Friday 28 March 2014

Oxford Literary Festival - Some Thoughts

If you are a writer and/or love books then the ideal getaway has to be the Oxford Literary Festival. Like all good things, such as Christmas, it comes but once a year and when it does the event is a literary onslaught of all things bookish. The just over week long event features many big names in the field of literature, broadcasting and written journalism all eager to talk for an hour about their latest published work, answer questions from the audience and stay as long as required for the obligatory pasting of their John Hancock on your treasured copy of their publication. This year marked my first of what will hopefully be many more attendances at the festival and must say that it has certainly awakened the sleeping passion in me for all that is printed and bound.

The festival runs for a whole week usually from Saturday to the following Sunday with a myriad of talks from 10 am until eight o clock in the evening. Trying to catch every single event will be impossible as many occur at the same time at different locations. The nexus of all the arenas has to be the Sheldonian, the seventeenth century amphitheatre designed by Sir Christopher Wren and official ceremonial hall for Oxford University. Stepping into this wondrous venue is like stepping back in time with the only signs of modernity being the microphones and LCD Screen at the centre. Next to the Sheldonian is the festival marquee courtesy of the most giant of books stores, Blackwells. In the marquee there are a variety of mini talks based on the series of "Very short introduction to....." series of books, a cafĂ© and rest stop (with free WiFi) and of course books for sale, including those from authors featured at the festival. The events I have attended are as follows;

Thursday 27th March

The morning kicked off with a discussion on The Future of Investigative Journalism as examined by three veteran authors and reporters David Rose, Robert Wainwright, and Stewart Purvis (guided by Christine Spolar of the Financial Times) all from different fields of journalism. This was held in the beautifully scenic Corpus Christi College Campus and proved to be a lively debate between seasoned reporter with an assortment of contentious views on the ethics and future of what is now a controversial role in journalism. The second event of the day (my first at the fabulous Sheldonian) was to hear Jeremy Paxman, whose no-nonsense approach to interview continues to hold my admiration, talk about what it was that led him to write his latest book Great Britain's Great War. Paxman's relaxed and succinct lecture made it not a only a joy to listen to but also one which to easily take notes. I was particularly impressed by the absence of prepared notes on the podium from which Paxman spoke. All the speakers I met that day were not only happy to autograph their published works freshly purchased by moi but also to shoot the breeze further on the topic at hand. Paxman was keen to impress upon me after I had shared my observations on his speaking style, that what he said was basically rubbish.

Image Credit; Duncan Hull via flickr

Friday 28th March

This day I was to be based mainly at the Sheldonian in the company of two world renowned and honoured authors with very different takes on their writing craft. First was Alexander McCall Smith (Sandy to those who know him best) creator of the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency and 44 Scotland Street series of books amongst countless other titles. Interviewed by Financial Times correspondent Jan Dalley, McCall Smith talked of his love of poet W.H Auden as well as the recurring theme of unrequited love as a segue way to his latest novel The Forever Girl. It was an enjoyable talk with McCall Smith as funny and delightful as the vast array of characters he created leaving a very overwhelmed and star struck Ms Dalley with a sense  of genuine privilege to be in the company of this revered author.

The second talk of the day was for me a personal pleasure having grown up watching the South Bank Show on ITV (when perhaps I should have been in bed). Melvyn Bragg (Lord Bragg to everyone else) a writer and broadcaster who has interviewed thousands of artists from every known field of the arts. A very relaxed speaker up on stage Lord Bragg talked about what influenced him to write his latest fictional autobiography Grace and Mary. At times he was hard to follow digressing from the train of thought on several occasions but nonetheless engaging and insightful. This was reflective of a more seemingly holistic approach to his craft. He spoke of his mother and his life in general with great affection never bearing her any ill will even though she had never really paid him a compliment throughout his life.  Bragg describes his life as an immense privilege made up a series of flukes but also attributable to having grown up during a time in which people worked very hard.

Image Credit; Tim Walker via flickr

With two days left till the end of the festival and when I will sadly be back on the trains home, I can't help but feel I have seen much of the best of what this festival has to offer. I was disappointed to have missed the talk given by philosopher Roger Scruton, a man who was both the bane and pleasure of my time at University studying a two-part module titled Language and Mind. Nevertheless it has stirred up both the writer and the reader inside eager to throw myself into the latest additions to my ever increasing library and inspired to create ever more ephemeral yet informative posts as well as a return to those novels languishing in development hell.

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