Inspiring Older Readers

posted on 10 Oct 2016

At the Cheltenham Literary Festival : The first weekend  7 – 9th October 2016

I arrived for the first event I’d booked on Friday early evening – the first day of the festival proper. My initial feeling was that it was a little quieter than  last year and that there were fewer peripheral stalls on both of the split sites. Perhaps predictably, the numbers of people on site also seemed a little low but when I took my seat in the 1500 capacity Times Forum tent for the interview with Ian McEwan it was clear that this event at least was very popular.

Disappointingly, McEwan wasn’t signing books after the event but had pre-signed copies of his new novel, Nutshell. He was in relaxed and urbane form during the interview and seemed intent on being quite playful and self-mocking – which passed the time pleasantly enough without being overly insightful. By far the best part of the interview was when he broke off from the questions to read the majority of the opening chapter of the book – and he reads very well. I would have been happy to have a lot more of that.

I’m not personally a fan of ‘questions from the audience’ but I understand why they seem to be a necessary part of these events. I would opt for more reading from the author or some better and more thoughtful questions from the person being paid to do the interviewing ( at least I assume they are being paid one way or another).

I was back on Saturday afternoon for Sebastian Faulks  which I thought touched on some quite interesting material relating to issues of war, psychotherapy and why a writer with a reputation for being quite a jolly soul seems to end up writing lots of pretty depressing books. He was primarily talking about his 2015 novel Where My Heart Used To Beat and read a very short passage from that. He also served up a small helping of his most recent release (hot to the shops that day) which are essentially transcripts of the pastiches he does for the radio programme, The Write Stuff, which he revealed has been canned by the BBC – which I consider to be an outrage.

Faulks was only prepared to sign copies of his most recent couple of novels which I thought was a rather mean gesture – I already had a signed copy of his new novel and wanted my edition of Birdsong signed but he wouldn’t do it. That’s not the way to treat people who have spent time and money to hear you speak……

Sunday evening was Jonathan Safran Foer in the smaller Times Garden Festival Tent – which was by no means full. I was quite surprised about this given the reputation and coverage Foer tends to get in the literary press. This was by some distance the most substantial interview of the weekend even though the interviewer did tend to go for stuff that was a bit obvious – and he seemed way too interested in Foer’s abortive incursion into television and this was at the expense of drilling a bit deeper into the books. I might have misinterpreted Foer’s demeanour but he did seem a little less than impressed by the direction of the questioning.


I think there would have been some mileage in asking about where Foer sees himself in the line of heritage that has produced so many Jewish New York novelists who are really concerned with BIG issues – although I might suspect he would have looked pretty askance at that line of questioning.

So, a busyish but fascinating weekend and it was good to have a chance to dip into this world – even if I do have to grit my teeth and face the onslaught of the braying middle class out at play. The tsunami of Burberry that was the audience for Jilly Cooper and Clare Balding left me reeling in its wake and left me wondering whether I was in some kind of nightmare land Gulliver didn’t find. No wonder I hardly saw a black face for the whole weekend………. Whatever happened to all those pledges about ‘diversity’?


Terry Potter

October 2016