The Humber Mouth
Hull Literature
Festival 2002

Hull Literature Festival 2002 
 the humber mouth  14th - 24th November 2002

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Chamber of Secrets

Pee Po Belly Bum Drawers

Larking About

Imagine A Dandelion Upside Down

Close Encounters of a Literary Kind

Wreckless, Eric?

Fading, Fifty and 100% South of Watford

Next Best Thing

Larkin Unearthed

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{ Online Festival Diary }

Sue Wilsea & Jackie Goodman

Sue Wilsea & Jackie Goodman

Following on from their role as 2001 festival critics, Sue Wilsea and Jackie Goodman will be producing a Festival Diary for the website.
www.humbermouth.org.uk

Taking a wry look at the gossip and the gaffes, interviewing some of the top names, recording the views and experiences of festival-goers, Sue and Jackie will provide a behind the scenes record of this year’s events.

Sue Wilsea is a writer whose work includes poetry, short stories, plays and non-fiction, and some of her work has been broadcast on BBC radio. Jackie Goodman has written on the arts for local newspapers as well as The Times Educational Supplement and the Guardian. They are both active in local arts through their work in the Media Department at Wyke College, and have collaborated on a number of initiatives.

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF A LITERARY KIND

Sunday 24 November

After ten days of Literature Festival events, we have almost got to the stage where being out seems normal and going home seems very strange. It's surprising how easy it is to slip into the routine. This being the last night, I wonder how easy it will be to slip out of it again?

The 'self' theme - what is and what isn't - seemed to be everywhere this week. Or perhaps it's a case of once you start thinking about something, it seems to pop up all the time. 'Self' (henceforth referred to as ****) has been in evidence since the early planning stages of the festival, when Rupert and Maggie were thinking of booking Will **** as one of the acts. We didn't get Will (****, Prince or Young) in the end. However, we did get Oliver James, who had a fascinating conversation with the audience about the issues raised in his book 'They F*** You Up'. Central to the discussion was the development of a sense of **** in human beings and the importance to this process of the first six years of a child's life.

The audience for Oliver James seemed to be a mix of academics, Larkin Society members, people who worked in the social services field and parents. Most people probably belonged to more than one of these groups. An intact family (one in which there are two parents), breastfeeding till the child is fed up with it and the devoted full-time care of a mother provide the optimum chance of producing a balanced and happy adult with a strong sense of ****. I seem to have failed on most counts. My feeling of inadequacy was emphasised by the supremely successful mother in front of me who had breastfed her child until it was 5 years old. I hope it wasn't big for its age.

James's **** was determinedly non-picket line, non layered and non-suited. He had worked hard at shrinking his maroon jumper in the tumble dryer so that it was too short everywhere. This apparent refusal to conform to any particular look was itself a manifestation of his ****. He did, however, conform to the Festival theme of raising a laugh by referring to himself in plain terms as 'a teenage delinquent' who 'arsed about' until he was 32. Nothing seems to please the Hull Truck audience more than a few blunt words now and then. James made the point that our perception of other people is coloured by our own expectations and therefore everybody has many ****s. He certainly managed to agree with everybody who spoke during the question session, thereby proving that we all adapt our ****s to the people we are with.

After the performance/audience/reading/lecture/chat we lingered in the bar. James lingered outside waiting for a taxi. When it arrived, the taxi driver lingered while James had a drink and a fag. I know all this because apart from James, the taxi driver and us, there wasn't anyone much around. Rather a strange end to a busy and varied week, in which many of the events were of excellent quality but many of the audiences were small and unrepresentative of local demographics. The problem of how to attract new audiences is perennial and can probably be solved only by considerable amounts of money and effort over extended periods of time.

Anyway, back to the business of ****. I did remember to drive home tonight (Monday), instead of going to a Literature Festival venue. Turning on the radio, I caught the end of a trailer for a programme featuring Barrie Humphries's new book. It's called 'My Life as Me.' He must be one of the few people in the world who knows who 'me' is. Perhaps that's because he has been other people so publicly for so many years. Then there was a revue of a one-man show by Tom Courtenay called 'Pretending to be me'. The play is about Philip Larkin. Oliver James's book takes its title from Larkin's poem. There must be a moral there somewhere, but now I'm back in the kitchen, I can't quite find the time to work out what it is.

Saturday 23rd

I literally stumbled across Harry Gurevitch in the foyer of Spring Street on Saturday evening. He and a friend were busking in aid of the Anti War campaign and Blowing in the Wind provided an appropriate soundtrack for the nostalgic, and what initially felt to me, the sad ambience of the event. Harking back to the sixties as some sort of golden age tends to leave me cold. Of course there was some great music and fashion but some people tend to forget there was also Herman's Hermits and kipper ties. Anyway, the Old Left were out in force - bearded, grey, deliberately downbeat - there to see whether the old warrior Tariq Ali would deliver the goods. Harry is essentially a stalwart of the musical rather than the literary scene and he talked about how he regretted the lack of fusion of audiences in folk clubs whose average age now is over fifty. We discussed how to attract young people to events like this but Harry concluded that we should leave them alone to inhabit their own worlds.

Harry and I briefly worked together, about ten years ago, and as we trooped into the theatre I idly wondered if he remembered our out of work meeting around that time. I was in the Oxfam shop on Princes Avenue trying to squeeze into some leather trousers, two sizes too small but an unmissable bargain at £1.99. Harry, who presumably assumed the cubicle to be empty, flung back the curtain revealing me stooped in front of the mirror, unable to hoist the trousers beyond my knees. Harry is one of those people who, quite unintentionally I'm sure, always makes me feel rather suburban and inhibited so I attempted to be very cool and pull the curtain back as Harry stared at me unblinkingly. Unfortunately it stuck and then came off its rail as I pulled at it with increasing desperation. Subsequently at work I tended to avoid eye contact with him.

At any rate, these rather unpolitical and trivial musings were soon banished from my mind by an hour and a half of rhetoric, oratory and utterly convincing polemic from Tariq who mastered his subject matter, his stool and his audience with consummate skill and agility. ( Interesting that for Tariq the Fireman's Strike was an opportunity to illustrate his ideological postion - for Jon Ronson the previous evening its only relevance had been that the theatre's temporary smoking restrictions had meant him having to stub out his cig ) By the end of the evening I was ready to person the barricades and join in the protest at John Prescott's surgery the following Saturday. Unfortunately, I'd forgotten I'd be in London on a shopping trip then ( the Oxfam shops down there get some really high quality stuff ) but I bought the book and felt really quite revolutionary, later parking on a double yellow line outside the pub.

Friday 22nd November
The mystery of self

Pippa Fulton (almost a famous person) turned up at Reality TV (Hull Truck, Thursday 21 November) to make her contribution. Pippa has clearly become well-versed in the business of being the focus of media attention. 'I got good press because I was myself. Some people act up to the cameras.' The notion of true self (what is and what isn't) has nudged its way to the surface several times over the past few days. Pippa seems a nice, ordinary girl, but, as Fame Academy was not her first experience of appearing on reality TV programmes, has apparently worked out a thing or two about how to reach the first rung on the ladder to fame. Her stab at gaining national recognition may be enough to lob her into the 'local celebrity' drawer. She has an entourage (her mum and dad and a number of friends and possibly relatives) all well-coiffed and immaculately turned out. The dress code gives it away: Pippa (who, incidentally, looks much smaller in real life than she did on TV) in figure-hugging pale blue denim with sparkly accessories; the men in the party in leather jackets and those camel-coloured check Burberry-type scarves. There was even a hanger-on in the form of Pippa's former tutor from Hull College (cross-reference NBT corner) though he certainly didn't conform to the Fulton entourage dress code. He is an Artiste after all.

The Reality TV panel, a cracking group of wits, brains and creative talents, treated Pippa with polite deference, which, judged on a comparative talent scale, seemed oddly excessive. This just goes to prove how even truly famous people fall for the cult of TV celebrity. Who knows what Pippa's real self would be if much of her young life had not been directed towards becoming a celebrity. Anyway, I believe Pippa is following in the footsteps of the late lamented Hull Daily Mail columnist Steve Reagan and will be switching on the Newland Avenue Christmas lights soon. Perhaps we will be reading her column in the Hull Daily Mail when she sets up in competition with Gill Adams (Full on, Forty and 100% Hull). Pippa's next step towards fame might be to follow Gill's lead by setting up a performing arts group for local lads who will survive through hell and high water to become the next Full Monty (none of this will mean anything to you unless you read Gill's recent column on the Literature Festival).

Jon Ronson made the point on Friday night at Hull Truck that we all become different people in different situations. Maeve Brennan's Philip Larkin is not the brusque, misogynistic figure of popular myth. According to Maeve, this is a construct based on his writing and is only part of the story. His 'dark side' - presumably his penchant for pornography - was unknown to her, made evident only to those male friends who shared his tastes. The very public exposure of Larkin's private thoughts seems inexplicably at odds with his desire for anonymity, or not secrecy, but privacy, as he put it. It reflects the dichotomy of the compulsion for the recognition of real achievement, the unique voice, and the contempt for the media circus which recognition attracts. The desperate desire for identity through celebrity, however, is a bit like the phenomenon of personalised car number plates. OK, so we know your name, but who the hell are you?

Before Jon Ronson took to the stage at Hull Truck on Friday night, The Weird Sisters' brilliantly observed cameos of human character were a literal example of how one person can become many things. After a particularly testing and exhausting day at work, the last thing I wanted to do on entering the auditorium was to be drawn into a spot of audience participation. 'Row 2 is now the fire exit route. Everyone in Row 2 pull your knees up to your chin. Come on now, one, two, three…..' Normally I'm up for a bit of co-operation, but on that occasion I nearly walked out. I'm very glad I didn't, as the show was one of the funniest and most sharply-observed I have seen for a long time. The Weird Sisters were at their best portraying Sisters rather than Brothers, but the script had that quality of moving from an identifiable starting point up an ascending scale of fantasy and ridiculousness which carried it onto a sublime level of observation and humour. Some of Jon Ronson's anecdotes shared a similar quality. Which brings us back to the question of self and Pippa's account of the reason for her good press. Perhaps one definition of true talent is not 'being myself'. Its starting point may be one self but it is the manifestation of many other selves, constructed through the innovative or well-crafted use of a chosen form, which is the quality of truly-deserved fame.

Thursday 21st

After a quick bite at The Omelette ( there have been no other bites but quick this week ! ) I hurried along to the Take 5 café at the Central Library where Hull Writers Circle were hosting Blake Morrison's reading. The latter's members tended to be mature and thus plastic macs and brollies were very much the order of the evening. The chap next to me fell asleep and, chin resting on his substantial chest, snuffled quietly throughout the event. I still can't make up my mind about the lurid green décor of the café. In 1968 I had a coat dress and matching John Lennon hat in the same colour and it tends to remind me of an unfortunate incident at a sixth form dance. Incidentally, the local band who played on that occasion were generally agreed to be rubbish and going nowhere. They were called Genesis. Anyway, back to Blake who, after paying his homage to Larkin ( Maeve Brennan and Jean Hartley on the front row nodded graciously as if to sanction his performance ) proceeded to read from both his poetic and prose works. The subject was his parents and much of it I found moving, even allowing for his somewhat understated delivery. In a Nursing Home, Blake's mother had been put in the Larkin room but was transferred from that to the Byron Room, the former being considered a little gloomy. Even though this must have been a very traumatic time for Blake and his family, surely as a writer it was very fortuitous?

Then on to Spring Street for the Reality TV event. I managed a quick visit to the gym in between times but was in such a hurry that I left my wet swimming cossie there and its now gone a bit smelly and rotten. Never mind - I'm sure a piece of creative writing can be made out of this in due course.

Tuesday 19th November

Until technology has advanced to the stage where we can be in two places at one time ( just think of the possibilities then…) choices have to be made. So it was on Tuesday when Dianne Dubois's play at The Adelphi clashed with Toby Litt's session on Cult Literature at Spring Street. I decided on Toby Litt on the basis that hopefully there will be another opportunity to see the play. There was also the saving on laundry which would be made by not attending The Adelphi given the smoke laden fug there. Don't get me wrong - it's a great venue where I have spent some memorable evenings and Paul who runs it is a hero - but in my opinion the Adelphi to Clean Air is what Pam Ayres is to metaphysical poetry. Anyway, Toby was really good, defining cult literature in various ways with a wide range of illustrations and then asking the audience ( small and largely Bright Young Things from the University's English Society ) for books that had changed their lives. Perched on a stool, trying not to reckon up what this would cost me in chiropractor fees, and thinking about literature took me right back to my days in the University English department. I jotted down titles of books I could read if Life would ever move aside to let me.* Chatting to Abi, Martin, Steve and others I gathered that some of my lecturers from thirty years ago were still working at the University when I'd assumed that by now they would be gathering dust on the seventh floor of the Brynmor Jones.

There followed a very pleasant meal at the Thai restaurant, Princes Avenue in the company of Toby and others. The talk was mostly of fish. Toby, an erstwhile keeper of tropical fish, had visited The Deep and had decided on a prawn curry for his order. Incidentally, if you're into food garnish you'd love the turnips and carrots shaped into rosettes that would not have looked out of place on sale at Claire's Accessories. Our conversation moved seamlessly on to The Loch Ness Monster about which Jackie had had a dream the previous night. The acoustics in the restaurant were not brilliant but it sounded as though Jackie said that the Monster, who was apparently sporting one of those little tartan hats at a jaunty angle, was swimming on a layer of pizza. Surely a surreal and iconoclastic** image for the cover of a future cult novel?

* For more moans about the pressures of combining parental and breadwinning responsibilities with a creative life - please see Humbermouth 2001

**Apologies - just had to use that word sometime this week.

Monday 18th November

Looking for a young male perspective on The Vagina Monologues we accosted Dan Sproats and Iain Thompson in the bar at Hull Truck. Dan was indignant at my suggestion that he might feel in any way unable to empathise with the show's content. I can't recall the details of his argument, though it was very convincing at the time, but we discussed genital mutilation and tampons in an open minded way. Dave Bush, the show's director, joined us prior to jetting off to Tenerife ( terribly show biz! ) and defended his introducing the show himself with words of reassurance. Wasn't that rather paternalistic asked Dan? No, said Dave, the words were lifted from the original script and his intention had always been to make as wide an audience as possible feel comfortable. Dan and Iain are two highly talented individuals who will be performing The Gas Man Cometh, celebrating the work of Flanders and Swann, at Wyke College on Wednesday and Thursday evening. The show had rave reviews in Edinburgh, has toured widely and is an absolute delight.

Saturday 16th November

Heard Maggie Hannan and Robert Edric on the Today programme which was slumming it by coming from Doncaster. They both sounded bright and breezy despite having risen pre-dawn and successfully fielded questions about why there weren't any BIG NAMES at the Festival like Bill Clinton. As if we'd want his sort here!

Thursday 14th November

At the launch we came across Tony Petch, a leading light in the Mutiny Poets. The latter took their name from the pub where they first met but Tony agreed that the connotations of this nomenclature are probably right in that they are characterised by a somewhat anarchic approach. Setting things alight in each other's sitting rooms, where they hold their fortnightly meetings, then writing about the experience gives you a flavour of their activities. You can catch sessions by Ragged Raven Press, who have published some of the Mutiny poets, on Tuesday 19th at the Library and Wednesday 20th at Ye Olde White Harte. The Mutiny Poets themselves will be reading on Thursday 21st at the Library and on Friday 22nd along with Jim Orwin, at the Editorial, Spring Bank. Tony has been writing poetry for over 35 years and we talked about the notion of writing being an addiction; while publication continues to be the goal for most writers it soon stops being the only goal because of the high the activity produces, not something you could stop even if you wanted to.

  We also had a lengthy chat with Robert Edric, twice a Booker Prize long list nominee and currently working on a sequence of three crime novels all set in Hull. He was there to do a reading later on in the evening and was a delight to talk to, unassuming and genuinely friendly. Personally I could have done without the cynicism of his youthful Yorkshire Post minder but that's a very minor quibble. Other brief encounters were with the ubiquitous Catherine of the Hull International Short Film Festival, Averil Coult of Theatre Productions and previously of Remould Theatre, Dianne Du Bois this year's Festival's critic and Dave Bush, director of such challenging productions as Trojan Women [ which had a truly impressive set design at Northern Theatre] and The Vagina Monologues ( Catch the latter on Monday night at Spring Street )

Friday 8th November

Bumped into Carol Coiffat at Wreckless Eric's gig at the Adelphi. Carol was raving over Michael F. Harper who she'd seen the night before at Nellie's as part of the WordQuake Readings. She also told me she had just come back from doing a reading at Huddersfield. Carol has been on the local writing scene for some time. Talking of Nellie's, back in the days of Humberside Writers I remember hearing her read there and being impressed, as on several subsequent occasions, with the control and humour of her work despite its sometimes dark content. Last summer I thought I saw her ( though this might just have been a delusion ) dancing on Welton village green! Unlike some other local poets who shall remain nameless, her delivery always does her poetry the credit it richly deserves. Carol is a woman after my own heart - unpretentious, feisty and not afraid to let you know when things are bad. Like Daphne Glazer and Pam Dellar ( who sadly died last year ) I'm sure Carol's work has impinged on the lives of many through the closely spun network of readings, workshops, courses and events in Hull - the village that we like to pretend is a city!