Readers’ Afternoon

I always find the beginning of October rather frustrating because it heralds the start of the Birmingham Readers’ and Writers’ Festival.  As those of you who know me will appreciate, the fact that most of the events take place in the evening means that I am unable to attend, so I was more than pleased that this year they decided to include a Readers’ Afternoon that meant I could spend three hours in the company of four authors and a couple of hundred fellow readers discussing not only the author’s works, but the books that had shaped them and us into the readers and writers we have become.

The event took place at The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, which is our gem of an Art Gallery sited in the University of Birmingham.  It has a wonderfully comfortable concert hall which meant that sitting for long periods was not the hardship it can be in some meeting places, although it did mean that the speakers had to be miked because it was designed for music rather than the spoken word.  It also meant that we enjoyed The Barber’s famed hospitality and tea and cake was served free at the interval.  Notice, please, tea and cake.  There is something so refined, so Jane Austin, about that lack of an ‘s’.  I am always astounded when it isn’t seed cake that appears.

The authors involved yesterday were Patrick Gale, whose latest novel A Perfectly Good Man is probably the best book I’ve read this year, Gaynor Arnold, who has just published a ‘bio-fiction’ based on the relationship between Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddle, After Such Kindness, and two writers whose works I didn’t know, Tiffany Murray and Andy Killeen.  They each spoke about their writing lives, but what I found most interesting was the discussion they instigated about the way in which our lives as readers affects us, both as writers and more generally as the people we become.  Three of the four were Oxbridge English Graduates and they all said that having written prolifically as children they stopped writing completely during their time at University because they were intimidated by the quality of the literature they were being asked to read for their degree. Mind you, one of them had spent all her time involved in the University Dramatic Society and another was desperately  trying to make it as a rock star, so I did wonder whether it was a case that they had written as children because they were isolated by their intelligence and having moved into a world where they felt more comfortable with their contemporaries they blossomed socially.  I should have asked them, but there was very little time for questions.  Isn’t that always the way though, once readers start talking about books you simply can’t get a word in edgeways.

One question that was put to the panel was what forthcoming books were they most looking forward to and Patrick Gale’s recommendations have gone straight onto my library list.  He has read the new Salley Vickers, who is notoriously patchy, and said that this one, The Cleaner of Chartres, is in the mode of Miss Garnett’s Angel  and The Other Side of You so that might be worth a look, and also mentioned two of my favourite authors, Colm Tóibín, whose The Testament of Mary is due out this month, and Damon Galgut, who is writing a novel about the Indian experience of E M Forster.  This will be very different from anything Galgut has written before, so I’m intrigued to see what it will be like.

I could do with an event like this at least once a month.  It isn’t only the speakers I enjoy, but also the conversation that takes place amongst the other people attending.  It’s like having a gathering of book bloggers all in one place, well-oiled with tea and cake and happy to talk forever if the organisers will let them.  Reading Groups are great but you do tend to pull together like minded readers.  In a setting such as this I find I am more likely to have books I never even heard of let alone considered drawn to my attention.  I’m off to the library tomorrow to see how many on the list I made I can find.


13 thoughts on “Readers’ Afternoon

  1. It sounds a good event and I’m pleased to see you’re getting out and about. I must read something by Patrick Gale – where would you recommend I start? Interesting comment about Salley Vickers – I did like Miss Garnet’s Angel and one of two others very much, but I’ve just read Dancing Backwards, which I found disappointing .

    1. Margaret, I’d start with ‘Notes on an Exhibition’ and then follow it with ‘A Perfectly Good Man’. You don’t need to read the one to enjoy the other, but if you’ve read the former then you will experience a burst of pure h joy towards the end of the latter.

  2. I agree with you that having such events regularly would be wonderful. I always like meeting authors and book conversation is such a pleasure. It’s great that you all actually did have a good conversation, instead of an awkward Q&A with bad questions, like my recent event 🙂 How wonderful to have a list of recommendations to follow up on!

    1. You know what the only problem with the recommendations is: having ordered them all from the library each and every one of them will turn up ofnthe same day and I shan’t have time to read them before they’re due back. Fortunately, the Galgut isn’t yet on order, otherwise I would be in a real mess.

  3. Book blogging is all well and good, but you can’t beat a good literary event. There’s such a buzz when you get a group of book lovers together. As an aside, I wonder what the collective noun is for book lovers?

    I’m very glad to see that you’re a ‘cake’ and not ‘cakes’ kind of person. I always thought you would be!

  4. This sounds lovely! We have the Cambridge Winter Wordfest coming up soon and I must book myself in for something. I always get something special out of these events. So glad you could make this one!

    1. The only problem is the number of books you come back with having sworn that you wouldn’t buy anymore ever again! Weak-willed isn’t in it.

  5. I enjoy literary festivals and found this post fascinating. I don’t know any of these writers on the panel, but I have discovered these events are a good way to find about great authors. I’ll have to see if any of their books are available in the U.S.

    I like Salley Vickers! but haven’t read Miss Garnett’s Angel.

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