I asked those who were there to send me their festival thoughts if they wanted to and I would post them on here for others to share... I'm blushing now but it was really lovely to meet up with Carol again. We bump into each other at all sorts of literary events and you have to know that Carol came on her own, pitched her tent and got stuck in to the whole festival mood. For anyone pondering a visit next year be reassurred that Port Eliot is a very warm and friendly festival so coming alone is no deterrent to enjoying it all and you'll always have somewhere to come and sit and get a cup of tea!
So over to Carol and my thanks to her for lugging that promised copy of Fame is the Spur by Howard Spring all the way up to the tent to give to me.
I've waited a few days to write this after returning from Port Eliot to give time to let the whole wonderful weekend settle. I had planned all sorts of of things over the three days – authors first and foremeost, but also gardeners (Dan Pearson and Noel Kingsbuury), musicians (Bellowhead, Fisherman's Friends) poets (Luke Wright). The list goes on, because Port Eliot is that sort of festival, something for everyone and always something going on. And sometimes it's the unexpected which has the most impact – but more of that later.
At the top of my list was spending time in the DGR tent – I'd followed Lynne's preparations on the blog and knew this would be a major part of my weekend. And from my first sight of the tent, I knew this was going to be something special. Truly, this was the blog brought to life. There were the quilts, the Tinker's amazing tapestries, knitted socks along the front of the table, pictures of Rocky and the baby birds pinned to a quilt, lovely Bookhound welcoming us all with cups of tea ('very good quality tea – you don't get this everywhere' as one chap behind me remarked), and the basket of knitting for us all to dip into and add a few rows of our own.
I met Rev Cheryl and Fran HB, blog commenters and fellow Team Edward Thomas members, and very unusually for me (I'm the sort of person who puts her bag on the other seat in a train to avoid having to make conversation) I exchanged email addresses with a lovely lady called Jackie from Warrington who seemed to be in the same place as me for much of the weekend.
My list of events went completely out of the window, as once I'd heard Lynne's first session (with Katie Kitamura and Hari Kunzru) I was hooked. This was book talk as it should always be – relaxed and informal, people joining in when they had something to say, knitting and drinking tea in Lynne's sitting room tent.
I spent the rest of the weekend listening to all of Lynne's sessions (particularly loved the reveal of the Mrs Cash illuminations for Daisy Goodwin) and was increasingly impressed by Lynne's management of the sessions. It looked effortless, but I know it took a lot of research, confidence and nerve to achieve. All the authors responded to the informality and it felt like sharing a private chat, rather than attending a formal session. Even I, who despite going to lots of festivals and bookshop sessions, rarely ask a question, was moved to speak several times over the course of the weekend.
My personal favourite, as I knew he would be, was the lovely Will Fiennes. I've heard him speak four times now and he always captures the audience with his almost mesmerising blend of humility and reverence for words.
All in all, as I said to Lynne afterwards, the whole thing was a complete triumph and if ever there was a way to present a TV book programme, this would be it. I'm so glad to hear it's all going to happen again next year. It's certainly been the highlight of my reading year so far.
PS: I referred to the unexpected above – this was an hour listening to Kate Winslet (mystery guest) read Mr Gum in the Bowling Green tent on Sunday morning, doing all the voices and giggling herself silly at times. A classic Port Eliot moment!
Oh my what a wonderful Festival weekend we have had, it's our final day of reports today and I can think of no better note to end a festival on than a conversation with author William Fiennes talking about his writing life and his books, The Snow Geese and The Music Room.
I've heard William talk before and we've met at several literary events in the last few years so I was really looking forward to this and after a quick introduction from me I settled back along with a full tent to listen and to be entranced. I think we'd all agree that some authors, no matter their brilliance on the page just can't do the live event platform thing and I wonder why we expect so much of them these days, but I knew we were in for a treat with William Fiennes, and I think we had yet another hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck hear-a-pin-drop moment as he recounted the history behind the The Snow Geese, the illness, the need for travel and freedom, the subsequent journey, an odyssey of sorts, a migration following a migration, those moments when home seemed so very far away. moments of homesickness and nostalgia, and at the book's centre the steady beat of their wings and the direction that the snow geese provided.
Talking about The Music Room William highlighted the realisation that his older brother Richard, who died some years ago from the consquences of his epilepsy, was not the sort of man to receive an obituary but what a wonderful tribute William has created for him. The exploration of William's childlike acceptance of Richard's problems that slowly develops into an adult understanding of a brother for whom others would need 'to slacken the strings of expectation' but who, for the family, was a cherished and much-loved person in his own right. And underneath this story the steady bass note that tracks the history of brain research.
After lots of questions and discussion amongst the audience we were in for another unexpected but very welcome treat as William read us his latest short story, a fable, 'Why the Ash Tree Has Black Buds' to be published in an anthology this autumn.
One of the traditions that we have established at this festival is our Guest Book. We asked each author to sign it before they left and they all did. I love this picture of William thinking so carefully about what to write... and can you see Rocky looking over his right shoulder from his festival perch...
Picture this – a van is driving along a track. On the bonnet sits a girl wearing a tutu and with a large black moustache pencilled across her face. She is telling everyone to follow the van until it stops. We do. It stops. The back doors open and...... it’s the 1 Minute Disco! Just enough time to put your handbag down and dance round it until the minute is up, when the doors close again and the van drives off. What a brilliant idea.
Us Happy Campers saw everyone and everything we wanted to, and a few more besides, but missed our opportunity to see a now famous group of friends who sing sea shanties. Unfortunately, the programme in their venue was obviously running late – we really wanted Fishermen’s Friends but could only find Hot Brew, which was not our cup of tea.
DGR interrupts to say we saw them!
When we went to bed the portaloos were white and when we woke up in the morning they were green – the Toilet Fairy had been in the night and replaced them all!
Kate Winslet! Kate Winslet!!! The Hollywood star herself was on stage Sunday morning reading her childrens’ favourite book, Mr Gum and the Power Crystals by Andy Stanton. She read the whole thing in one and a half hours, acting it out, doing all the different voices and thoroughly enjoying herself. Before she started, she suggested that any children who wanted to could join her on stage to listen and there was a susurration as all the men in the audience involuntarily rose from their seats and then settled down again with a wistful sigh. An hour and a half is a bit long for the littlest little ‘uns and there was further consternation from some of the dads when they had to leave temporarily to take their offspring for a toilet break. Would they miss anything? Would it all be over when they got back? Andy Stanton has a wonderful way with words. Phrases such as “silent as a carpet”, or “like a piece of old cheese nobody wants to dance with”, and our favourite, the famous breakfast cereal Baron von Tubbleworth’s Crunchy Little Leopards – I bet Burt Lancaster eats those! Not forgetting “the past has a way of repeating itself”. (The past has a way of repeating itself.) (The past has a way of repeating itself.) We rocked with laughter at the description of Old Granny in her rocking chair, surreptitiously slurping sherry, rocking and farting at the same time. I also particularly enjoyed Nicholas de Twinklecakes, a villainous 16th century Hooray Henry and, my favourite, little Alan Taylor, the mechanical-limbed gingerbread superhero, one of whose raisin eyes was once eaten by a cat and replaced from the bag in the kitchen. And a final quote: stories are like rivers – they keep on flowing and they sometimes have fish in them. Andy Stanton is my new superhero. There are 8 or 9 books in the Mr Gum series definitely seek them out.
So there we were sitting in the dovegreyreader tent awaiting the arrival of Patrick Barkham when a blur, followed by a crowd of blurs, shot across in front of us screeching to a halt at a nearby herbaceous border. I wandered across to get a sighting of our next guest because yes, it was Patrick Barkham concluding his Butterfly Walk around Port Eliot before coming in to see us.
If anyone was feeling a bit sleepy they soon woke up because I doubt anyone can top Patrick for energy and enthusiasm for his subject as he talked us through his butterfly year as recounted in The Butterfly Isles and his search for all fifty-nine species of British butterflies. And we promised not to breath a word about the day he pulled a sicky to notch up another rarity.
At times hilarious... as in the moment when his girlfriend rang him whilst he was halfway up a mountain in search of a rarity to tell him it was all over, she couldn't cope with all the lepidoptery a minute longer. Thankfully they are now back together and with a baby on the way (currently pupating)
At times serious as Patrick recounted the threats to the butterfly population and how intensive farming methods some years ago had caused a serious decline...
'Yes but it kept you all fed,' replied a farmer in the audience and a moment that could have gone either way but handled with supreme tact by Patrick as he talked about the improvements that were made through stewardship schemes when the damage became evident. We live in the midst of a stewardship scheme here; the farm around us now leaves plough margins and hedges are trimmed at appropriate times only, whilst our garden is a haven of neglect this year (building project priority) so we are claiming stewardship and barn owl habitat as our excuse though sadly with no EU subsidy.
We asked what we could do to encourage the butterfly population and apparently you need to prune your buddleias early so that they flower late...or do you prune them late so they flower early...oh help me out someone, I didn't take notes.
Two very delightful small children sat on the floor and knitted their way through Patrick's talk and then told us about the butterfly kit they had bought online which inluded caterpillars, and how they had fed them and watched them hatch and then released them, and we all wanted one. I think it might have been from here.
Knowing that we had captured a rare knitted large blue from Site X ' somewhere in Devon I steered the conversation in that direction and who knew that the real Large Blue has such a precarious existence, relying on a prolonged and parasitic sojourn in the nest of a very particular sort of red ant before emerging resplendent after about ten months (I think).
Anyway Patrick was delighted with his Knitted Large Blue knitsuke and we are delighted it has gone to such a good home.
and we quizzed him about his next book too which will be about badgers.
My thanks to Patrick Barkham for a memorable event and to everyone who came and listened.
So once more please welcome the Happy Campers who enjoyed the rest of the festival on our behalf and are now wearing badges that say 'We sat through three hours of...' oh well you'll find out, part two to follow.
Notes from a Festival Virgin
At the grand old age of 55 I’ve finally made it to my first ever festival. Accompanied by Best Book Buddy, the plan was to have a structured timetable so we didn’t miss anyone we specifically wanted to see, with plenty of gaps for wandering around taking in the atmosphere. So, here are a few of my Memorable Moments, in no particular order. Many thanks to BBB for her wonderful company as always, in this and all our other escapades to all things literary.
Relaxing in the Dovegreyreader tent listening to Joanna Briscoe talking about her new book You, we were interrupted by a visit from Christopher Biggins. Our first celebrity! (No offence, Joanna.) He chatted for a while, then left again, leaving us all suffused in a warm Christopher Biggins-y glow.
DGR butts in to say look, loooook...
What a joy to find the Tented Tearoom. Proper cups and saucers and old-fashioned teapots, all in mismatched china; staff dressed in period costumes; music on vinyl records; a chandelier; and almond torte to die for.
Last year, BBB and I read The Leopard by Tomasi di Lampedusa for our book group, and Martin Scorsese had very kindly chosen the film version as one to be shown at the Cinema Paradiso. The setting was magical, sloping down to the river with a picturesque Victorian railway viaduct in the background (still used, and we were amazed at the number of trains and how late in the night they ran). Armed with Pimms and popcorn, we settled down for a treat. We knew the film is considered a classic, that it was made in 1963, directed by Visconti and starred Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale and Alain Delon. What we didn’t know was that it is in Italian with subtitles, and that it lasts for THREE HOURS! Determined to stick it out to the end in order to report back to book group, we were soon swathed in the hats, gloves, scarves, fleeces, down jackets and blankets that we’d taken “just in case”, and still our extremities were frozen. If you ever get the chance to see this film, in much warmer circumstances, hmm think carefully because unless you’ve read the book you might not have a clue what it’s about. Anyway we've got the badges now.
Sleep (lack of) Moment
I’m no stranger to camping so I was expecting (a) a crying baby, (b) at least one snorer (c) a car alarm in the early hours, and I was rewarded with all three. What I didn’t expect was the pounding boom from the disco until the wee small hours. I can’t get on with earplugs, so I suffer, then I’m grouchy, and that means everyone else suffers. Bearing all this in mind, I was remarkably restrained the next morning when BBB, in charge of catering, confessed that she’d brought camping stove, gas cylinders, teabags, mugs and milk, but had forgotten to bring a pan to boil the water in.......
Mosh Pit Moment
I’m not very good at standing events because lack of height means I can’t see anything. Every time I manoeuvre myself into a good position, someone taller and/or broader manages to stand in front of me. With Bellowhead, however, seeing them doesn’t matter so much. For those who don't know them, I wouldn’t recommend buying a CD and listening to it while reading a book – they need to be experienced live. Their set was one and a half hours of pure energy and the audience packed into the Big Top had just enough room to jump up and down on the spot. In front of me was Mr Dreadlocks-and-grass-skirt; next to him was Swaying Man, working on the principle that if he concentrated very, very hard on sending a text message, he might manage to stay upright; and next to me was Get-A-Room couple, who thankfully disappeared early in the gig, presumably to do just that.
We were in our favourite oasis of calm, the Tented Tearoom, when the three people opposite us struck up conversation and told us in no uncertain terms that we must not miss Mark Crick, soon to be performing at a venue nearby. We had time to spare before our next event, so thought we’d look in. Surprise, surprise, one of the three was Mark Crick, whose speciality is writing “instruction manuals” in the style of other authors. We forgot all about our next event and stayed on to the end, crying with laughter. Something I will never forget, and nor will the hapless female member of the audience who ended up on stage helping Mark to read “How to Paint a Door” in the style of Anaïs Nin (think stiff bristles and firm strokes and you’ll get the general idea). Definitely seek out his books – Kafka’s Soup (recipes), Sartre’s Sink (DIY) and Machiavelli’s Lawn (garden maintenance).
To be continued .... you will absolutely want to know about the Happy Campers Kate Winslet magic moment
So it's still last Saturday I think, and having nipped across to the Five Dials stage on the other side of the Walled Garden at 3.30pm to do an interview with Helen Walsh and Eleanor Birne, by now it's almost 5pm and there can be no slacking in the concentration department because I have to prepare for the arrival of Gillian Slovo.
I have a page of notes and some questions in the trusty notebook and if I'd had time to be nervous I might have been, because I have this image of Gillian Slovo, and based on nothing definite beyond my assumptions about her childhood lived in the shadow and fear of anti-apartheid activism, and perhaps what you take from this into adulthood and ...well perhaps she'll be a bit severe and robust in her arguments and certainly won't suffer fools gladly.
In fact Gillian was warm and friendly and talked engagingly about her life and her writing to a fascinated and engrossed audience who asked plenty of insightful and interesting questions, and several shared their own experiences of growing up in South Africa ...so the conversation happened with ease and candour.
We talked about her life as the daughter of Joe Slovo and Ruth First, fiesty parents who kept a great deal of their anti-apartheid activities secret from their children. There was a moment recounted by Gillian when she had eavesdropped on a conversation and discovered the identity of the get-away driver in a jail break, the burden of that knowledge for her perhaps a vindication of her parents' decision to keep those secrets from their children. Interestingly we talked about the current practice to be completely honest and up front with children and to tell them the truth, but it was not ever thus and certainly in the 1950's era of children being 'seen and not heard' perhaps that secrecy not as unusual as it may now seem. That said it is clear Joe Slovo and Ruth First were protecting their children in the best way they knew how, what the children didn't know they couldn't disclose to anyone.
We moved onto Every Secret Thing, Gillian's memoir and having been brought up not to ask questions, writing this book gave Gillian the chance to do just that, having been given the best advice by a colleague to go everywhere, search into every corner and do that asking, and then write what you like.
I asked Gillian whether there had a been a 'right' moment to write the book and we had an interesting discussion about the fact that history was at the right moment for it to be written. The world had been changed and it was a time for people to sit and reflect. The reality too is that to write about a moment in time also solidifies it, history frozen ...then after a time you can challenge it, talk about it more and Gillian agreed she would perhaps write it completely differently now given the chance. Time alters perceptions.
Moving onto Gillian's fiction I gathered up a thread and a common theme that I felt had been woven through our talks through the day, that of assimilation. Don't ask where that came from after so many hours of talking but it did suddenly dawn on me that from Justine talking about Coco Chanel's need to fit in, to Daisy Goodwin's American heiresses trying to blend into the English aristocracy, and then Edmund de Waal's themes of Jewish persecution and his family's assimilation into the UK we had ourselves a common denominator. That led seamlessly (I hoped) into a discussion about Gillian's most recent novelBlack Orchids. The wealthy mixed race couple Emil and Evelyn who find themselves struggling to integrate into 1950's Britain.
The novel led us into some wonderful discussion on writing about place and geographical location, about using 'word pictures' to take a reader where you want them to go, about what makes a place home and the moment when Gillian Slovo knew that her home was here in England ... actually a wet day up on Hampstead Heath, a shaft of sunlight 'then I was gone'. South Africa is now the foreign country to her, the place where she meets a part of herself that doesn't exist now.
We talked about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission too, the amnesty given to the South African policemen who had murdered Gillian's mother, how it felt to be on the receiving end of that much hatred and how it feels to be part of a family who had to give up their right to legal justice on behalf of the victims. Interestingly a process that haunted Gillian with terrible nightmares for about six months afterwards until one day she realised that, though it may sound like a cliche, the truth had finally set her free.
Gillian ended with a little anecdote about the 1988 film A World Apart, written by Gillian's sister Shawn in tribute to their parents and in which Barbara Hershey plays Diana Roth the character modelled on Ruth First. On first encounter Gillian was strangely relieved to find that Barbara looked nothing like her mother. Fast forward ten years and Gillian spots a movie poster on the escalator on the underground and does a double take...
'There's my mother.'
It wasn't of course, it was an actor but the impact was profound as Gillian shared with us her sense that her parents were human, had normal failings but she believed and knew that they had done something magnificent, and of that she and her sisters are immensely proud.
Asked about her next book we all had our appeties whetted for the publication of An Honourable Man in January 2012 and when asked for her book recommendations Gillian praised War and Peace but revealed that she had read Anna Karenina in every decade of her life and commended it to us along with..
I hope you can tell from this account that this was an incredibly moving and thought-provoking conversation with which to end our second day, and I think we all felt incredibly privileged to have been part of it all, so my very sincere thanks to Gillian Slovo for visiting the dovegreyreader tent and to all those who came to listen and chat.
The Happy Campers did a clever thing here... dashed off to see Edmund de Waal doing his main event at the Festival before rushing athletically up the hill ahead of him to be at the dovegreyreader tent for his conversation with us straight afterwards, and I am so pleased they did because I missed this, and now I feel as if I was there.
So handing you over to one very Happy Camper who I know is speaking for both of them, and for reasons that will become apparent I have decided to let Angela's words speak for themselves so no pictures...
Edmund de Waal
Some very personal reflections...
This was always going to be the highlight of the festival for me – hearing Edmund de Waal, who wrote my read of the year, The Hare with Amber Eyes - and it is still only July! I was pleased to learn in the festival guide that we were being treated to a ‘special event created for Port Eliot’; a walk through the five cities of the book.
Edmund de Waal takes the stage and admits to feeling slightly daunted by the occasion. He was here last year, but it doesn’t feel any easier, he says.
If anyone is expecting a conventional travelogue supported with photographs or other images they will be surprised but not disappointed. Staying true to his convictions about how description can be powerful and evocative using only words, Edmund de Waal leads us all on a walk in the style of Charles Ephrussi, that accomplished flâneur.
We stop, we look, we loiter, we marvel, we ‘see all of human kind, meeting and having adventures’ in the streets of Paris and Vienna, Tokyo, Odessa and London. Edmund de Waal takes us to each city in turn. We begin in Paris, where Charles Ephrussi lives at No 81, Rue Monceau. All the families who live in this street have come from elsewhere, having made fortunes abroad, and wish to proclaim that they have arrived – they are newly minted, and want their houses to proclaim that they are here to stay. I stand outside the Ephrussi house, which practises the art of subtle display. Edmund de Waal calls it the art of being ‘invisible in plain sight’. I remember why I found The Hare with Amber Eyes so compelling. The author describes things so you feel you are there too; looking up at the five storeys, each eight windows across, and then over to the cast iron grilles at ground level with the E for Ephrussi forged into their design.
We can’t stay in Paris as long as we would like, on to Vienna. Here, you move even slower than you do in Paris. Crowds of demi - mondaines, the ‘pressed trouser brigade’, promenade along the Ringstrasse, which is full of yet more splendid buildings. Opera house, theatre, art gallery, parliament, city hall, university - I need to look up to appreciate these ‘adventures in architecture’. I laugh when Edmund de Waal calls the Palais Ephrussi a ‘terrible building’. Everything is gold, he explains, and I imagine what things inside are inappropriately gilded. We leave Vienna but not before we have been given a glimpse of Freud, in consultation with an Ephrussi great aunt…..
Tokyo now. We go on a ten minute walk up a steep hill from the station. I don’t think Charles Ephrussi would be able to stroll up here as easily. The contrasts of Tokyo are evident – the frantic pace of development is all around, but alongside is the quiet temple and a great old wall, behind which there are pine trees. I can visit the best sushi chef in the area, who is next to the baker. I am thrilled when we stop outside Uncle Iggie’s apartment. He is one of my favourite characters from The Hare with Amber Eyes, but we must move on.
Dust, dust and more dust. To escape it I am now walking under the chestnut trees in Odessa. This is a city that doubles in size every 10 years but most successful people leave it to settle somewhere else. The street where I have been transported to now is the main grand boulevard of Odessa which contains a whole series of grand palais, and of course the Palais Ephrussi is here too, next to the banking hall and trading house. We can peer around the back of the Palais, and notice that the back is constructed of rough stone, unlike the façade, which is much grander. Fur coat and no knickers, I giggle to myself. If I don’t want to rush, Odessan style, it doesn’t matter; Edmund de Waal reminds us that there are different ways of walking around cities.
Our walk finishes in London. The final part of the journey takes us back to the author’s studio which reminds me that although he has written this brilliant book he is first and foremost a potter. My selfish hope is that the pots are put to one side every now and then to allow time for Edmund de Waal to spend time writing.
All too soon we are back where we started. The walk has been possible because we have had the best kind of guide; someone who knows where he has come from, who knows where he is going and who can point out all the fascinating sights along the way.
In bringing a virtual space like dovegreyreader scribbles into reality for the festival it was clear we would need to embrace our creative side and have some knitting on the go and I wasn't quite sure how this would work, or whether we would get more than a few desultory rows done between us sitting in an empty tent.
Well how very wrong can you be.
I had gathered together a bag of wool from the stash and thanks to RevCheryl offloading her guilt stash onto me it included some posh bits too, Noro, Rowan and Colinette all feature and we had done some casting on to get people started, but nothing could have prepared us for how popular this would be. As people (men, women and children) arrived for one of our author conversations they headed to the basket to pick up some wool and needles and happily clicked away and chatted with the authors through each event. This has to be the fulfilment of my wildest dreams to be honest with you...to be allowed to chat with a favourite author and like-minded people and knit. I mean how many times have I sat at more formal literary festivals, all eyes glued on the platform and found mine own eyes drooping whilst thinking if only I was 'allowed' to get my knitting out.
Knitting is being used in therapy groups now after all, it relaxes the hands and allows people to talk more freely and it most certainly created a wonderfully informal atmosphere in the tent.
Then when each event finished there would be an influx of people ready for a sit, a knit, a natter and a cup of tea, and here I think we must laud the efforts of the tea boys...Bookhound (on the left) and the Weatherman.
Both married to health visitors and therefore the most tolerant of men who intuitively know the right moment to make a cup of tea. And what a great double act they were, as to and fro to the kettle in the cuddy behind the greenhouse they trotted, and hey presto trays of very welcome Earl Grey miraculously appeared. They reckon to have made several hundred cups of tea between them and washed up each time too so KnitAngel and I think we're missing a trick here and may hire them out with their own bunting for other events... weddings and Bar Mitzvahs no problem, we can train them accordingly.
I must therefore also mention Mrs Weatherman, the KnitAngel who as well as knitting the knitsuke and responding instantly to light-bulb moment requests for a butterfly, a gaggle of geese and a hare about a week before the festival, also displayed the infinite patience with which I know she is well-endowed as she taught people of all ages to knit as did Fran H-B, also part of the dgr crew.
The famous children’s writer unleashes a softly spoken barb and it lodges in the breast of every festival goer who can remember buying proper Curly Wurlies (is that the correct plural?– help – maybe Wurlys looks better) and watching great TV like Banana Splits and White Horses chiz mone drone. Is rubbish dubbing better than subtitles from Italian? Oh dear, promised Dovegrey I would not mention The Leopard’s shortcomings any more except where they are properly relevant.
Back to the renowned author of the Clarice Bean books and Charlie and Lola.
When Dovegreyreader asked me to check out some of the children’s events at the festival she apologised and bribed me with a seat on her sofa near Edmund de Waal. ‘’I know it’s a busman’s holiday, she wheedled, but I’d really like to report on the Literary Provision for Young Minds and you are just the person to help me out here……..’ (translation...buzz around the children's bit would you Angela)
Even I am not immune to flattery, so despite it being my day off we happily settled back in our chairs to hear fascinating details about Lauren Child’s inspirations and the creative process which brings all her characters to life. Clarice Bean was the first thing she wrote where she ignored the advice of publishers and trusted her own instincts. Wanting to come up with an idea for an animation, she visualised the story like a comic strip, where the text and pictures are interrelated. That is why each page is so different from the one before. Anyone in the adult audience who had mistakenly thought that writing books for children was somehow easier, or different, was made to think again. We also heard about the little girl Lauren Child saw on a train years ago who was the ‘real’ Lola, and what an engaging description it was.
The children in the audience asked the most interesting and perceptive questions, as children do, and one lucky little girl won a Ruby Redfort T Shirt inscribed ‘ bored beyond belief’ and no, it wasn’t referring to an Abba tribute band but the redoubtable Ruby herself, who has a number of pithy catchphrases. Linda would have loved this for herself, to wear at screenings of The Leopard (oops!), but after I had earlier tried to wrest a gold inflatable Hermes horse balloon from a Fed Up Dad who had to carry it everywhere, we thought we would get thrown out if there was another such incident.
Needless to say the longest ever queue at the book signing tent snaked round and round the walled garden and the Lauren Child section looked like it had been consumed by the book eating dragon from the mural in the Round Room.
I looked at Lauren’s Princess and the Pea (where the illustrations were painstakingly constructed in 3D to make it look like the interior of a doll’s house) and thought of my confusion, when very little, upon hearing this story. Being a child of the 1970s, the only peas I had experience of were marrowfat processed peas out of a tin, and I simply could not understand how such a pea could be felt through that many mattresses and feather beds.
Even a princess must have squashed that soft and soggy pea flat, surely?
Right, so we've waved Justine off across to the Flower Show and there's Daisy Goodwin ready and waiting to sink into the now nicely warm and comfy sofa behind the increasingly messy and cluttered table, there's knitting happening all over the place and it's beginning to feel like home.
The Tea Boys are doing a grand job, back and forth with WI-sized teapots; trays of cups and saucers for washing return miraculously clean and dry ready for a re-fill (I didn't wash a single cup all weekend!) and I have donned my props well-concealed beneath my scarf for my conversation with Daisy. So all I need to do is wait for the talk of My Last Duchess to stray around to character and then to Mrs Cash and her lightbulb dress and 'ping' I can go for it...
I think it's safe to say there was much hilarity at the switching on of my Blackpool illuminations, not least from Daisy who may have suddenly felt the urge to be back in London doing sensible interviews, but I quickly handed the lights over to our guest who gamely sported them for the rest of her talk and risked the 3 volts.
But we didn't just talk about My Last Duchess or the fact that Port Eliot had also benefited from the wealth of an American heiress, because Daisy is a TV producer and editor who has worked on some of our most popular programmes and we wanted the dirt inside info.
Bookhound will always watch old episodes of Grand Designs for tips on his How to Build an Extensionto Your Home project and, despite living there we have even been known to watch Escape to the Country. I did confess to Daisy that it usually makes us smile and we say 'wait until you get here' to all those with stars in their eyes about the rural life. We want to talk spring water leaks and bore holes and septic tanks with them, and tell them about the cows taking out the electricity for four days, and we shout 'Don't Buy That' at the screen, but we do enjoy it.
Daisy was also the producer for the very first series of The Apprentice but we took a vow of secrecy so I'm afraid I can't possibly impart the information about how they tell both finalists they've won to get a genuine reaction and then say actually you haven't won at all and we won't know who's won for ages yet...nor can I tell you which tycoons Daisy interviewed as prospective candidates to head up the series and which one was unintelligible, and then having plumped for Lord Sugar guess what ....no I can't possibly tell you any more about that either...sorry, we took the pledge.
We had a good gallop through our thoughts on book prizes and in particular the Orange Prize which Daisy chaired in 2010. There was controversy when she said at the time that much of the women's fiction seemed intent on courting the gritty issues of the moment and that she had started to feel like a social worker, and we had a great debate about women and publishing and the romantic novel, the Booker and we may have sorted world peace had we had enough time.
Daisy's book choices for us were eclectic and wide-ranging from anything by Wilkie Collins and E.F.Benson's Mapp and Lucia books to the The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford and The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett to Gillespie and I by Jane Harris and King of the Badgers by Philip Hensher.
Daisy Goodwin is also a knitter and a quilter so I think she felt quite at home in our abode and my thanks to her for stopping by the dovegreyreader tent and for wearing those lights.
Joanna Briscoe had made a mammoth effort to get to the festival on Friday, travelling from London to St Germans in a day to do an event in the Round Room before heading for the dovegreyreader tent for a natter with us, and then home to get packed up for a holiday starting the following day.
After the torrential rain that had greeted Katie and Hari just an hour or so earlier there were hints of dryness and sunshine as Joanna arrived, and in fact this was the fine-weather turning point. The ridge of low pressure had run through, the high was coming and our resident Weatherman heaved a sigh.
Joanna sank gratefully into the sofa, we put a cup of tea in her hand, she picked up some knitting and we were away. I've decided this sofa thing is by far the best way to sit and talk with an author. It creates a calm, relaxed environment conducive to fascinating conversations and we had plenty of those over the weekend.
It was good to talk around Joanna's latest novel You. The plot twists (not all of them) and the location (Dartmoor) featured large, along with teenage obsessions and the relentless way that the spirit of the house that had so dominated her childhood and teenage years kept returning to haunt her. Stopping short of putting that thatch on her London home Joanna wrote the book instead. I had read somewhere that Joanna finds the process of writing a novel 'excruciatingly hard' so that offered great conversation fodder too.
Of course we couldn't extract any literary gossip but we did have a great discussion about the state of the publishing world and how it is impacting on authors.
RevCheryl pondering on how a writer's moment in the spotlight may dim, and in relation perhaps to our discussions about Bruce Chatwin with Katie Kitamura and Hari Kunzru thought this afterwards...
I wondered how this might tie in with Joanna Briscoe’s observation about publishers chasing after first books because they are always looking for the next big thing but not being prepared to cultivate more established writers who have not had a wham bam success. On the other hand there are a group of male writers in this country, contemporary with McInerney who seem to retain their position in the literary firmament.
Asked for her recommends Joanna pointed us in the direction of Thomas Hardy as her all-time favourite and also flagged up Patrick McGrath's Asylum for our delectation.
Our grateful thanks to Joanna Briscoe for visiting the dovegreyreader tent and by this time, the first afternoon of the three day festival, I'm realising that the knitting was a really good idea.
So if you are going to a festival that not only does books but oodles of music too, you have to at least emerge from your literati world and go do something else.
Saturday was a huge day in the dovegreyreader tent. A succession of authors plus an interview on the Five Dials stage and I don't mind admitting that the preparation, though incredibly pleasurable, has also been like sitting a degree, with a great deal of information to hold in my head and in my notebook. I have been known to get slightly panicky if seperated from this notebook and pen for longer than ten minutes. I stuck the Angie Lewin on the front to make me think summer sun way back in February.
'Chatting' with authors belies the intense concentration required so 'tis true that after seven hours of that and by about 8pm on Saturday night, well I was about ready for slippers, cocoa and bed.
But no, I'm a grown-up after all and much as I may have yearned for a wheelbarrow to sleep in while Bookhound pushed me around... this we discover is the vehicle of choice at festivals, dozens of children curled up asleep in wheelbarrows whilst their parents enjoyed the evening, so we decided to brave it all. Having queued for freshly-cooked Thai noodles we walked down to the river and the outdoor Paradiso cinema to catch the beginning of a film, if only to sample the plein-air movie experience.
The Red Shoes was about to start to a backdrop of the darkening sky, the Brunel viaduct and the river but we had dancing shoes of our own to get on and a 10.30pm appointment in the Big Top with Bellowhead.
Just brilliant as we knew they would be.
I'm a bit late discovering lead singer Jon Boden's A Folk Song a Day project but you can catch up with it here.Jon Boden has a wonderfully in-tune live voice as do those who sing with him, and the seemingly relaxed yet frenetic mayhem happening on stage belies an incredibly tight musicality. And everyone seems to play such a wide range of instruments, there's the brass section ooompahhing over on one side and the strings on the other. One minute Rachael McShane is cosied up with her cello and the next she's jigging around having a fiddle (if you see what I mean.) Then a couple of them pull tin whistles out of their pockets and let loose on those and then Paul Sartin drops his oboe and gets fiddling (oh dear, if you see what I mean again). I'll stop there because it'll only get worse but if Bellowhead are playing near you definitely don't miss them, we'll certainly be there if they come back to Devon.
Having been up since 6am our batteries finally ran down just before midnight, and fearful of turning into pumpkins we headed up the hill to the car and home, singing and jigging as we went.
It was a pleasant surprise to meet Paul Sartin from Bellowhead (that's him on the phone) who came up to the dovegreyreader tent for William Fiennes's event on Sunday, so we had a lovely chat with him and looooook, he sent me a Bellowhead picture for you all.
Well someone had to do it and with my 'canvas is for painting on not sleeping under' outlook on life it wasn't going to be me, so I was most grateful to Linda W & Angela, the Happy Campers, for accepting the challenge and running (literally) with it. They took their assignment to camp and to cover as much of the festival as they could manage very seriously indeed, planning with military precision and timing as you might expect from the combined forces of a teacher and a PA. So they ditched their husbands, blagged a tent and we'd see them as passing blurs as they dashed up to see us and then off to another event miles away. One half of them does that orienteering marathon fell-running thing up in the Lake District and they are both Hash House Harriers too, so the uphill trek to the Walled Garden to see us was but a stroll for them that left the rest of us (well me after carrying loads of bags up every day) needing oxygen.
I have this vision of them queuing outside the shower block in their PJs and wellies which may have been the only time they stayed still, apart from sitting down here ...
...to our end of festival dovegreyreader crew cream tea, and for which Bookhound had come suitably equipped...as we drove across on Sunday morning all he kept muttering was 'hope I've remembered the clotted cream' which thankfully he had.
So here's the Happy Campers first report, expect more over the next few days including I hope their take on the the now legendary Kate Winslet performance. I heard it from outside the tent and it sounded utterly hilarious.
Friday 22nd July
Simon Garfield ‘Just My Type’ Bowling Green 2.45pm
It’s the first afternoon and Linda and I are feeling understandably smug after getting the (previously unseen) borrowed tent up without a hitch - just missing a deluge of biblical proportions.
Much anticipation – Simon Garfield is TheFont Guru and before you could say Helvetica there he was on stage asking us to admit to the grate crime (as Molesworth would say) of misusing Comic Sans. Poor Linda had to raise her hand at this point but I’ve always been an Ariel girl, so avoided ritual humiliation for the moment. On his T Shirt were the teasing letters
cunningly sandwiched between the two sides of his cardigan. The talk, he said, had a dogs theme and we were then thrilled by salacious stories of that old reprobate Eric Gill’s sexual experimentation with anything that moved (not excepting man’s best friend). Never mind the quick brown fox, in this case it was more like ‘the bearded typographer jumps on to the helpless dog’. Naturally the pangram most favoured by Dovegreyreader is ‘’zany eskimo craves fixed job with quilting party’………I hope to see Simon in her tent next year being presented with a suitable knitsuke. Actually, she was terrified of Mr Garfield casting his expert eye over the Dovegreyreader bunting, as its homely letters were cut out by loyal Bookhound at the kitchen table. But as TFG says, type is all about emotion, nuance, and finding the right thing for you. So yours is perfect, Dovegrey.
By the end of this thoroughly diverting romp through his best selling book – make sure you don’t pick up the one about hot sex at the beach and kinky online shopping – we had worked out the advert on the T shirt:
that well known company, run by very clever…..dogs.
If you are going to do a job do it properly might seem like a cliche these days, but once it has been said to you at the age of nineteen by Sister Beech (Ward 5AB Gt Ormond St 1973) in her very most sternest tones, and prefaced by a very clipped and starchy 'Nurse Chester come here please..' swiftly followed by a humiliating public dissection and expose of all the life-threatening short cuts that you thought you'd got away with...well trust me, it's no cliche, more a searing lesson branded in your soul for life. And I have always been grateful to Sister Beech for the admonition(s...there were more)
So no short cuts with my preparation and reading for Port Eliot Festival (or for any festival for that matter) hence my book table has been a permutation of this and little else for the last few months.
By this evening these will be back on the shelves, all with lovely signatures and inscriptions from their authors and to be replaced on the table with whatever I have from the Booker longlist to be announced later today. I'm way off the bookerthon pace and have no idea what to expect but, though I haven't read it yet, I am praying for one of these three to be there..
Watch that space and while we wait, we have nineteen Port Eliot books here and another heap off in the wings that, although I didn't read cover to cover, I browsed to get the gist. And I am so glad that I also headed Sister Beech's advice about 'being prepared...' and 'leaving nothing to chance...' and I expect 'the marmite should just say hello to the bread...' would have come in useful too had we needed it. I have spent hours browsing online, reading reviews and articles, finding out about author's lives of which I knew so little and now know much more, and all in order to try and be as informed as possible whilst avoiding any cringeworthy clangers.
I saw a cringeworth clanger happen at a recent literary event and it was as embarrassing for the audience as it was for the author, and as for the chair, well I think they were praying for a ground-swallow-me-up moment.
Intrepid first footer in the dovegreyreader tent was Katie Kitamura, and she and I persuaded her partner Hari Kunzru out of the back row to come and join her for our conversation. The Friday rain hammered down outside, we quickly realised that if the tent was going to leak it happened to be at a point right above our sofa but we put cups of tea in their hands and carried on regardless.
I have no notes obviously so this is all from memory (and I am now suddenly thankful for a career that relied on being able to recall with reasonable accuracy what people may have said to me at any given time...so I hope this will be fair reflection) but our discussions ranged across vast swathes of literary territory from Katie's decision at nineteen to give up a career in ballet to write, and to her novel The Longshot. We talked about the mixed martial arts and the incongruities of such a powerfully testosterone-laden world getting the 'woman writer' treatment...and as I talked to Katie, who is beautiful and delicately elegant, those juxtapositions and surface judgements that we make seemed almost more relevant and then entirely superfluous. Yes, Katie would fit the bill for some sweet little books about ballet school but she has a razor sharp mind and a robust intellect which made our discussions about her current collaborative writing project with Hari a fascinating source of discussion.
Katie and Hari are working on screenplay about the life of Bruce Chatwin and that led us all over the shop with our discussions, from the portrayal of a life that was itself often lived behind a smokescreen of mystery and misinformation to Bruce Chatwin's writing. I threw in comparisons with Sebald in that sense that you think you may be reading fact when actually you might be reading fiction, and how perhaps Bruce Chatwin was one of the early proponents of those blurred boundaries, and we picked that one up and ran with it between us.
Hari then talked about his new novel Gods Without Men, the story of a family travelling through the American desert whose autistic son goes missing. It is in some ways a fulfillment of the father's darkest hope...that somehow they might be relieved of this burden, but when that comes to fruition the consequences and the guilt would seem to be profound. We all wanted to read it yesterday and fortunately with the bookshop right next door, though at that moment coping with a bit of a flood of their own, we could at least read it today.
Before they left we asked them for some book recommends for you all, and here are Hari and Katie's suggestions..
Open City ~ Teju Cole From the Mouth of the Whale ~ Sjon The Land of Green Plums ~ Herta Muller Mistaken Identity ~ Nayantara Sahgal
My sincere thanks to first footers Katie and Hari for a wonderful start to our festival.
The dovegreyreader knitsuke (please pronounce as knitski) are born thanks to the incredible KnitAngel who was part of Team dgr, and a few have been sent to their new homes at this year's Port Eliot Festival. Most importantly the very first one had to be placed in the care of Edmund de Waal...
I'm hoping better pictures of the inaugural knitsuke will emerge because in my festival haze I completely forgot to take one before we sent him on his journey.
But for Edmund de Waal there was no question, it had to be a hare with amber eyes and he was absolutely delighted (a picture will appear from someone I hope)
For Patrick 'Butterfly' Barkham we made a special trip to the very secret Site X in Devon to capture a Large Knitted Blue, with food store..
And Patrick was delighted with his knitsuke (with holes in the lid so it can breath and he's promised to look after it) because this brought his Port Eliot sightings tally up to eight species.
And our final guest of the festival, William Fiennes, and unbeknown to us word of the knitsuke was spreading. How fortunate that we had made a baggle of snow geese...
and I think we might just have made William's day too.
A quick resume of our fabulous Saturday with words to follow...
Daisy Goodwin, and wherein I emulate the magnificent Mrs Cash with some lightbulbs of my own and Daisy possibly thinking...'Who is this mad woman from Devon'
A session with Edmund de Waal that I think may go down as one of those unrepeatable never-to-be-forgotten literary moments, beyond special, a profound and moving event but with some moments of levity as Edmund, one of the nation's foremost ceramic artists, assesses with much hilarity a piece of my early (aged 7) work and I think you can see he is impressed..
I then nipped off to do an event on the Five Dials stage and returned for another incredible hour talking to Gillian Slovo
We had wonderful audiences all day, lots of knitting, lots of questions, several hundred more cups of tea and glorious sunshine.
Back today for Patrick 'Butterfly' Barkham and Will 'Snow Geese' Fiennes and lots of words to follow here when I have had time to think about a weekend that has been truly amazing.
Firstly news from the Flower Show and please notice how we took advantage of decor in situ..
and in case you can't quite see the rosette..
My name on there under false pretences considering that my main contribution was to don the head torch and brave the loft on a sweltering day to find the Lonely Goatherd accoutrements, so congratulations to Fran H-B and Rev Cheryl for some inspired arranging.
Some pictures to give you a feel for what has been a fantastic first day in the dovegreyreader tent at Port Eliot Festival.
It's been about bringing the blog to life which means Bookhound and crew have made about 200 cups of tea and visitors have sat and knitted while they listened...
and authors have knitted while they talked about their books. I think Joanna Briscoe returned to London chilled and relaxed after her session.
We had a delightful and fascinating hour with Hari Kunzru and Katie Kitamura while the heavens opened this morning, but we hardly noticed the rain and we squeezed some great book recommendations out of them. Each visitor is giving us their reading suggestions so I'll post all those here eventually and writer more about each event soon.
Lots of Friends of dovegreyreader popped in to say hello including Alice and Christopher Biggins, who wasn't a friend but now is if I will mend his Kaffe Fassett jumper for him. BBC Spotlight came to interview us live for the lunchtime news, except we all thought the second rehearsal was the live one, so having relaxed we were a bit surprised to find we had to do it all again. You'll be pleased to know that both Carol and Linda W, who comment here, managed to pitch their tents without recourse to kicking and screaming.
I think you'll also agree that the flower show crew of Fran H-B and RevCheryl have done us proud with our Sound of Music installation...spot the nuns climbing a mountain, sew-a-needle-pulling-thread and brown paper packages overlaid with accents of Lonely Goatherd
A huge day tomorrow...Justine Picardie, Daisy Goodwin, Edmund de Waal, Helen Walsh & Eleanor Birne and Gillian Slovo. I'll Be Back Soon...oh sorry wrong film... So Long Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen Goodni-i-i-ght, the sun has gone to bed and so must I-I-I.
The first good news of the day is as follows... and our man from the Met Office (who gamely spent yesterday cutting out butterflies for the bunting) tells us a chance of showers later today but the rest of the weekend looks set fair. Now for once, if this is wrong the very good thing is we have him to hand and can slap him, as in yes, let's shoot the messenger.
In amongst yesterday's hive of industry were Flower Show deliberations around our entry depicting a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. Now I won't deny that I have been eyeing up the wheat in the field and thinking..
..why not just choose the easy life, stick a load of it in a jar, say it was corn, add an elephant's eye, a fringe from Surrey and voila Oklahoma done and dusted, but no it has to be The Sound of Music.
An intrepid foray into the loft has found the puppets, the nuns and the bride have been made, as have the brown paper packages tied up with string, I'll chop the whiskers off a cat if I can catch it (joking, joking) and I have had a 6am text message from Fran HB "Head Arranger" asking for some blue ribbon, as in 'blue satin sashes'. Also sourced are a cow bell, Tyrolean hats and some Devon Edelweiss (new species)
and some miniature Devon Gentian.. another new genus...ahem.
Justine and I have masses to talk about, not only her Coco year and some interesting updates on her other books but I'm also hoping for some hot fashion tips... I mean maxi dresses, really??
All over again??
And what's with the shorts with tights??
Do they know we blazed a trail with Hot Pants and bare legs in the middle of winter??
Even better Justine has a very exciting surprise lined up... now I'll let you in on it if you promise not to tell anyone because it's a secret. Boxes of Chanel white fabric camellias have been sent from Paris and will be given away with each purchase of her book.
I'm also more than excited to have lent my tent out to Badaude for her talk at 3pm on Saturday and she'll be drawing things I expect.
Righto me hearties, it's now 07.19 and I smell the eggs and bacon...more later.
dovegreyreader scribbles is now entering two weeks of de-mob festival happy, no work, holiday mood, and who knows what will happen. In fact if yesterday is anything to go by... absent-mindedly walking into the cake-decorating shop when I was meant to be in the hairdresser's next door, nothing is certain and the sooner my helpers arrive the better. My brain is saturated with information about books and the authors I shall be meeting and I'm just hoping it doesn't all jumble up and I ask Gillian Slovo about her opinions on the pottery of Bernard Leach and Edmind de Waal about his childhood in anti-apartheid South Africa.
One of the Festival events I am more than looking forward to is Bellowhead on Saturday night so here's a taster to get your feet tapping, I shall be a-dancing for sure.
It's been amazing to see a tiny fraction of what is involved in organising a festival, the scheduling for a start, I mean it's like playing chess and it's taken a while to get my tent line-up settled and a few last minute changes, but the organisers have been unbelievably helpful, sorting out e -introductions for me, the tent, furniture for it, teacups, tables, WI sized teapots and I think we're there.
So here's the rough plan for this week with helpers arriving from distant parts, and I feel I might need one of those huge charts with colours and dots and arrows and things.
Bear in mind that in amongst what follows there will be live blogging going on from people off-a-wandering around festival events other than mine and reporting back on them for us... it could be bit of a white-knuckle ride on here for the next few days, hope you're braced and suitably dressed in whacky festival gear.
Wednesday July 20th
~ Rev Cheryl & Mr & Mrs Fran H-B arrive and we climb on board the sewing machine to start on the bunting whilst talking about books. Rev C has a direct line so is also going to sort the weather.
Thursday July 21st
~ Friends Liz and Mr Liz arrive (Liz is in charge of knitting) and we make more bunting, raid the loft for essentials (puppets) for our Sound of Music Flower Show entry, make nuns out of something and hope I bump into my friend Izzy again as per last year for a garden raid, failing that...hmm, hedgerows. Mr Liz has just retired from the Met Office so he's going to help sort the weather too.
Mr and Mrs Kirsty from Other Stories were to join us but for reasons various now can't, but Kirsty is our official tweeter and we will be in contact with her in Oxford so that she can tweet our happenings for us through the weekend (dovegreyreader #PortEliotFest)
Late in the afternoon we will head over to Port Eliot with a van full of accoutrements, get the tent set up with quilts and socks and things various that will help bring the blog to life,
Friday July 22nd
Up early for a raid of the hedgerows and over to get the flower show entries sorted (why did I enter two) the teapots and cups and saucers organised, and then all sit cool and calm as cucumbers to await author visits as follows...
~ Intrepid souls Linda W and Angela are happy campers both and will be out and about around the Festival and reporting back. Although children and books are her day job, Angela has gamely agreed to venture into the children's festival to have a look, and the perk of that assignment is that Lauren Child of Charlie and Lola fame will be in there somewhere too.
6pm ~ All collapse in heap and after a quick meeting of minds and wellies drift down to the plein air Cinema Paradiso to watch a good film, probably walking via the stall that does the freshly cooked thai noodles.
Later ~ Stay awake for Bellowhead who I saw on the TV coverage of Glastonbury and I loved...like Seth Lakeman but more of them.
My mission to read around every author I will be talking to next weekend is almost accomplished, and for all the pleasure that reading brings under such circumstances I can't say it hasn't been tough some days for a free-range reader like me when I see what the postman staggers in with, because hard on the heels of Port Eliot Festival will be the announcement of the Man Booker longlist on Tuesday July 26th.
I'm way off the pace and not even going to hazard half a guess, though I will be asking all my Port Eliot guests for their predictions, but as the books arrive which I think could be in with a chance I've been stacking them on a table; that table now so ridiculously over-laden that all it does is gives a snapshot of the madness the judges may have been up against. So I shall be dashing around and getting my customary Bookerthon snapshot up on the day and doubtless reading a few that take my fancy before short listing.
But back to the book in my hand which thankfully has been no hardship (and I have to thank the very discerning taste of Cathy St Germans because she knows dovegreyreader scribbles well and has been spot on with her suggestions for me) because it has been You by Joanna Briscoe. Maggie O'Farrell rightly calls it 'dangerously addictive' and I like her I couldn't put it down either.
The funny thing is you don't ever meet an author down here in the back of beyond and then, would you credit it, you meet them twice in ten days. I nipped across to Dartington last Wednesday afternoon to catch just three events, and, though I had to miss Joanna Briscoe's because it clashed with Matthew Hollis talking about Edward Thomas, we did manage to say a very brief 'Hi see you at Port Eliot' over her book signing.
More about Matthew Hollis's talk soon and also Rachel Johnson of The Lady who was predictably very funny and then Blake Morrison giving the annual Ted Hughes Memorial Lecture, it was a good afternoon.
I knew little about Joanna Briscoe before she was added to my Port Eliot guest list and I have only had time to read You, but I do now know that she grew up in an ancient and isolated thatched Long House on Dartmoor, fled to London and university the minute she could legitimately escape, is now a literary critic for the Guardian as well as an author, and that this novel may be something of an exorcism of past ghosts that surround a home that Joanna Briscoe discovered had never left her consciousness.
I think we can all agree that the house itself, Jordan Manor, was indeed isolated...
You are unlikely to find a more tangled web of intrigue than the one spun by Joanna Briscoe in You as she explores the obsessive infatution that Cecilia Bannan has for her school teacher Mr Dahl. Mr Dahl unwittingly becomes Cecilia's 'complex and large-scale project' and all portrayed with an uncomfortable degree of accuracy, as you will realise if you too have ever have been an adolescent also prone to infatuation....weren't most of us.
The school is a progressive one, un-boundaried and lacking in curriculum or rules (and historically not without precedent in this area of the West Country) and Cecilia's bookish, isolated existence in her family's remote Dartmoor home offers plenty of scope for her adolescent imagination to run riot. But that's not all because infatuation is not the sole realm of the love-struck teenager, as Cecilia's mother Dora, the music teacher at her daughter's school, finds herself obessed by the art teacher, who happens to be Mrs Dahl.
It's a right old emotional soup very cleverly dished out by Joanna Briscoe because in writing that quick resume I can see it might seem to border on farce, when in fact You is very much a potent and potentially explosive mix that is handled with great care. Events are exposed through flashbacks as Cecilia, after many years absence has returned with her partner Ari and their three daughters to the family home to care for her mother, now diagnosed with cancer.
It had never occurred to me that there is really only one other novel that centres its plot around Dartmoor (I'll let you guess) and how strange that is given the wealth of natural elements to draw on, along with all the legends, the myths and folklore, so I was pleased to see Joanna Briscoe give a mention to the good old Hairy Hands and Jay's Grave.
I can't bear to give away the central plot theme as someone had done on Twitter recently...'oh that's the book where .....' because I didn't know that detail at the time, and I wanted to come across it for myself at the moment allotted by Joanna Briscoe, so that rules out some very very interesting discussion here about what comes next. And we'll have to tip toe around it in our discussions at Port Eliot too in order to talk about the novel's central and heartbreaking themes of lies and secrets and the loss and grief that returns to haunt Cecilia in gut-wrenching form, like a scab waiting to be picked and turned into a running sore throughout her life. But I love a book that draws me in and makes me wonder quite how I may have felt given this set of circumstances... a bit like the shock moment in Gillian Slovo's Black Orchids. Though not a shock, events here are every bit as profound and far-reaching in their impact.
However that's alright because Joanne Briscoe and I will be able to discuss the health visitor.
As Cecilia's mother gives birth to late addition Barnaby, the health visitor comes to call and you know how excited I always get when one of mine own appears in a book, especially given that huge swathes of Dartmoor were my 'patch' for some thirty years. After all Susan Hill has a nice, kind, understanding health visitor called Lynne in one of her Simon Serrailler novels, (The Shadows in the Street) and so this was surely going to be another one modelled on someone like me me me... preen preen...
'Each one is different, Mrs Bannan,' said the health visitor, a woman palpably past retirement age who organised the Widecombe WI childrens' Christmas parties...and who negotiated the precipitous hills of the surrounding villages by bicycle, her face grimly set and her white uniform remaining spotless while her stockings were mud-splattered on arrival.
'He seems to feed all day, but he's not taking much. ' said Dora, who had become yet thinner.
'He needs a bottle,' said the health visitor with a jaw movement that reminded Dora of her mother.
OK... so well before my time then.
There is a fascinating article by Joanna Briscoe in this month's edition of Vogue and you can read it via a link on the front page of her website here, so I am very much looking forward to talking to her about it all at 3.30 pm this Friday July 22nd and You Know Where by now I think.
Napoleon, gazing at Port Eliot land from the sea as he sailed into exile, said it was the most beautiful place in England. “Enfin, cec beau pays.” (As reported by Captain Maitland of HMS Bellerophon).
Well good old Napoleon for showing such discernment and he'd have loved to come ashore for a good festival too I'm sure.
So we're on the final countdown week and I'm thrilled to be named on this year's festival poster (keep looking, you'll find it)
Our man from the Met office, who also happens to be part of Team Dovegreyreader, will have the weather forecast for us by Tuesday but quite honestly are we bothered?? What's a bit of rain between friends, and in such a beautiful setting we thought as we set off yesterday morning for a meeting over at Port Eliot with Cathy St Germans, a ride around the estate on a golf buggy to see the preparations, and time to walk up in the Walled Garden and see my tent.
I'd heard the tent was perfect but hadn't realised quite how perfect, 22ft x 11ft (thank you Bookhound) so plenty of space for the chairs and if the weather is fine we can roll up the sides of the tent and spread onto the grass. Later we rummaged around in the basement of the house where nothing has ever been thrown away for some furnishings to create a Literary Salon like no other, and we'll be adding to it with bits from the loft of another considerably smaller house where nothing has ever been thrown away either.
More tents to go up around us including the Bookshop right next door, within leaning out and reaching distance and supplied by Ron & Co from The University Bookseller who also run St Ives and Falmouth Bookseller.
The Production Office, mission control of the festival with the all-important wireless signal for some live blogging will be just to the right out of picture.
So Cathy took us on a tour around the various locations, including this site down by the river which will soon house a giant outdoor screen for Martin Scorsese's Paradiso Cinema with Isambard Kingdom Brunel's railway viaduct over the River Lynher in the background.
As soon as the sun has set (because we know it will shine down on us) we can all settle down to watch screenings of The Leopard, The Red Shoes, Murder on the Orient Express, North by Northwest, The Narrow Margin, All About Eve, Human Desire, and The River over the three evenings of the Festival.
Particularly exciting is that just over that wall to the left behind the dovegreyreader tent is another walled garden that will house the Fashion Department. There's a really nice yurt in here...
Barbara 'Biba' Hulanicki will be creating the now traditional and much sought-after space foil festival costumes ...I shall be in for a tutu fitting very early in the day, Bookhound is hoping for a waistcoat. I'm really hoping for a Meadham Kirchoff head dress with some help from milliner Nasir Mazhar who sorts Lady Gaga out for chapeaux so I shouldn't be such a problem.
There will be photography and screenprinting going on here too as well as some intriguing jewellery making with Vicki Sarge-Beamon. – 'co-founder of Erickson Beamon, one of the most respected jewellery houses in the world and a driving force in the fashion industry for over 20 years.' Everyone who was anyone wore EB to the Royal Wedding.
The plan is to turn up with all your old trinkets, beads, bracelets and those old Koh-i-noors that you've had hanging around along with the contents of the button box and turn your trash into treasure. Lady Gaga is a fan of EB too so I'm quite expecting to look like her by the end of all this.
“We’ll have some tools and a hot glue gun and also starter kits for people who are unsure what they may need. I’ll also provide some trinkets and pieces to get people started such as old bits of frames, flower pots and so on. I want to encourage people to throw themselves in at the deep end and explore their creative side in an organic and spontaneous manner – the festival is the ultimate playground."
Well all this talk of fashion was enough to send me into a complete spin...
'What on earth am I going to wear??' I wailed as we headed back to the car.
'Shall we go home via Plymouth?' said Bookhound as we drove away.
Plymouth improving with the Drake Circus shopping centre but still not noted for its high fashion stores, except needs must and nearest.
'Er yes, better had, need a frock or two that will go with my wellies ' I said, as we most appropriately headed for Monsoon.
It's several years since I have read Gillian Slovo's novel Ice Road but I was quite relieved to see that it came under the auspices of 2005, a diligent and feverish year of book journaling that culminated in the abandonment of the hand-written in favour of dovegreyreader scribbles early in 2006, so there was a good chance I had some thoughts recorded and I did, except you'll have to bear in mind these were for my sole amusement...
'I often resist reading books on this subject - once the Leningrad siege victims are boiling up shoe leather to eat I'm feeling too wretched to carry on reading. I don't think we quite reached this level of cuisine in Gillian Slovo's book but the starving were eyeing up the flesh on each other all the same. That said I found this to be a compelling read.
Gillian Slovo has captured the slightly detached narrative style that you associate with the time and the place almost as if you are reading a translation, but you are not...'
What - on - earth- was - I - on - about??
My thinking descended into garble and I can't bear to reveal any more, but I do remember the book for that intense involvement that means you disappear in and forget the time of day. I still have the copy so it was obviously a keeper and I still gaze at that cover and love it for the intensity of the woman's pose.
When I knew there was a chance I would be meeting and chatting with Gillian Slovo (who I'm hoping isn't reading this because she'll probably be worried) at Port Eliot Festival I dashed to the shelves to see what else I had by her and drew a complete blank, so have had to go on a begging and shopping spree.
Black Orchids arrived from Virago along with a memoir Every Secret Thing together with a pile of other books from secondhand sellers various, many now out of print, in those distinctive Women's Press editions with the ironing logo. I knew a little about Gillian Slovo's background as the daughter of anti-apartheid activists Joe Slovo and Ruth First but had little idea that she had also been a crime writer with books such as Death Comes Staccato and Death by Analysis.
So I made a start with Black Orchids and was immediately and thankfully transported to the lush green warmth of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) as it was in 1946, in contrast to the frozen wastes of Ice Road. The Tinker always cites Ceylon, and in particular Trincomalee, as one of his most memorable and beautiful ports of call whilst on board ship during the war. A country rich in both natural beauty and natural mineral deposits and Gillian Slovo explores these assets to the full and to the point where even I fancied the idea of getting soaking wet in a monsoon (my wish may yet be granted at Port Eliot) or watching the sunrise from Adam's Peak. Clearly sense of place is one of Gillian Slovo's fortes, but so is plot.
Down at heel Evelyn and her mother and sister are having to leave Ceylon and return to England after the death of her father has left the family impoverished and unsupported. This is womens' lives predicated on marriage in order to be 'looked after' and for the provision of financial security, so when Evelyn turns down a proposal from safe, staid, starchy Tommy in favour of daring charmer Emil, the son of a wealthy Sinhalese rubber baron (that doesn't sound right but you know what I mean) it's clear her life may be about to follow a very interesting path.
The novel is set over a succession of years from 1946, to 1950, through to 1957, 1963 and ending in 1972 thus embracing the era of seismic shift in attitudes towards mixed marriages. By moving Emil and Evelyn to England Gillian Slovo again maximises her plot potential as she explores discrimination in all its guises, and reader, prepare to squirm with embarrassment at the way things were. I remember the shame I felt when I read Andrea Levy's Small Island, well Gillian Slovo has captured that very same atmosphere. All the money in the world doesn't buy poor Emil assimilation and acceptance, and by association Evelyn is also shunned in her own country. Everyone of course very prepared to take Emils money whilst ridiculing him behind his back and there are some excruciating moments...one in particular will remind you how it may have felt (if this happened to you) to be the last one left when the teacher's pets, the sporty ones were choosing teams. Whoever invented that selection method deserves to be put in goal in hockey for evermore. No one ever wanted me in their netball team, too short when I was twelve, didn't know left from right, rubbish at shooting, always getting whistled up for stepping...the stuff of nightmares so I felt Emil's pain.
Two children are born and whilst sister Vanessa remains rather shadowy it is Milton, the oldest son who is the focus of the hardships that a mixed marriage would have bestowed on children in the 1950s, and it is heart-wrenching so prepare to squirm all over again.
Then prepare to be calmly turning the pages when you will suddenly get a great big huge enormous SHOCK.
I don't know about you but it's rare for an author to pull a gasp moment on me. Lionel Shriver's managed it, so has David Vann, but I often see them telegraphed pages ahead, however I didn't see this one coming at all. So shocked was I that I closed the book and considered the ramifications as if this was real life. How would this impact, were would Gillian Slovo take this one...I couldn't begin to imagine but I also couldn't wait to find out.
I sometimes think it's easier if I confess these things well in advance, get the absolution and then proceed to atone for my book-sorting decisions and move on.
I was sent not one but two copies of Katie Kitamura's first novel The Longshot back in 2009 when it was published. One copy went off in the twenty-eight bags that go to the charity shop every so often and the other sat on the shelf waiting to be read.
And it waited.
And it waited, until eventually it went to the charity shop in the next twenty-eight bag exodus (I'm not sure why twenty-eight but it's always about the same) and I thought no more about it. A book about a fighter of mixed martial arts surely not really my cup of Earl Grey. Then Cathy St Germans waved the book at me a few months ago and said how much I would enjoy talking to Katie Kitamura in my tent at Port Eliot, and I assumed that countenance at which I'm rubbish whilst thinking 'Heck which shop was it...I'll have to go and buy it back.'
In the event some lucky people had clearly bought both copies and hardly feeling in a position to ask for yet another review copy from the publishers I did my penance and bought one.
And now I've read it and feel I should assist it to a little resurgence because when I hunted around for reviews I could hardly find a thing about a book that I can't believe didn't garner some praise and recognition when it was published.
Riley and Cal ...trainer and fighter.. are driving down to Tijuana for a return bout with the legendary and fearsome Rivera, some four years after Cal took him the distance, eventually losing on points, and now the only fighter that Rivera hasn't knocked out.
The relationship between the two men is one of loyalty and trust. Cal trusts the decisions Riley makes on his behalf, Riley has belief and what slowly becomes apparent is that Cal may be past his prime, Rivera may be approaching his and Riley may well have misjudged this whole thing.
'Riley would believe when no one else would believe. He wasn't like some guys. He had no problem with believing. He'd believe in his fighters so that they didn't have to believe in themselves. He'd do it for them. He loved it, the believing. It was everything to him. But this time he was beat.'
I know enough about boxing from those years of watching the late Henry Cooper with the late Harry Carpenter commentating, and who both somehow made it all respectable enough for us to watch as children, and how we yearned for our 'enry to beat Cassius Clay aka Muhammed Ali.
And how we gasped when someone landed a low punch, and after the bout our 'enry's groin shield with dents would be waved in front of the cameras as proof of foul play.
And don't talk to us about the smelling salts and glove-ripping episode, and the way our gaze would be fixed on our 'enry's left eye and that cut which always sealed his fate. All this years before Katie Kitamura was even born, but I know about haymakers and jabs and southpaws and also the phrase 'Put your dukes up kid' when a play fight amongst father and sons is about to start in our kitchen, and usually descends into the lesser known martial art of teatowel flicking, and I say 'I've got to go and look at the blog' and this lioness leaves her pride of boy lions to it.
But The Longshot is boxing with a difference, and I was confused until I'd grasped it, this is mixed martial arts so it's fine to knock a man down then you seem to be allowed to carry on and kick him in the head, the knees the lot. Ribs are likely to crack and teeth will go flying..
It's brutal, it's frightening and such a testosterone fuelled world makes interesting subject matter for a woman author (though these days it's not supposed to matter and I'm probably not supposed to draw attention to it) and for which she has been likened to Hemingway, so I can see that Katie Kitamura and I will have plenty to discuss.... and I'm relieved to have really enjoyed this book or we'd have an hour talking about our wellies.
The themes are universal to the human condition not just the world of fighting... pride and confidence, fragility and the psychology of winning and losing, the glory of victory the ignominy of defeat along with the panic, fear and humilation that all mix into the soup of daily life. In The Longshot the challenges all huddled into a professional fighter's life with an intensity that had me sweating as they are played out in those three days that Riley and Cal spend together before the fight. They are the underdogs, the inferior, low-budget two-man team staying in the cut price hotel room whilst Rivera luxuriates in a gym of his own. Cal is not only the longshot of the title because the book is also a wonderful longshot of an interior world I only know of from without.
It's all about appearances too, reading the body language of the opponent, the aura that surrounds him, the mixed messages conveyed by concealment, what can be read into Rivera's no-show at his pre-fight sparring session. It all fuels the speculation and as the tension and anxiety rise uncontained, both Riley and Cal must face their inner demons before Cal finally steps into the ring.
And when there are things to fear, and that tension rises, Katie Kitamura's writing shifts in shape from the relaxed dialogue of the car journey or the diner, to short, clipped, jabbed sentences which cath you between the eyes and with the odd upper cut thrown in for good measure; the sort of writing that forces you to take short sharp breaths to match the pace and to hold your breath as you wait for the right hook to come flying in and land you on the ropes... and I won't tell you whether it did or it didn't.
190 pages of less is more, a perfectly constructed novel and Katie Kitamura the very first festival guest in the dovegreyreader tent at 2pm on Friday July 22nd and no throwing in of the towel on this one, The Longshot a great read and with a film in the offing Katie and I have much to discuss.
Well what a read, and to be honest I wasn't sure how this one was going to stand up... would it just be another variation on a theme or would it pack something different. I'd started it twice and on both occasions found myself reading other novels with Cora named as the female lead so I'd stopped, but Port Eliot and my meeting with Daisy Goodwin beckoned so I settled down and disappeared into My Last Duchess (Amercian Heiress in the US) and now feel quite bereft that I have finished it.
I've been trying to decide why I feel so bereft and why, when I turned the final page was I so delighted to read 'Not the End', because it isn't every book that leaves me wondering what may happen next or thinking how much I'd enjoy a sequel and want it yesterday.
I mentioned before that the book is a fusion of what I would probably (wrongly) call literary schema but it fits my need here... those patterns of plot and behaviour that I recognise as central themes in many of the writers I know and love, Edith Wharton, Daphne du Maurier, Frances Hodgson Burnett to name a few.
The book opens in opulent and appropriate fashion in fin de siecle Newport Rhode Island, as Family Cash prepare for the most spectacular ball of the season, to be held in their summer cottage, a mock French chateau and Daisy Goodwin wastes no time in setting the tone for her book. The humming birds that will be painted gold and released in a flurry of glittering but certain death against a backdrop of a Hall of Mirrors that everyone agrees far out-reflects Versailles. Glittering streams of flowing water run the length of each table with uncut gems, emeralds, rubies, topazes for the guests to prospect for with their little silver shovels, competition to find them would be fierce...
'There had been an unseemly scramble for the Faberge bonbons at the Astor ball the week before.'
Then there is the potentially flame-boyant combination of Mrs Cash in a self-illuminating dress, with added lightbulbs wired up to a hybrid akin to a car battery with notions of the National Grid and which she conceals about her person.
What a good idea.
A quick press of the rubber valve and Mrs Cash can single-handedly illuminate the whole of Rhode Island, but for no longer than five minutes before she and the dress will spontaneosuly combust....it's not too difficult to imagine already that Mrs Cash possesses no such restraint and will sparkle for as long as she jolly well likes.
Meanwhile it is the afternoon of the ball and naive and petulant daughter Cora is reading Jane Austen, whilst strapped into her spine improver before being block and tackled into her farthingale with a harness that shuts like a gate. Cora is wishing that she too could be motherless like Emma Woodhouse whilst still hanging onto her fortune of course, which somehow (God knows how) Emma seemed to manage without. Poverty unthinkable and unknowable for poor little rich girl Cora busy practising kissing with her maid in order to seem acomplished when beau Teddy Van Der Leyden makes his move during the ball. With Cora's dress three feet wide and already necessitating a sideways approach to all doorways I could see that Teddy was going to have to be agile, in fact may need to be thinking about a single pitch climb with chalk, rope and crampons to plant that kiss.
I think Daisy Goodwin is giving us all permission to smile sardonically here, we are to share in the wry thought that the rest of us (most of us) only do that river of gems thing on high days and holidays, not for every bog-standard party we throw.
In fact Teddy Van Der Leyden won't be good enough so it is to England that Cora and what's left of her mother (sorry PLOT SPOILER: think Towering Inferno) repair on their private steam-driven yacht the S.S. Aspen and with four horses as excess baggage, to seek a suitable match.
This is the classic fin de siecle scenario of the wealthy American heiresses who in exchange for their fabulous riches sought something money couldn't actually buy... but in fact it could; marriage into a down-at-heel English aristocracy clinging for all their worth to the vestiges of title, a crumbling heap of a stately home in which to invest their wealth, and passage guaranteed into the upper echelons of English society. Daisy Goodwin acknowledges the essence of this through the eyes of Cora Cash's wily and scheming mother...
It was something she saw rarely in New York but she recognised it instantly; it was the quality she herself most aspired to. She knew that unlike her hall of mirrors or the cedar-lined yacht, this was not something that could be acquired or even reproduced. It had to develop over time, like the patina on bronze.'
Ivo, Duke of Wareham is willing and seemingly available, has an air of brooding mystery about him, the requisite crumbling stately home at Lulworth Cove in Dorset the heart of timeless, unchanging rural England, and Cora duly emerges as a Duchess.
There will be faux pas of an artistic nature, mistresses, intrigue, the quest for the heir and spare and though this makes My Last Duchess sound formulaic and predictable rest assured it doesn't read that way.
Daisy Goodwin has created a cracking (crackling in the case of Mrs Cash...sorry) array of characters all very accomplished with their glimpses and glances, the louch and predatory artist Louvain with his 'pelt of silvery blond hair' , the Double Duchess Fanny ( mother of Ivo, killed off one Duke, not ready to be a dowager and so with indecent haste marries another) with her 'creamy smile'...yes makes you want to slap her doesn't it and I did until the very final pages when Duchess Fanny almost comes good.
There's a telling moment later in the book when someone is scraping the green slime off Lulworth's decaying fountains (at Cora's expense) which somehow reflects back on Mrs Cash's original observations about the patina of the English aristocracy,
'It was a coating that meant you had no doubts at all about your place in the world or concern about the world's perception of you.'
Money did buy a reprieve for the aristocrats but there was a great deal of slime attached to the status awaiting any poor rich American girl who found her way into this milieu. They could be a shallow, fawning and duplicitous crowd especially when in the presence of royalty, and Daisy Goodwin capitalises on every opportunity to display it in all its embarrassing glory whilst allowing Cora's character to develop, through her mistakes and naivity, into something increasingly steely and determined.
And woven through the book, those themes of Robert Browning's wonderful poem My Last Duchess, a real favourite and with lines from the poem occasionally used as chapter headings it was good to revisit the mood and the atmosphere of that...
'....She had A heart - how shall I say? - too soon made glad, Too easily impressed: she liked whate'er She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.'
Daisy Goodwin must be sick to death of Downton Upstairs Abbey comparisons though they are inevitable, but I can think of no better place than Port Eliot to be talking to Daisy about her book, sales of which are now topping 100,000 which means you get 'bunched' (with flowers) by your publisher...love it.
There are some fabulous paintings around Port Eliot by Reynolds and Van Dyke but one in particular in the hallway, by John Ellys, of a very fascinating woman, the dancer Hester Booth dressed as Harlequin (this is the similar one in the V&A). In about 1713 Hester fortuitously gave birth to a daughter out of wedlock by one James Craggs. Good choice Hester because Craggs had made his fortune from the scam that was the South Sea Bubble (even I remember that name from school history lessons) and baby Harriet inherited the lot, eventually marrying into the Eliot family and bringing her wealth with her at a time when it was much-needed. Eventually widowed having borne eight Eliot children Harriet re-married one Captain John Hamilton and thus allied herself to the lineage of the late Diana Princess of Wales, and I've had the most amazing afternoon tracing all this online here. Isn't this one of the joys of reading and the internet.
So if any of you have read My Last Duchess and can't be at Port Eliot (12.30pm Saturday July 23rd- the dovegreyreader tent) but have a question for Daisy please do let me know and I'll ask it for you... and do you like my Port Elephant stamp? The elephant synonymous with the house and the family for generations though no one is quite sure why or how, I found him in Tavistock Market, tiny but perfect and walking through all the books that I'm reading for this year's festival.
And if you are looking for more reading around this whole subject of American heiresses here are three books off my shelves, and I'm sure you can all suggest some more.
Spotted about ten minutes ago, told it to stay still while I scrabbled for the camera, but is it a Ringlet or something else?
Where's Patrick Barkham when you need him... I shall be talking to the author of The Butterfly Isles, in the dovegreyreader tent at Port Eliot two weeks from today, 2pm Sunday July 24th, but I can't wait that long to know.
I managed thirteen days without a camera after the Dublin Bloomsday malfunction before Bookhound, sensing intuitively that I was sinking into a slough of despond without one, trotted off to the builder's merchants as usual, but went via the camera shop coming home with surprise, surprise...a very nice shiny new one. I really don't need to go looking for things like this, too much choice, I just need one to apparate on my desk which this did with a little note on it.
For the techy among you it's a Fujifilm finepix F80EXR which, according to trustedreviews.com, apparently has a brain of its own ...
The technology which makes the camera so impressive is centred around the EXR chip, which intelligently alters itself to cater best for the ambient situation.
I'll be having some of that then, so all I really should have to do it is take it out of the very nice case, switch it on and point ...I like.
So I sat down' and made myself do instructions (I am usually too impatient to do instructions and then wonder why nothing works) before taking it out for a test walk along the lane the minute the battery had charged, and I have to say what a difference another six megapixels make, along with a 10x wide zoom lens and the brain inside the camera that knows how to use them.
I was this far away from the little Methodist chapel...
but could actually zoom to this..
and quite worryingly almost looking in people's windows in the village two miles away.
Spotted someone having a bonfire because they'd missed the recycling lorry, which is not surprising given that since we complained that it was looking like Beirut (with apologies to Beirut) because they kept missing us out, they have taken revenge by coming around at 7am. It's no good putting things out the night before because the foxes and the rats seem to know.
I leant on the front gate and revelled in all the detail that this picture of Kit Hill picks up.
I decided against a walk around Rocky's field where there was something akin to the Calgary Stampede going down (Kate and Wills are going there) ...
and so came back in to settle down with my pre-Port Eliot reading... look at all those lovely pixels, you can even see the titles now. Result.
And has anyone else read My Last Duchess or am I the last??
Just published as American Heiress in the US and I am really loving every word and now can't wait to talk to Daisy Goodwin about it ... think of a sort of hybrid fusion of Edith Wharton meets Upstairs Downton Abbey sprinkled with some Rebecca-esque du Maurierism, and all overlaid with some Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Shuttle to the faint echoes of Port Eliot's utterly beautiful well-worn and lived-in gentility...it will be a grand book to talk about there and would make excellent holiday reading too, don't miss it.
It's been all go here and the dove-eyed among you may already have spotted that the pre- Port Eliot planning is now almost done >>>> and you won't be surprised to hear that it has been occupying my mind with more than a little excitement since I went over for tea with Cathy St Germans a couple of months ago to discuss the dovegreyreader tent.
I have had quite a few writerly acceptances for a visit to the tent including Gillian Slovo, Helen Walsh (who I will also be interviewing on the main stage about her forthcoming novel Go to Sleep ), Edmund deWaal of the hare, Patrick Barkham of the butterflies, Katie Hickman of Daughters of Brittania and The Aviary Gate, Justine Picardie of the Coco, Daisy Goodwin of the Orange Prize judges and My Last Duchess, and quite a few more...and then if we have a gap we'll just go out and net a few more and drag them in.
So you can probably guess that this is going to direct my reading over the next few weeks as I work my way around the books, and I shall be writing about them here in the hope that some of you may want to contribute in comments if you have read them ... because I would really love to be able to ask some of your questions too. So keep an eye out for a list of Port Eliot Reading over here >>>>
One thing I am also very much looking forward to is the Paradiso Outdoor Cinema..
Nightly double-bills chosen specifically for Port Eliot by one of the acknowledged greats of filmmaking. Martin Scorsese’s selections will be screened from twilight on each evening of the festival in the festival’s Paradiso Cinema, set in gardens created by landscape gardener Humphrey Repton, with a backdrop of a secret estuary of the river Lynher and a railway viaduct designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
And one of the films that Martin Scorsese has chosen, and probably because he knew I wanted to see it, after that Reading Italy post last week, is The Leopard starring Burt Lancaster, Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale.
You might also like to be thinking about the dovegreyreader flower show entry(ies) because we had so much fun creating our 'Great Expectations' installation last year, you commented, we implemented hence 'that' sunflower as suggested by KevinFromCanadaand we nabbed ourselves two rosettes.
So I have already entered us in Class 4 as follows...
Class 4 - Oh What a Beautiful Morning! e.g. Oklahoma, South Pacific, Carousel,THE SOUND OF MUSIC, An arrangement to depict any Rogers and Hammerstein musical.
Perhaps you can you spot my preference there?
I have been just dying to get the Pelham puppets out of the loft and we could throw in a few nuns and frocks made out of curtains, and get an Alpine poster from the travel agents for a backdrop and dangle some lederhosen and a guitar around, and things, so thinking caps on for that one everyone. Oh, better not forget the flowers I suppose, shortage of edelweiss here but that needn't be an obstacle, we can substitute.
We are also entered in Class 7 - Greensleeves - An arrangement of foliage
Team Tolstoy A year-long shared read of War & Peace through the centenary year of Count Lyev Nikolayevich Tolstoy's death, starting on his birthday, September 9th 2010.
Everyone is welcome to board the troika and read along, meeting here on the 9th of every month to chat in comments about the book.
Team Tolstoy Bookmark Don't know your Bolkonskys from your Rostovs?
An aide memoire that can be niftily printed and laminated into a double-sided bookmark.
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If you think I have breached copyright rules in any way please let me know.