Words by the Water 2017

I recently led a holiday for HFHolidays, to the Words by the Water Festival at the Theatre by the Lake in Keswick. I stayed at Derwent Bank, one of their country houses and took my party in by taxi to events of my choice, giving a talk to prepare them for each event the night before.

On Saturday we went to the talk by Edmund Gordon, the author of a new biography of Angela Carter, the first ever done about her. She died tragically young, aged only 51, but left a prodigious amount of work. She lived a very interesting life, travelling all over the world, and remained an avid reader throughout her life. I prepared my group my giving an illustrated talk with examples of her work and interesting facts about her writing themes and approaches to fiction. The event on Saturday took the form of a Q&A. The most fascinating part of it was when Gordon explained his methods of research and his careful corroboration of facts, because he had been told stories about her which belied actual events, and had had to sort out the truth from embellishments, including those from Carter’s own hand. Having written a book myself on Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (for my money her best work), I was in a strong position to introduce her to others.

Focus carter

The guests went to other talks, but I made myself available to them all day, eating lunch with some and  showing others around Keswick. We returned to the house at 4.30 and I gave a talk on the next day’s even at 5pm. The event I had chosen for the second day was very different. It was Christopher Somerville, discussing his most recent book, The January Man. My talk for the group included points about the genre of creative non-fiction, a multi-media presentation about the new book, including Mike Harding singing the song which inspired the book, The January Man, by Dave Goulder, and an article by Somerville from his A-Z of walking. The event with Somerville on Sunday was wonderful. Again it took a Q&A format, though I’d have liked to have heard more from Somerville himself. He sang the song for us and showed photographs, and gave us many insights into the charms of the different locations he had explored. The idea of his book was to experience different parts of the UK which has special memories for him and show them across the seasons. We had done some sharing of our own special places as part of my talk the previous evening, so I think it all resonated very well with the guests.Somerville is the sort of person that one could imagine having as a friend.

The holiday guests had booked tickets themselves to additional events, as the holiday company includes two, giving them the choice for others, so because I wasn’t needed so much, I bought a ticket to Kathryn Hughes’ talk , ‘The Victorians Undone’. This proved to be fascinating. Hughes spoke from the lectern, after a short introduction, and it was easy to see her passion for history. She focused on a few case studies, such as why George Eliot’s family were embarrassed because she had one hand bigger than the other. In the book, she has written about even more case studies, including Lady Flora’s belly, which some might have seen a plotline about in the recently televised ‘Victoria’ drama, on the early life of the Queen.

Myself and my group returned to Derwent Bank in time for a feedback chat before dinner and some literary quizzes and puzzles which I had created for them after dinner. It was our farewell eventing, and there was much laughter and warmth between us and some wanting to keep in touch, which I welcomed. When I saw the guests off after breakfast, they were all very positive about what a good time they had had. I was very pleased that my first experience of being a holiday leader had gone so well.

I would have liked to have seen more poetry at Words by the Water. The events I attended were good, but there was a heavy focus on creative non-fiction, on politicians and critics. Being a poet myself, I was disappointed there was so little poetry on the menu and none of it on the weekend chosen by the holiday company, though Helen Mort had been on the previous weekend, reading from her new book.

The bookshop was doing well, however, with expensive hardbacks being bought and taken to the book signing table. It was good to see such enthusiasm for book purchasing. The theatre itself was, as usual, hospitable and comfortable. It was a pity the weather was rainy and chilly, but nonetheless, it was good to be back in Keswick.





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