The Jub Jub Bird

A literary blog with fantasy tendencies

The Hay Festival 2010

I’ve been at the Hay Festival for the past week.  With baby in tow, we weren’t able to attend as many events as usual but the sun shined throughout, so we spent our days sitting out, drinking wine, eating strawberries and trying not to stare too obviously at the famous types nearby.

I did take some time out of the busy schedule to hear some writers speak though, so here’s a brief summary for Jub Jub readers:

  • Adam Foulds read an entrancing excerpt from The Quickening Maze, as part of his discussion about the book.  I am now very much looking forward to this one.
  • Jub Jub favourite David Mitchell, was interviewed about Cloud Atlas for the Guardian Book Club.  In typically self-deprecating mode, he referred to his ‘cowardice’ in writing six short stories, instead of one full length novel.  Although he was inspired in part because he felt cheated by Calvino’s If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller, which takes a similar approach but leaves much more unresolved.  That said he emphasised the concept of ambiguous redemption, as a general aim in his fiction.
  • Mitchell signed my copy of Cloud Atlas, which I persuaded him to sub-title Reconstruction of the Fables in reference to the REM album, an idea he’d mentioned at Hay last time he was there promoting Black Swan Green (he signed that one Life’s Rich Pageant – you get the idea REM fans).  He also signed my shiny happy copy of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet.  I asked him about the implied connection between stories in Cloud Atlas arising from the idea that souls cross generations ‘like clouds across the sky’, he said it was a lovely idea and that he hoped it was true.  The queue behind me was growing, so didn’t push it but I wonder whether this was something else he ended up having to cut out for space reasons (he originally planned to have nine inter-related stories), as it was never followed through properly.   Then again, maybe it’s just ambiguous redemption in action.
  • Ben Okri was inspirational in discussion about The Famished Road (Booker winner 1991).  Okri also read poetry and talked about finding the African beat to his writing, which hovers somewhere between prose and poetry.  His view is that African people have three levels of reality: the physical, the mythical and the spiritual.  Myths are important because they simultaneously tell us what we are and what we have lost, (they are both strengthening and commemorating) while ‘without the spirit, you don’t have Africa.’  He also claims that literature is based in dream and dream-logic.  The spirit world certainly plays a big role in The Famished Road, though I confess that I didn’t get on with it myself, the dream-like style worked well for a couple of hundred pages, less so extended over twice that length.  Even so, I am now minded to read the follow-up, which has the virtue of being much shorter.
  • Patrick Ness discussed the final book in his Chaos Walking trilogy, which was talked-up by his interviewer (can’t recall his name but seemed relatively impartial) as being the best conclusion to a three-parter, ever.  This is some claim for any book, but is more impressive still for a YA title.  My interest is well and truly piqued.

All in, a memorable week.  Just one complaint: whither all the fantasy writers? Apart from YA, which slips in disguised as children’s fiction?  I’ve seen Neil Gaiman and Iain Banks in previous years, but that’s still slim pickings for such a large event.  Is adult genre fiction just not literary enough?

June 8, 2010 Posted by | Notes in the Margin | 1 Comment

All The Pretty Horses – Cormac McCarthy

Descriptions of the sky….

‘The night was almost warm. He and Rawlins lay in the road where they could feel the heat coming off the blacktop against their backs and they watched stars falling down the long black slope of the firmament.’

‘He lay on his back in his blankets and looked out where the quartermoon lay cocked over the heel of the mountains. In that false blue dawn the Pleiades seemed to be rising up into the darkness above the world and dragging all the stars away, the great diamond of Orion and Cepella and the signature of Cassiopeia all rising up through the phosphorous dark like a sea net.’

‘Shrouded in the black thunderheads the distant lightning glowed mutely like welding seen through the foundry smoke. As if repairs were under way at some flawed place in the iron dark of the world.’

‘They sat very quietly. The dead moon hung in the west and the long flat shapes of the nightclouds passed before it like a phantom fleet.’

July 27, 2009 Posted by | Notes in the Margin | Leave a comment

A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters – Julian Barnes

A brilliant book, it works on any number of levels.  I liked the repeating motif of individuals cast adrift on large bodies of water (usually oceans), and the use of this as a metaphor for life: ‘We are all lost at sea, washed between hope and despair, hailing something that may never come to rescue us.’ Our own flailings in stormy seas, overlap and interact with everyone else’s in massively-multiplayer random sequences which, with the benefit of subjective hindsight, coalesce into something that looks like history.

Whole blogs could be devoted to the book but it’s outside the scope of this one.  So I’ll limit myself to quoting from a passage which really struck a chord….

‘She remembered a terrible thing she’d once read in a newspaper story about life on board a supertanker.  Nowadays the ships had got bigger and bigger, while the crew had got smaller and smaller, and everything was done by technology.  They just programmed a computer in the Gulf or wherever, and the ship practically sailed itself all the way to London or Sydney.  It was much nicer for the owners, who saved lots of money, and much nicer for the crew, who only had to worry about the boredom.  Most of the time, they sat around drinking beer like Greg, as far as she could make out.  Drinking beer and watching videos.

There was one thing she couldn’t ever forget from the article.  It said that in the old days there was always someone up in the crow’s nest, or on the bridge, watching for trouble.  But nowadays the ships don’t have a lookout any more, or at least the lookout was just a man staring from time to time at a screen with lots of blips on it.  In the old days if you were lost at sea in a raft or dinghy or something, and a boat came along, there was a pretty good chance of being rescued.  You waved and shouted and fired off any rockets you had; you ran your shirt up to the top of the mast; and there were always people keeping an eye out for you.  Nowadays you can drift in the ocean for weeks, and a supertanker finally comes along, and it goes right past.  The radar won’t pick you up because you’re too small, and it’s pure luck if anybody happens to be hanging over the rail being sick.  There had been lots of cases where castaways who would have been rescued in the old days simply weren’t picked up; and even some incidents of people being run down by the ships they thought were coming to rescue them.  She tried to imagine how awful it would be, the terrible wait, and then the feeling as the ship goes past and there’s nothing you can do, all your shouts drowned by the engines.  That’s what’s wrong with the world, she thought.  We’ve given up having lookouts.  We don’t think about saving other people, we just sail on by relying on our machines.  Everybody’s below deck, having a beer with Greg.’

July 20, 2009 Posted by | Notes in the Margin | Leave a comment