It’s summer and here in Devon it is the time for Literary Festivals both large and small.
I spent the whole of Monday at beautiful Dartington Hall where the Ways With Words Festival has held for the last twenty years. The highlight of the day or rather highlights among so many stars were the talks by Jill Dawson and John Goodby. Jill Dawson talked about her latest book ‘The Tell Tale Heart’ and explained how she works from real life events into fiction. She talked about writing in the gaps between the known facts. I think all writers do that to a greater or lesser degree. After all facts don’t have feelings and it is in that unknown place the writer can work.
I have been trying to read Dylan Thomas’s poems from a collection I bought many years ago at the boathouse in Laugharne South Wales, where he worked. The collection says on the cover that it ‘contains most of the poems I have written, and all, up to the present year that I wish to preserve.’ The collection was published in 1952, a year before his death. I have been struggling with them so I was pleased to listen to John Goodby talking about Thomas’s use of word with multiple meanings, and his use of puns. I wanted to know if the collection was chronological as I found it hard to equate the poems I was reading (I’d got as far as Death has no Dominion) with ones like Fernhill and of course the humour in Under Milk Wood. Professor Goodby said I should wait until his annotated collection of Thomas’s poems is published in October which includes other poems and demonstrates how he developed over the years. It does make one query whether the author is the best judge of his own work? Is he too influenced by his own mood at the time?
This week I have been to two very different literary festivals. The Ways with Words Festival has been running for over twenty years at the very beautiful Dartington Hall, and is well established. Sponsored by the Daily Telegraph, the speakers, not surprisingly, are authors who have published books that the arts editors consider to be important. The other smaller and more community minded was in the small market town of Chudleigh about six miles outside Exeter.
I was one of the organising committee at Chudleigh and we put together a programme that would appeal to both readers and writers. Ways with Words is primarily aimed at readers although many writers do attend in the hope of learning something about the craft of writing from some of the countries most successful authors. Nevertheless I found a common theme in both.
One of the workshops at Chudleigh was taken by Chris Waters, a poet and member of the Dartmoor Poets, who provoked us into thinking about landscape by looking at photographs taken by James Ravilious of places and people in north Devon in the 1960’s although they looked like they were from a much earlier period. Later the author Fay Sampson www.faysampson.co.uk talked about her novels which she said were inspired by place, indeed her latest series, the Aiden mysteries are set in the sacred places of Britain. At Dartington Jane Feaver the author of ‘An Inventory of Heaven’ talked about how difficult it was to write about the countryside unless you had lived in a landscape since birth and your family had lived there for generations. She described the land as having no sense of humour. So three authors and three different views on writing about nature.