Budleigh Salterton 2019 Part 2

Elizabeth Ducie

This week, we have the second of two reports on author talks at last month’s Budleigh Salterton. CWC member, Elizabeth Ducie, talks about the three events she attended.

“It seems a long time ago, now, and hard to believe as I glance out of the window at the rain-sodden countryside and watch the leaves fall from the trees, but this time last month, Budleigh Salterton was bathed in late summer sunshine as I joined the crowds queuing to hear authors speak at this year’s Literary Festival. I saw three quite diverse authors in one day. Here are some of the highlights from each one.

Joanne Harris

I used to lap up everything Joanne Harris wrote, but haven’t read anything of hers for a while. In fact, listening to her talk about The Strawberry Thief, book 4 in the series that began with Chocolat, I realised I have quite a bit of catching up to do. Joanne is passionate about protecting writers’ rights and does a lot of work in this area with the Society of Authors and ALCS. The former teacher is also very generous with her time and expertise and admits to attempting to recreate her schoolroom environment with her Daily Masterclass on Twitter. Follow her to pick up her Ten Tips… series and her #storytime in which she seeks to subvert the oral tradition.

My favourite quotes from her interview were: “the dividing line between having imaginary friends and being a writer is a very fine one”; “the other things in a writers’ life are what provide the human interaction needed to get ideas”; “once your book goes out into the world, it doesn’t belong to you anymore. Write for yourself, rather than for any particular set of readers”; and on her writing routine: “300 words every day is easy and can be written anywhere.”

Asked about the filming of Chocolat, she told us she has a strong image of what her characters look like, and because she ‘got there first’ the film doesn’t affect her inner images in any way. However, she did admit that while Judi Dench and Julliette Binoche were just right, Johnny Depp was ‘not her type’.

Susie Orbach

Like most feminists, I read Fat is a Feminist Issue when it was first published. I was curious to hear what Susie Orbach was talking about forty years on. So it was a tad depressing, although not completely surprising, to hear her say the situation is actually much worse today than when she wrote the book, which she refers to as FIFI, since ‘body shaming’ now extends to men and boys; and social media plays a huge part in this.

My favourite quotes from her interview were: “the body is a canvas on which we write a story”; “if the diet industry worked, we’d only have to do it once”; and when asked about her own eating habits “I eat well and pleasurably when I am hungry.”

I realised by the end of this talk that this psychotherapist and social critic has interesting things to say about much more than body image, and I now want to read some of her other books. And one of her closing comments, on Brexit, struck a chord with many people in the audience, irrespective of their views; “our country is going through a divorce; and both sides are hurting.”

Robert Harris

One of the attractions of the talk by the prolific and versatile novelist, Robert Harris, was the promise of a signed copy of his latest novel, The Second Sleep, as part of the entrance ticket price. The queue for this talk stretched across the churchyard, and down the road by the time to doors opened. The distribution of the books was chaotic in the extreme, and I never did get mine signed; but everyone got their copies in the end and I do have a nice shiny new hard-back that’s rapidly approaching the top of my To Be Read List. I’m not going to say anything more about it, as there’s a great twist in the premise, but it’s definitely worth investigating.

The interview itself was wide-ranging and Robert Harris talked about the background to several of his books, which cover such diverse areas as Cicero’s Rome; the last days of Stalin’s era; and Tony Blair’s Middle East interventions. The idea for An Officer and a Spy, came from Roman Polanski. This retelling of the Dreyfus affair is my favourite Harris novel, and he admitted it is his favourite, too. He described it as “the timeless story of ordinary people doing wrong out of the belief they are doing right.”

My favourite quotes from the interview were: “Disneyland and modern politicians cannot be satirised. We couldn’t make up anything worse than they are”; “journalism is a good training for writing fiction”; and his rather depressing assessment of our current situation: “the ability to change people’s minds by reasoned arguments has gone. It’s an appalling novel in which we are all trapped.”

All in all, a good day out, with the chance to eat lunch in the sunshine overlooking the sea. Happy Days.”

Elizabeth Ducie

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