January 23, 2012 - 5:23 pm
This weekend was the inaugural iteration of Myriad Editions First Fictions Festival in partnership with the University of Sussex. As a first time Myriad author, I was asked to come along and participate in a few events as well as sit in on some great ones.
Literary Festivals are legion, so there is a danger in starting yet another one. Where First Fictions distinguishes itself is in its mission to connect aspiring writers, first time writers, and legends who’ve been round the bend quite a bit. It’s an aspiration in other festivals and conferences; it was the order of the day in Brighton this weekend.
Take for example this photo of my friend, Tom Eglington, presenting his work as one of the seven finalists on the short list for Myriad’s First Graphic Novel Competition. He’s sat in conversation (from left to right) Ed Hillyer (a.k.a. ILYA, although only invisible by pate leaning into frame), Bryan Talbot (40 year comics veteran), Hannah Berry (author of the lovely and bizarre Britten and Brulightly), legendary Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin, Corinne Pearlman, Myriad’s Creative Director and Paul Gravett, P-Gravy as some have dubbed him, international man of comics mystery. Though Tom didn’t win, he acquitted himself well. And he’s got to be pretty chuffed that Ian Rankin said that what stuck out so much in his piece was the strength of the dramatic writing.
The festival opened with a Quick Fictions event. 20 authors’ names were put in a hat, pulled out one by one, and then each proceeded to come up and read his or her piece that had to be no more than 300 words. Thankfully, Vicky Blunden, Myriad’s amazing literary editor, made sure the fat was cut off of most pieces. I was one of the twenty and wrote a prose piece that -- at least as planned -- is part of the opening sequence of the next graphic novel. It started as 600 words but I got it down to a brutally, Hemingway-ishly efficient 200!
Friday night there was a keynote speech by Ian Rankin, but knackered as I was from coming in from Paris that morning and ticketless as I was because of course it sold out, I headed back home for some much needed sleep.
The second day included the results of the Graphic Novel competition and it was brutal because I know three of the contestants personally (Paula Knight, Thom Ferrier and Tom Egg) and the work from all seven entrants ought to be on bookshelves yesterday. The judges concurred and urged them all on.
And later in the afternoon there was a great talk and reading about Sex and Fiction with Lizzie Enfield and Jonathan Kemp. Each talked and then read from their books. What was wonderful was the frank and honest way each of them approaches sex in their work; Enfield doesn’t approach it at all because it happens in between scenes and is hinted at and intimated, significant for its absence. Kemp’s work is in another universe altogether; London Triptych is a story of three doomed gay love affairs in three different eras in London. When he read, we would have all blushed, had the young narrator who was telling us about his debaucherous night of carnal athletics not been so utterly at ease in his descriptions. Kemp’s one nod to occasionally going too far was that he said a colleague mentioned he might use the word “pucker” a few too many times...
Finally, on Saturday night, Bryan Talbot -- of Alice in Sunderland, Grandville, Luther Arkright, and Tale of One Bad Rat fame -- an his wife Mary were interviewed by Nicola Streeten, author of Billy, Me and You. The Talbots have recently collaborated on “Dotter of her Father’s Eyes,” a Bio/Autobiography charting the parallel lives of Mary as the Daughter of an obsessed James Joyce scholar and Lucia Joyce, daughter of Mr “Ulysses” and “Finnegan’s Wake” himself. The book, from Jonathan Cape, looks compelling and like some of Mr. Talbot’s best art for years. Though Mrs Talbot is a retired literature scholar and it’s her first work of dramatic storytelling, it comes off like she’s already been doing it for you. And whilst I sat there listening to them, I had fun drawing Mr. Talbot.
Finally, Sunday was the day of my proper talk, a three way session on Life Writing, with Sue Eckstein, author of Interpreters and The Cloths of Heaven, Nicola Streeten, author of Billy, Me, and You, and myself.
I’ll save the detail of what I speke about for another post later, but suffice it to say that we had a great time. And, as radically disparate as our books are -- a novel about women reclaiming their pasts, a graphic novel about parents losing a child and mine about a son losing a father -- we felt comfortable talking together and had a great game of three way intellectual ping pong in the question and answer session.
There was plenty more on that sadly I missed, but I’m already looking forward to next year!