Saturday, 15 July 2017

Bradford Literature Festival 2017

Bradford Literature Festival 2017
The cover of the booklet proclaimed 400 writers, 300 events, 10 days, 1 city
I listened to 28 speakers in 10 events over 4 days
I felt insanely proud of the city where I live for hosting such an event – the fourth year now and getting stronger each time. A thousand congratulations to the driving forces: Syima Aslam, Irna Qureshi and their superb team.
Bradford Waterstones in the old Wool Exchange

Inclusive, surprising, chock-a-block with surprising juxtapositions
I’ve been to a number of literary and writing festivals during my lifetime but I haven’t experienced one with such a variety: from Harry Potter spell-making to Pakistani politics, from Jane Austen to Rebel Girls, from Star Wars to Cricket, from LGBTIQ events to J B Priestley, from Waris Shah’s epic love love poem to lessons on how to avoid writing bad sex scenes. The organisers seem to be fearless and determined to put in something for everyone. And everyone, it seemed, turned out.
Bradford: City Square, City Hall, R C Bridgestock in the Victorian courtroom (see below)

City square in the sun
I found something on both weekends to intrigue and pull me in. But my abiding memory of the festival might be sitting in City Square watching the fountains play and being astonished (and moved) by the smiling crowds going in and out of the book tent, by the individuals, friends, strangers, families, young, old, all ethnicities, all backgrounds and all types watching the pop-up entertainments. Many, I’m sure, were as equally contented as me that, after all the metaphorical earthquakes in the political world in recent years, the evidence of people congregating at the Bradford Literature Festival shows that the human race is overwhelmingly peaceful, loving, investigative and open-hearted. Culture and the arts celebrate communities, spread ideas and, yes, it’s true, they advance civilisation. Much to learn. Much to debate. Much to ponder. Much to love.
Samantha Ellis's book, the Arabian Nights event (Abdul-Rheman Malik, Robert Irwin and S F Said); the Arthurian legends (Kirsty Logan, Reluca Radulescu and Remona Aly); and Game of Thrones: Myths and History (Tom Huddleston and Carolyne Larrington)

So what did I learn, debate, ponder and love?

Book Bidding Wars

  • Inside City Hall is as jaw-dropping as the outside, inspired as it is by the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence
  • The women from the publishing industry who spoke at this event were inspiring, funny and encouraging (thank you Ailah Ahmed, Danuta Kean, Lisa Milton and Kate Nash)
  • Update on my Rhenium Wars efforts: the arc of my second book is laid out with some material already dumped there because I’ve cut it out of Book One
  • Book One, Raydan Wakes, is in the final stretch of complete first draft at 111,000 words split into 15 chunky chapters, each divided into three sections….
  • Nothing at this event made me think I should stop writing and editing, writing and editing….

The Arthurian Legend and its Enduring Appeal

  • Remona Aly (journalist and broadcaster) was an endearing and enthusiastic chair whose expressions of her fandom articulated exactly my own Arthurian obsessions (and that's what's great about the festival: where the internal worlds of a white Roman Catholic in his 50s and a young Muslim woman can meet in an unlikely space....)
  • Kirsty Logan inspired me to buy her book The Gracekeepers 
  • I wish I’d been taught at university by Professor Reluca Radulescu
  • The three women debated the crux of the Arthurian canon: the fruitful jostle between the imaginative, the scholarly, the historical, the gender-focused, the patriotic, the European and the romantic approaches
  • The Tag “King Arthur” in the list to the right will demonstrate how much I wallowed in this event

Arabian Nights: the Original Science Fiction

  • There are way more stories in the Arabian Nights collection than I knew of
  • From oral tradition to the printed collection(s) on shelves now, the journey of The Arabian Nights is fraught with cultural, political and linguistic complexities
  • There are some wild and wonderful stories I never knew containing prophetic imaginings and leaps of technology
  • The Arabian Nights is more mind-boggling and enticing than I thought before
  • I need a new translation (thank you Abdul-Rehman Malik, Robert Irwin and S F Said)

Game of Thrones: Myths & History

  • Tom Huddleston (author and film journalist) and Professor Carolyne Larrington (Oxford) made a brilliant double act with well-prepared questions (Tom) and authoritative answers (Carolyne) and conversation that was mesmerisingly entertaining (both of them, thank you)
  • Another event, like the King Arthur session, that explored how history, geography, politics, gender studies, fiction and the imagination can work together to brew sci-fi and fantasy
  • They revelled in the North-South divide of York/Lancaster and Stark/Lannister which tickled me to bits
  • They revealed some crazy medieval anecdotes and prompted me to make four pages of notes

The Books they don’t want you to read

  • Kevin Duffy helps run Bluemoose books which published STOP! Don’t read this by Leonora Rustamova and her students, a story which is worth researching if you don’t know it (click here)
  • Melvin Burgess (who wrote two of my favourite “Young Adult” books Bloodtide and Bloodsong) is much more genial than I expected
  • Tariq Mehmood is a funny guy – and sometimes scary in his emphatic challenges – but whose book You’re not proper is one I’m looking forward to reading
  • All three men wrangled around the subject of banning books and acknowledged the empty chair reserved for Juno Dawson who had withdrawn from the festival for reasons which could be seen as ironic given the topic of this event – complex times – so I hope one day I’ll be able to hear Juno talking about her work; she would, I think, have had a different perspective to the three men on the panel, all of whom were interesting....
Branwell Brontë, Juliet Barker, the Bidding Wars panel (Lisa Milton, Ailah Ahmed, Kate Nash, Danuta Kean), Samantha Ellis, Michael Stewart, Louise Doughty and Robert Edric

And on the second weekend?

The Missing Brontë

  • Juliet Barker really is the best speaker about the Brontës on the circuit
  • She showed us extraordinary images of the Haworth Parsonage and analysed the ‘gun portrait’ in a fresh way
  • She painted a picture of Branwell that was complicated and sympathetic, believable and sad
  • She made a strong case for Branwell’s role in pushing the imaginative lives of the sisters when they were children

Inspired by the Brontës

  • Samantha Ellis, author of Take Courage (about Anne Brontë) and How to be a heroine, is an absolute delight and would be a great dinner party guest
  • Louise Doughty, author of Apple Tree Yard, won a place to be at the same dinner party; both she and Samantha Ellis spoke with humour and passion about the Brontës and how their writing had influenced their work
  • I tried to ignore Robert Edric who seemed to be there under false pretences; and Michael Stewart (writer) asked some good questions and some rubbish questions; but luckily the two women had enough to say and illuminated the theme of the event
Boyd Tonkin and Germaine Greer

Gender Expectations in the Lives of the Brontës

  • Boyd Tonkin (writer, journalist, editor) commented intelligently and asked pertinent questions
  • Germaine Greer (academic, environmentalist) said a lot, often wittily, always memorably, frequently debatable
  • On signing “To Tony” inside one of her Shakespeare books for me at the end, formidable Germaine looked me in the eye and said “I have a cousin called Tony who exposed himself to my little sister.” Which meant I forgot just about everything else she’d said earlier, except I remember that she admitted she didn’t know Wuthering Heights well, even though she was happy to deliver strong opinions about it.
  • Greer’s book Shakespeare’s Wife is a brilliant account of Elizabethan/Jacobean social history so I’ll always be a Germaine fan because of it. But I’ll avoid listening to her talking about the Brontës in the future. She ain’t got nothing useful to say about them. Entertaining. Thought-provoking. Occasionally stubbornly wrong. Juliet Barker beats her hands down. Not that it’s a competition…

A Man’s Game

  • Ross Raisin (ex Bradford Grammar School, award-winning author) is a thoughtful and philosophical speaker; his first novel God’s Own Country was (imho) an absorbing and poetic read; I got a copy of his latest A Natural signed at this event
  • David Park is a Belfast-born writer whose words inspired me to buy his collection of short stories, Gods and Angels, so I’ll look forward to reading that
  • Ellis Cashmore (sociologist and cultural critic) moderated, intervened, provoked and enjoyed his own thought processes awfully much
  • Will women’s sport ever (again) receive as much media attention and financial investment as male sport?
  • I was interested to learn how in the early part of the 20th Century women’s football flourished and was then banned by the FA….
  • Is there a modern crisis of masculinity?
  • Do fiction writers have any responsibility in attempting to portray an ‘ideal’ man?
Ellis Cashmore, Ross Raisin, David Park, A Natural, Melvin Burgess and the Banned Book event (Kevin Duffy, Melvin Burgess and Tariq Mehmood)

Realism in Crime Fiction & Tour of the Bradford Police Museum

  • Who knew there was a fascinating Police Museum housed in City Hall? I know now.
  • Who knew there were Victorian police cells to visit and an astonishing Victorian courtroom, often hired by film and TV production companies? I know now.
  • R C Bridgestock (aka husband-and-wife team Bob and Carol) gave an entertaining account of their careers in the police force, their transition to writing crime fiction and their forays into consulting on series’ like Sally Wainwright’s Happy Valley 
  • Bob and Carol were generous in their enouragement and writing tips
  • Pamela Clare, make-up artist, showed astonishing skill in demonstrating gruesome facial injuries on audience members
  • Martin Baines was an informative, entertaining and thoughtful guide round the fascinating bowels of City Hall and revealing insights into the past (and present) practices of police custody
I’m already anticipating Bradford Literature Festival 2018
The founders of the BLF: Syima Aslam and Irna Quresh