Sunday, 30 October 2016

Write on Kew 2016


After a whirlwind month, I can't quite believe that the Kew Gardens Write on Kew literary festival was five weekends ago. After being so impressed with the line up and our literary weekend last year, my mum and I were eagerly awaiting this year's ticket release. Though there were fewer 'big names' than last year, an array difficult to follow after presenting the likes of Bill Bryson and Margaret Atwood, there were plenty of writers that we were keen to see. After some deliberation, we decided on a busy Saturday afternoon of Nick Clegg, Joanne Harris and Tracy Chevalier, followed by Tony Robinson and Val McDermid on the Sunday.

Nick Clegg
First on our agenda, and perhaps the most disappointing talk of the weekend, was Nick Clegg. I had high hopes from the charismatic, interesting man who performed so well in the televised election debates all those years ago, but was met by someone who seemed much more defeated and much less confident. Perhaps that's what a term as Deputy Prime Minister does to you?! Speaking about his recently published memoirs, Clegg had very little to offer in terms of his own reflections on the coalition; he described it almost as an inevitability, and the position the Lib Dems owed its country, and its voters, to take. One really interesting point which did come out of the discussion however, concerned the 'fashionable' nature of politics - the idea that it's cool to be perceived as politically engaged. I agreed with him, for the most part, that we have created a society of seemingly politically interested individuals who, when it really comes down to it, are not politically motivated to help be the change. A semi-stimulating talk from a semi-intriguing man! 

Joanne Harris
Until two weeks before the festival I was guilty of never having read a Joanne Harris novel, now I've read one, but I have three more downloaded on my Kindle. This interview centred around Harris' most recent novel, Different Class, which tells the story of a crime and a school...in its simplest terms. I loved the book, and I couldn't put it down. For me, it was everything a great novel should be: characters you like, characters you dislike, characters you still can't make your mind up about; a story that was multi-dimensional, layered, with multiple narratives; and the old favourite, a plot twist. Joanne Harris, an ex-teacher herself, captured the complexities of a school perfectly, and reminded me very much of one of my own school teachers. She spoke passionately about her story, and her relationship with the characters in it, and I only wish I could have probed her more about the twist - but was forced to avoid spoilers by the audience members who'd not yet read it. I was really interested to learn about Joanne's synaesthesia, and thought the idea of creating a scent and a playlist to go with each of her books was a wonderfully romantic and engaging thing to do. She inspired me to read more of her work; and Chocolat has got to be first on the list!

Tracy Chevalier 
I didn't know an awful lot about Tracy Chevalier; for one, I didn't know that she was American. I tried to read her new novel, At the Edge of the Orchard, prior to the talk, because I hate it when people don't, but I just couldn't get into it. After reading fifty pages almost solely about apples, I just wasn't motivated to carry on. The interview with Tracy however, did give it a bit of a new lease of life. I learnt a lot about apples, and got a bit of insight into where the book was heading. It definitely made me want to read more, but also made me realise that it's a bit too heavy to be my new train read. I'll let you know how I get on with it...

Tony Robinson
What a man. I think this was my favourite event of the weekend, because it was the greatest performance. Without an interviewer, and left to his own devices to give us a sneak peak of his new autobiography, Tony Robinson was the perfect engaging, comical showman. His tales of his early years as a child actor had the audience giggling from the very start, and reminded me of the 'drama kids' I surrounded myself with as a pre-teen, and desperately wanted to be. His somewhat distant relationship with his grandfather, troubled by his experiences in the war, was a sincere and heartfelt backdrop for his own autobiography and need to share his own life stories with his children, grandchildren and, of course, fans!We purchased a copy of his autobiography, personally signed by the man himself, and I'm looking forward to getting stuck in. A cosy, Christmas read, I think. 

Val McDermid
My mum loves a crime novel and, until recently, I'd steered clear of McDermid, warned that her novels were too gory and too scary for a bedtime read. McDermid's newest novel, Out of Bounds, was just the right amount of gory and scary, especially when read on a Croatian beach, far away from the cold Scottish nights in the book. It tells the story of Detective Karen Pirie, a slightly rogue officer who makes it her mission to solve two equally challenging crimes at once; made all the more difficult by having to do it in secret, away from the punishing eye of her superiors. I loved that it read almost like two stories in one, and felt like the perfect amount of suspense was maintained throughout, alternating between cases, so as not to wear each story out. Val was a dry and fascinating speaker, and her obsession with death and murder both disturbing and intriguing. Finding out about Val's variety of friends and contacts involved in forensics and police work explained the compelling authenticity of her novels, and made me want to delve deeper into this world too. Perhaps too frightening before bed, but truly excellent any other time of day - only made more so after having enjoyed the company and expertise of a truly fantastic writer. 

All in all, it was a great weekend. Kew is a lovely setting for the event, and overpriced cakes aside, a wonderful place to spend an autumnal weekend. It was a shame that the events weren't more well attended, generally in much smaller venues with more empty seats than the previous year. I really hope it continues next yer, and the line up remains as varied and impressive. Write on Kew makes for a fantastic girls weekend away with my mum, and offers a really good value literary festival a stone's throw away from Central London. 


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