Friday 6 June 2014

Finchley Literary Festival 2014: My perspective. Part 3

After a working morning with a particularly difficult clinic, I was ready for a rest but I was keen to join Ruth Cohen's The Reader Organisation session. Ruth trained with The Reader Organisation as a volunteer in Barnet and holds regular sessions, open to all, in East Finchley. Paul Higgins the Barnet co-ordinator had come along too. It was good to meet him as we had exchanged many emails as I would love to train and volunteer but I think it needs to wait until I retire! 

Ruth Cohen
Ruth's session showed me a different way of reading. I'm generally quite a fast reader and sometimes  just whizz  through books, but here we read a short story pausing to reflect and speculate on the characters and events. This is not intended to be a literary critique as we might undertake for a critiquing session in a writing group, but was more of an exchange of ideas and suggestions. Who, why, when? More akin to the close reading technique one learns on academic literary courses but this enabled us to express our ideas and values rather than gathering evidence for a meaty essay.

After the short story we read a poem and, like others who attended, I felt the session had been a refreshing and relaxing interlude in an otherwise very hectic week. I left ready to do the shopping for more floral tributes for the next set of festival speakers.

While I was enjoying this bit of time out, Maggie Butt was presenting her poetry workshop at East Finchley Library and then after a break, made her way to Friern Barnet Community Library for a talk about our famous local landmark, Alexandra Palace. The evening opened with a fascinating talk from Mick Crick about Private John Parr, the first soldier to be killed in WW1. He was a local lad from North Finchley and joined up when he was underage. There is still confusion about the exact details of his death and why he was not reported as killed for some months. Mick's research has answered a number of questions but many remain.

Maggie Butt's talk was about the German civilians who were interred as enemy aliens. Ally Pally housed some 3,000 men, many of whom had been born in England but held German passports. Her talk was highlighted by extracts of letters and poems written by the men and with illustrations of photos, and paintings by internee, George Kenner. While I had been aware that Ally Pally had been an interment camp, Maggie's talk brought to life the harsh reality of these men's lives and those of their families who had to make do as best they could without their husbands, often in the face of antipathy and prejudice from former neighbours.

I would have loved to have joined Paul Baker's 'Literary Finchley' walk on Friday morning but there was too much to organise. Armed with floral and chocolate tributes I made my way to Church End Library where Mike, Rosie and I prepared the dragons' den for the Dragon's Pen event. After some furniture removal and hoovering, the lair was ready. I was the first victim. I made a brief pitch to Gillian Stern, Cari Rosen and Mary Musker, and read aloud the first 400 words of my chick-lit for the mature woman ('meno-lit') novel. They asked a few questions including if my novel was based on my life. I admitted that some aspects resembled reality but certainly not all - and that the 'gorgeous hero' was completely a figment of my imagination. Shame.

Guarding the dragons.
After my 5 minutes was up, I became a dragon guard with Rosie, ushering each new candidate to the den and timing them very strictly. One of the fourteen pitchers will be chosen for some mentoring sessions and while each of us hopes to be the chosen one, we all agreed that if even we are not chosen, presenting our work in this way was a valuable experience in the art of promoting our writing!

Allen Ashley
The next event, after some brief downtime in which I actually did a bit of housework, was the Spoken Word  at Friern Barnet Community Library. Facilitated with expertise by Allen Ashley fresh from his Getting Started writing workshop a little earlier, we were treated to a mix of poems, prose, non-fiction and even a couple of songs by writers, many of whom were local. Allen read some of his own poems and I particularly enjoyed 'Mill Hill Boys'. Allen was a Finchley boy so could he ever truly be one of those cool punk musicians - the boys from Mill Hill? As it happens one of those Mill Hill boys was firmly behind getting Friern Barnet Library re-opened as a community library. The library is situated opposite the former Colney Hatch Hospital - a Victorian Lunatic Asylum - so for this event I wrote a monologue based on the life of a real woman who died there having been incarcerated for 39 years. Her story is fascinating as she was the only woman to have served on the front line during WW1- having disguised herself as man. I aimed to encapsulate her story in a five minute monologue. Local MP, Theresa Villiers, attended the event and wrote a piece about the Spoken Word on her blog, and I can't help feeling pleased that she mentioned my piece: Theresa Villiers.

Just two more events to go - including, of course, the Grand Finale.


Patsy said...

Sounds really interesting. I must get myself to a festival sometime.

Lindsay said...

Or you could start your own local lit fest, Patsy!