Wednesday, 30 November 2011
IMAGINE...BRIDPORT OPEN BOOK FESTIVAL
Imagine – a festival that includes a whole community – young and old, readers, writers and those in between. A festival that seeks to celebrate the written word in all its forms – poetry and prose, and which celebrates the performance of those words too. A festival that is not held in starry, glitzy and expensive venues, but in a working theatre space, a converted chapel - Bridport Arts Centre. Or in a room above a restaurant. Or in a café. And a festival that attracts not only local readers and writers, and emerging writers, and those who have emerged (whatever that be...) but also some of the best known names in the land.
Carol Ann Duffy, poet laureate. A L Kennedy, much lauded writer and performer. It doesn’t get better than that.
The Bridport Open Book Festival is the celebration of the written word that surrounds one of the most respected story and poetry competitions in the English speaking world – The Bridport Prize.
In 2007, this writer won a prize in the short story section, and we travelled down, my husband and I, all the way from Sussex. At the prizegiving lunch I met writers who had come from the west coast of the USA to collect a £50 prize – such is the respect for this award, and an indication of how much it matters to those whose work is selected. 2011 was no different. Several writers had traveled great distances for their moment of glory – a walk amid warm applause up to the Bridport Arts Centre stage, to collect a cream envelope from this year’s judges... see above - said poet laureate and said lauded writer/performer.
I was at Bridport to do a few things meself. Firstly, running two flash fiction workshops alongside friend and colleague Tania Hershman,
she of The White Road and Other Stories, and Bristol Science faculty, and much too much more to mention in one sentence! Friday’s session was held in a packed room above a rather nice restaurant called The Olive Tree, who supplied us with fresh coffee, pastries, cakes - and Saturday’s was in the school room attached to the Quaker meeting house. We had a brilliant time – participants left each session with at least three first draft flashes, and a sprinkling of story seeds and ideas for more. Lovely to work with T – and lovely to plan ahead for more workshops in 2012. I was particularly pleased that David Woolley came to a session – he is the new Festival Director, an acclaimed poet, and erstwhile director of the Dylan Thomas Centre at Swansea, and the Dylan Thomas Festival. We had an interesting and not-long-enough natter about prose poetry..., which he says, does not exist. Hope to be able to argue more intelligently next year if I go as a customer again!
Second, a lovely event scheduled for 6 pm on Saturday evening, showing how winning a Bridport Prize can lead to amazing things – my chance to compere an event – to interview colleagues who have gone on to be published, and to invite them to read their work. Judith Allnatt read to us from her second novel, the rather brilliant ‘The Poet’s Wife’ – about Patty, wife of John Clare. And short story writer Adam Marek, author of ‘Instruction Manual for Swallowing’ (Comma Press) read a new short story. I read from The Coward’s Tale. Q and A followed.
'Storm Warning' (second collection) was the adult title chosen for the Bridport Big Read this year (thank you!) and it was great to answer a question about mining – added to The Coward’s Tale – it does make me seem a bit of a nerd – o soddit. I am a nerd. Official.
Then, clutching a pint glass containing a local cider brew, we sidled into the main theatre for one of the main highlights of the Festival... Onto the stage came not only our poet laureate, clad in a flowing grey top, but a musician by the name of John Sampson who proceeded to floor us with his playing of penny whistles, recorders of all sorts, crump horns and goat horns, at one point donning a Mozart wig. Oh he was so clever. Acted with his eyes and had everyone in stitches. Or he had us on the verge of tears... as he accompanied CAD in her reading of some of her poems. She in turn accompanied us on a journey through the gamut of emotion – we laughed at her observations, and we nodded in understanding and in awe, and we cried. At least I did – when she finished with a poem about her mother. But they were good tears!
I certainly fell in love a little with Carol Ann – as did most of the other writers with me, both male and female. What a star! To recover, we found there is a jolly nice curry house in Bridport High Street. Six of us gathered there and stuffed our faces until late...
Saturday, and the second workshop. More great work, interesting exercises – including a science based ‘word cricket’ which had me scribbling like crazy... Then the prize-giving bubbly reception, lunch and award ceremony, watching the winners and runners up receiving their prizes from the judges. Smashing to see Euan Thorneycroft from A M Heath, the London lit agency who read all the finalists’ work (and my agent...proof if such was needed that The Bridport Prize really does change lives). Smashing to see friend and colleague Peggy Riley collecting her runner-up prize, and smashing to hear many of the winners reading their poems, flashes, and snippets of stories.
Back to The Bull Hotel in the High Street for tea, with Adam and Tania – which morphed into an early sarnie supper before the second highlight of the festival, A L Kennedy on stage – and said supper in turn morphed into early sarnie supper with said A L K. It was great to meet her properly – to be able to ask questions like ‘So what did the Austrians/German audiences think of ‘Day’?’ and stuff like that.
Her performance later, alone on stage, and shoeless, was terrific. Inspirational. Moving...I won't spoil it, if you haven’t seen her – suffice it to say that she is in love with words, and always has been. She is a quietly great actor, too – to hear her perform Goneril’s speech to Lear, while fixing a man in the front row with a gentle gaze – was absolutely unforgettable.
Sir, I love you more than word can yield the matter;
Dearer than eyesight, space, and liberty;
Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare;
No less than life, with grace, health, beauty, honour;
As much as child e’er loved, or father found
A love that makes breath poor, and speech unable.
Beyond all manner of so much I love you...
I should think the gentleman's wife gave him hell later... If you didn’t also fall in love with words that evening, you weren’t listening properly, sez me.
Then we repaired to a nearby watering hole to partake of the waters, easing past a badge-laden bouncer to take advantage of a lull in the evening’s jollities – until our table was removed by the bar staff, who warned us ‘it gets packed in here, just you wait...’
Brekkie at Hive Beach café on the Sunday, before taking Tania to Dorchester station – sitting outside in the sunshine, listening to the crashing of the waves...then walking on the beach and marveling at the cliffs. It was a wedding anniversary - I got home, knackered, to a huge bunch of flowers, and supper cooking...lucky me.
Thanks Bridport, I had a wonderful and unforgettable time. And before I sign off, this is the lady behind the Bridport Prize -the lovely and incredibly hard-working Frances Everett, who deserves an enormous round of applause!
Oh. PS - I had a poem shortlisted. This has now happened a few times - and not the same poem neither. Who knows - one day, I might end up with a pome in the anthology. I'd like that. There's a public challenge for me!