb ‘to be’ or perhaps ‘not to be.’ Later that day Hilary Mantel ( the festival’s president ) talked about writing history as fiction and the journey she has been on as her novels were transposed to the theatre and television.
The next day I went to a workshop on writing a family memoir. I was hoping to get some help in finding sources for a possible novel about my grandfather. We did get some information about that and I hope I can pursue writing a fictionalised account of my family in due course. Then a look at contemporary fiction Amanda Craig’s The Lie of the Land and Paula Cocozza’s How to be Human. The talk centred around the issue of keeping a novel truly contemporary when it can take a few years to write. In the evening we had the privilege of hearing the lawyer Dr Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, talking about her experiences at the hands of her country’s government.
By Friday morning we had moved from writing about the present to writing about the past as Sarah Perry (The Essex Serpent) and Tim Pears (The Horseman) talked about their novels. They talked about how their stories developed. Sara Perry said for her the facts served the story and she kept her research to a minimum as it was second to the impetus of the story. The sense of place was important to both writers. Perry described her book as a love letter to Essex, the county where she was born. Tim Pears was brought up in Devon and he said he relied on his memory of the place.
Lucy Hughes Hallet who is well known as a biographer talked about her novel Peculiar Ground. The novel was very character driven and she liked to have them slightly on the outside of the events as that gave them perspective. Then we were back to memoir and two different authors writing about their family life and in particular their fathers. The books were Keggie Carew’s Dadland and Miranda Doyle’s A Book of Untruths.
On the political front a talk by Bridget Kendall on the Cold War. Not only did she provide her own perspective on the events of that era but also, as a result of making a programme for Radio 4, from those who experienced it first hand. Finally Alan Johnson talking about his life in politics as an MP and a Minister in the Blair/Brown governments.
Next year the Festival takes place from Wednesday 19th to Sunday 23 September.
One of the exciting things about the summer months in London is the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall. We haven’t been to a concert there for quite a long time. It was so hot on the last occasion we left before the end. This summer we didn’t have that problem — it just hasn’t been that hot.
We hadn’t booked in advance so we took a chance and went to whatever we could get tickets for. It proved a blessing. The first concert was a French choir singing Monteverdi’s Vespers. I love these pieces for their mathematical precision and the music was enhanced by the choreography. It began with the singers facing away from the audience, the backless dresses of the ladies showing Gallic sophistication. Then as the evening proceeded the choir divided and moved around the stage and then regrouped. Soloists peeled off and sang from different parts of the auditorium, adding another dimension to the music.
Three weeks later we went to a concert by the BBC Orchestra and Singers of Mahler’s 2nd Symphony. The Resurrections. The orchestra was augmented by extra timpani – five sets of drums I think- and by the addition of brass instruments. Big choirs filling that huge bowl with sound. The music was visceral and I was close to tears in the final movements.
Thank you to the BBC.
We had always wanted to visit Carlyle’s House in Cheyne Row Chelsea and this summer we finally got there. When Thomas Carlyle and his wife Jane moved there it was in an undesirable part of Chelsea. They paid the princely sum of £35 per year. The house is now owned by the National Trust and is open to the public. https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/carlyles-house It has been kept much as it was during his time – very Victorian. Virtually anybody of importance in 1830/40 visited him and his wife, including Dickens, Robert Browning and John Ruskin His books are very rarely read today, but he was the founder of the London Library and instrumental in the establishment of the National Portrait Gallery.
Today this is one of the most expensive parts of London but many of the houses are simply investments, not homes and a large number stay dark and uninhabited from one year to the next. When I first moved to London I lived in the next road, Lawrence Street, in a very similar house. I loved this part of London.
One of the pleasures for me of London is the unexpected meeting with someone of interest. We were upstairs in the house when the warden came into the room. She lives in the house and I asked her if she felt haunted by the presence of such an influential man and his equally important wife. She said she did feel their influence. We went on to talk about the area. She remembered the wine merchant’s in Justice Walk and the Cross Keys Public House before it became a gastro pub. The houses were all occupied; a mixture of young and old, city lawyers and bohemian artists. The nearby Kings Road the place to be for fashion. We reminisced for a while, before leaving one of my favourite places.
It is quite a while since I’ve done a post. I have been very occupied with trying to write my second Cassie Hardman novel and it’s proving difficult. Possibly because the subject is a rape trial, so it has been very easy for me to get distracted. A trip to Norway cruising to the North Cape and back; a trip to see relatives in the North and then a week in the Yorkshire Dales have eaten into the time. Also, we have spent some time in London feasting on some of the events the city has to offer.
We had tickets for the NT production of Angels in America. I like going to the theatre in London as the average age is much lower than similar events (hard to get in the provinces apart from live transmissions in the cinema) in Devon. But, even by London standards, the number of young people attending this production was very high. There are two plays, Millenium Approaches and Perestroika and the audience was very enthusiastic about both. Rising to their feet at the end and clapping wildly. I can’t say I felt the same. It is a tour de force for the actors particularly James McArdle who plays Louis Ironson.
Some how it seemed dated although the issues of the treatment of minorities are.still live. Aids has not at least in the West been the ‘end of the world scenario depicted here. And so much has been achieved as far as gay rights are concerned. The relevance today is in the view of politics and how far individuals are prepared to go to hang on to power in the form of Ray Cohn. In addition the perennial topic of deceit, self-delusion and hypocrisy in our relationship both with ourselves and with others.
Last Night I went to see the ROH’s production of Verdi’s Otello. It was a brilliant performance by the chorus and the star Jonas Kauffman.The story is timeless, but I was struck by how it provides insight into a different situation that is affecting our world. Otello is a brilliant soldier and leader of men who is persuaded by Iago to believe his wife is unfaithful. so I found myself asking why did he allowed himself to be misled. We know he is a ‘Moor’ living in a foreign land, married to a ‘white’ princess. He has doubts about his identity and his right to be where he is. Is there not a similarity with those well educated young men who are cajoled into believing in a corrupted form of Islam and are used to attack their fellow citizens? Shakespeare can still teach us lessons.