I like book festivals. I like them for the readers, I like them for the talks, I like them for the lots-of-people-in-one-place-who-read … and I like them for the writers.
Yesterday at Cheltenham was a particularly good example of this.
I’ve been to Cheltenham three times now, the first time Shelley (wife, writer) and I were commissioned to write a story each, semi-linked stories, then to perform them together, pieces written to be performed. Great commission, lovely thing.
Last year I taught a weekend writing workshop, long days, very full on, wonderfully engaged participants. Loved that too.
Yesterday I was there for all of four hours – I’m directing, the play opens next week, leaving town felt all wrong and all right at the same time (wrong to not be in a dark theatre, right to not be in a dark theatre, to leave it to mull for a while by itself …)
Anyway, these four hours were great. The readers were kind, the booksellers lovely etc etc … but every now and then the reason for being at a book festival is the other writers you meet/meet again. And I had the joy of meeting … Katie Fforde (for the first time, I do like it when a bestselling author is sane, kind and funny), Sharon Kendrick (the hugely successful M&B author from the M&B BBC doc I presented, who is hilarious and very good value on a panel), Fiona Lindsay (chairing the panel and bringing several theatre mates to Cheltenham) and … Virginia McKenna! Who was gorgeous. Charming, self-deprecating, kind, smart, lovely. Everything a grand dame should be with none of the grand. (And no Dame either? Why is she not a Dame??!!) Of course we’ve all written books, but Virginia’s was my bedtime reading last night and I can def recommend it for a lovely mix of anecdote, memoir, advocacy, and campaigning. I’ve banged on here often enough about how people in the public eye have both a platform and something of a duty to try to make a difference as well … she has certainly done that in her time, admirably, and continues to do so. (And she’s still very beautiful. There was a lovely moment in the – fancy – ladies portaloo when all four of us on the panel went to add a bit more makeup … and I thought, very much as I did when we Lifegamed Joanna Lumley and she shared mine and Ang’s dressing room at the Lyric Hammersmith … if I watch really closely, maybe I can work out how to look like that. I couldn’t, of course, but in both cases it was great to be there.)
THEN there was the extra pleasure of seeing Ronni Ancona and Alastair McGowan in the green room – I used to do impro stuff with Ronni way way back, and it’s always a delight when your old friends who are now famous-off-the-telly are as gorgeous as they always were.
And then I came back towards London with Sharon and Rick Stroud where I found myself explaining how to hide people’s annoying scrabble scores on facebook, getting a great directing idea from Rick, and extolling the virtues of Cheyne Walk/Paul Scofield.
All very good. And stunning autumnal countryside on the way there. Now, back to a dark theatre …