Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Huddersfield, famille Harris and hope.

Forgive the mild rant of the earlier post, it’s unlike me to speak ill of anyone or anything, but in this instance I found myself so exercised by the casual rudeness I had to make an exception.

Much happier ground has been walked over the past week. A trip to Southampton to host the third annual Southampton Litfest, a collaboration between the Hay organisation, Southampton University and local schools that sees hundreds of local 12-13 year olds turning up at the University’s rather smart Nuffield theatre for a day of literary fun.

Previous years guest have included fantastic performances by Lemn Sissay, the ever-brilliant Michael Morpurgo and wonderful Valerie Bloom, whose quiet, calm demeanour offstage belies the power of her performances on stage. This year the guests were Guardian Children’s fiction prize winner Jenny Valentine and the Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams, the writing duo behind the bestselling Deeper, Tunnels and Freefall which is due for publication about… now.

It was a fun day and one I always enjoy, but also a tough gig as I’m neither there in an authorial capacity nor am I famous so often wonder if the audience knows what I’m there for. My task, as I see it, is to act as MC and warm the children up for the main acts. This year I taught them the first verse of Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika and got them to laugh at me as I did the Haka – the New Zealand All Black rugby team version, Ka Mate - and explained the story behind it. Much fun.

We stay at a local Hilton Hotel, not as smart as you might imagine, as it’s rather a tired outpost of the Hilton Empire, but one that showed me that there’s something even more depressing than a Corby trouser press in your room... a tired, old Corby trouser press with all the knobs removed and rubbish stuck in the bit where one’s trouser would normally go. I did wonder for a brief moment if it was some form of installation art, but only for the briefest of moments.

This past weekend saw a different slice of life as I trained up to Huddersfield to spend the weekend with Joanne Harris and her family and to be ‘in conversation’ with Joanne as part of the Huddersfield Literature Festival. A few years ago, at the Knightsbridge launch of one of Joanne’s cook books for which she gives all the proceeds to various charities, I felt moved enough to celebrate her launch by buying her some ‘Provencal’ style side plates featuring an anchovy design and I felt honoured to be invited to the house where they reside.

Joanne and her husband and daughter have a lovely home and made me feel extraordinarily welcome. Their garden is a wonderful few acres of lawn, paddock, woodland and a Japanese inspired area complete with pond, waterfall and stream that put me in mind of the various areas of Holland Park in London (see LibraDoodle passim). Waking at dawn in my room on Sunday morning to a chorus of dove, pigeon, magpie and the football rattle call of a highly vocal mistle thrush was as much of a treat as sitting at the wooden refectory table in Joanne’s powder-blue themed kitchen eating croissants and talking about writing, inspiration and stories. I hope that she won’t mind if I tell you a little known fact about her… she doesn’t like chocolate. Who’d have thought? The event on Saturday night was notable for the warmth of the audience and for Jo’s reading of my favourite of her short stories, Hope and Faith go Shopping, taken from her collection Jigs and Reels. It’s such a heart-warming story and when it was read by Joanne gave me quite a lump in my throat. On leaving, Jo very kindly gave me a copy of Lollipop Shoes which if you haven’t yet read I can highly recommend; a very clever and engaging revisiting of the Vianne and Anouk characters in Chocolat. If you ever meet Jo and can get her to talk about having Juliette Binoche as a houseguest and what the filming of Chocolat was like then do, it’s a great tale, but not one for me to tell.

Back in Mortlake, Spring seems to finally have arrived and the smell of new mown grass wafts through my open window as I write, ameliorating the gloom of credit crunch job-seeking. Bring on the songbirds say I.



No comments: