Saturday, May 29, 2010

Postcard from the Spring Thing

Book festivals can drag on.  Week after week of literary celebrities hawking their wares and pretending they weren't just asked the same questions down the road at Hay/Cheltenham/Oxford/insert name of bookish town.  Birmingham book festival usually happens in October and follows a similar template, but their Spring Thing - a festival in a day - made a refreshing change.

Apologies for the photo, but literary events aren't really visual are they?  So we'll have to make do with Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy signing a book.  And yes, that stage would be better suited to an orchestra mainly because we were in a concert hall.  So the acoustics for the readings were very good.  As was the poetry and prose read out and discussed.

The other benefit of the short programme meant no concurrent sessions, so I went to everything and was exposed to a lot of authors I hadn't previously read.  The first session saw two authors of historical fiction (Judith Allnatt and Clare Clark) talk about the opportunities their research opened up and the liberties they took with it. Then a panel discussion between Amanda Smyth, Samantha Harvey and Aifric Campbell explored common themes of loss in their work and whether this is a modern narrative trend as opposed to the 'making good' of some classic works.  Stuart Maconie perhaps has it easy; no research or imagination required, his personality is his device and with the material of all England to comment on, there was plenty to laugh at.  England as a theme appeared again in one of Jo Bell's poems which comprised the results of a text/email poll of her friends asking them to define what England meant to them.  The poem's refrain of '...and pubs, and rain...' was apparently what everyone said when they were done with their unique take on the English condition.  Wonder why?

Jo's other poems were equally entertaining, as well as emotional or surreal. Which made her readings a good partner to alternate with a disturbing, if amusing, short story in four parts by Nick Walker.  Carole Ann Duffy headlined, reprising some of her poems about wives of famous historical figures and presenting some new work; including painful reflections on the death of her mother.

Writers are a nosy bunch and justify a habit of eavesdropping by claiming it as research.  Well, prick up your ears on the 1st of July for a spot of creative eavesdropping.  See for a writing project everyone can get involved in.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Postcard from the parade

Elephants are  parading across London this month.  These two were livening up an otherwise tastefully muted South Molton Street.  The concept of using large models as a canvas for designs isn't new of course.  I think it all started with a herd of illustrated cows, but since then I've seen massive painted dogs in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (who knew the Canary Islands were named after big dogs, not little birds?) while in Liverpool everywhere had Superlambananas.

Of course the elephant visit is for a good cause as well as a bit of fun.  Asian elephants are on the brink of extinction and the sculptures will be auctioned to raise money to fund the work of the Elephant Family charity.  Whether Asian elephants can be saved is a difficult issue.  Sadly, the streets of London are not their natural habitat and humans are moving in to the places they prefer to call home.

The sculptures are so charming, I almost wish the real things were suited to the urban environment.  I definitely can't help wishing we humans were a little less destructive when we stepped onto elephant territory.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Postcard from mac

mac (the Midlands Arts Centre) has reopened after being closed for refurbishment for far too long.  It's been worth waiting for.  Smarter, brighter, and bang up to date - the building feels revitalised.  It's largely the same layout (a labyrinth), but the atmosphere of grim has been dispelled.

The opening day crowds were testament to how much mac has been missed; and the welcome was warmer than ever.  Studio doors were thrown open for people to try out art, dance, music and craft workshops.  The galleries were so packed I need to go back another day to actually see the exhibits.  The theatres are refitted and the cinema reupholstered.

mac has never been a place to visit only when a specific event or performance attracts you though.  Now the hoardings are down, it's once again fully integrated with Cannon Hill Park.  Even if none of the varied programme would convince you to visit, the cafe and bar will always offer tempting refuge from the rain.