A day so replete with words, books, wisdom, inspiration, laughter and all in the company of friendly, like-minded people; this is what turns a good literary festival experience into a great and memorable one, and I know I will be thinking about my first of two days at Budleigh for a long time.
Having caught my breath (just) after Dame Hilary Mantel’s generous and thought-provoking Masterclass I went along to hear writers Sarah Winman ( When God Was a Rabbit and recently Tin Man) and Vanessa Nicholson ( Have You Been Good & recently The Truth Game) talking respectively about their books and writing lives. Fresh on the heels of the Masterclass I listened with interest as each author outlined the trials and tribulations and challenges overcome in the writing of their books. For Vanessa Nicolson in particular, being the granddaughter of Vita, it was the millstone of the Sackville-West genealogy. ‘Everything the Sackville-Wests touch turns to text,’ is a quip regularly levelled about a family history clearly difficult to shake off but endlessly fascinating to those of us who didn’t have to live it.
By this time I was in need of a pot of tea and cake. A wander along Budleigh High Street yielded a selection of tea rooms and shop windows dressed overall for the festival. Every shop had conjured up a bookish display, even the gent’s outfitters, making it clear that the town embraces the festival and hopefully benefits from it. It was the equivalent of hot desking in the tea room but I triumphed with a deft sidestep and was in and seated.
Suitably sustained I headed off to hear writer, performer, broadcaster and academic, Michael Rosen deliver the afternoon Memorial Talk ‘ Is Date Collection the Death of Reading?’ in honour of Festival Founder Susan Ward. I wasn’t really sure what to expect if I’m honest, but whatever it was I wasn’t disappointed.
Gosh did we roll up in the pews as Michael Rosen eviscerated a school work sheet on the myth of Perseus and the Gorgons and (‘the snakes ‘writhing venomously’) whilst dissecting the problem of ‘teaching to the test’ which is causing so much discontent and distress in the U.K. education system at the moment. There was a very serious message in all this, cleverly and humorously conveyed and leaving none of us in any doubt that change is required if education is to fulfil its brief to equip children for life, not necessarily for parsing a sentence.
Incidentally we now all want a copy of The Orchard Book of Greek Myths by Geraldine McCaughrean, way better than the SATS version, we were gripped. Michael Rosen is a performer par excellence. I doubt there was a person in the audience who wouldn’t have sat and listened for another hour, and the lengthy (and more) applause reflected just how much we had enjoyed this event.
Onwards to the evening session with Patrick Gale. More dreckly.