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.

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

Horatio Clare: capturing the beauty and wilderness of the sea

By Anna Cathenka

Before going to Horatio Clare’s talk about his new book Down To The Sea In Ships I catch a quick bite to eat with my fellow student-journalists in the festival’s mess tent. As I sip my silky coffee, I spy a tanned, bearded man in a blue, Nordic jumper eating his lunch. I come over all fan-girl: “That’s Horatio Clare!” I whisper.

I discovered Horatio Clare when I was given his first book Running For The Hills about his childhood which, much like mine, was set amongst the smell of bracken and sheep’s wool in the deep, dark valleys of Wales. His writing is lyrical, delicate, moving.

Clare is a picture of coolness as he takes to the stage, changed out of his jumper into a t-shirt and dinner jacket, stealing our attention away from Jill Murphy’s beautiful deerhound, Flora, who kindly introduces the talk (with the help of Patrick Gale.) Down to the Sea in Ships was written after a stint working as writer in residence for the Maersk shipping company. I was initially jealous of his experience, but after sinking into the salty depths of the book, the jealousy turned to admiration.  Continue reading

The fiction of Murray and Haig

Tiffany Murray and Matt Haig
Tiffany Murray and Matt Haig onstage. Picture: Annie Harrison

By Annie Harrison

What happens when you give two authors an hour to sit on stage in big armchairs and talk? Firstly they rearrange the furniture! And secondly, in Patrick Gale’s words, it gives the audience a chance to “eavesdrop” on an uncensored, unscripted chat that leads them right into the depths of human nature.

Tiffany Murray and Matt Haig read from their books, chatted about childhood, life and writing. Reading from Diamond Star Halo, Tiffany Murray recalled her childhood growing up by a record studio used by Queen which fed into her story of rockstars and romance. Matt Haig read his new novel, The Humans, about a Cambridge mathematics professor who was not all as human as he seems; delving into the elements of what it is to be a human in this world through the eyes of aliens.

So that’s what happens when you let authors talk for an hour, and eventually someone has to stop them!

Interview: Jill Murphy on the Worst Witch

By Emma Gibbs

Jill Murphy is best known for The Worst Witch stories that follow the misadventures of Mildred Hubble at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches. The books were an instant success when they were first released 40 years ago and still remain hugely popular today. Murphy, an author and illustrator, went on to win the 1995 Smarties Book Prize in the 0-5 years category for her story, The Last Noo-noo. She is also famous for The Large Family picture books. She currently lives in Cornwall.

Ahead of The North Cornwall Book Festival, which Murphy will be attending for a children’s workshop on the 26th October, I talked to Jill to discuss her life as a writer…

Why did you decide to write children’s fiction?

“I have always done it, and could read and write from a very early age,” she said. “There was really no alternative.”

I asked about the incredible realisation that she could both write and draw well at such a young age. She “didn’t see it as a talent,” she said, but as a way to entertain herself. And as for her artistry skills, she explained she was often told she could “draw her way out of trouble” in school.  Continue reading

My favourite book: Ella Berthoud on Peirene Press

Ella Berthoud
Ella Berthoud is the Bibliotherapist

When I asked Ella what her favourite book was I could almost hear the whirring of her mind. As a bibliotherapist, she must have a lot of “favourites” for different reasons, and situations.

So instead of forcing one single title out of her, we settled on a name of a publishing house: Peirene Press.

Why? Because, Ella explains, they produce books that can be read in one sitting. Hanne Orstavik’s The Blue Room was the first title that turned her on to the Peirene Press. Fast, pacey fiction that can be devoured in an evening.

Words and picture by Sarah Purnell

Responses to The Poetry of Wells and Field

By Anna Cathenka

It is 10.30 am on a damp, wild day in North Cornwall. I am sitting in a marquee, beset at every turn by industrious money spiders, making their own pattern-poems with their little black bodies on the white expanse of my paper. The event begins with Eduard Heyning’s improvised, mellow soprano sax, coursing a late-night jazz sound poem into the wet veins of this early morning.

Victoria Field and Philip Wells recite their poetry to us. Their work is worlds apart. Field uses what she refers to as “little words”– a reference to a quote from Wendell Berry: “The little words that come out of the silence like prayers”. It is almost a paean to Victoria’s poems; friendly whispers that catch you when you’re least expecting it. Wells is the masculine voice to Victoria’s feminine quietude. His words roar right inside you: shake you to your core. Wells’ poems are fast-paced, loud, everything opposite to Field, and yet neither is less powerful.

Each recitation is brought to a close (or alternatively, introduced) by a sound poem from Heyning. As one of the audience later tells me: “his music clears your mind in between these two very different poets.” My favourite sound poem is what sounds to me like a heated argument, a two-and-fro between a very light, feminine voice and a rough, deep masculine voice. While Wells and Field are in accordance, the piece nevertheless seems relevant.  Continue reading

Interview: Horatio Clare on Down to the Sea in Ships

Cargo ship
The cargo ship Rio de la Plata. Picture: Glen/Flickr/Creative Commons

By Sorrel Watson

Horatio Clare will not be defined by a particular literary genre. His work spans moving and insightful memoirs of youth, tales of drug addiction and mental health, adventure stories of the highest calibre, and most recently a children’s book.

Raised on a sheep farm in the Welsh Black Mountains, Clare was immersed in the wilderness from a very young age. With no telly in the house, he and his brother relied on their imaginations, games and books for entertainment – sparking his appetite for adventure.

His latest book, Down to the Sea in Ships – an exploration of the lives of the crew on a 115,000 tonne cargo ship – is the product of such an adventure. Clare spent months onboard, learning about the beauty and power of the sea, loneliness, definitions of masculinity and the dangers and injustices faced by the people involved in this un-regulated and extremely treacherous industry. Continue reading

Interview: Philip Wells – the Fire Poet

Minack Theatre, Cornwall
Philip Wells walked 270 miles along the coastal path barefoot. His first week of walking included a visit to the Minack. Picture: Robert Pittman/Flickr/Creative Commons

By Anna Cathenka

“Poetry is always beyond definition, it is bigger than anybody ever realised and as long as we keep that sense of scale and cosmic piety about it, we won’t lose its deep magic,” says Philip Wells. His passion for poetry is fiery and contagious – and explains his moniker, The Fire Poet. Wells’ new book, Horse Whispering In The Military Industrial Complex is about using poetry as “a channel through which to speak the truth,” he explains as we discuss his poetry and activism ahead of his appearance at the North Cornwall Book Festival.

“I have fond memories of Cornwall from childhood holidays, but walking 270 miles barefoot along the coastal path made it very special,” he says. Wells is one of the founders of Barefoot Billion, the project for which he walked 1000 miles barefoot in order to raise awareness of the 1 billion children living in poverty. The walk started in Cornwall: it raised £23,000, as well as getting children in 80 different countries writing poetry.

The walk also “awakened the conscience of the world” in Wells. It allowed him to discover “the absolute kernel of what matters: a connection, a golden thread that runs through us all, asking us to change the world and stop all this ridiculous inequality. Now is the time to act, I will use poetry to do that.”  Continue reading