North Cornwall Book Festival 2014: catch-up with all our coverage

We published lots of blogposts over the weekend: catch up with them all here

Interviews

Reports on talks, sessions and workshops

Personal responses and creative writing

My favourite book: festival-goers and authors share their favourite volume

Our brilliant festival team was: Jay Armstrong, Sarah Purnell, Annie Harrison, Anna Cathenka, Aysha Bryant, Shannan Sterne, Sarah Cave, Emma Gibbs, Paige Davis and David Brady. Thanks also to Sorrel Watson for her interview.

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Festival finale: Louisa Young interviewed by Patrick Gale

Jay Armstrong and Sarah Purnell respond to the festival’s final event, in which Patrick Gale talked to Louisa Young. Here Jay reports on the session, and Sarah responds to its content.

It is the last session of the North Cornwall Book Festival. Patrick Gale and Louisa Young meet to talk about her Costa nominated novel, My Dear I Wanted to Tell You, set at the time of the First World War. Young’s extraordinary research into early maxillofacial surgery was sparked by a surprising link to her grandmother, a sculptor, who helped make the casts from which faces were surgically reconstructed.

Describing techniques that were as innovative as they were crude, we were given an insight into the treatment of soldiers wounded in trench warfare. Young talked passionately about how she used character to explore how we the reader would react to disfigurement, trauma and loss. We were at once fascinated and appalled by what these traumatised young men went through; it was a timely reminder in the lead up to Remembrance Sunday.

There are some interesting similarities between Gale’s upcoming new novel A Place Called Winter and My Dear I Wanted To Tell You in terms of the weaving of family history into the story, and the attempts of characters to rescue each other in trying circumstances.

My Dear is the first of two published books – its sequel is The Heroes’ Welcome – and Young is currently writing the third in the series. She explained that the hero’s coming of age coincides with the outbreak of the Second World War: it promises to be another heartrending portrayal of the impact of war on both on those who fought and those who were left with the enduring trauma of conflict.

Sarah Purnell writes

As a writer, I am forever fascinated by another writer’s process. Or, at least, hearing them answer the question: where does it come from?

And what is it? The characters. The plot. The setting. The inspiration.

Louisa Young’s current series of novels is historical fiction, and it’s clear that she has done her research, giving us a potted history of maxillofacial surgery. It’s fascinating. And I think the story of her grandmother being involved in the actual workings of the early practice of it shows a passionate personal connection, but also that we all seem to have a story-granny.

There’s usually that one person in a family that has a spectacular story to tell. Something that sounds like it must be fiction, but it isn’t. It is, however, a great point of inspiration.

It’s not an instant process. Young reminds us that stories need more than one idea, and they need to be shelved inside of our minds and carried around to grow. I suppose, rather crudely, it’s like a birthing.

Ella Berthoud and John Crace discuss ‘What is fiction for?’

By Emma Gibbs

What is fiction for? For some of us the instant answer might be escapism, relaxation, or even illumination. But for bibliophile Ella Berthoud reading is therapy for life issues. Berthoud boldly believes that prescribing literature can cure almost anything, from a ‘broken leg’ to ‘murderous thoughts’, as she explains in her book The Novel Cure.

John Crace is a feature writer for the Guardian, known for his Digested Reads, in which the great and popular novels of the late 20th and early 21st century are reduced to 700 words or fewer – most recently Kevin Pieterson’s autobiography and Stephen Fry’s latest tome. He is also a celebrated humorist novelist.

Crace and Berthoud opened the talk by asking the big question: “What is fiction for?”. Crace humorously responded that for those in the audience leaving early, the answer is: “We don’t know.”  Continue reading

John Crace on sketch writers – the pirates of the papers

By Sarah Purnell

I’m early. I sit near the back of the boat at first, but then a wave of courage and I find myself second row from the front. We’re at sea, I think. The canvas slaps in the wind, someone manoeuvres around the central mast for a better view, they remove their jacket because it’s warm. Tropical, even. The rest of the crew slowly assembles and the Guardian’s political sketch writer John Crace stands up to the helm. He is a jolly roger.

“I’m here to talk about people that are dishonest for a living,” he says, referring to the politicians he reports on daily. This feels like this is the crux of what sketch writing as good as Crace’s achieves. Politicians don’t lie. But they don’t tell the truth. And that can leave people in shark-infested water when it comes to trying to interpret it.

Sketch writers are the pirates of the papers: “the rogue element that can’t be controlled”. Crace explains that sometimes it’s difficult to write the daily sketch, and then sometimes government figures almost write the sketches for him.

Continue reading

Dr Jenny Balfour – Textales: If Cloth Could Talk

By Shannan Sterne

When we switch on the television, we often see countries such as Palestine, Yemen and Egypt associated with violence. The pictures broadcast on the news often focus on men with guns, women screaming, babies crying. Lots of dust. Lots of blood.

But today’s Textales: If Cloth Could Talk event with Dr Jenny Balfour challenged you to consider other images too. Dr Balfour talked about how beautiful she found these countries now “shredded with war” when she encountered them 20-30 years ago.

“ISIS all started as babies,” said Dr Balfour. “It really tortures me how people become able to chop people’s heads off.” She reminded us that these countries have a rich and intricate culture in the form of textiles.  Continue reading

Victoria Field Workshop: The Poetry Cure

By Annie Harrison

I’m sitting in the cosy Stone Barn at St Endellion on Saturday afternoon, out of the October winds, awaiting the start of Victoria Field’s poetry therapy workshop. St Endellion is a little way from the main site for North Cornwall Book Festival at Trebetherick, and surrounded by open fields, which seems quite fitting considering the subject of this session with Victoria Field. Like most of my fellow workshoppers, I have never formally considered poetry therapy before. Now, we’re here to experience it for ourselves.

Victoria Field qualified as a Poetry Therapist in 2005 with the International Federation of Biblio-Poetry Therapy, a group educating people about biblio and poetry therapy, as well as training prospective therapists all over the world. Poetry therapy offers people a way, through writing, to: “heal the past, live the present, and create the future.”

There are about nine of us in the Stone Barn, sitting around two wooden tables pushed together, and for almost three hours we write. We write until our pens ran dry and the pages are full. Field gives us prompts and time restraints: write an acrostic poem, write about “here, now”, write starting with the word “look” and so on. We write about life, the weather, cooking, anything that pops into our heads soon hits the page.

As well as giving us prompts, Field also provides us with props in the form of plants picked and found. We are asked to write addressing our pieces of plants as “you”. Granted this may sound a bit out there, but it leads you to places you can’t predict. Here is some of what I wrote addressing my plant:

You remind me of the stories my Dad used to read to me when I was younger. Stories from Enid Blyton’s Tales of Green Hedges, all about pixies and garden creatures. How the fairies used dandelion seeds, like the ones stuck in your stems, to float away in the breeze.  

For me it certainly acted as a release, and allowed me to gain a new perspective on the subjects I’d written about during the session. As Field told us, writing in this way externalises what’s in your head, clearing out the space for new thoughts and new feelings.

You can find out more about Victoria Field and poetry therapy at http://poetrytherapynews.com

Rev Richard Coles and Nina Stibbe

Mark Nina Horatio crop
Nina Stibbe, Rev Richard Coles and Horatio Clare. Picture: Jay Armstrong

By Jay Armstrong

It was a full house (or marquee even) and the crowds were not disappointed. We were treated to an hour of lively and insightful discussion between Rev Richard Coles and Nina Stibbe. Both have recently published books – one a memoir, the other a novel – with surprising similarities of theme.

Coles’ memoir, Fathomless Riches, is a book that “takes you to places other clergy memoir doesn’t stray” while Nina’s novel Man At The Helm was written out of fury at “10 years of my mother’s loneliness” following the divorce from Nina’s father. They both tell a story of being born into money and privilege before their lives changed as British manufacturing floundered in the 60s. They were left “humiliated and embarrassed” because with this reduction in wealth, came a reduction in their father’s status which reflected on whole family.

The discussion ranged from Richard’s grandfather’s hidden adulteries to Nina’s father’s elderly coming out, around which the main concern was: “But he’s part of the Montgomery scrabble club!”. The conversation was candid, and Richard said that in being honest in his memoir, he had been accused on Twitter of just “TMI Vicar”. Coles’ mother, however, appeared less scandalised: her take was “Oh darling, [it’s] charming, except where garish.”  Continue reading