Monday, 21 October 2013

Steven Moffatt, Emma Thompson and Sebastian Faulks at the Cheltenham Literature Festival

After years of somehow missing it, I finally managed to get to the Cheltenham Literature Festival this year. I took James along to see Doctor Who head honcho, Steven Moffatt, at Cheltenham Town Hall last Sunday. His talk, entitled "The Doctor, Sherlock And Me", was delivered to a sold-out hall of Whovians, Cumberbitches... and real people...
Moffatt talked with his usual mix of dry wit, self-deprecation and megalomania ( how does he do that? ) on his two massively successful TV shows, before answering questions from the audience. Although managing not to reveal anything much about the forthcoming new episodes of either show, Moffatt was hugely entertaining and addressed such subjects as the Doctor's supposed regeneration limit, not targeting Doctor Who at an American audience, the megastardom of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, the original pitch he and Mark Gatiss made for Sherlock and, as they say, much more. One of the most memorable moments came when he was asked by a member of the audience about the "message" of his shows. Moffatt said he didn't like built-in messages and, in any case, wouldn't go to TV writers for the meaning of life... but, if the shows had a message it would be "Clever is good and kindness is strong..." That'll do :-)
It was good to hear Moffatt talk candidly about the creative process and production realities of making TV shows as well as good-naturedly shooting down some of the more obsessive fan theories. And it was definitely a pleasure to feel such a friendly, warm atmosphere in the room, far removed from the often bitter, nasty and unrealistic comments directed at Moffatt online from so-called "fans". James and I both enjoyed the talk hugely and it was fun to be a part of something like this during the good Doctor's 50th anniversary year.
 To demonstrate the diversity on offer at the Festival, on the previous Sunday Sarah and I went to a talk given by actor / author Emma Thompson on her continuation of  Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit stories. The lovely Ms. Thompson charmed us all with her story of how she had grown up with the "tails" of that mischievous rabbit and then found herself, unexpectedly, being asked to carry on his adventures. The publishers had sent her a box, tied up with string, containing some half-eaten radishes and a note from Peter Rabbit himself, asking her to tell his stories. Of course, she couldn't resist.
As well as talking about what an honour it was to follow in Potter's footsteps Thompson also discussed Beatrix Potter's life ( especially her conservation work ), with digressions into the subjects of movies and kids' TV. ( When she mentioned her father, Eric Thompson of The Magic Roundabout fame, Sarah and I started a round of applause for the great man which soon spread around the marquee. ) As an extra treat, Thompson read from her second book, The Christmas Tale Of Peter Rabbit, enchanting children and adults in the audience alike...
As a total contrast I also went to see author Sebastian Faulks discussing his classic World War I novel Birdsong. In conversation with radio presenter James Naughtie, Faulks proved to be a warm, witty and eloquent public speaker, holding his audience spellbound. I read Birdsong last year and was absolutely knocked out by Faulks' brilliant evocation of the horrors of life in ( and underneath ) the trenches, as well as his portrayal of a passionate, forbidden love affair in pre-War France. The book became an instant favourite for me so I was extremely pleased to hear the author speak so movingly about his experiences researching the novel, visiting former battlefields and interviewing old soldiers. Faulks said that, at the time he was writing the novel, the First World War seemed to have been largely ignored in the public consciousness and he wanted to remember the sacrifices that had been made through his fiction, while the War was still in living memory. ( In fact his American publishers at the time  -  unbelievably  -  urged him to rewrite the wartime sections of the book and relocate them to a more modern conflict. Quite rightly he refused. ) Twenty years later, Birdsong is an acknowledged modern classic, taught in schools at A-Level, and the old soldiers are all gone. Faulks also mentioned the recent BBC TV adaptation ( which he was politely positive about ) and a potential movie version which has seemingly foundered. Of course, the book is the important thing and I'm sure no adaptation could capture its wounded humanity and shattering impact...
So, three very different talks from three wonderful writers. I'll definitely have to make the effort to go again next year. I'll leave you with a few random photos from the Festival...



2 comments:

Richard Bensam said...

All three of those sound great!

cerebus660 said...

They were indeed! I've been meaning to go to the Literature Festival for years but never got organised before. I'm so glad I did this year.

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