Wednesday 10 October 2018

Removal quotes and books

Two themes are dominating my notebook this week - literary festivals and our imminent move to a new house. In amongst pages of removal quotes and a transcription of my conversation with BT about changing over our broadband, are my notes on the Henley Literary Festival and the Cuckfield Bookfest.

Emma Clark Lam and broadcaster Cathy Newman
Cathy and I celebrate with a glass of fizz
As ever, our local lit fest in Henley offered up a smorgasbord of knowledge and current affairs. A highlight for me was attending a session by my fabulous friend, Cathy Newman, who was promoting her new book, Bloody Brilliant Women

This is a unique history of the 20th century, focusing on the pioneering women that your history teacher forgot to mention... Case in point - engineer Beatrice Shilling who helped win the Battle of Britain in the second-world war. She fixed a fatal flaw in the engines of the Spitfire fighter planes by inserting a metal ring - colloquially known as Miss Shilling's orifice (Cathy told us with glee). Different territory to her day job as a Channel 4 News presenter.

It struck me this year that literary festivals shouldn't just be the province of bookish types. In each one-hour session, you get a rare opportunity to learn something new, without even touching a book (unless you buy one afterwards). Last week I discovered all manner of things:

  • Michael Morpurgo has very nice singing voice (he broke into a touching song from the play of War Horse at the end of his talk - we all joined in)
  • Sebastian Faulks believes we are suffering a "complete loss of truth with one idiot in Washington and one idiot in Moscow making stuff up".
  • Mary, Queen of Scots, was beheaded with her pet dog hiding under her red petticoat - her cousin Elizabeth I reluctantly signed the death warrant and was then furious when her courtiers enacted it without telling her (from Kate Williams' Rival Queens)
  • "Google Translate is one of the wonders of the modern world, up there with the moon landings," according to artificial intelligence expert, Professor Michael Wooldridge
  • People in the West are more egotistical than in Japan, where individualism is focused on how you relate to other people (more in Julian Baggini's philosophy book How the World Thinks)
  • Nikita Gill, the Instapoet, found consolation in poetry after suffering sexual assault - "Art was the only thing there for me... the only way to deal with my trauma."
  • Our education system is a factory model, geared to exam-taking and riddled with problems such as teacher burn-out and mental health problems amongst our students (from Anthony Seldon's book on artificial intelligence The Fourth Education Revolution)

Talking Brummie in Sussex

Emma Clark Lam at the Cuckfield Bookfest
Concentrating hard at the Cuckfield Bookfest
I rounded out the week by braving the torrential rain to drive to Sussex for the Cuckfield Bookfest. In this picturesque village, I took part in a panel on publishing/writing, which involved discussing my own novel, The Puppet Master

After receiving a list of insightful questions from the interviewer, OUP's Kate Harris, days before the event, I was forced to sit down and re-read my book. Nothing worse than finding you can't remember a character's name or a major plot point in front of a live audience, particularly when it's your own book! All went well, despite my attempt at a Brummie accent whilst reading out an extract. It involved a python and a young woman from Walsall - you'll need to read the book to find out more...

Now it's back to packing and phoning up utility companies. I've gone from Tudor queens and Japanese philosophy to cardboard boxes and cleaning out kitchen drawers. Never a dull moment in my notebook.

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