Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Poetic truth

Notes from the Henley Literary Festival 2015

My favourite event in Henley's social carousel has come round again. For one glorious week (the sun always shines), I swan about the Henley Literary Festival on my own little voyage of intellectual discovery. This year I am attending talks on subjects as diverse as babies being born to mothers incarcerated at Auschwitz, black holes, the debutantes at Bletchley Park and an Indian suffragette. Every year I fall under the spell of the written word, marvelling again at its power to capture the gamut of human experience and inspire emotion.

Jane Hawkings, memoir writer and first wife of physicist Stephen Hawkings
Jane's memoir was a way
of 'unburdening' herself
It doesn't matter whether it is fiction or non-fiction: a good piece of writing is always authentic or truthful in an artistic sense. Whilst talking about his latest novel (The Dust that Falls from Dreamson the Great War, author Louis de Bernieres told us how he toyed with writing a biography of his family, but decided he didn't want to upset his father. "I've gone back to the normal plan which is to tell colossal lies," he said. "But there is poetic truth [in the book]." His guiding principle was to recreate what individuals felt as they became caught up in the war.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Be gone mid-life crisis!

Earlier this year I wrote a blog about the virtues of leading an ordinary life. There was a disgruntled undertone, but basically I was giving thanks for my secure and comfortable existence. In response, however, I received some passionate advice from a friend's mother, who was adamant that we should fight against playing it safe. "Do not let the excitement slip from your life in your middle years," she urged me. "Have a challenge of doing something new, daring and exciting." Her words struck a chord.

Packed camper van
Up for an adventure?
Last week I spent some time with a young couple (in their twenties) who were only too happy to take on a challenge. They were organising aid for refugees in Calais and I couldn't help but admire their youthful, can-do spirit. Inspired by the stories of refugee hardship, they decided to hire a van, fill it with donations and drive down to the camps at Calais. For them, it was that simple.

A few weeks ago, I too considered doing a similar trip, but quickly dismissed it as an unworkable idea. How would I find the time? Wouldn't I be putting myself in danger? And who was going to look after the kids while I waltzed around Calais interviewing the migrants? No, it was a silly idea. 

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Thank you Facebook, it was about time!

A few people I know are still a bit snotty about social media and just occasionally I can understand why. You run the risk of saying something silly on the spur of the moment and not being able to retract it. Or you give away more than you intended to because your settings weren't quite right. In the last few weeks, however, Facebook, Twitter and the like have showed us that they can be a powerful force for good. Thanks to messages and pictures shared on these networks, thousands of people have been galvanised into action to help the refugees trudging across Europe in search of a safe haven.

Tom Clark, who is collecting donations for CalAid
Tom Clark, a Henley hero
The deeply poignant photograph of the drowned Kurdish toddler Aylan Kurdi, lying face down in the surf as if he had just fallen asleep, was a turning point in the public perception of the refugee crisis. Aylan and his family had set off for Europe in search of a better life, after previously fleeing fighting in Syria. Up until this point, there had been a steady drip-feed of immigration articles and disturbing images on social media, including pictures of other drowned children washing up on beaches, but somehow Aylan tipped the balance. I know many of us found such images highly distressing, particularly within the context of our hokey, homely Facebook feeds, but all those 'shares' of a little boy on the beach meant we had to face up to the horrors going on in the world.