Ways With Words
Nikita Lalwani, The Village
As the nature of a festival line-up is subject to change, addition, cancellation and more change, it seems only apt that I got the chance to see this event, which was not originally on the bill. Nikita Lalwani, whose first novel The Gifted saw her showered in literary praise, stepped up and into the Ways With Words programme after Turkish writer Elif Shafak was unable to attend. It is always a tough gig when left out of the first big promotional push, however in this instance Lalwani gracefully delivered.
With Sameer Rahim, Assistant Books Editor of The Telegraph, chairing alongside her, the one-hour slot was filled firstly by a few readings of The Village, and was then followed by an informal chat about not only the novel, but also India’s greatly complex caste and dowry systems and even her own career path. Lalwani saw great success in an earlier career at the BBC and flourished as a director and documentary film maker. It was there that she found inspiration for her second book, which sees a BBC film crew embark on both a personal and professional journey when they head to an open prison in rural India. Armed with ulterior motives (and emotions) and filming equipment, the protagonist Ray and her two colleagues set off to unveil and expose the truths which darkly surround the unconventional prison walls.
The passage readings pleasantly jogged my memory but it was the open floor Q&A session that really got my mind ticking. Here, thoughtful questions that led to insightful answers were volleyed back and forth; an intimate talk despite the palatial grandeur of the Great Hall. The audience were encouraging with their questions, whilst Lalwani politely explained her arduous seven year stretch from MA Creative Writing student at Bath Spa University (post BBC), right up to the here-and-now of glittering reviews and two published novels.
Most interesting of all, and a point I chose to continue discussing with Lalwani in the Waterstones Book Signing tent after the event, was her total fear of putting pen to paper when it came to her homeland. She expressed her anxieties of not being able to describe a land that has been so well documented, detailed and debated before her, and how these very anxieties left her with an almost stifling reluctance to want to write about India. Tricky, you might think, after having decided to set the novel there. However, The Village, which is rich in its characters and subtle in its descriptions of the sub-continent, managed to win me over from open to close, much too, like she did.
* * *
Deborah Moggach, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (Talk and Film)
Deborah Moggach entered the Great Hall to rapturous applause from an audience who were brimming with anticipation and enthusiasm for the coming hour. Moggach gave a confident talk in bright blue and red, her clothing a prerequisite for the colourful talk she was to give. Moggach mused over all aspects of the writing process; from the age old chicken-and-egg question of what comes first, the idea or the character, to adapting various novels, including Pride and Prejudice, into screenplays; and finally, the discussion of These Foolish Things and its adaptation to the big screen version The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
Clearly not one to shy away from public speaking, Moggach spoke intimately and frankly about her relationships with both characters and plots. She detailed how the inspiration for one particular character, Porky, literally flowed through her after spying, from a car window whilst zooming down the motorway, a woman donned in an air-hostess uniform curiously exiting a house. By the time she reached London she knew the entire back-story of her new protagonist, from her physical features and temperament to the way the family settee had an oily stain on it (from where her father’s greasy neck had left it soiled).
The process for the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel proved to be an interesting role reversal for Moggach, who is overly familiar with transforming other writers’ novels to the silver screen. She wrote the original screenplay for the movie, however, when Hollywood intervened and bought in a new screenwriter, Moggach found her story had been transformed, even transported 1233 miles north from Bangalore to Jaipur, forcing her to finally feel what it is like to be left on the cutting room floor.
The talk was just shy of the usual hour in order to accommodate for a venue change and book signing that were sandwiched in between the talk and film. Despite this, the overall feeling of the elderly empowered left me feeling invigorated, with a warm feeling inside.
The movie, after being forewarned that it was quite different to the novel, proved itself to be a surprisingly moving affair. Admittedly, I have not yet read the book, so cannot comment on the pros and cons of each version, but the film was a unique blend of colour and vivacity set against the greying backdrop of those suggested as forgotten in today’s society – the elder generation. Thoroughly entertaining and unpredictable in part, the movie was met with constant roaring laughter and a heartfelt round of applause at the curtain close. A great two-part addition to the festival, indeed.
* * *
Lindsey Hilsum, Sandstorm: Libya in the Time of Revolution
Lindsey Hilsum’s talk at Ways With Words was threatened last week when she was called away to Tripoli to report on the Libyan General Elections. However, her dedication to the festival and the ticket buying public meant that, instead, something quite special took place on a sunny afternoon in the medieval Great Hall in Dartington. Upon entering from the balcony just moments after the event started, there was Lindsey, projected live onto the stone, stage wall, enveloped in a backdrop of plush hotel curtain, with copies of her book delicately arranged beside her. Sitting centre stage was a brightly-clad Michael Buerk and local chairwoman who would guide the event from the front. The introduction was brief yet instantly engaged all three speakers despite the great distance.
Hilsum, so accustomed to reporting in her current role as International Editor for Channel 4 News, spoke fluently and with passion from start to finish. Her stories of Libya and the madness of Gaddafi were detailed and informative and she captivated the audience from the word go through her tales of real people, not faceless masses. One anecdote that captures the essence of Hilsum’s talk came when she relayed to the audience her fondness for the Libyan people, in particular their sense of humour; she told of her favourite graffiti in a suburb of Tripoli that read, “Gaddafi, you are the weakest link. Goodbye”. Hilsum spoke from experience and from fact and drew upon her many years of extensive coverage in the country.
When time for questions, to which there were many, I navigated the balcony, mic in hand, to give the audience a voice. Hilsum, who listened intently and without interruption, answered every question smoothly, to the point and as fully as possible, backing up her responses with a mix of opinion and fact; punctuated with examples from Egypt, Bahrain and of course Libya. Hilsum’s relaxed delivery oozed with natural warmth and when the time to close came, Buerk played on this to perfection. He jested that he had been practising her signature ready for a book-signing of Sandstorm after the event, if only she would post him her cheque book. The mood in the Great Hall was light despite the weighty subject matter and Hilsum’s approachable manner meant that she received a deservedly lengthy applause. Not even the imminent threat of a satellite glitch could detract from a truly memorable event.
* * *
The Telegraph Ways With Words Festival of Words and Ideas,
Dartington Hall, 6th – 15th July
Only one week to go until The Telegraph Ways With Words Festival of Words and Ideas arrives at picturesque Dartington Hall on Friday 6th July. Local, national and international names in literature, history, broadcasting and journalism will flock to the 10-day event, now in its 21st year.
The festival boasts huge household names including Hilary Mantel who will disinter the Tudor period, setting for Bring up the Bodies, the sequel to her Man Booker winning novel Wolf Hall. Julian Clary and Joan Bakewell will add a helping of humour
to proceedings whilst Michael Palin tells The Truth about his new novel of the same name. Tom Watson MP will speak on the media storm surrounding the Leveson Enquiry whilst MP David Lammy discusses the explosive UK riots.
The festival holds innovation and open-mindedness at its core and the list of compelling speakers reflects this. Go back to basics with Kim Sayer’s talk on the famous Corthworthy allotments scheme and learn how to live off the land. Simon
Goldhill will urge his audience to look Beyond The Page as he delves into the lives of Freud, Wordsworth and the Brontë sisters. Taste buds will be tantalised at Tom Parker-Bowles’ Let’s Eat event and thoughts will be cast on the highs and lows of returning home with Monique Roffey.
Firm favourite Lindsey Hilsum was called away to Libya this week, threatening her event. However, the distance could not deter Hilsum from attending and she will now be interviewed live from the front line in Tripoli, the day after the General
Elections. This exciting live link up will see Michael Buerk interview her from the Great Hall, providing an international platform for this cutting-edge event; a real first for the festival.
Many events have now sold out, but can still be bought on the day by avid fans who can wait in the stand-by queues.
Additions to the programme:
Two new additions have been announced to this year’s programme. Nicholas Evans, author of The Horse Whisperer will discuss his new novel The Brave as well as his recovery from kidney failure, which prevented him from speaking at last year’s festival. A warm welcome will also be extended to Nikita Lalwani, who has followed her 2007 long-listed Booker prize novel The Gifted with The Village, which depicts a BBC film crew documenting life in an open prison in a rural Indian village.
* * *
As you may or may not know, I moved down to Devon on 13th May 2012 in order to spend two months in the delightful Devon countryside whilst interning at the Ways With Words Festival of Words and Ideas. This hugely diverse festival, now in its 21st year, sees the likes of Michael Palin, Hilary Mantel, Jung Chang and Julian Clary rub shoulders with local, national and internationally renowned speakers from the worlds of literature, journalism, broadcasting, history and beyond. One thing I didn’t account for, however, was the other deliciously delectable treats in store for me whilst living on the famous Dartington Hall estate; which has seen artists born, bred, nurtured and developed in its blissfully tranquil surroundings.
And so, to a non-literary feast of a festival. One that promised the best in international acoustic music with diversity and uniqueness at its heart, all housed within the backdrop of a beautiful and historic country estate.
Dartington home festival, 22nd – 23rd June, 2012
The third home festival at Dartington promised big. Like, internationally big. The lineup boasted an eclectic mix of artists including; The Dhol Foundation from India, a drumming institution who have been promoting the Dhol drum since the late ’80′s, Japanese solo pianist extraordinaire Ryoko Nuruki, who used the festival as her very own U.K. launch pad, local Dartington born and bred Matthew & Me, who studied on-site during the estate’s schooling hey-days and who dedicate the track ‘Fox Hole’ to their time spent at the college, and finally, but by no means least, The Tashi Lhunpo Monks of Tibet, who are currently touring in order to keep the spirit and traditions of their precious culture alive, especially in its current fragile state.
Oh, and did I mention the fact that Charlotte Church was there? No, I didn’t think so. But, if you were there, you could be forgiven for not realising that the once operatic ‘Voice of an Angel’ was in fact performing. Armed with honey (after each song her vocal chords were in dire need of some T.L.C.), a delay pedal and a new direction in tow, she totally transformed herself from those innocent teen years in an almost metamorphosis-like way. The festival urged you to ‘leave your preconceptions at the gate’, and believe you me, you sure as hell should have done. Church emitted an air of motherly cool that radiated through the 14th century medieval courtyard (despite the drizzle that could have threatened the remainder of the festival) and made the hairs on your neck stand on end. Not just however, because her vocal range raced up and down like a yo-yo, but also, because as she gently shushed her own children at the front row of the crowd, there was exposed, a working mother in the throws of making ends meet. A refreshingly humble sight at this family-oriented festival.
home festival, a mere baby on the circuit being just three years young, managed to tick all the boxes that could in theory ensure the same kind of festival longevity that is enjoyed by Glastonbury, arguably one of the best festivals in the world. home managed to perfect just the right balance of artists from both home and away (in fact, miles away), whilst serving the best local food and drink that would surely compete with any local Devon watering hole in a 20-mile radius. But perhaps most importantly, was the fact that it was abundantly clear just how much love had been poured into home, just as a grassroots festi’ ought to have. In conclusion? A great indie festival that will surely go from strength to strength under the careful eye of all who treasure it as a Dartington calender treasure. So, that’s all at Dartington then.