I had some short stories, poems and photographs to share ... and so here I am

Meeting The Authors

Book festivals are funny old things, aren't they? I'm not sure how I feel about the first International Festival Of The Novel, held over the past five days here in Lyon. It was an interesting but rather sober affair, with the authors not really given much of a chance to talk about their books.

Luckily, however, a big part of why we go is to see our favourite authors in person. I don't think I've ever met a famous novelist who was more down to earth than A.S Byatt (above). She was jolly and generous, more than willing to chat with members of the public (myself included) after the formal part of the session was over. She happily posed for this photo as well ... considering it had been my third attempt at getting a shot that wasn't out of focus.

But I go to these things for more than just a signature in a book. The problem with this festival, which had "reality and the novel" as its main theme, was that it was too reliant on prepared speeches. There were numerous round-tables, which included four invited authors and two hosts (literary critics), with debate on an aspect of the main theme. Each author read out a prepared piece of text on the subject; these were dense, thesis-type speeches that often went on far too long. The odd question was then posed by the hosts, some invited literature students and members of the audience, but there was only two hours for the whole thing so nothing was ever adequately examined or properly answered by all of the authors. Apart from the odd reference here and there, the authors didn't really discuss their own work in any great detail.

One of the authors who did light things up though was André Brink (above), the South African novelist. He spoke about the experience of writing his books, which include the fabulous novels A Dry White Season and The Other Side of Silence, during the apartheid era. He answered many questions in perfect French, which surprised me, until I learned that he'd spent some time in France many years ago. Byatt also spoke in superb French, which went down well with the largely French audience.

The other interesting author for me was Russell Banks (above), whose work I don't know very well. He did a public reading early on in the festival from his novel The Darling, which is set mostly in Liberia, and then answered questions on how he went about writing it. I liked it when he said that the author's job is not to speak in a novel but to listen.

I did a bit of book buying while I was there, so obviously some chord was struck. I was pleased to get signatures inside Banks' Cloudsplitter, Brinks' Praying Mantis and The Virgin In The Garden and Still Life by Byatt. It was also great to see John Banville, who won the Booker prize in 2005 with The Sea. He was much shorter than I expected and also came across as a lot friendlier and more humble than how he's painted in the press.

Another positive side to the festival was the chance to discover authors from many different countries. Wei-Wei (above), for example, is a Chinese writer who writes novels in French. She is popular in France, having published three novels. She lives in England but has not yet broken into the English market. I did half-jokingly offer to have a crack at translating one of her novels into English. We'll see.

It was great to have an international book festival take place so close to home; I just wish there had been more informal discussion and less lecturing from prepared notes. I also think it's impossible in two hours to expect four authors and two hosts, who also often had a lot to say, to share the same stage. Next time I think I'd prefer to spend an evening with one author and one interviewer.


L.M.Noonan said...

The inaugural anything always has a problem or two to iron out. I've never attended anything like a writers festival, although I may try and get to Brisbane's-sept 12-16. They haven't posted who the literary stars will be, the onlt name I've seen is Lionel Shriver.
I glad Ms Byatt turned out to be a human being...so often people who write well, paint well, compose etcetera are so...well, BORING.
Then someone is so unexpectantly intersting when interviewed, that I rush to hunt down examples of their work. The interior seldom matches the exterior.
PS congrats on how the pride numbers are swelling. But, I can't help wondering what's next?

Michelle | Bleeding Espresso said...

Sounds like a lot of fun. I was just at a conference about a completely different topic, but I found that essentially, they would've been better off scheduling (far) fewer speakers and letting them just talk about the issues at hand rather than having to present their written speech and then leave. Perhaps that's a common theme in organized speaking events then.

Unknown said...

Oh Seamus, it sounds like it was an international festival with a very French set up. Every discussion programmed in France is set up that way, a set piece followed by a discussion with far too many people so that they can waffle on and never get to the point. Still I'm sure that as LM says things will get ironed out. And it was still a fabulous line up after all. Andre Brink must have been really interesting. I read A dry white season after you reviewed it and it was hardcore. Every morning I'd arrive at work wondering how such a system could have existed and all we did was boycott their wine and grapes. Well... that's what it felt like.

Unknown said...

PS Glad you're doing normal posts again. ( :

Unknown said...

The Port Eliot Lit fest in Cornwall (end of July) has taken a while to get going. This year Moshin Hamid, Celia Lyttleton and Hanif Kureshi are amongst those I would like to see and hear.
It is a very relaxed affair, with many speakers/guests sitting under trees and the weekend camping allows for discussions with authors around the fire!
My only grump is the price - £290.00 for a family for the weekend. I will be limiting myself to a Saturday alone!

Give this a couple of years, Shameless, and it will find its feet. Although given the recent reviews of the Hay Fest, a change of direction is not always a good thing!

S. Kearney said...

Yes, we'll see how it evolves ... I shouldn't be complaining though because it's such a treat to have something like this organised here. Re the lions :) the fun is just beginning ... don't forget there'll be the contest for the best five lions and poems/prose once they've all found homes. I hope we get up to 48! :)

Yes, it sseems to be a sleep-walking kind of thing ... long speeches then little time for analysis ... the friend I went with fell asleep in virtualy every session!! :)

Yep, the French spin on it. It would be great to see a different set up though ... are they capable of taking on new ideas? I may just try to get involved next time. I'm so glad you read A Dry White Season ... what a remarkable story. My friend/visitor is reading that as we speak ... she read the first page and couldn't put it down. Also, I'm very glad to be back to normal posts ... I was having withdrawal symptoms! :)

and Minx, what a treat but what a price! Bloody hell. Is that something to do with reaching out to the community, to make things more accesible? The individual sessions here were €4 each. (£2.70 and $US 5.40). Very accessible.

Debi said...

Why aren't we all being invited to these events as authors instead of going as punters???

Maybe we need to hold our own festival - ha! You can just imagine what a debauched affair it would be ... no photos please ...

S. Kearney said...

Debi, it's funny because that's just what I was thinking as I sat there and listened to all the speeches. The International Festival of Books and Writing Blogs. :) Now there's an idea ...

Unknown said...

I'll come.

S. Kearney said...

Of course, Minx, but no big boring lectures about the anals of novels!

Suzan Abrams, email: suzanabrams@live.co.uk said...

Hi Seamus,
I'm confused. Is this the festival you were talking about some months earlier that has already happened?
Anyway, Byatt looks cool! One of her more flattering pics. :-)

S. Kearney said...

Hi Susan, Yes, this is the one I raved about back in February, when I was saying it was coming. Well, it was on just this past week ... but now finished. Byatt was very very friendly .. I was blown away by how approachable she was. :)

Suzan Abrams, email: suzanabrams@live.co.uk said...

Hi again Seamus,
I'm sorry I haven't yet been able to write about Mr. Mellow Yellow, my adopted lion because I've been under the weather but I will tomorrow or the latest, the day after.

btw, Byatt's a brilliant novelist, isn't she. I love her work and also that of her sister, Margaret Drabble.

apprentice said...

The photos really add to this piece.

It sounds a great event. Marketing is now such a huge part of a writer's life. At the Edinburgh Book Festival I think there's going to be a workshop with an actress coaching a first time writer on how to deliver a good reading.

S. Kearney said...

Hi Susan, Great, is that the chosen name for your lion? Can I put that up on the circle blog?

Welcome Apprentice ... yes I was keen to get photos of some of the writers, knowing that that would bring any article on this to life. I think training in doing readings would be valuable for lots of well-known authors ... it really makes a big difference how they deliver their extract.

Anonymous said...

Very cool stuff, Mr Shameless. Your head must have been swimming, your heart leaping, to be among such a group. To be exposed (in a positive way) to writers you know and love and to new writers as well. To wish for more time with certain folks, or all of them, is a very good sing.

If only they knew that one day, they will be on the best seller lists with you!

S. Kearney said...

Yes, it was a good experience, especially as I complained a while ago that I was cut off from things literary here. My funny moment at the conference was being bundled off with AS Byatt and her husband by a journalist friend of theirs who thought I was the author James Meek (The People's Act of Love) ... he assumed that I had every right to join them all for a drink. I owned up that I wasn't Meek, of course. :)

Suzan Abrams, email: suzanabrams@live.co.uk said...

Yes, Seamus...my lion's chosen name is Mr. Mellow Yellow... I think he is lion no. 28. I'll put him up tomorrow.

Seamus...Mr. Mellow Yellow, I'll have you know is a true gentlelion...he prefers engaging in an afternoon of a pianist swinging up his favourite repetoire and sipping Christmas tea, instead of say...eating someone up for supper. What do you say to that? tee-hee! :-)

Suzan Abrams, email: suzanabrams@live.co.uk said...

Seamus...I also wanted to ask you how is A.S. Byatt's husband like? What kind of a man is it who makes loves to such a brilliant woman? Didn't you wonder about this the whole time? tee-hee! :-)

S. Kearney said...

Susan, Mr Mellow Yellow, great! :) I will update your listing. And yes, Mr Byatt was also very jolly and friendly, and took a keen interest in all of the writers and talks. A happy couple, it seemed to me. :)

Lee said...

I don't get these festivals. Can you give me three convincing reasons to go them? How about one?

S. Kearney said...

Now, that's a hard one Lee ... as I say, writing fetivals are funny old things, aren't they?

But here are three ...

1) A chance to get a signature in a first edition book which will then sell for huge amounts later on Ebay.

2) Get a photo which can then be put on my blog, not having to worry about copyright. Two publictions have already asked for copies for their sites (the press offices apparently always send out old, glamour shots that everyone has).

3) It's a good chance to ask that one question you always wanted to ask ... so why did you choose the name Cupido Cockroach?

It's also quite nice meeting up with other writers, for peer support and possible supportive friendships.

Gosh that's four reasons, Lee ... but are they convincing? I do miss a good interview with a writer though, a nice one to one where the questions reveal something new about the writer or her/his craft.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

Hello Shameless,

I love this photo of A.S. Byatt, her smile is charming and her eyes are bottomless and beautiful. I looked closely to see if peering intently could reveal anything in the brilliant mind hidden away behind them, but to no avail.
It must have been wonderful to meet her. I'm glad you did!

Had a laugh at 'I did a bit of book buying while I was there, so obviously some chord was struck.'
as I don't recall ever having gone to a book store... sale... fair... or any other place or event that abounds with novels, without walking out with at least 2 or 3.
Two of my favorite finds are a lovely red leather bound (complete with gold leaf pages) edition of the best works of Alexandre Dumas, and a coveted edition of 'Works of Rudyard Kipling' (this one has ragged edged pages which I love), that was printed 100 years ago, this year.

I very much like your blog, I will be back for visits often.

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I have never been to a literary festival although I am very tempted to go. I'm quite afraid of meeting authors. Years ago I got to meet the author of my dreams, Julian Barnes and I was so starstruck I couldn't think of anything to say to the man. The experience was so humiliating, I've never dared repeat it again!

S. Kearney said...

Hi Wanderlust,
Yes, there is something interesting in the photo of Byatt ... I've seen other less flattering shots of her, but this one captures something magical. I also love the pic of Wei Wei. I also buy so many books that get added to my long list of "must read".

Hi Litlove,
Lit festivals can be strange creatures ... they can leave us disappointed or enlightened. When our favourite writers turn out to be snotty bores, you wonder whether it's worth bursting the bubble that surrounds their books. On the other hand, I've discovered great books by first meeting and liking the author! :)

Peter Rozovsky said...

Beside the point, perhaps, but I quite liked the photographs that accompany your post. They deserve the name of portraits.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

S. Kearney said...

Hi. Yes, I rather like the shots, which are always to get right at these kinds of events where everything is rushed.