LitFest Review: Unbound with Rachael Kerr

In this world of hyper competitive publishing, online bookstores and self-made authors, Unbound offers a fantastic hybrid to bridge the gap between artistic freedom and the mainstream. On Friday October 23rd, Rachael Kerr represented the Unbound website and attached publishing house to a small but interested crowd, first explaining how the website works. Authors are able to pitch a book project online for any kind of book they’d like to write, then they must spread the word and encourage fans to purchase advance first editions and other great perks to support their project. Once a project reaches 100% support (around 500 people), Unbound will then produce a beautiful hardback and/or paperback of their work, supplying them to supporters as well as major book retailers under the Penguin publishing brand.

Present at the talk were Francis Pryor (of Time Team fame) and Josh Spero, who both worked tirelessly to fund their books through Unbound and were successful in making their publishing dreams reality. Josh’s unusual nonfiction book “Second Hand Stories” would have been unlikely to be produced by mainstream publishing if it weren’t for Unbound, and when Francis Pryor wanted to turn from serious archaeological writing to detective stories, he was able to produce “The Lifer’s Club” through this crowdfunding platform, and is now 85% supported on a sequel.

This is a truly revolutionary publishing tool that aspiring writers will not want to miss out on, and Rachael Kerr fielded plenty of questions on the subject that would set even the most skeptical minds at rest. Find out more about how Unbound works at https://unbound.co.uk/

Find out more about the Chester Literature Festival at: http://www.chesterperforms.com/literature/events/

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LitFest Review: Sir Ranulph Fiennes

In terms of grandeur of storytelling, wealth of experience and attention to detail, Sir Ranulph Fiennes was unbeatable speaking at the Chester Literature Festival. On Friday October 23rd, an audience of all ages and walks of life thronged to hear the great fundraiser and adventurer discuss “Heat”, his new memoir. This hefty tome recounts the treasured explorer’s numerous expeditions in climates with extremely high temperatures, including the time that he served in the Sultan’s private army in Oman, and his recent triumph as the oldest Briton to complete the Marathon Des Sables.

Dignified and charming as he sat beside his eager interviewer, Sir Ranulph was well prepared for his enthralling talk. He guided the audience through a series of photographs from “Heat”, discussing the history of adventurers such as Livingstone’s work in Africa, and how the works of these great men influenced his own experiences in the country. Sir Ranulph delighted fans with tidbits from his hovercraft journey thousands of miles up the River Nile, which was at a time when hovercraft technology was brand new and a beguiling thing for native Africans to witness. He also spoke very fondly of his first wife, Ginny, who accompanied him on all his expeditions at that time.

There were countless questions at the end, which Sir Ranulph answered with the same grace and wit that he displayed throughout the talk, and one fan went so far as to commend the adventurer for his love for the country of Oman and the Muslim religion and culture despite current prejudices in the wider world. Overall, his presentation was highly engaging and it was a genuine pleasure to be in the presence of a man who has done so much to aid Marie Curie Cancer Care through his incredible challenges. It certainly makes “Heat” a tempting future read.

Find out more about the Chester Literature Festival at: http://www.chesterperforms.com/literature/events/

LitFest Review: Simon Armitage

Wednesday 21st October saw one of the most prolific and successful Northern poets of our time take the stage at the Chester Literature Festival. Huddersfield born Simon Armitage brought his authentic yet ethereal wordplay to Chester Town Hall, ready to discuss his new book, “Walking Away”. After penning “Walking Home” when he walked the Pennine Way a few years ago, this time Armitage tackled a section of the South West Coastal Path which took him from Minehead to Land’s End.

Reading sections from the most memorable days of his journey (where he existed on donations in a sock, troubadour-style) Armitage delighted the packed out crowd with the weird and wonderful places where he was asked to perform his work throughout the tour. One such location was a Yurt-style building with a fatal flaw: no hole in the ceiling for the fireplace’s smoke to escape from. The crowd ran gasping at the end of the reading, both too polite and too enthralled to leave beforehand.

Armitage admitted that his non-fiction journey did not produce a great deal of poetry, owing largely to the fact that one cannot let their mind wander when they’re walking along a sheer cliff face. Nevertheless, there were some gems to be found, as Armitage read a verse in which he tried to connect with the sea, his constant companion for three weeks on the walk. As always, his poetry seemed effortless in its complexity of thoughts, language and imagery.

At the end of his reading there were several enthusiastic questions from fans, which Armitage fielded with good grace. He spoke of the major influence on his teenage self, and indeed the reason he became interested in poetry, the great Ted Hughes, and how Hughes’s work and teachings had guided him through his own life. When asked the tricky question of how long it takes him to write a poem, Armitage dropped a random amount of time in deadpan wit, before elaborating on the variety and unpredictability of the process.

Find out more about the Chester Literature Festival at: http://chesterperforms.com/literature/events/

LitFest Review: The Devil’s Violin

A mysterious legend was unveiled on the night of October 20th as part of the superb Chester Literature Festival. The Devil’s Violin, a unique combination of live music and enthralling storytelling, took to the stage to entertain a sold-out audience. Mixing traditions of fairytale and folklore with contemporary humour, pathos, terror and suspense, the dynamic foursome presented an incredible combination of stories known as The Forbidden Door, originally created by author Daniel Morden.

Musicians Sarah Moody, Dylan Fowler and Oliver Wilson-Dickson created the transcendent atmosphere of the tale, whilst chief storyteller Dominic Kelly recounted a thrilling version of the creation of the Earth. From here, we descend to the planet itself to tell the tales of the humans that reside there. The story plays on the most essential moral themes of right and wrong, and the consequences of one’s mistakes, through the sins of curiosity and temptation. Alongside the riveting plot, percussion and a variety of string instruments create a sublime and atmospheric soundtrack to the tale.

The company’s claim to create the “cinema of the mind” is never more apparent than in total darkness, when the scene already set takes flight through music, and the audience’s own imaginations get to work. The second half of the story grew darker and more dynamic than the first, answering that time-old question of why humanity must endure pain and suffering to achieve what they want from life. What results is a beautiful story of the sacrifices made for love, peppered with dark magic and fascinating mythology. I particularly enjoyed seeing the Sun, Moon and the Four Winds brought to life as characters within the plot.

The Devil’s Violin are continuing their tour of the UK after their festival date, and I highly recommend you get to one of their shows if you possibly can. This was by far and above the best storytelling experience I’ve ever seen performed, a unique and truly creative form that’s not to be missed.

For more information on the Chester Literature Festival, visit: http://www.chesterperforms.com/literature/events/

For more on The Devil’s Violin, visit: http://www.thedevilsviolin.co.uk/

LitFest Review: Deborah Moggach

Author of such favourites as “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”, “Tulip Fever” and her new novel “Something To Hide”, Deborah Moggach entertained a collective of devoted fans on Monday 19th October. Another installment of the superb Chester Literature Festival, this evening of book chat saw Moggach divulge the secrets of the births of some of her most popular works, as well as enthralling tidbits from her personal life which often contribute to the flavour of her novels.

Gracious and vivacious as ever in her mid sixties, Moggach’s wealth of experience in the writing industry was fascinating to hear about. “Something To Hide” was her first port of call, as the author described a wealth of global themes which she had collected over the last twenty years that finally came together in this riveting drama. Her central character, Petra, is a woman newly sixty, whose romantic life is a constant stream of disasters and mistakes. Moggach revealed her own chaotic encounters with the world of internet dating, ensuring there was plenty of real life experience to back up Petra’s forlorn search for love.

When discussing “Tulip Fever” and “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”, Moggach described her very different inspirations for the projects: the former from a beautiful Dutch painting which she wanted to walk straight into, and the latter from a theory that Britain’s elderly could be outsourced to India, where their pensions would go a lot further and arthritis would be a thing of the past. She also divulged some fascinating inside information about transferring a novel to the big screen, as well as a few things that she was dissatisfied with during the process.

Moggach fielded several enthusiastic questions from the audience at the end of her talk, and was delightful and chatty when she signed copies of “Something To Hide” afterwards. The evening was an insightful and delightful experience with a writer who really knows how to enthrall her crowd.

For more information about the Chester Literature Festival, visit: http://www.chesterperforms.com/literature/events/

LitFest Review: Don Paterson and Christopher Reid

A Sunday afternoon spent with poetry is a fine thing, especially in the presence of two of Britain’s foremost contemporary poets. This was the case on October 18th, as Don Paterson and Christopher Reid took to the stage as part of the Chester Literature Festival.

Christopher Reid was the first to deliver a thirty minute set of his most recent works, which came from two separate collections. The first readings were from a short collection entitled “Anniversary”, which Reid released just over a week ago to commemorate the ten year anniversary of the loss of his first wife, Lucinda. These poems express ten moments, or memories, of Lucinda and the couple’s life together. My particular favourite was “Amazonia”, a direct address to Lucinda which discusses the play she began, but never finished writing.

Next were several selections from “The Curiosities”, an expansive work in which Reid presents poems that all have titles and themes centering around the letter C. The poems vary in content and style, from original compositions to re-writings of translations from poetry of the last thousand years. In “Costume” for example, Reid explores the childhood fascination of with sex, gender and sexuality from his own memories, whilst “Calabash” is a reconsideration of Adam and Eve’s creation myth. Reid read with a gentle humour and gave intriguing introductions to his works which really enhanced his emotional connections to the subject matter.

Don Paterson followed in the afternoon’s second half, changing the tone at once with his wry Scottish humour and deadpan wit. His latest collection is “40 Sonnets”, where Paterson explores the sonnet form in many experimental ways across various themes, tones and subjects. Picking and choosing from the book in a highly organic manner, Paterson began with a cheerful selection of humourous verses, including a failed commission to write in recommendation of his birth town, Dundee, which particularly stuck in my mind for the casual description of the “rape tunnel” one passes by.

Other intriguing readings included “Wave”, a powerful linguistic piece describing life from the perspective of a wave on the ocean, which moved “across the open water
like a wheel under its skin”. My personal favourite was “House”, actually written in tribute to the Hugh Laurie television series that ended recently, where Paterson explores the void of religiously watching the show for eight years, only to have it suddenly taken away. Paterson earned plenty of laughs from the rapt audience, yet there were noticeably tense moments in the darker side of his poems where we sat and pondered deeper themes.

Both poets stopped to answer questions for a short time at the end of the reading, which they did generously and with astute and insightful replies. It was an afternoon well spent in the presence of two extremely talented wordsmiths.

Find out more about the Chester Literature Festival at: http://www.chesterperforms.com/literature/events/

LitFest Review: Molly Naylor & John Osborne

The first live poetry tour between collaborators Molly Naylor and John Osborne was showcased at the Chester Literature Festival on Saturday 17th October. First up was the soft spoken and instantly likable John Osborne, whose collection of intrinsically human and conversational poetry held its intimate audience spellbound. Reading from both old favourites and brand new works, Osborne displayed the mundane aspects of life with new humour and clarity: instantly relatable, but also highly astute.

A personal favourite of mine was the opening piece: “Our Waitress Is Employee Of The Month”, in which Osborne’s wayward imagination delves into the life of a restaurant waitress, supposing the heartfelt motivations behind her effortless grace. More on the humourous side was the newest reading of “Someone Else’s Socks”, a delightfully strange concoction of natural human awkwardness and the pathological need to over-explain to cover up a lie. Wide in variety, all Osborne’s works were presented in a casual, almost gentle style of storytelling, weaving a lyrical narrative that was thoroughly enjoyed by one and all.

The second half saw Molly Naylor take the stage, offering similar themes of humanity, but on a more personal track. Naylor’s lexical talents stretch from the conversational to the sublime, injecting sudden lines of strikingly beautiful imagery into the situations her works describe. “The Best Boat Of All” described her childhood experiences of taking an open sea ferry to school, whilst also highlighting the poignant moments of terror on the wild waters that first bring the fear of death into a young person’s mind. Similarly, “The Wrecking Season” explores the time she spent at a writer’s retreat, but stretches beyond the here and now to explore wider themes of life, time and existence.

My recommendation that you ought to Google and get your hands on is “Whenever I Get Blown Up I Think Of You”, a lengthy narrative piece from which Naylor read an extract. As a survivor of the 7/7 bombings on the London Underground, Naylor recounts an incredible and surreal experience as the bomb went off in an adjacent carriage, a devastating, shocking moment told with pathos and raw emotion. Also highly inspiring was Naylor’s current “Self Portrait” in words, in which she lays down the particulars of her life as it currently stands, capturing a specific moment in her own timeline.

Poetry shows don’t get any better than this. Both John Osborne and Molly Naylor presented a delightful, relaxed and friendly atmosphere surrounding their work, delivering beautiful words to the waiting audience with confidence. I would highly recommend that you catch them live when you can, and I’ll certainly be checking out their new sitcom “After Hours”, which airs on Sky 1 this November.

Find out more about the Chester Literature Festival at: http://www.chesterperforms.com/literature/events/

LitFest Review: Rachel Parris

When I say that Rachel Parris was utterly charming, it’s not charming (as Parris herself would claim) in the way that Kirsty Allsop would describe a £530 pcm tool shed in Bethnal Green. I mean charming in the truest sense of the world, where a performer’s grace, humour and affability force a smile onto the hardest visage with the most underused facial muscles. This was the atmosphere on Friday 16th October, as Parris unleashed her solo show of comedy, music and improvisation, entitled Best Laid Plains, as part of the Chester Literature Festival.

The premise is simple, and begins with the question “What did you want to be when you grew up?”. As adults, we look back on the unrealistic expectations we have throughout our young lives, and Parris explores this theme with a candid look at her own experiences, through piano lessons, living as a starving artist and of course, sex. The latter was an especially large theme of the evening’s routine, but delivered with Parris’s sweetly awkward voice and fidgety mannerisms, the taboo topic of the female orgasm becomes hilariously endearing.

Whilst I usually prickle at any comedienne who calls themselves a feminist, Parris delivers pro-female humour that’s self-deprecating and humming with hilarious pathos. Her show was perfectly balanced, and it was a delight to see an authentic female comedian who can cater to both genders without resorting to cheap man-hating shots, but who I feel also accurately represents contemporary women’s views.

As well as her excellent stand-up stints, there’s also Parris’s musical talent to discuss. Her piano songs were reminiscent of the slick Broadway-style humour of the likes of Avenue Q, dealing with comical real world situations such as ‘Hen Do on a Train’: the commuter’s worst nightmare. Indeed, her faux-risque Rihanna-inspired RnB song ‘Ankles’ will be stuck in my head for days to come, and it was hilarious to be part of the joke as we sung along in the crowd. Parris’s finale was an improvised song with the audience’s childhood aspirations included, a heartwarming interactive touch in which I was proud to put my former notion of being a paleontologist to use at last.

In short, if you have the opportunity to go and see Rachel Parris perform, do it. Don’t miss out on this fresh and uniquely talented lady who’ll make you chortle ’til it hurts.

Search for more Chester Literature Events at: http://www.chesterperforms.com/literature/events/