Book Festivals, Posed Sets, Liberal Luvvies and Pseuds

I watched an interview on BBC News 24 the other night. It was recorded at the Haye Book Festival. I don’t recall the author. He was Irish and that seemed to be important to him. I didn’t take note of his name because I was immediately distracted, and not a little annoyed, by three things.

Now, I’ve never been to a book, or literary festival. Not being able to read [!] there seemed little point. This being the case, I didn’t know what to expect visually. I kind of envisaged a marquee with a few plastic seats laid out and the author and interviewer/MC sitting out front, but on the same level as the guests, who I took to be a handful of folks attending mainly to get out of the rain. More spare seats than full ones - I mean, who really wants to listen to some self-obsessed author talking about his or her books?

I don’t suppose anyone like myself, or the likes of Remittance Girl, would go down too well at these kind of functions anyway! I shouldn’t speak for myself, but I would guess that her books, of which I am a huge fan, might hold up too honest a mirror for the liking of many of the attendees.

Anyway, there was the scene. A stage, no less, with two chairs and what appeared to be a coffee table between the interviewer and the author, like he’d just dropped in for a cup on his way to somewhere else! Annoying thing No.1.

Then, wait for it, to the right of the stage was, a bookcase! A bookcase, full of unread books. ‘Serious Literary Fiction’ then, no doubt! So, was this was someone’s lounge or study? Could it actually be that of the author? Obviously the interviewer was an old friend and had actually come to visit the writer in their own home. That was the explanation, obviously! Annoying thing No.2.

So, what was annoying thing No.3? Well that was the audience, seated not on plastic chairs but in quite plush seating. Now I don’t know how choreographed things are for a broadcast of this nature. I mean, are things allowed to get a little ‘out of hand’? Is audience dissent tolerated? - comments like, “yeah, I read your book and it was a load of pretentious crap” or “You are so far up your own arse Matey, you’ve vanished”.

Of course the BBC would undoubtedly edit out such interventions anyway, but their output showed the audience at the other extreme of the behavioural spectrum. The audience were enraptured and, of course, oh so thoughtful. Many were shown with their chins in their hands, in an ‘I think, therefore I am’ sort of pose, or with their heads slightly enough cocked to one side, so as to indicate that “I am listening oh-so intently, and of everyone here, only I fully get the author’s message”. One can almost imagine suitable pseuds being picked out and filmed separately, then the sequences edited back in. Yuk!

I do recall a piece of television that was much more entertaining, however. It was a documentary on the Vietnam war photographer Tim Page. I have a copy of Tim Page’s NAM, and it is one of my very favourite books. I love this man’s honesty. As I recall, near the end of this documentary, there was a Q & A session following a presentation at the ICA in London. A female member of the audience with an obvious agenda suggested, in a somewhat accusatory manner, that his photos seemed to glamorise war. He replied that war could be glamorous. He said that riding around in the rear cockpit of an F4 Phantom or in a Huey helicopter gunship was glamorous. He said it was like trying to take the glamour out of the Rolling Stones – it simply couldn’t be done.

Somewhat taken aback, the questioner then asked him, having stopped covering wars, what he did with his time these days? Masturbate, was his answer. Now that is style! The best liberal luvvie ‘put down’ I’ve ever seen. Now literary festivals like that would be well worth attending!

Book Festivals, Posed Sets, Liberal Luvvies and Pseuds