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Reflections on Festivals

October 14th, 2009 No comments

We are coming to the end of another bumper season of literary festivals.  From Hay to Edinburgh to Saffron Walden, it sometimes seems that every town and city in the land is getting out the French regional white wine to welcome writers.

At Cheltenham recently, where I was giving a session on travel writing, they told me that overall this year they had sold more than 100, 000 tickets before the festival had even begun – a staggering amount, and far more than they have in the past.

When VS Naipaul gave a talk there a few years ago, just after winning the Nobel Prize, he suggested that the growing success of such events is not accidental;  it is because the appetite for such highbrow literary debate is no longer being fed by the BBC.   And the Beeb could do well to pay more attention to the phenomenon.  There is talk of cutting Newsnight Review on BBC2, the last remnant of The Late Show enterprise that once lit up the channel.  Given that it only runs once a week, and after 11.00 at that, this hardly seems a sacrifice that is necessary to make.  And nor is the egregious Culture Show any substitute  – a much more lightweight magazine format, without the same sort of sustained debate that could make Newsnight Review – or indeed a literary festival – such fun.

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Edinburgh Festival and News for Summer 2009

August 8th, 2009 No comments

…and a summer of Festivals continues.   Highlights of Edinburgh so far?  The opening of a new show by John Bellany at the Open Eye gallery;  the opening of a new gallery, the Glasshouse; and the scabrous and very funny stand-up show by Greg Behreindt, the script-writer of Sex in the City and He’s Just Not that into You.  Which is odd as not normally that ‘into’ Cosmo movies.  Best of all it’s been sunny. 

But the show that is a model of how to explore ‘the idea of a country’  is The Discovery of Spain at the National;   the curatorial work that’s gone into the exhibition and catalogue is impressive – and there’s a sense of how Spain went from the melancholy decaying empire of the 18th century to a place of duende and the unfettered imagination that the poets of the 1930s would go out to fight for.

Meanwhile I recently gave a reading at the Latitude Festival myself which was a lot of fun as could see Tricky do the ultimate crowd-surf (he was carried so far off from the stage-tent that he emerged in a field somewhere and the concert was over); Tequila Oil has been reviewed by the Independent, Guardian and Financial Times – and by Top Gear Magazine who said I was a good writer but clearly a lousy driver.

Also returned to Peru and the Inca site of Llactapata for a National Geographic and PBS Nova production:  we filmed there at dawn on June solstice as the sun shone down the narrow passageway designed to mark that day.  Then I had to do a piece to camera on what it all meant.

50 Wonders of the World has just been published  by Quercus for £25.  Which is a bargain, as it’s a handsome and very large book, which with a little carpentry could actually be used as a coffee table, not just on it.

Vann Fest

July 25th, 2009 No comments

Following a reading at the wonderful and very large Latitude festival last weekend, now reading at the select and delightful invitation-only Vann fest (so-called not because it has anything to do with camper vans – as often assumed – but because held at place called Vann).  Which is where set up and began this blog, as plenty of helpful members of the travelling tech community to guide me into areas of cyberspace I have not previously wandered.