Apologies for my absence this past week, but I’ve been struggling to shake off a cold in between attending several events hosted by the Manchester Literature Festival. The Festival appears to have been a great success: well-organised, well-attended, and well-received by all those present. It offered an eclectic mix of authors and performances to suit all tastes, scattered around a variety of venues in the city centre and its immediate outskirts. I was fortunate enough to be present at its first author event on Friday 13th September, before its official opening – Jo Nesbo – and at its last, yesterday – Joanna Trollope. Personally, I was disappointed not to make the Audrey Niffenegger event – time escaped me, unfortunately – which by all accounts was fascinating. Never mind… next time.
What follows is a catalogue of the events I did manage to attend:
Sunday 13th October, 2013. The Royal Exchange Theatre
Helen Fielding is blonde, bubbly, extremely glamorous and almost age-defying looking, at 55, at least ten years younger. It is said that something of the author will always be evident in their work, and seeing Helen on that makeshift stage at the Royal Exchange Theatre in conversation with broadcaster and journalist, Miranda Sawyer, it wasn’t difficult to see how that had translated to her most famous creation, Bridget Jones.
Her latest undertaking into the life of the erstwhile singleton that finally bagged her man, now finds her alone again but this time as a widow and single parent – the dashing Mr Darcy having apparently been obliterated in some far flung land. Is it coincidental that Ms Fielding has also parted from her long-term partner in recent years to find herself, for the most part, as a single parent caring for two young children – just like Bridget? Could it be life imitating art? Or is it a case of which came first, the chicken or the egg?
I braved my fear of ridicule to ask a question: Is it true that you may consider resurrecting Darcy in a later book?
This caused quite a stir amongst the audience and after some cogitation and deliberation from Helen, her resounding answer was NO!! My articulation ran dry after I’d queued up to have her sign my copy of ‘Mad about The Boy’. Trying to strike a balance between indifference and fanatical fan is difficult as I discovered when I looked on, mute, just managing to garble: “I really enjoyed your talk” to a bemused and startled Ms Fielding, before I was usurped by a more effusive devotee. Must improve on my interview technique for next time. Silly Julie!
Roddy Doyle, author of ‘The Commitments’, appeared on the same stage as Helen – not at the same time, I might add – to shed light on the revival of its protagonist and his adaptation of the original novel into a stage musical. His work is revered, being a Booker Prize-winner, but he is also a writer of short stories, children’s literature, plays, and now a musical. A warm, funny and entertaining man, he obviously enjoys life and his strong connections with family and friends, which comes through in his work.
The return of Jimmy Rabbitte in his latest novel, ‘The Guts’, finds him twenty years on, now aged 47, married, a father of four, and survivor of bowel cancer to boot. Prompted by questions from Matthew Frost, Roddy explored why he felt the need to return to this story and how is love of the evolving nature of language makes his characters stand out from the page.
When the floor was opened to questions, I again chanced my arm: What is different about the musical version of ’The Commitments’ to the film?’
This elicited a detailed and protracted response, too long for me to try and possibly emulate, let alone remember. In a short and over-simplified summary, the stage play boasts a different collection of songs and a change of focus due to the constraints of stage performance as opposed to the act of filmmaking. (I do hope I’ve got that right.)
Helen Fielding and Roddy Doyle have very different styles but are both equally fascinating, in their own individual way. I have a copy of each of their latest novels and look forward to reading and reviewing them soon.
Anyway, I’ve rambled on enough for now, so please join me later in the week for the Manchester Crime Scene, recollections of Louis Golding and Maisie Mosco, and the inimitable, Joanna Trollope.