Monday, 3 June 2013

Greenacre Writers Literary Festival - Six Men And A Piano

Saturday May 18th began with a mad dash to the festival hall not the one on the South Bank but the one at Trinity Church Centre, Finchley. All was well until Joe, the caretaker, suddenly announced the baby grand piano would have to be moved between 1-2pm.

What? Lindsay and I both gasped.

Well, it will take six strong men to move it and that's when they're arriving.

But, I squeaked, Our festival starts at 1.30pm.

Joe shrugged, said he'd try and get them there earlier and walked off.

I made a pleading phone call to one of our muscley, male writers, Mark, who said he was happy to help.

We then walked the streets to find a few more fit men, alas, they were all over 85 with bad backs. Lindsay grunted a bit but on the whole stayed surprising calm.

People were beginning to arrive for Josie Pearse's excellent workshop 'Life Writing and the Writing Life', so we showed them into the room that would double as our Green Room and Book Room. Once they were safely settled, we began organising the chairs in the main festival hall (leaving a huge gap for the piano), as well as flowers, tables, and posters on the walls. 
Our Mic man arrived and not only did he safely set up an excellent microphone and speaker, he also rearranged the curtains so we had less light in the wrong places and also organised the removal of the piano. And what fun that was, six men and a piano, it's certainly was the stuff of fiction. Legs and bottoms were removed and the poor baby grand was tipped on its side whilst being manoevred outside into the lobby where it was tipped back and rolled into the main church hall. Phew! 

CJ Flood
By this time the workshop had finished, Robert and Elisabeth Newton had arrived to help, Greenacre Writers, Liz and Linda were sorting authors' books, and our guest speakers CJ Flood, Leigh Russell, Gina Blaxill, Alex Wheatle, and Sarah Harrison had arrived. Luckily, Lindsay and I had changed from rags into our ball gowns - unlike last year when some of our guests were greeted by a one-sock-tucked-into-trouser-legged me. As a cyclist, I often forget to untuck said sock.
This year we decided to have a theme for the festival, Truth and Fiction. Our guest speakers linked their own writing to the theme, talking about how they had been inspired by real life characters, events and incidents, such as a body in the park (not truth).

CJ talked very honestly about her real life family and how they had inspired some of the characters in her young adult fiction Infinite Sky. It was fascinating hearing how she had made certain decisions, setting the landscape in a real-life farm and using parental moral boundaries for one of her characters.
Leigh Russell

Leigh Russell, frightened us out of our wits with her superbly acted, 'something really did happen to me, something I haven't talked about before', and how a real walk and a real creepy man in a park, had inspired her first crime thriller Cut Short.

We then had readings from some of our Greenacre Writers. Lindsay, made the audience laugh with her reading and acting from the work-in-progress, a comedy novel, Do Not Exced Fifty, and Linda Louisa Dell read from her recent novel, Earthscape: A Long Way from Home. 

During the introduction I had introduced the theme of the festival by 
Linda Louisa Dell
explaining that whenever I started any new research I always began with individual words, in this case Truth and Fiction - Truth being, the state or quality of being true or factual; and fiction: literature, e.g. novels or short stories, describing imaginary people and events. Albert Camus said, 'Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth'. Stephen King said, 'Fiction is the truth inside the lie. James Frey on the other hand, wrote lies and called it Truth. Frey said he never considered whether A Million Little Pieces was fiction or nonfiction- and anyway, before the memoir craze of the nineties, it would have been published as a novel.

I had intended to talk about the Truth and Fiction in my novel but was worried about time. I had
started writing the fictional, Ways of Remembering, on the MA in Writing at Middlesex University. But only because I had been told I could not write autobiography. Go somewhere else if you want to do that, said the tutor. And because I have an unusual background, I stupidly thought I would be recognised in a fictional autobiography and unlike one other writer, who took absolutely no notice of the published tutor and continued writing her autobiographical short stories. I, as was mentioned at the festival, did as I was told for the first and only time in my life and began writing fiction. At first I was really annoyed but then the characters began to grow, I had images in my head and bits of dialogue. I began writing, notes at first and then drafts of the first chapter, then the second and so on. And what I discovered was the amazing freedom that writing lies, untruths, fiction, brings with it. That is not to say that bits of truth, bits of my life, did not make an appearance, they did. Real people that I had loved and lost suddenly appeared wanting a relationship with me, not one we had had in real life but an imagined one, with obstacles even in fiction that prevented our unreal lives going forward. 
Mark Kitchenham

One of the aims of Greenacre Writers is to support new writers, Mark Kitchenham, made his first appearance at this festival, closing the first session with one of his short stories.

Gina Blaxill
After the break and book signings, Gina Blaxill, a local writer who grew up in Finchley, and also making her first appearance at a festival, spoke about her writing. Not that she hasn't had lots of experience speaking about her YA novels, Pretty Twisted and Forget Me Never, at schools and so on. She gave an excellent and interesting performance, explaining how books she had read as a child like The Secret Seven, always had kids being detectives but if that was going to be believable in 2013, she would have to create a world and a young detective, that her young readers could believe in.

Sarah Harrison
Sarah Harrison, author of over 25 novels talked about the real-life research behind her novel Flowers of the Field which was published in 1980 but has just been re-issued.


Three more readings from Greenacre Writers followed. Liz Goes read from the third of her fictionalized memoirs The Not Quite English Teacher, Mumpuni Murniati read her short story rooted in her native Indonesia and
Wendy Shillam
Wendy Shillam completed the section with a reading from her most recent novel, just completed the day before, The Vining Plant.

Liz Goes

Members of the audience
Alex Wheatle MBE, and Dr Josie Pearse joined us for the afternoon to take part in the panel, Truth and Fiction, with Allen Ashley facilitating. Leigh Russell and Sarah Harrison also took part. 

Truth and fiction panel discussion.
They discussed such questions as how much truth should there be in fiction? What things must we stay true to as writers? What does fiction teach us about truth? And questions were taken from the audience. What all the writers seemed to agree, was that regardless of the fiction or truths of novel writing, the important thing was the emotional truth at the heart of their writing. 

We were also very pleased to announce that Alex Wheatle will be our judge for this year's short story competition. You can find out how to enter here: Greenacre Writers 2013 Short Story Competition

Emily Benet, a speaker last year
Andrew Bradford in the book room

Emily Benet and Andrew Bradford speakers from last year, were in the audience, as was Morgen Bailey who did an in-depth write-up of the afternoon. 

It really was a fantastic two days, only made possible by the generosity of our Greenacre Writers who worked hard behind the scenes, Robert and Elisabeth Newton (bouncer :) and bow-maker), Mark and Elaine Kitchenham who persuaded Waitrose to donate some delicious food, our lovely Chris who provided a delicious supper at the now famous Friern Barnet Library Open Mic and who somehow baked hundreds of cakes, Linda and Liz who managed the book tables, the kindness of our speakers without whom we would not have had a festival, Murni who made the most delicious spring rolls, our audience and finally Lindsay, who despite being unwell managed to co-host in her usual professional manner.

Next year we are hoping to launch the first Finchley Literary Festival, so if you're local to Finchley and the surrounding area, published, and would like to get involved, let us know. (David Nicholls?) But first, I have to Start That Novel all over again - the six week course that ran earlier this year will be running again in September, as will the first Greenacre Writers Retreat, oh and I have two Finish That Novel's, and a short story, goodness me, and something else - September 5th, the launch of The Library That Wouldn't Close: the story of Friern Barnet Library. Where? In the famous library of course! 7pm - see you there.

To read more about the festival see: Greenacre Writers
For a really detailed account, read Morgen Bailey

1 comment:

Lindsay said...

I'm sure I didn't grunt about the piano. Shriek perhaps but surely not grunt!