Thursday, 30 April 2009

Festival Fever

Last night to Hexham Book Festival (
at Queen’s Hall Library in that town to talk about writing long and short fiction, using Knives and Sandie Shaw and the Millionth Marvell Cooker as my examples of the two forms. I used the notes published here in yesterday’s blog to inspire my talk. I also read part of ‘Queenie and the Water Man’ (from Knives) and the section from Sandie where my character Karen dances Sandie Shaw style in the factory toilets. The audience were wonderfully attentive and shrewd in their reaction. As well as this, they laughed in the right places, which is very reassuring.

The library is in a very gracious, high-galleried space and the welcome I received from festival director Susie Troup and this Hexham gathering was equally gracious. Susie, who is a big fan of the short story, seems to have enjoyed Knives very much and she is now relishing the end game in Sandie Shaw and the Millionth Marvell Cooker. I was touched by her reaction. Susie also told me she once lived in Agde in the Languedoc – the very town to which I am fleeing tomorrow! I love these coincidences. They connect us all like spider’s webs.

The audience was made up of an interesting mixture of readers and writers. I recommended Dorothea Brande’s wonderful ‘On Becoming a Writer’ to two beginning writers there. One lady liked my comparison of the magical Japanese paper flowers with the nature of the short story. Another was deriving fictional stories from her own family history, as I have done. Another had finished a novel and was busy sending it off. Writers are always good company.

Claire, of Cogito Books ( had a lovely display of my books and a nice smile to go with it. I’ve not yet been to her prize winning shop which is just nearby but will certainly go next time I’m in Hexham. From an on-like peek it looks like a beautiful shop. (Don’t you love good bookshops?).I see also that they have an online ordering facility which I will certainly use.

Of to the pub for a pint - well, two halves - with Peter Mortimer of Iron Press (, along with Kate and Eileen who helped with the proof-reading of Knives, and writer friends Avril and David. I began to relas as we talked of writing and books and - of course - France! We exchanged reflections on French at school. Peter said reading Guy de Maupassant - a favourite of mine - in his teens had turned him onto the short story, and reading Moliere at the same time had started him on writing drama. I chipped in with my delight in Honore de Balzac, who wrote novels through the night against publisher’s deadlines and partied afternoon and evening to generate material for his novels. Then it turns that out Kate and Eileen spent a week on the Canal du Midi, in the Languedoc, on what sounded like a rather speedy not-so-narrow boat, (Kate driving…). Time to say it’s a small world…

As we drove back later across the moors I let out a very long sigh. Hexham was the last of a month long of (albeit pleasurable) duties. Now I can forget for the time being books that are already written and sink into the deliciously private world of the new novel.

To France! Hooray!

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