I have been to a number of individual literary events in London over the last few years but until this weekend, I had never been to one of the many book festivals held in the capital each year. Now in its eighth year, Chiswick Book Festival in west London runs from Thursday 15th – Monday 19th September with talks from a wide variety of authors and other speakers. Armed with an all-day pass, I went to four events at St Michael and All Angels Church and the Tabard Theatre yesterday.
Incomplete Shakespeare presented by John Crace and Professor John Sutherland was billed as an irreverent take on some of William Shakespeare’s best known plays. Crace is the Guardian’s parliamentary sketch-writer and author of the Digested Reads column in the Books pages. He has put his editing and condensing skills to excellent use in his parodies of Shakespeare’s plays with annotations by Sutherland. Extracts from his interpretations of ‘Romeo and Juliet’, ‘Macbeth’, ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and ‘Hamlet’ were read by actors Christina Balmer and Andrew Maud. Despite reducing the plays to approximately one hour in length, Crace has been careful not to dumb them down and the verse style and famous lines are still recognisable. The parody lies in Crace’s added emphasis on aspects like the adolescent behaviour of Romeo and Juliet, or events which are briefly alluded to and then never mentioned again such as Lady Macbeth having a child.
The next talk was Britain, Brexit and Beyond chaired by BBC newsreader Julian Worricker, with Labour MP Rupa Huq, John Crace, and biographers Sonia Purnell and Michael McManus. They shared anecdotes about where they were when they heard the EU referendum result in June and their views about what might happen next with some contention over when – or if – Article 50 should be triggered. Lighter relief was found elsewhere in McManus’ anecdotes about Ted Heath and Margaret Thatcher, Purnell’s recollections of working with Boris Johnson at the Telegraph and Crace’s observation that parliamentary sketch writing is currently more like transcription.
I was particularly intrigued by Worth Dying For: The Power and Politics of Flags by Tim Marshall, the author of ‘Prisoners of Geography’ and former diplomatic editor for Sky News. Like many people, I rarely give much thought about flags unless they are included in a picture round on ‘University Challenge’ or a pub quiz, but Marshall makes an entertaining and convincing case that they continue to be incredibly powerful and contentious symbols of power and representation across the world. As well as some fascinating stories about the development of flags in various nations, his talk covered the flags of ISIS, the LGBT community, Europe, pirates and many more. I will definitely seek out his book which is published this week in the UK.
Finally, I went to a discussion about the audiobook boom with a diverse panel of speakers including the director of content at Audible UK Laurence Howell, senior producer at RNIB Talking Books Rupert Morgan, author Anna Hope and actor Daniel Weyman who narrates the audiobook of Hope’s novel ‘The Ballroom’. I don’t currently listen to audiobooks but I think the increasing digital market is one of the most interesting recent developments in the publishing industry, resulting in lower production costs, fewer abridged titles and wider access. It was really interesting to hear how much preparation and collaboration goes into producing an audiobook and how being an engaging narrator isn’t just about reading out loud in a range of convincing regional accents. It is very much a performance and unique interpretation of the text and can be an effective way of getting reluctant readers into books.
I really enjoyed my day at Chiswick Book Festival and I look forward to attending more literary events in the future. Which book festivals do you recommend?