Friday, 4 April 2014

Literary festival part deux

Writers, if they are to be really successful, should be excellent verbal story tellers as well as able to paint pictures with their written words. I'm not sure if there are writers with subjects more opposed than Sebastian Barry and John Julius Norwich, but after hearing them speak, I am utterly convinced they share the gift of the gab (as the Irish might say) and the ability to keep their audiences spellbound.

Sebastian Barry's writing is deeply embedded in Ireland and the chaotic world of his family history; his drunken grandparents, his actress mother and poet father. He grew up thinking this chaos was all perfectly normal (as John Julius Norwich grew up believing it to be perfectly normal to have a mother as wildly charismatic as Diana Cooper). He's passionate about his heritage and answered every question Joan Bakewell put to him with an intensity of thought - even if he meandered down an avenue which had nothing to do with what he'd started to talk about. He read a section of his new novel 'The Temporary Gentleman' and I was completely blown away - not necessarily by the writing (which was dynamic and brilliant), but by his wonderfully dramatic delivery. As he read the description of a boat sinking having been torpedoed, the audience held its collective breath as the words tumbled about our ears and we were all transported to that sinking skip. I don't think I'll ever read one of his novels in the same way again and I'm convinced he should do public readings more often.

John Julius Norwich is a different type of storyteller, but just as captivating. He reminds me a little of a clockwork toy - wind him up and off he goes! He spoke for almost half an hour with hardly any interruption from his 'interviewer' Paul Blizzard, charting the intricate relationships of his family history and the locations his parents found themselves during World War II. He interrupted himself at one point to ask permission to read an extract of one of his Mother's letters. 'You do what you want John', Paul Blizzard chuckled, 'It's your show!' It really was. And his impersonations of Winston Churchill are spot on - not overblown, but done by someone who really knew him. Affectionate, but with an acknowledgement of the ridiculousness. 'Darling Monster' sounds like it will be treasure trove of letters, and will further serve to fuel my passion to continue the trend, rather than relying on email at all times.

The day was topped off in rather grand fashion with Philip Pullman, who introduced the music that has informed his life, played by the Orchestra of St John's. The pieces he chose were:

- Mendelssohn: Octet, 1st movement
- Shostakovich: Piano Concerto No 2, 2nd Movement
- Mozart: Void Che Sapete
- Bach: Italian Concerto BWV 971, 1st Movement
- Monteverdi: Si Dolce Il Tormentor
- Hellmann: Away we trot
- Beethoven: Song Er schwur es mis brim
- Debussy: En bateau from Petite Suite
- Brahms: Sextet Op. 18, 2nd movement
- Schubert: Heidenroslein; An Sylvia
- Ellington: Take the A Train
- Tchaikovsky: Serenade for strings, 4th Movement

Mostly familiar composers, but many pieces I'd never heard. I will look them up again though, and a trip to YouTube might be well worthwhile.

Philip Pullman never talks much about his own writing process, but he did reveal he had to work in silence (so much so that he had a shed built in the garden when his son took up the violin) and he is in the middle of a long awaited companion piece to the 'His Dark Materials' trilogy called 'The Book of Dust'. I can hardly wait.

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