FRIDAY 26 APRIL 2019
FRIDAY 26 APRIL
I have now been Junior Reporter at ChipLitFest for four years and I’ve often made simple things complicated for myself because I’m pretty incompetent. However, even I feel that I am now very comfortable with the festival process. I usually know how to choose events that align with my specific interests, I can get around town without consulting the map too much, and I’m even able to time events so that I can have new books I’ve bought signed AND still get to my next event (if a little on-the-dot!).
Whilst I know that many others also know this fantastic festival well, I thought I might supplement my now traditional annual review of my own Festival experiences from this year with some handy tips for “rookies” in preparation for their first trip to ChipLitFest next year, to make sure they can feel the same delight as I felt on my first experience of the Festival.
John Simpson’s event was in the Theatre; a great venue because of the gallery seating above and food and drink for sale in the bar – if you’re going to be at as many events as me all day (i.e. as many as chronologically possible), the bar is one of many fabulous places to snack yourself up (as well as the yummy Jaffé & Neale café) because there won’t necessarily be time for full meals unless you can make it through a main course in fifteen minutes! John recounted his life as a reporter, bringing some truly thrilling (and terrifying) stories to the table, which had provided the inspiration for the premise of his new book, Moscow, Midnight. Although the event was an interview in format, John was given free rein to lead an enthralled audience through various riveting anecdotes that gave insights into his extraordinary life and experiences.
Afterwards, I had the most BRILLIANT time at Nikita Gill’s event in the library (so nice to be surrounded by books whilst talking about books!). Oh. My. Gosh. Insightful, witty, and motivated to make a positive impact, Nikita involved the (unfairly small) audience in an almost informal chat about some serious issues, addressed in her beautiful book Fierce Fairytales. These issues included looking at society’s failure to recognise bullying as a product of unhealed trauma, its failure to represent women as abusive as they can sometimes be, and the failure to educate children about the nuances of reality by demonising perpetrators without considering their redeeming qualities or investigating how they became abusive. As Nikita herself explained, she did not write the book of poems to excuse the behaviour of abusive individuals but rather to highlight the harm caused by past abuse to the abusers themselves. She believes in treating the cause so it cannot happen again, not simply treating the results. Despite the solemn topic of conversation, Nikita was able to keep the event light hearted and humorous (especially when Game of Thrones came up in the discussion). And when I met her afterwards, she was supremely nice to me; honestly one of my new favourite people for being so wonderful, not just a favourite writer for her gorgeous poetry.
Another tip I would recommend for newcomers to literary festivals is – if possible - to read the books of events you are going to in advance, because you can read it first with your own interpretation and then with the new perspective gained from the event. This isn’t always possible but it can add a lot of value to your whole experience – plus, you can scamper to the head of the queue and get it signed first while everyone else is busy buying the book!
SATURDAY 27 APRIL 2019
SATURDAY 27 APRIL
Saturday – and I go for broke with as many events as I can physically get to.
A Very Short Introduction (VSI) to Typography – fascinating ideas about how to structure text so that the mind can organise information quickly (something that I evidently need). Half an hour like all VSIs but an informative and engaging half-hour at that!
VSIs are well worth going to, as a tip to newbies, because (from past experience) you CANNOT magically transport across town (unless it is the same venue) for two events back to back over two hours. You usually have to alternate events…except VSIs are usually from quarter-past to quarter-to for most hour slots, meaning you can have a full event, fit in a quick VSI and hop on to the next event with only five to ten minutes of inactivity (or grabbing a snack!) between each talk.
New Voices – an interview with three excellent debut authors, Candice Carty-Williams, Elizabeth Macneal and my good friend Anne Youngson, about their awesome first books, Queenie, The Doll Factory and Meet Me at the Museum, respectively. New Voices is a staple of ChipLitFest and a great event, since each author introduces their book and gives a little detail on what it is about, their writing process and their thoughts, feelings or motivations surrounding it. It’s like literary speed dating and it’s amazing. I usually go to this event and this year’s one did not disappoint; the books had great premises, the interviewer maximised opportunity for the authors and the writers themselves were greatly entertaining and engaging with varied viewpoints.
My Saturday at ChipLitFest continued with Modern Life. Marina Benjamin spoke about her book, giving an insight into what living with insomnia feels like whilst Vybarr Cregan-Reid explained how his book, Primate Change (I really loved the pun, btw), researched not how we affect the environment but how the environment affects us. I really enjoyed their event as it blended a poetic view of the human mind with a scientific study of the body. In fact, I was so interested that I ended up buying both books! Did you know that myopia is an adaptation to light levels? Guess I’m adapted to the environment then. I’ll outlive all of you in natural selection.
Next, VSI to Medical Ethics – a godsend for my RE A level (pun not intended). Incredibly interesting look at the role ethics plays in the medical world, with hypothetical case studies and an evaluation of the different ways ethics has to adapt as new medical discoveries are made. Enjoyable beyond my studies.
Varjak Paw – I’ve met SF Said before and he was as lovely as ever, entertaining the kids at the ACE Centre; an ideal venue for children’s literary events. He discussed some personal stories of the difficulties he had had in breaking into the writing industry and how he eventually overcame them, despite years of doubt and rejection. It was an inspiration for aspirational writers such as myself, especially in the presence of his three incredibly successful published books and an audience of excited children who evidently loved reading them. One shot his hand up as soon as SF first asked if anyone had read Varjak Paw. (I think he was very much an ardent fan.)
By the way, the children’s events at ChipLitFest are absolutely fantastic – they always have authors that appeal to different age groups, covering a range of genres, and every one of them always makes the event interesting for the attending adults too (there were quite a few giggles and questions from the seated parents at the back!). SF Said’s event was, of course, no exception to this.
VSI to Reading – I managed to join up with my dad for this one and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. The speaker looked at the history of reading, pointing out some interesting facts, for example, where there has been prejudice against women reading. There were so many curious questions at the end building on what had already been said and extending the session that – unusually but annoyingly - we had to leave to avoid being late to the next event.
Last talk of the day for me – Born Lippy with Jo Brand – was a brilliant end to Saturday’s events. Back in the Theatre, I laughed at her humorous anecdotes and wicked turn of phrase and cringed at the sexism she had faced in the TV industry. Despite describing how she had to face down some pretty horrific double standards and abuse about her physical appearance, she maintained a fantastic discourse with Lissa Evans, interviewing, that remained relatively light and often twisted into the hilarious. The applause at the end was suitably loud and appreciative. I have to say that her ‘party conversation-starters’ that she read from her book really stuck with me – my favourite was “I’ve just got out of prison, have you?”
SUN 28 APRIL 2019
SUNDAY 28 APRIL
Sunday. I only went to two events but, wow, they were great.
Having a Laugh – similar to New Voices but where all three books being discussed had elements of comedy about them. Brian Bilston, Lissa Evans and Nina Stibbe spoke about their stories and/or poetry. As expected, it was as funny as the title would suggest but also incredibly thought-provoking. We learnt how each writer approached writing comedy, from autobiographical influences to the form of the text and afterwards, Lissa even kindly gave me some advice on writing comedy myself when I bought her book Old Baggage. I am now half way through reading it and it is as funny as I thought it would be.
I finished ChipLitFest 2019 with A Thousand Ships – the event of my favourite classicist and a personal hero to me, Natalie Haynes, with her new book of the same title as the event. It was a surreal experience for me, since I had only really heard her voice on her BBC 4 radio show before, but seeing her in person was amazing, especially since she came onto the stage and marathon-ed the entire Trojan War (the setting of her new book), explaining all of its subtleties that the simplified popular story misses. It was incredible. I learnt new versions of the story from more oblique sources, was given context to things that had never quite made sense and laughed at her hilarious colloquial take on events of the epic. I honestly had tears in my eyes when she compared the crew of Odysseus to the Red Shirts of Star Trek. I CANNOT wait to read her book, which retells the tale from the point of view of ALL the women involved in the Trojan War… and my mum said she has never seen me look more starstruck than when Natalie Haynes (Natalie Haynes!!) signed my book. I am a HUGE fan, if you haven’t guessed.
Another wonderful weekend and a last tip: go to as many events as possible because you won’t be sorry! A weekend of immense fun – the definition of ChipLitFest. Here’s looking at you, ChipLitFest 2020!