Monday 27 June 2016

Finchley Literary Festival 2016. My perspective.

This year's authors are a wonderful bunch: Local writer Amy Bird, Harry Parker, Allen Ashley, another Finchleyite,  Irenosen Okojie, who we are thrilled to welcome back to Finchley, Yvvette Edwards, Catriona Ward, Joanna Campbell, who is judging FLF & Greenacre Writers short story competition; Antonia Honeywell, back for a second visit, our own Rosie Canning, Sunny SinghVaseem Khan and Katharine Norbury. Wow!

I copied that paragraph from my last blog post. And I was right, they are a wonderful bunch!

Each of FLF's event was unique, as authors approached their talks in slightly different ways. I can't pick a favourite because they were all so enjoyable and also because they were so different it's  impossible to compare.

After greeting participants at Anna Meryt's writing workshop on Friday morning, I bought a few festival supplies and met the other organisers at Church End library for our first author event.

Harry Parker
Harry Parker, in interview with Carol Sampson told us how his book Anatomy of a Soldier, came about, drawing on his own experiences of war. Like Captain Tom Barnes in the novel, he was one of the ones who nearly didn't make it. Harry, whose wife and baby daughter came along too, chatted to his audience as if we were all sitting around in someone's living room, rather than in a busy library. He read a brief extract and seemed almost surprised when we all wanted more, and he had to think which bits to read. The last reading was the first chapter - I could have happily had him read the whole book.

Our next talk with author A.L.Bird, was also at the library. Amy took a slightly more formal approach and after an initial reading from The Good Mother told us about her inspiration and a bit about the journey of the book. Several writers were in the audience and we always find this interesting as well as wanting to hear about the book itself. Amy's readings brilliantly evoked the tension in the story which, along with her answers to the questions posed by Carol and the audience, sold it to us!

Later that evening Allen Ashley had a lively audience for the launch of his novel The Planet Suite, and I'm sorry I wasn't able to stay beyond his initial reading as we were setting up the room next door for the main event of FLF. One of our helpers was so intrigued by Allen's work he stayed glued to his seat (earning a very well deserved rest).

Irenosen, Yvvette and Catriona
The following morning we welcomed Yvvette Edwards, Iresonsen Okojie and Catriona Ward to our first event. I knew Yvette and Irenosen had met before but they had not met Catriona. They all left as firm friends and swapped books. Each gave an introduction about her book and a reading.
   We were treated to an array of subjects and styles but there were common threads and these formed the basis of the lively panel discussion with thoughtful questions posed by Carol. The passion of these authors is what makes their talent shine.
   I am currently reading Irenson Okojie's Butterfly Fish (I'd intended finishing it before the festival but I once again I underestimated just how much work goes into the pre-festival week) but now I'm glad I hadn't because her views have given me deeper insights to her story. Yvvette and Catriona's books are a treat yet to come waiting on my To Be Read shelf!

Parallel to this Josie Pearse was busy as Dragon Mistress to a busy Dragons' Pen where writers pitched their writing for instant feedback from Gilly Stern, Antonia Honeywell and Cari Rosen. Having met the dragons before (Gilly and Cari when I entered the same dragons' den two years ago) and Antonia when she discussed her novel The Ship at FLF last year, I knew they wouldn't be too badly scorched. The winner was Matt Bourn who greatly impressed them among strong competition.

Joanna Campbell
The next event was one I had been anticipating for ages on two counts. Firstly I would get to meet Joanna Campbell whose writing I had first read when she entered Greenacre Writers short story competitions. I had followed her writing journey courtesy of Twitter and her blog and was delighted when she had her novel, Tying Down The Lion, published. It was every bit as good as I'd anticipated and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Joanna was an obvious choice to judge the festival's short story competition and here she was to announce the long awaited results.
  Joanna also read and talked about her own work including a story from her new book When Planets Slip Their Tracks. And yes, Joanna was just as I'd imagined, warm, friendly and generous.

Antonia and Rosie
Orphans In Fiction was presented by Antonia Honeywell and FLF's own Rosie Canning. Talking about the representation of orphans in fiction and reflecting on reasons why there are so many fictional orphans, was a topic that could have filled the entire day. Readings from a number of books illustrated their talk in addition to Antonia reading an extract from her new work in progress and Rosie from her autobiographical novel which is part of her
PhD in creative writing. Both sound brilliant.

After a short break I interviewed Sunny Singh about her latest novel Hotel Arcadia. Like all good interviewers I'd read the book and done my research, and re-reading bits gave me more time to think about its complexities. I'd listened to an interview with Sunny on YouTube that she did for Metropolitan University where the questions posed were entrenched in academia, making the questions I'd decided on look rather simplistic but Sunny reassured me they were fine! We were. after all, a lit fest, not a university course. Like other authors she spoke about her influences and a little about the process and gave readings from her unusual and challenging novel.

Baby Ganesh and Vaseem
An amazing elephant (created by 13year old Zaki,) accompanied our final guest of the day, Vaseem Khan, who chatted about his experience of first visiting India and how living in the modern India, so different to that of his parents' and grandparents' generation, gave rise to his Baby Ganesh Detective Agency series, the first of which is The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra. We actually had to persuade Vasseem to read a bit for us! And we loved it.
   I've enjoyed many examples Indian literature since my travels there very many moons ago (just before the period of emergency declared by Indira Ghandi, that Sunny recalled in her interview) so this book is a welcome addition to my shelf.

It was the end of a busy day but more was to come. At ten fifteen next morning I was at Waterstones to help set up for Katharine Norbury who was interviewed by Mike Gee where they discussed her book The Fish Ladder. Part memoir and part nature travelogue Katharine read excerpts which had her audience intrigued and talked about the events that led her on her quest to follow a river from sea to source. Her journeys, many with her young daughter, led her to discover more than she bargained for.

Mike and Rosie then set off with a good number of walkers for the Finchley in Fiction walk, where lots of extracts from books and poems either mentioning Finchley or written by famous Finchleyites, such as Spike Milligan, were read along the way. I didn't accompany them as I needed some serious downtime because work would call tomorrow, but I kept an eye on Rosie's Twitter feed for the pictures I was sure would pop up.

The final event of the festival, held at Cafe Buzz, was the Music and Poetry Palooza organised by Anna Meryt who had opened the festival. Anna teamed up with poets and musicians and the festival was put to bed on a jolly note. (Literally.) All I had to do was shake the bucket for donations and eat red velvet cake and drink a Cafe Buzz cappuccino.

We achieved something great. We always receive such enthusiastic feedback and encouraging support from our invited authors and the audience, and this year was no exception, but I'm sad that more people didn't come along to enjoy and be enriched by the wonderful authors that the Finchley Literary Festival was proud to host.

Thank you all who took part in whatever capacity, and our generous sponsors.