In Conversation With… Stephanie Butland, Caroline Roberts, Dave Randall and Colin Young. Not all at once. They constituted three, out of the nine, events I chose to attend last weekend, from 20 – 22 October, at Berwick Literary Festival 2017.
Two of the interviewers were Victoria Watson and Helen Wright – local women who were debuting in this role at the festival. And the third was the TV journalist Gerry Foley, who has done this more times than… I’ve had chips probably. Whatever their backgrounds or experience, they all put their guests at ease yet asked incisive questions and got the conversation flowing. They all had done their homework for sure. However, Helen said to me afterwards that, Michael Parkinson was a pro at it, but even he said it helped if the guests wanted to be there in the first place. The guests at the festival seemed to relish the opportunity… if you have a love for words, your story or your message… then hopefully you’re half way there. Although, I can imagine it may be a little daunting if you’re not gregarious… and then of course there’s the questions from the floor to face. Anyway, thank goodness, no worst-case scenarios were played out and here’s a taste of each event.
How to get Published – Northumbrian Authors in Conversation was the first event with Stephanie Butland and Caroline Roberts on Saturday. Vic Watson, a writer, invited them to do a short reading from their latest novels: Lost for Words and My Summer of Magic Moments, respectively. She then asked them to give an outline of becoming published writers. Caroline’s 80 rejections and Stephanie winning her agent through a Twitter auction, illustrated the lows and highs.
Being in the audience meant I could feel their zest for their books and most importantly for writing. I loved Stephanie telling us that, waking up one New Year’s Day knowing her first book was to be published that year, was a very special moment. And Caroline saying, she stroked the cover of her first book when she received her copy. Recollections from both authors showed us, that being published is the cherry on the cake… but writing; developing a working relationship with an agent; editing and then garnering readers for their books take precedent. I got the sting of a tear a few times listening to such enthusiastic women.
All three women write blogs too; check out their websites. Also, local blogger Jackie Kaines met them in September, and posted a blog about them; you’ll find it on this website. At the close Vic asked what advice is essential in those early days. Caroline said, perseverance is the key to getting published and Stephanie said, write because you love writing… and I could feel those tears again! I came away enthused about my own writing and where I might go next with it.
Later that day I heard Dave Randall, ex Faithless and Dido guitarist, in conversation with Gerry Foley, an ex ITV Westminster reporter now freelance broadcaster. I must admit I was a bit star struck, definitely awe struck. Dave is a musician and activist and has just published his book: Sound System ~ The Political Power of Music. Mark Radcliffe of Radio 2 and 6 Music has described the book as: A deeply intelligent look at music and society. Thought provoking, readable and clever. And that’s how Dave came across in his introduction and in the interview with Gerry.
Dave opened with a question from a Marvin Gaye track: What’s going on? Dave said politics today has polarized into Right and Left, and that to combat the ravages of the Right and to make this world a better place, then we need to protect and develop culture. That culture, in all its forms, is all about how we feel about ourselves in the world. He stated The Establishment has been suspicious of music and its power for hundreds of years. And #GrimeForCorbyn on Twitter, started by the UK Grime artist, Stormzy, during the lead up to the June General Election, proved that music is still as important as ever in the battle of politics (Grime is the newest genre of music to question the establishment).
If I had tears during the first interview today, then I had more when Dave spoke of a musician in Syria. A musician who dared to gather crowds to sing a protest of the current regime, and was found murdered a week later. Gerry asked pertinent questions about sections of the book and Dave was happy to answer his position on and provide further facts on: Strange Fruit and Billie Holliday; Beyoncé at the Super Bowl; Carnival in Trinidad; South Africa and Israel. All contentious topics. Dave gave a good argument for music serving the interests of the many, rather than the few. And the word better was repeated more than a few times. Dave seems a realist, but also a hopeful one; I was impressed.
Last up was Colin Young in conversation with Helen Wright on Sunday. Colin’s a freelance sports journalist, with the Sunday Mirror and the Irish Independent on Sunday. In 2016, in just four months, he wrote: Jack Charlton ~ The Authorised Biography. No mean feat.
Being a Geordie; having taught in Ashington, where Jack is originally from, and having watched the recent TV programme about his brother Bobby, then I was keen to attend this event. I can’t remember the England World Cup victory in 1966 when the Charlton brothers were in the team; I was only seven and like most people, I know more about Bobby. Shocking admissions. So, another reason to hear Colin talk with Helen; I like to find out new information.
Helen had her copy of the book, with her multiple bookmarks and sensitively quizzed Colin. Colin soon found his stride and gave us an insight into writing the book and his motivation for publishing an authorised biography – in order to utilise his time with Jack, the archives and photos, and to do Jack proud, and it seems he has. We got an insight into the big man too; a loyal, hard-working, stubborn man who seemed to prefer fishing to playing or managing football. Becoming manager of the Republic of Ireland national squad in the 1980’s therefore suited him, as it was part-time, and gave him more time for fishing and family.
Helen didn’t skirt around touchy subjects either… Is Jack best mates with his brother Bobby? and Would Jack survive in the current world of football? Colin was straight to the point: No and not for long! Colin did expand on those answers, and he recalled more anecdotes when it went to the floor for questions. And in true tradition this was lively… it’s the beautiful game and opinions get heated. One final word from Jack though… on the OBE he received… it means Other Buggers’ Efforts. Yes, wor Jackie is honest and funny too – a Geordie to the core.
So, over two days: three conversations; three contrasting topics… all enthralling. Book signings took place after each event, but the crux was the digging beneath the surface and hearing not four, but seven engaging people. A fiver a ticket too… you wouldn’t get in to the footie for that price.
In Conversation With… is it effective? From the audiences’ immediate responses, I’d say yes. I loved them and no doubt the steering group has scrutinised the printed feedback surveys by now.
This whole festival is due to a volunteer steering group of only eleven people, volunteer organisers, patrons and sponsors…again no mean feat. It will be the 5th Berwick Literary Festival in 2018… I have a feeling the planning of it will have started already. Until then – enjoy those books or get them on your Christmas Wish List and see you all next October.