Derby Book Festival

Derby Book Festival happens in June every year across the city.

Derby Book Festival

Friday 3rd June, 7.30pm: Opening Ceremony: Carol Ann Duffy and John Sampson

I arrived 45 minutes early to this event and there was already a huge queue of people outside, which is no surprise considering the popularity of its stars. The Poet Laureate herself read a selection of her works, some well known, some newer pieces, all the while accompanied by a selection of historical instruments, some from the 15th century, played by John Sampson.

The combination of poetry and music became particularly beautiful when Duffy read her poem about her mother's life and death, the soft notes echoing the sentimentality and meanings of the writing. Duffy read three poems from 'The World's Wife' which is my favourite collection of her poems. I particularly enjoyed 'Mrs Faust'. Hearing Duffy read the poems out loud herself, after years of reading the poems myself, was particularly enlightening. The way the words were read changed the meaning of them, and as an audience we were able to see exactly how the writer had intended the poems to be performed which was an amazing experience.

At the end of the performance we had the chance to meet Duffy and buy a book to be signed. I was a nervous - I'm not great at these meet-and-greets, and here was my favourite poet, and the person who inspired me most to keep writing poetry myself. I was a little overwhelmed. Luckily, Duffy herself was friendly, asking if I was a student and enquiring about my degree. She said she'd have loved to have studied Art History, her favourite art being cubism and Picasso.

A brilliant evening, fantastic performance and excellent venue. Hearing it all read in Derby Cathedral was quite something, the words reverberating around the walls of the church. It was beautiful and a special shout out to the organisers and staff who I think did a fantastic job. Everyone was so nice and friendly.

Saturday 4th June, 2pm: Charlotte Bronte: 200 Years on Tracy Chevalier and Claire Harmen

This event began with Tracy Chevalier interviewing Claire Harmen about her latest book, 'Charlotte Bronte: A Life'. The most fascinating details were the little snippets we learned about the Brontes. Before her writing career took off, a young 19 year old Bronte visited Brussels with her sisters with the intention to learn German and Spanish to set up a school. Bronte fell in love with her Tutor who taught there, unfortunately he was married. Harmen told us how even on returning home, Bronte would still write to her tutor to the dismay of his wife. The only surviving letters were not replied to, and indeed were torn up by her tutor before being pieced back together by his wife. Its easy to see how this influenced the novel of Jane Eyre: a story that we know inside out, read over and over again, and yet its little gems of information like this that give it new context, new excitement.

Indeed that's how I left this event. Jane Eyre is my favourite book, and yet having read it so often it begins to lose that initial spark. After today I looked at it afresh, and the excitement began to bubble again.

Claire Harmen interviewed Tracey Chevalier in return. When talking about her edited collection of short stories, 'Reader, I married him', Chevalier recalled that she had requested that each writer write no more than 3000 words and either developed the idea around the quote, marriage or the plot of Jane Eyre. Indeed, 4 or 5 writers wrote stories around the plot, some writing from the viewpoint of Grace Poole whilst others wrote from the viewpoint of Mr Rochester. Neither portrayed Jane very favourably. Other writers used motifs from Jane Eyre within their own work, such as the use of dogs and mirrors. Chevalier's favourite part of Jane Eyre is when she is lost upon the moors, which Harmen pointed out was the Derbyshire Moors rather than the Yorkshire moors, I did not realise this. So it taught me new things about the novel.

The end of the discussion was followed by a Q and A. The most interesting and controversial question asked was whether it had been hard selecting which works to include, whether any submissions had not been good enough or not made the cut. Chevalier replied that she contacted lots of people about writing for this book and many weren't interested or had no ideas regarding the brief. Out of the people who wrote from the books some were surprised and angered when Chevalier wished to edit their writing (naturally as the role of 'editor') so Chevalier offered for her own story within the book to be edited by another writer who wrote for the book. This was an interesting insight into writing and the processes of writing and putting together an edited volume. Its not always smooth and needs a collaborative effort and a willing to accept constructive criticism to improve it.

Again the talk ended with a book signing, of which the authors both wrote a really nice inscription for me. The staff after the festival were so helpful and approachable: helping me collect bookmarks they were distributing for free. I really enjoyed my time at Derby Book Festival and was pleased to see it had a really varied audience, many young people and older people attended, all brought together by their love of books.

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Mary Strickson

Mary Strickson Contributor

I love writing, blogging and reviewing on Voice and other online publications, covering a range of topics but I especially love the arts, activism, film and theatre. When I am not writing I work as an events photographer and artist/illustrator, as well as running workshops in schools and the community, mostly with young people. I'm also a huge history nerd, have a History BA, Art History MA and work in heritage. I love comics, superheroes and anything sci-fi.

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