The Manchester Literature Festival has got off to an excellent start this year and I am in the thick of things, having volunteered at three events already this week. Monday evening I went to Waterstones to listen to Patrick Gale and Catherine Hall (review of the event over at the Lit Fes Blog). They were linked together by the fact that they both write (particularly) about gay characters; Catherine Hall won the Green Carnation Prize last year for her book 'The Proof of Love' (interestingly a prize initially created for gay men and then opened up to LGBT writers worldwide). Patrick's new novel 'A Perfectly Good Man' is longlisted this year. I read Notes From an Exhibition nearly two years ago and really enjoyed it and Patrick was interesting and engaging in person. They both read, discussed their writing lives with Simon Savage and then answered questions from the audience, a standard format for this kind of event.
Yesterday lunchtime it was back to Waterstones for the Carcanet Poets. The events room was unavailable to they had the chairs set up next to the poetry section and it was rather an unforgiving environment. There was ambient noise from the cafe, escalators, lift and general customer browsing which meant the voices were sometimes a little lost I felt, but they soldiered on regardless. Evan Jones I missed most of as I stood downstairs to direct any latecomers to the right place, but he reminded me of Garrison Keillor, he had a lovely soft spoken mid-atlantic accent (though he is Canadian). Judith Jedamus left me with one beautiful image from a poem about a fire destroyed house, that of love stored up in mason jars for leaner times. William Letford was much more of a performance poet (some people just read, there is quite a difference). He spoke his poems from memory for a start and his voice, a broad scottish accent, and with extensive use of dialect, meant that his own reading was what gave the poems much of their impact and intensity. Very enjoyable but maybe the finer points might have been lost on me, but it is lovely to have such contrasts of style, with two two poets for whom it is very much about the language and another for whom it is so much more about a life experience that he is trying to convey.
Then last night I went to the Whitworth Art Gallery (linking to Wiki here as their own website appears to be offline for some reason) to hear Penelope Lively. I read her book 'How it all began' earlier this year and gave it a somewhat lukewarm review, but she was wonderful to listen to. She talked about reading and writing and the way each impacts on the other, and made the same point as Susan Hill does in 'Howards End is on the Landing', that all the things you read over your lifetime (your literary DNA) have an impact on the person that you are and the way you think about things. She talked about being home educated as a child in Egypt until being sent to boarding school at 12, where reading was seen as a punishment rather than a source of education, it was nice to see she survived the experience relatively unscathed. The talk was an interesting mixture of personal reminiscences and reflections on the writing process, all very helpful in advance of NaNoWriMo.
Am going next to a short story event at Madlab on Saturday which sounds fascinating. You can download a festival brochure and check out the event coming over the next fortnight, plenty of free things as well, and many will still have tickets available at the door.