Sunday, September 21, 2008

"Civilisation as we know it is well and truly past its sell-by date, and this is where this book comes in" says Bath writer Esme Ellis at the launch her novel 'This Strange and Precious Thing'. It's love, of course, and more - an exploration, among other things, of the possibility that fantasy is only another name for potential.

Small Wonder (Sept 18th-21st) is billed as one of the UK's most successful independent literary festivals. It certainly must be one of the smallest, being entirely contained in a barn just off the A27 a few miles from Lewes. Alison and I drove down to investigate, arriving at sunset on Friday to be met with cathedral quietness and exceedingly good soup.
The barn belongs to Charleston, where the Bloomsbury set allegedly met, so although the house and garden weren't open we could imagine Virginia and Leonard musing beside the cows, and EM Forster picking his way through the byre in his carpet slippers.
Our inquisitiveness was specifically focused on the Short Story Slam, to see if the idea might be worth nicking for Frome festival next year and luckily for our 8-hour round trip, it is. We'll adapt it, of course. We won't open the event with a narrative poem about the Mau Mau Uprising - always tricky to lift the mood to high joviality after graphic details of bloody atrocities. We won't have the scores writ large on screen, so that the least successful slam readers have to sit staring at their low ranking along with the entire audience like some dreadful dream of schooldays trauma. We won't - oh, we've got lots of ideas, you'll have to wait and see. But thanks & respect to the writers and readers who created a highly entertaining evening, even though I couldn't honestly tick the "totally agree" box on the evaluation form for "Small Wonder is designed with young people in mind."

Our evening ended on a more lively note in Hanover, where Alison's friend Jonathan hosted us & introduced us to his bit of Brighton with "aspirations to bohemianism". Now if he'd given us an evaluation form, we could have ticked Accessible, Stimulating, Exhilarating, and Fun....

And finally... I'd never seen that "classic romantic drama” Brief Encounter so as it was on this Sunday afternoon I thought I Ought To. David Lean's iconic movie is more interesting as a study of a culture thankfully gone forever, where 'heppily merried' meant being hysterically emotionally repressed but with an invisible cook to make dinner. Romance I saw not: the love-struck couple sniggered and bitched like Karen and Jack from gay sitcom Will & Grace until guilt intervened to ruin their heppiness. Made in 1945 but clearly set pre-war (Noel Coward's script was written a decade earlier), there's appeal in the bravado of the voiceover technique, trusting us with the ending right from the start, but narrative viewpoint is sacrificed for an unnecessary scene in Stephen's flat. Brief? that was 86 minutes of rare British sunshine lost forever. But nothing lasts long, neither heppiness nor despair. And aren't we due an Indian summer?

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