I usually go to litfests to sit in the audience, not on the stage, so my recent trip to North Cornwall Book Festival was a little nerve-racking – though as it turned out there was nothing to fear, and everything to enjoy. I was involved in two events: first off I talked about my books to bestselling novelist and tirelessly hospitable festival host Patrick Gale, and then I hosted his talk about his latest book, A Place Called Winter. I also taught my first ever creative writing workshop.
I’m left with a blur of impressions: a marqueeful of primary school children laughing themselves silly at Christopher William Hill; sitting round the table at the farmhouse where most of us authors were staying, eating the most delicious poached pears; the moon rising over St Endellion Church, where we gathered for evening music of surprising and non-ecclesiastical kinds; lounging round in sudden sunlight on Sunday lunchtime when my workshop was done (you can see a photo of me with Patrick Gale and Neel Mukherjee at this point in this blog post about NCBF by BD Hawkey.)
There was a super-speedy blogging team from Falmouth Uni headquartered in the farmhouse – they wrote lots of great posts about the various author events and I’ve linked to several of them below – their NCBF blog is a really good whistle-stop tour of the whole experience. There are also loads more brilliant pics (thank you Dan Hall) on the NCBF FB page.
North Cornwall Book Festival: authors and music galore
These are the events I went to:
- Dr Who expert Moray Laing on a roll-call of monsters old and new – the Weeping Angels are my scariest (just don’t blink…)
- Patricia Duncker in conversation with Neel Mukherjee, Booker-shortlisted author of The Lives of Others – serious intellectual firepower.
- Jenny Balfour-Paul on the journey of discovery that lead her ever deeper into the life of Victorian adventurer Thomas Machell, and their shared quest for indigo.
- M J Carter – historian turned novelist – in conversation with Neel Mukherjee about her subversive Victorian detective fiction, set at a time of disorientating change with parallels to today.
- Julia Copus reading spare, heartbreaking poems from The World’s Two Smallest Humans.
- John Lanchester, author of Capital, in conversation with Philip Marsden. At the end, I was left thinking that banking is bonkers and we’re all probably stuffed. I still don’t really know what fiscal means, but I have faith that if I read John’s book How to Speak Money, I will.
At my event, I learned that Patrick Gale and I are both childhood fans of Mary Stewart, and talked about genre (one of the themes of the weekend) – here’s a bit more about it. As for Patrick, well, he must be the world’s easiest interviewee.
The music at St Endellion Church was a revelation. I had to work seriously hard not to blub when Tom Hickox sang The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face (a song with associations and let’s face it, it’s a weep-inducer.)
Wild Willy Barrett’s French Connection was irresistibly foot-tapping and got me in the mood for a hoedown. Missed my old cowgirl hat…
My workshop: handling romance in fiction
At my workshop we talked about the archetype of the hero’s journey, with Cinderella as an example.
We also looked at three key scenes from stories about love, and discussed how love stories are always also about something else: whatever it is that is coming between the lovers and creating dramatic tension in the story (and is the reason for the story to exist). These are the novels we looked at:
- Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
- A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale
These are the books I recommended on storytelling, writing and becoming a writer:
- The Writer’s Journey – Christopher Vogler
- Negotiating with the Dead – Margaret Atwood
- On Writing – Stephen King
- On Becoming a Novelist, The Art of Fiction – John Gardner
- The Writer’s Voice – Al Alvarez
- Wild Mary – Patrick Marnham
And here are some of the characters and places we came up with for our meet cute exercise, just in case someone wants to give it a go (five minutes, take two characters and a place and write their meeting). It’s amazing what it’s possible to come up with in such a short space of time and reading what you’ve written out loud is always useful (turns out Patrick Gale does this a lot when he’s working on a new book).
- Lottery winner
- Someone who missed last train
- Single parent on benefits
- Soldier with PTSD
- Coffee barista
- Santa (someone dressed as)
- Make-up artist
- Depressed Hollywood star
- Antiques dealer
- American yoga teacher
- Bank robber
- Weather forecaster
- Fancy dress party
- Camping site in the rain
- Traffic jam
- The moor at dawn
- Edge of a cliff
- Therapist’s waiting room
- Manhattan rooftop
- Village pub
- Smoking shelter
- Ferry to a Greek island
- Billiard table (full-size)
All good things must come to an end (till next time), and come Monday morning I was spirited away from the magic of NCBF to the much more familiar (but suddenly novel) magic of home. It was lovely to get back and have a big group hug, but the festival has stayed with me and so it will remain through the winter as this treasure trove sees me through the dark, the fog and the gloom:
If you’re in Cornwall next October half-term – do go! It will set you up for the winter. Oh, and did I mention the pasties and the cakes? No? A terrible omission. NCBF is a feast of all kinds, as you’ll see when you get there.
Thanks to the festival team for exemplary organisation, Patrick Gale for inviting me and Neel Mukherjee for suggesting me.