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Hay Festival: Michael Cunningham on The Snow Queen

Michael Cunningham

Michael Cunningham reads the opening pages of The Snow Queen

I had not one but THREE brief chats with my author hero Michael Cunningham at Hay Festival—at his author event, at his book signing and, by sheer coincidence, at the bar of the Old Black Lion. No, I wasn’t stalking!

Unbelievably, in my opinion, this was Cunningham’s first appearance at Hay Festival. He told me he’d been waiting for an invite.

Cunningham won the Pulitzer Prize for his exquisite fourth novel The Hours, which happens to be my favourite novel of all time. The film version of the book was directed by Stephen Daldry and starred Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, Ed Harris and Clare Danes. In his Hay Festival conversation with Rosie Goldsmith he said, “I must be the only living author who’s happy with the film of their book.”

Incidentally, his fifth novel, Specimen Days, was written in three parts and included a science fiction element. I asked about this foray into SF because of my own writing inclinations and he said that science fiction was definitely part of the zeitgeist at the time he wrote the novel.

The Snow Queen is his latest novel and it opens thus: Read more

Hay Festival #6: NoViolet Bulawayo and Meike Ziervogel

The last of my blatherings on Hay Festival 2013; I’ve saved the heart-breakers until last.

NoViolet Bulawayo

NoViolet Bulawayo: Revisiting and celebrating her childhood in Zimbabwe.

NoViolet Bulawayo and Meike Ziervogel both delve into national traumas in their recent novels and both do so through a child’s point of view. On the final day at Hay I attended their emotionally charged event, which was introduced by Gaby Wood.

In NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names, 10-year-old Darling lives in a shanty named Paradise and, through her eyes, we glimpse the turmoil of Zimbabwe’s recent history. According to the author, ‘A child’s eye view depoliticises events and suspends my own belief. You have to tone it down; readers can easily be put off. But it was also fun because it allowed me to return to my childhood. It was a celebration.’ Read more

Commonwealth Prize

Hay Festival #5: 6 Commonwealth Writers on Writing

‘Kamila Shamsie has placed Pakistani literature on the world stage,’ said Razia Iqbal introducing a Commonwealth Writers’ panel on the second weekend of Hay Festival. Kamila Shamsie’s most recent novel Burnt Shadows takes the reader across the globe from Nagasaki in 1945, through Partition in India and on to 9/11 in New York, and Afghanistan. (Shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction). Read more

Hay Festival #4: 7 Fiction Writers on Writing

Elif Shafak

Elif Shafak, author of ‘Honour’ – longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction.
‘If there’s a dynamism in the book world in Turkey it is precisely because women read a lot.’

Elif Shafak would like to see more Turkish books translated into Kurdish. ‘I was mesmerized when I came to Hay that the road signs are in English and Welsh. Maybe one day in Turkey we will have Turkish and Kurdish road signs.’ Her country operated, she said, on the basis that ‘everyone is Turkish. We adopted the French approach.’

Shafak presented this year’s Raymond Williams Lecture at Hay Festival in association with PEN International. She writes in both English and Turkish and her latest novel Honour was longlisted for this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction (now sponsored by Baileys). Here’s my review of Honour. Read more

Hay Festival #3: Rhianna Pratchett on Writing for Games

I’m back from Hay Festival, the campervan is unpacked and I’ll be posting my favourite snippets from the 10-day literary event over the next few days. First up, Rhianna Pratchett in conversation with Guy Cocker.

Rhianna Pratchett

Rhianna Pratchett: A Narrative Paramedic

‘Fifteen years ago when I was a games journalist, no one talked about narrative,’ said Rhianna Pratchett to a multi-generational Hay audience. Even today writers in the games industry, she said, were seen as narrative paramedics. ‘It’s only when a story is bleeding so badly that someone will say, “We really need a writer.” A lot of projects out there are like that.’ In general, writers were brought in too late because the industry failed to appreciate how much they added to a project. “There needs to be a narrative logic so that players actually care.”

Rhianna Pratchett is perfectly placed to comment on writing for the games industry. In 2007 she was a BAFTA nominee for her work on Heavenly Sword and she won a Writers’ Guild of Great Britain script award for Overlord. She’s also known for developing the voice of Lara Croft in Tomb Raider. Read more

Hay Festival #2: Will Self and the Out-Sourcing of Violence

Will Self

Will Self in conversation with Sarfraz Manzoor

Will Self always pulls a big crowd at Hay and this year he dished out a sizzling mix of wit and venom, plus comic banter with interviewer Sarfraz Manzoor. In a (literally) terrific performance, he read from his latest novel Umbrella. As he later explained to the audience, Umbrella is the completion of a trilogy that follows ‘the outsourcing of violence’ in modern times.

He said Umbrella’s main character Audrey Death – a post-encephalytic patient in a London asylum – embodied the impact of technological developments in the 20th Century. In 1908 Henry T Ford built his first industrial production line, said Self, and in 1914 this new wave of industrialisation transferred to the trenches creating a production line of death. Read more

Lydia Davis

Hay Festival #1: Lydia Davis Booker International Winner

lydia davis

Lydia Davis: Novels simply take too long!

‘I do love the basic Anglo Saxon vocabulary,’ said US-writer Lydia Davis at Hay Festival. The remark was prompted by a question from the audience (Why do you write so many single-syllable words?) Davis continued: ‘I do like the Latinate, too, but Anglo Saxon is the language of great emotion. “I am so mad.” “You are so wrong.” When to use different registers of language is an interesting question. The story itself makes the choice.’ Read more

Hay Festival Reading: Will Self and ‘Umbrella’

Will Self

Will Self will be in conversation with Sarfraz Mansoor at Hay Festival.

At Hay Festival in 2006 I intercepted Will Self between events and he very kindly signed my hardback copy of The Book of Dave. Only… he wrote “From Anne” instead of “For Anne.” No matter how hard I try to untangle this briefest of encounters (what exactly did I say? what did he say?), I can’t fathom how this misunderstanding was precipitated. Maybe he thought I intended the book as a gift, hence “From Anne.” I did sense, just momentarily, that Will realized something had vaguely gone awry. In this comical, typically English exchange, neither of us remarked on the error (if that’s what it was). I said, “Thanks, Will.” And that was that.

Anyway, in readiness for attending his talk at Hay Festival later this month, I’ve read his novel Umbrella, in eBook format; nothing for him to sign this time. He’ll be talking with Sarfraz Manzoor not only about his novel but also about ‘the possibilities of the digital form’. Should be good.

So, what do I think of Umbrella? Read more

Favourite Quotes from Write the Future Micro-Conference

I’ve deciphered my scribbly notes from last week’s Arthur C Clarke Award and Write the Future micro-conference, organized by Tom Hunter,  and I thought I’d share my favourite quotes from the day:

Lauren Beukes, author of Zoo City (winner of the Arthur C Clarke Award in 2011) and The Shining Girls, quoted Muriel Rukeyser:

“The universe is made of stories, not atoms.”

Ben North of HarperCollins quoted Ludwig Wittgenstein:

“If a lion could speak, we could not understand him.” Read more