Monday, November 14, 2011

Catch Up

Apologies for not blogging much here lately about my comings and goings. It's been a busy  and at the same time a not-so-busy couple of months: I've been taking one of those breaks from writing that you need sometimes - those fallow periods where you let life in (rather than shut it off in order to write) - and blogging seems to have suffered along with the creative stuff.

So what have I been doing? At the end of September there was the Didsbury Arts Festival, at which I gave a reading from The Birth Machine.

I was quite nervous at the start (which I think the above pic shows!) as there was a doctor present, the husband of playwright Debbie Freeman: I was afraid he would think I was attacking the medical profession per se. But he was wonderful, and understood exactly what the book was saying about communication and power, and agreed wholeheartedly. I was also afraid I wouldn't get an audience, as we were in competition with the launch of Nick Royle's Murmurations anthology (I was also sorry not be able to go to that), but the room above the health food shop Healthy Spirit was nicely full. We had an excellent discussion.

If I'd known beforehand that two of the people there were midwives, I might have been nervous about that too, but they were wonderfully supportive and engaged. And every person but one bought a copy of the book - far better sales than I've had at some bigger gatherings! Someone said that the book should be required reading on Obstetric and Midwifery courses - I think I couldn't have had a better compliment. Among other DAF events I managed to get to were the great outdoor theatre and music events outside the library, a spooky reading by Nick Royle under the atmospheric yew trees in the pet cemetery of Parsonage Gardens (both reported on here), a reading by poet Jeffrey Wainwright (always thought-provoking), another by poet Sue Stern accompanied by jazz, and a gig by jazz group Jazzworks.

After that I went back to Wales for a few days, as novelist Jean Mead had kindly invited me to take part on the Saturday in a book fair she had organised at the Quay Hotel in Deganwy. The fair took place in a suite with a wonderful view of the water, and I had a whole table to myself for my display, and once again I sold more books than I feel I could have expected!

Next it was the Manchester Literature Festival. I attended the gala event for the Manchester Fiction Prize, a very interesting debate about prize culture, which I reported on here, a tribute to innovative novelist B S Johnson which sadly dented my admiring view of him with some early films I couldn't help finding adolescent, two excellent Comma Press events - an evening with European short story writers and an afternoon reading by Jane Rogers from their Litmus anthology (stories from science) with a discussion with scientist Martyn Amos - and a very moving tribute to poet Linda Chase who sadly died in April.

I attended Jeanette Winterson's event at The Royal Exchange and reported my impressions here. What else? I went to the cinema and saw We Need to Talk About Kevin, the book of which I have always found hard to get into. I decided it was a hotchpotch of conflicting and half-baked psychological theories - cold mothers create monster children, or maybe they don't, monster children are born like that; macho fathers create monster children, or maybe etc... maybe autism was involved, or maybe not (the doc's test for autism was laughably mistaken, child psych John tells me) - and far too heavy on the blood symbolism which I found as horrifying as the violence they made a point of not showing. I guess I should really read the book now in case the film didn't do it justice.

I went to see C P Taylor's Good at the Royal Exchange, an adaptation of his novel and a tale of how a good man with good motives gets inadvertently involved with Hitler and his henchmen. To begin with I and my companions were entranced: the production seemed wonderful, with music and song and a brilliant use of the stage to create time-slippages that you don't often see in our generally over-literalist theatre. But by the second half we were feeling that the frantic pace was preventing us from concentrating on the moral problem at the heart of the play and the way the transition took place. From what I could tell, that transition was very disappointing: I was expecting a real revelation about the way that apparently moral precepts can be twisted to immoral ends (which I believe they can) but all that seemed to happen was that from the start the protagonist couldn't help acting out of selfish motives that belied his sense of himself as good, and the outcome was thus hardly a surprise. This didn't however seem to worry the rest of the audience, who consisted a great deal of schoolchildren and who went wild with applause.

Meanwhile I have been sinking myself in books, reading in the immersive way I used to as a child, and can't often do when there's too much pressing, especially in terms of my own writing. Among the books I've read are two for the reading group: Helen Garner's The Spare Room (report here) and E L Doctorow's Homer and Langley which I'll report on after we've met to discuss it. I'm a good deal of the way through a re-read of David Copperfield, and I've written here about the particular immersion of that experience, but since then I've been rather pulled out of it by getting to the part where Copperfield meets 'little Dora': such a cypher! I'm also reading Tom McCarthy's C.

Finally, last week I attended a lovely launch for The Coward's Tale (Bloomsbury) the debut novel by my good friend and colleague, Vanessa Gebbie. A smashing way to end a period of relaxation, before I turn my nose in earnest to the writing desk again...


Shelley said...

I don't think you look nervous at all (and as a writer, I know exactly what you mean)! In fact, my first impression of that photo was that it's the type that deserves a frame and place on the mantel....

Elizabeth Baines said...

Yes, there's a bit of a theme going with the hands, isn't there?!