Thursday, March 08, 2007

Fear of literature

Today I picked up the programme to this year's Brighton Festival (May 5-27). What literary greats are going to appear this year? I turned to the relevant pages. The first four faces one sees are Gordon Brown, Andrew Marr, Shami Chakrabarti and David Dimbleby. Did I get the wrong page? No, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, a civil rights campaigner and two BBC political commentators constitute the headline acts of the literary branch of the festival!

Page two of the booklet advertises three more features: discussions about Baghdad and Chernobyl and, at last, something about literature. The poet Tony Harrison, it says, "is Britain's leading theatre and film poet" (what ever that means. I know him as a poet alone, such as A Cold Coming from 1991). So he's going to discuss poetry? No. "He is also a writer who firmly believes that poetry should address the great issues of the day". Ah, we know what that means don't we? Isn't poetry a great issue? Apparently not. He's talking about a film about Hiroshima.

It looks like I'll be keeping up the tradition of not attending a single event. Even the one vaguely interesting literary event has to be mitigated by current affairs. Dave Eggers and Valentino Achak Deng discuss the book about the latter's life in Sudan.

This fear of books is catching. Today's TLS has an advert for the Bath Literature Festival. The eight pictures feature: a TV historian, a TV psychiatrist, an actress, a TV cook, an illustrator, a philosopher, a crime writer and just one (rather photogenic) novelist. There might well be others appearing, but they're keeping very quiet about it.


  1. Festivals do give one an icky feeling anyhow, the relentless plugging of the books, the books, the signings - I don't know how writers do it, whether the book is about the history of telly or it's all made up. Tricksy stuff, they should all blog and then perhaps they could stay home and just go out when they want to see their mates.
    Having stayed away all my life, I did go to a whole day of our writers' festival last year - because quite a bit of it was about publishing and arts funding, it wasn't too bad. All things considered. There was one session with a poet that was downright fascinating.

    The sessions with writers of fiction were a bit annoying though - one woman just blathered on about her book as though it was the only novel on old age and art that had ever been written. Plug, plug, plug - doesn't help that she's a journalist either.
    Maybe we need fiction festivals, Stephen? the teev writers can go on telly after all.

  2. Anonymous1:56 pm

    Reminds me of the Hamburg Zeitgeist Literary Festival of 1937, featuring the literary masters, Goebbells, Georing and Lord Haw-Haw. And who said culture is dying?

  3. Anonymous2:25 pm

    Emm......Goering. Lord Haw Haw recounted some marvellous stories that gave charming hints into the real human beings behind the official exterior, so I'm hoping A Marr will fullfil that role in similar admiral fashion. And as for Gordon Brown; now that's a treat beyond imagining. What's that..autocratic police state's slimey tentacles creeping into all facets of life? Not at all.

  4. Anonymous10:37 am

    Hello Steve,

    You may, or may not, be pleased to know that I, along with Stewart Home, will be reading from our new books at The Permanent Gallery in Brighton on Fridat May 11th. Hope to see you there?!

    Lee Rourke.



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