I have been quite silent on the blog for the last few weeks, but I promise, I have good reason.
I have just got back from the most amazing visit to the Jaipur Literature Festival in India, where I was presenting a session on Seamus Heaney. Now, I’m going to warn you early in this post – if other people’s holiday pictures bore you, then look away now. Because I’m going to share a few pictures (OK, maybe more than a few!) . And there may be some name-dropping, but I’ll try to keep that to a minimum.
Courtesy of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the British Council, I was invited to participate in the 2018 Jaipur Literature Festival. Billed as the ‘greatest literary show on earth’ the Festival is a riot of colour, books, ideas and inspiration.
Think Glastonbury for books – the Festival encompasses 5 stages hosting more than 100 sessions over 5 wonderful days. The Festival is free, which means that last year there were over 300,000 people attending, the majority being young, selfie- loving literary fans.
I can’t argue with their numbers, the place was jam-packed, sometimes uncomfortably so, however, as a speaker, I had access to the Author’s Lounge where I could take a breather and stalk some very interesting authors including Shasi Tharoor, Bridget Fielding, Tom Stoppard and Michael Ondaatje.
I was on the bill with the novelist Glenn Patterson – if you have yet to read Glenn’s work, do! It’s fantastic. Glenn is also the Director of the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queens University Belfast.
Together we presented a screening of the BBC NI film ‘Something To Write Home About’ exploring Heaney’s thoughts on place and borders and then we chatted a bit about the work that we do in our respective Centre’s.
Our talk was held in the stunning Durbar Hall and we were equally stunned to see a full house for our talk and an enthusiastic and engaged audience who asked insightful questions. In the picture below it looks like either Glenn is falling asleep while I talk, or like I have just made a bad smell, but I can guarantee that neither was the case 🙂
Once the talk was out of the way, I had the chance to just take in and enjoy the Festival. The pop up Bookstore was a real treasure trove, featuring the work of everyone taking part in the Festival, but I behaved and only came home with four books, one of which was a present.
One of the pleasures of the JLF is that almost every talk you stumble across is fascinating and I enjoyed hearing Charlie English talking about the lost manuscripts of Timbuktu; a lovely session on fathers with Keggy Carew and Sam Miller; Lisa Randall talking about dark matter and a panel of Indian, Irish and UK economists talking about the future of work.
I was almost crushed in the roaring crowds who greeted Bollywood star Nawazuddin Siddiqui (recently seen on the BBC in McMafia); had a lovely coffee and chat with Philip Norman, the biographer of The Beatles; ate dinner at the Opening Reception with the hilarious Dame Helena Kennedy QC and was blown away by a performance by the Indian poet and dancer Tishani Doshi, whose poem Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods has become a rallying cry for the #metoo movement and is strikingly powerful.
We also had the good fortune to
crash the secure an invite to the Penguin Party on the Saturday evening, which was held at the Rajmahal Palace in Jaipur. I can safely say that I have never in my life seen anything like that party. I felt like I was in a scene from The Great Gatsby as we mingled poolside, drinking free champagne with Amy Tan. Yes, THE Amy Tan. I talked Brexit with Anthony Horowitz; mistook a hotel developer for Hamid Karzi; called Dominic Dromgoole, author and former artistic director of The Globe Theatre, ‘that Hamlet guy’ and marvelled at the opulence of the toilets.
What had been the most amazing night, ended in near disaster though, as the tuk-tuk we were travelling home in crashed, flipped over and went on fire. Thankfully all of us walked away from the crash with just cuts and bruises but it could have been much, much worse.
It was a dramatic end to my India adventure, but it turns out us ‘Irish bunch’ were the talk of the Festival, with rumours that it was our very loud rendition of ‘Come On Eileen’ that caused the tuk-tuk driver to crash just to shut us up. I can neither confirm nor deny this.
All things considered, I had the most amazing trip. I made some very good friends and met some incredibly interesting people, some of whom I plan to bring to HomePlace in the next year.
I know that Jaipur isn’t exactly local, but if you ever get the opportunity to attend, I highly recommend it. It is a true one off and an inspirational and exhilarating place to be.
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!