Hawkesbury Festival 2

This year’s Hawkesbury Literature Festival (the second, and expanded, version) has spawned a whole host of author blogs: so where to begin? As we drove west to the Cotswold village of Hawkesbury Upton, rain lashed down from a uniformly greyed-over sky. It didn’t look promising. It continued raining steadily as some us gathered at the Methodist Hall to help lay out the pop-up cafe and display our books. Outside the Fox Inn the marquee, put up for the children’s art and writing activities, stood in the downpour.

But the weather’s total turn-round overnight meant Saturday promised a wonderful day. Moving between the Fox, the tent, the Methodist Chapel and the Hall, authors, visitors, and volunteers enjoyed blue skies, bright sunshine, and attractive gardens full of spring flowers.

If there was anything wrong with Hawkesbury this time it was there was so much to do and to see. The Tent buzzed with children doing art or writing sessions, and adults viewing the illustrators’ work and the colouring books, the cafe buzzed with TeaAndCoffee drinking, cake-eating, cheese-tasting the Cornish Yarg, chatting and book-browsing.

And there were sessions on poetry and on Writing with or Difference, besides last year’s Fiction category, divided into several sections, and all featuring in both Readings and Panel discussion categories.

This year, as a participating author, I enjoyed my first experience of being on a discussion panel (two: ‘Contemporary Fiction: Write What You Know – or Not?’, and ‘What’s the Point of Poetry?’). It’s always interesting to learn how other people ‘work’, their motivations and their approach to creative activity. A number of us on the Fiction panel go for the ‘get the story all down, then edit’ method, and one at least said she doesn’t usually know how the book will end when she is at the beginning. We all agreed that whether or not you set out to ‘write what you know’, research will enter your life as you turn your well-known environment (Jackie Kabler’s is working as a TV journalist/presenter) into the settings your plot. Lynne Pardoe’s stories come straight from her experiences as a social worker – and have happy endings. Ali Bacon continues to experiment with how far or not she writes what she knows, and enjoys producing short stories. Jackie set her story within the TV Newsroom but someone had murdered her boss … which she certainly hasn’t witnessed … and Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn told us how her editor had suggested that although she had researched Venice and knew it well, the enthusiastic descriptions needed editing down. Nikki Owen’s story features a woman with high-functioning Aspergers Syndrome, which she doesn’t have but obviously found fascinating enough to enter into and create a story. Thomas Shepherd does have Asperger’s, but his story, a fantasy, doesn’t feature this. Some find this research time a necessary evil: others really enjoy digging into what they don’t know. And we seized the chance to enlighten our audience about how much writing what know is autobiography: no, it pretty much always isn’t.

So with sessions on contemporary, historical, sci-fi and fantasy, and writing fiction from a point of ‘being different’, what was the most popular with the audience? It was this one: the skill of writing about your or another’s difference or disability: making the ‘difference’ work for your writing, overcoming by your writing, sharing what it is like to be inside what counts as difference.

At the same time, learning more about other authors, how they work, why they write, is tremendously unifying: books are the bottom line, and within that, a huge diversity of interests, styles, attitudes, and lifestyles.

Recently, we’ve hosted, as a City, the huge Blackwell’s Oxford Literary Festival – a chance for celebs and well known authors to be gathered into one place and for audiences to hear them speak and have them sign copies of their books. A small Festival like Hawkesbury has a totally different feel: a chance to interact with readers, and fellow participants. Hawkesbury aims to be inclusive: we were a mixture of Indie and ‘trade published’ writers, of amateur and professional poets. None us could claim ‘celebrity’ status, giving the Festival a true festive and for-the-people feel, offering a ‘platform’ to everybody and aiming to give exposure to new names in the writing business.