I have to admit that I experienced a twinge of annoyance and a dollop of disappointment last Saturday morning at the Spring Thing Literature event, organised by the Birmingham Book Festival. But before I tell you why I felt like that, I have to make it clear that those feelings were quickly replaced by enjoyment and I was grateful that the organisers had kept some last-minute information close to their chest.
I’d been looking forward to hearing Helen Dunmore giving a talk about her latest novel and prize-winning poetry, and it wasn’t until I’d seated myself in the large auditorium of the Birmingham Conservatoire that I found out that she was unable to attend, and two other novelists would be taking her place. I had a lot on my plate that weekend (a long drive down to South Wales that evening, followed by an even longer drive to East Sussex the next day) and if I’d been informed beforehand, I’d have chosen to miss that first session – so I’m now grateful to the organisers, because I’d have missed hearing Judith Allnatt (The Poet’s Wife) and Clare Clark Savage Lands) in Conversation with each other, expertly led by Jonathan Davidson of Writing West Midlands .
It was fascinating to hear both authors explain what had inspired them to write their historical novels and compare the particular logistical problems they encountered and how they resolved them. They make a very good combination for a session like this.
When they were talking about their research methods, I particularly enjoyed Judith’s description of the process of accumulating information almost randomly, following whatever paths presented themselves, immersing herself in her chosen period almost randomly until she ‘knew’ it so thoroughly she didn’t need to think about it – it had become a part of her. The analogy of growing a crystal in her school lab was something I understood at the time, but couldn’t explain it clearly now!
The next session was also excellent: a Panel Discussion, again chaired by Jonathan, with three more novelists, Aifric Campbell ,(The Loss Adjustor) Samantha Harvey (The Wilderness), and Amanda Smyth (Black Rock).
The only difficulty for me was to resist the temptation of buying all three of those novels to add to my To-be-Read mountain.
Stuart Maconie’s books sounded amusing informative and I felt that his latest, Adventures on the High Teas, (wandering through Middle England) would make an ideal present but at that time my mind couldn’t come up with the exact person to give it to.
The day itself was a satisfying feast, with just enough down-time between each of the five sessions and plenty of opportunity to chat to other readers and writers over coffee and lunch. I was sorry that I had to leave early, missing Carol-Ann Duffy’s session at the end, and only allowing myself a brief taste of Jo Bell
and another last-minute stand-in,
Oh! and I mustn’t forget to do my share of eavesdropping on July 1st!