Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Day Five of Finchley Literary Festival

The last day of the festival and I had the chance to have a bit of a break on Sunday morning, and managed to do the weekly shop and get a bit of housework done as this had been somewhat totally neglected in the past few days!

The sun was shining as I set off to the shops and I was pleased that everybody turning out for Rosie Canning's event, The Walking Writer, would stay dry. You can find out much more about it on Rosie's blog.

At about 3.00pm I was checking I had everything ready for our finale when Rosie phoned saying the walk had taken longer than anticipated and would I set up at Café Buzz? As it happened she managed to arrive not long after I had and we set up the mic for the final time.

Jemma Wayne

Our readers all turned up in good time and we were away...

Local author, Jemma Wayne, began the evening reading a powerful extract from her debut novel which was shortlisted for the Waverton Good Read Award, and longlisted for both the Guardian Not the Booker Prize and the prestigious Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction. I read the first two paragraphs - and even if I'd not have heard Jemma reading, this was enough to convince that I wanted to read this book.

Zoe Gilbert of the North London Writer' group was up next. I had come across her name before because she won the 2014 Costa Short Story Award. Take a look here. I had briefly flirted with the idea of entering myself and am glad I didn't because I wouldn't have stood a chance! Zoe read us a short story and a flash fiction piece.

Next was Tasha Kavanagh, who has had ten children's books published under the name of Tasha Pym, and has now published her first novel for adults, Things We Have in Common. Critics have described this novel as a worthy member of the Gone Girl genre. A member of North London Writers, Tasha first talked a little about her writing process as she knew there would be writers in the audience who might find that interesting.

Needless to say her novel too has been added to my library.

Irenson Okojie
Our fourth reader was Irenson Okojie, who was recommended to us by Alex Wheatle. Irenosen's forthcoming book Butterfly Fish is published on 1st June. Her reading was vibrant and I felt very excited by this book. If like me, you want a bit of it now see this extract. In London the central character, Joy, is alone and lonely after her mother's death. She finds herself intrigued by an object that her mother left her - a warrior’s head cast in brass that once belonged to a king in eighteenth century Benin, Nigeria. The story weaves contemporary London with Benin over 200 years ago. Roll on next week!

After a break for refreshments and a chance to chat to the authors - Evie Miller, another member of North London Writers, was the next reader. She is currently completing an MA at City University on novel writing. She has had two novels published, aimed at the YA market, and has now written a novel for adults, The Puppet Master's Lover, from which she read an extract.

She was followed by Lily Dunn, chair of the North London Writers. Lily works with the Womentoring project which mentors women writers, who are unable to self-finance such mentoring, without charge. Lily has had her first novel published, Shadowing the Sun, a novel of complicated family relationships and their long lasting effects. Another book to be eagerly read before going on my bookshelf! You might like to read this review.

Our final reader brought a change of style as Dennis Evans, a Finchley poet, read several poems from his most recent collection, First The Silence, which was published last year. But our evening wasn't quite over. Here is a link with some of Dennis' poems.

One of the Greenacre Writers, Kate, had brought a friend along and somehow we discovered that he was a virtuoso violinist. Would he play us out? He would, and Kate dashed home to fetch her son's violin in time for Peter Jesudason to give us his impromptu performance. One of the audience filmed on her phone. The picture quality isn't great but you can hear it here.

What a fantastic finale to the fourth Finchley Literary Festival; seven brilliant authors and a superb musician to close five days of wonderful events. FLF just gets better and better!

Monday, 25 May 2015

Day Four of Finchley Lit Fest

First off, were two workshops held in parallel. My workshop 'Voice Skills for Writers' was at North Finchley Library while Katie Alford's 'Populating Fantasy' was at Church End Library.

I limited numbers to eight as it is a practical workshop, and was pleased to have full house. Some of the participants already had very good reading styles, but my workshop also included how to look after your voice. Anybody who relies on their voice in their work is a professional voice user (not only singers and actors) and like all tools, the voice needs to be well maintained. Practical exercises were included for keeping a relaxed vocal tract and good breath support.
  Murni, our official photographer, popped in to take a few pictures. I forbade her take ones of me demonstrating tongue exercises! Everybody joined in and judging from the feedback it was a positive experience. The feedback gave me ideas for future workshops - perhaps based on a masterclass model.

Alex Wheatle
I then made my way through the drizzle to Waterstones, which was absolutely packed. Rosie and our YA authors had pulled the crowds, and I was sorry not to have been there from the beginning.

Alex Wheatle had read from Liccle Bit, Savita Kalhan from her latest, The Long Weekend and Ellie Daines read from Shine Izzy Shine.

The youngsters were asking plenty of questions and the whole place had a great buzz. There was a competition about favourite characters with lots of giveaways. It was good to see so many young readers who seemed to be enjoying the chance to meet the authors. I know I would have loved that when I was young. Still do!

Ellie Daines
Savita Kalhan
Alex is a veteran of FLF but Savita and Ellie, both living near Finchley (almost in Finchley) were new to FLF.

After lots of book signing the authors, Rosie and I popped over to Café Buzz for a spot of lunch and were joined by Katie fresh from her workshop. This was the first workshop she had run and she was pleased that it had gone well. It was good to have a bit of time to get to know new faces who I hope will become regular FLF participants. For more details of this event see Rosie's account.

Josie Pearse and Penny Black were already plotting murder in the library. No arrests were made during or after their creative writing workshop as the only weapons allowed were pen, paper and rich imaginations.

It was another event I should have liked to attend but I needed a bit of downtime before heading back to Café Buzz for Anna Meryt's Music and Poetry Palooza. Again we had a packed venue. There was an equipment failure so unfortunately Mike Gee wasn't able to play keyboards, but the other poets and musicians took to the mic (which did work.)

Anna set the tone for the evening and brought poetry alive with her fast paced but excellent delivery.  She was followed by a poet musician Michael Clift and a new local poet Jonathan Young. Another local, Ursula Troche, also read later in the programme.

Shanta Acharya  read a number of poems, but the one that stayed with me was the one about dating agencies as it resonated with the main character in my WIP. The quest for the perfect man is apparently universally impossible. Well I knew that!

Mimi Romilly rocking Café Buzz
Mimi Romilly then entertained us with musical versions of poems written by her grandmother in WW1. Not found until after her death, Mimi has published many of the 800 poems, a number of which were protesting about the war. Mimi's powerful musical adaptions had Café Buzz rocking.

It certainly caused a few passers-by to wonder what was going on in North Finchley.

The penultimate day of FLF drew to a close after its busiest day. Two more events were to come.

Day Three of Finchley Lit Fest

Duncan Barrett
Friday's first event was Duncan Barrett at Waterstones in N12 who came to talk about his latest book The Girls Who Went to War. Unfortunately his co-author Nuala Calvi wasn't able to join him as intended. Duncan gave a great talk with a presentation with lots of pictures. You can see lots of interesting information here.  Although the book focuses on the stories of three women, one in each of the military forces, Duncan and Nuala interviewed over a hundred women and had some incredible stories to tell. I could have listened to him for at least another hour!

I bought a book as intended - I was going to give it to my mother who had her 94th birthday two days before. She is of the generation who went to war although she did not serve, being in a reserved occupation (much to her annoyance!) However I knew I wouldn't want to wait to borrow the book back from her so bought my own copy as well.

In the afternoon, local guide Paul Baker led a Finchley walk with lots of literary connections. I would have loved to go but more organising of other events had to be undertaken so my next event was Mike Gee's literary slideshow.

Finchley is a London suburb, but Mike has charted and photographed every bit of Finchley's greenery - from woods, parks, cemeteries, to woodland paths and waterways. He even found two boats. You name it he's photographed it - and there is a lot of it. His show charted many of Finchley's green spaces along with related readings. He press-ganged drafted readers - Rosie Canning, Mark Kitchenham, Chris Hurwitz-Bremner and myself to read memories of Finchley, poems about nature and poems by Finchley's literati. Mike knew Spike Milligan's son so of course we recited some Milligan - Rosie and I duetted On the Ning Nang Nong!

While we were busy with readings, Andi Michael was leading a Writing for Wellbeing workshop, after which we received a message from a very happy participant saying how much she had enjoyed it.

Rosie's account is here

Day two of Finchley Literary Festival

What a packed few say I'm tired would be an understatement but I'm also exhilarated from a feast of literary stimulation.

I didn't get to Allen Ashley's poetry workshop on day two, but by all accounts it was an interesting and enjoyable workshop.

Antonia Honeywell
Antonia Honeywell's talk on Thursday was full of insight about the writing process as well as telling us about the inspiration for her book, The Ship, along with an extract. If I hadn't already wanted to read it, I would have been persuaded by what I heard.

Antonia is one of those generous writers who was happy to give advice about writing and the perils of trying to get published and she answered more questions as she signed books. If you get the chance to attend any of Antonia's events - do go. You won't regret it.

Jen Campbell
Thursday evening was the turn of Jen Campbell, who gave us a witty and entertaining talk about her books. She explained how her blog about the daft things people said in the bookshops she worked at was the starting point for a book deal. Weird Things People Say in Bookshops was followed by another. Then she began research for her wonderful The Bookshop Book. Stories of eccentricity and inspiration fill its pages and I stayed up far too late dipping in and out of her books. Another author not to be missed!

The panel debate:
Alasdair, Polly, Keith, Laura, Barbara and Adam.
Jen's talk was followed by The Library Debate organised by Keith Martin, in Friern Barnet Community Library that was famously rescued from closure by the community and is now run by the community. It houses thousands of great books, a few of which you can see here behind the panel, all donated by local people.

The panel was formed of people who are enthusiastic and committed to upholding libraries as public resources and necessities. I'm pretty sure the audience was too so the panel members didn't need to justify their views but some positive plans for actions were hatched to keep our libraries where they belong. Taking part were Alasdair Hill, Polly Napper, Keith Martin, Laura Swaffield and Adam Tipple - who used to co-ordinate the reading group I belonged to in North Finchley library. Thank goodness for people who take action.

See also Rosie's account.


Thursday, 21 May 2015

And it's blast off...

Finchley Literary Festival 2015 is underway.

Owing to work I was sorry to miss FLF2015's first event; Theresa Musgrove's talk on her research of Mary Ann Cotton, a Victorian serial killer, which by all accounts was fascinating. I will have to wait for her book. Hurry up, Theresa.

During the afternoon I transformed from a respectable speech and language therapist, who had spent the morning bringing succour to the afflicted, into one of the afflicted.

Mike Carey's book The Girl With All the Gifts features zombies in Finchley and unfortunately I was affected by the fungal spores that turn nice speech therapists into this....
although of course this might just be the effect of working for the NHS for so long.

Mike Carey
I wasn't the only zombie as a couple of others were lurking in Friern Barnet Community Library as we welcomed Mike Carey to FLF.

Mike read the first chapter of the novel and then a few of us read a tiny excerpt from his film script of the same, under the name of She Who Brings Gifts, which is currently being shot on location with Glenn Close, Paddy Considine, Gemma Arterton and newcomer Sennia Nanua in the lead role. (I'm not sure we were quite up to their standard but we tried...)

J. P O'Malley then interviewed Mike about the book and the forthcoming film with the ensuing conversation giving us a great deal of insight into Mike's work and science fiction in general.

There was time for questions from the audience and lots of interesting conversation sparked as Mike signed books.

'Wow, this is the first book event I've ever been to. It was great,' enthused one member of the audience. We hope we have converted him.

See also Diary of A Festival Organiser Day 1

Friday, 8 May 2015

Seventy years ago today...

Tuesday 8th May 1945.

VE Celebrations at Avenue House, Finchley.
 Picture from Barnet At War by Percy Reboul and John Heathfield.
"I wonder whether any two of the millions of people in London will think the same thoughts today about the date when the change in their lives from War to Peace commenced." Herbert Brush, Our Hidden Lives

"The great day - so long awaited - arrived at last and, very soberly and with a great inward pride in the men and women of our nation particularly, we rejoiced at our deliverance." Clara Milburn, Mrs Milburn's Diaries

"It was very sultry then and the sky was dark. I had only just got back when the rain began to fall, and then there was a terrific thunderstorm...the weather report, which we haven't heard on the wireless for over five and a half years, was given out again today. It may be much the same weather tomorrow."  Clara Millburn.

"There was the stillness of a Sunday when we awoke, and this continued all morning. I spent the morning doing some useful work in the garden, and then, as it started to rain, stayed in during the afternoon....After tea we went for a short walk and found quite a few flags displayed by the houses, although there was nothing elaborate....We still cannot realise that the war in Europe is indeed at an end. It is true that I have removed some more of the blackout today, as  I promised myself on Peace Day, but somehow I still have a sneaking feeling that it may be wanted again any time." George Taylor, Our Hidden Lives.

"...when we came to bed fireworks began banging off - as if there hadn't been enough bangs in this War. Useless things like salvoes of guns." Clara Milburn.

"In January 1941 we purchased some tinned chicken, and as we have never been called upon to use it, we promised ourselves a treat on Peace Day, and we did open it today. As with many things, it proved somewhat of a disappointment, for although it is genuine is spoilt by aspic jelly. Another long cherished tin, of sausages purchased in November 1941, proved much more acceptable for lunch." George Taylor.

"I was working on Father's farm - he had managed to get me released from my job in a reserved occupation - so where we were there wasn't much going on at all! But there were church bells ringing everywhere." Kathleen Bamfield - my mother.

"This morning's weather seemed symbolic. It was as if in the thunder one heard Nature's roll of drums for the fallen, then one loud salvo of salute over our heads and the tears of the rain pouring for the sorrow and suffering of the War. And then the sun came out and shed its brightness and warmth on the earth." Clara Milburn.

For more information on my sources see:
Mrs Milburn's Diaries  
Our Hidden Lives
Barnet at War