I am now in my fifth week of my year-long apprenticeship at Orleans House Gallery and although it’s been a bit hectic, I love it! My role is to jump between the Education and the Festivals Teams, so I get to experience the best of both worlds (you’re both my favourite, honest!) At the moment, I’ve been helping with the Richmond upon Thames Literature Festival, and this post is going to detail my experience of doing just that…
The nights are drawing in and, in my opinion, as soon as the cobwebbed terror of Halloween is over (or, as soon as the clocks go back) it’s time for the sparkly warmth of Christmas! Unfortunately, not everyone shares my embarrassingly elf-like enthusiasm – particularly my friend working in the Christmas department of a shopping centre who once upon a time actually enjoyed ‘Deck the Halls’, now… not so much. So, what to do in this gloomy in-between; in this grey November? What to do when politics is spiralling out of control and the Christmas adverts become more ludicrous than ever? (Come on, a dog on a trampoline and a death-defying robin?) Well, the answer can be found at the Richmond upon Thames Literature Festival, transforming November into something nearly as exciting – and definitely fulfilling - as Christmas dinner (but don’t hold me to that one). The idea of curling up with a good book seems infinitely more appealing when the rain is incessant and boxes of Quality Street are on sale. So what could be better than being in the presence of incredible authors, playwrights, illustrators and actors talking about literature? This is what I had the pleasure of experiencing (and of course all the hard work that goes into planning, marketing, and evaluating – we don’t just sit around reading books with huge cups of tea unfortunately).
Even though the first event I helped with didn’t quite go to plan (with the author stuck in traffic, we were forced to reschedule), it was a baptism of fire, so I was ready for whatever the next event would metaphorically (hopefully not physically) throw at me. The next talk was by Margaret Drabble on her new novel ‘The Dark Flood Rises’, which was held at the Queen Charlotte Hall, Richmond Adult Community College. With attendees including Jacqueline Wilson, Arthur Bamber Gascoigne, Claire Tomalin, and Michael Frayn, needless to say my hopes for this event were high. Luckily, I wasn’t disappointed (if I was, writing this blog post would’ve been slightly awkward).
Even though the novel was aimed at the older generation, I found Margaret’s talk compelling and funny (although perhaps not as relatable in regards to back pain and technology struggles, it must be said). I genuinely enjoyed listening to Margaret; she has a fascinating ability to make the whole audience feel comfortable around her, whilst feeling uncomfortable about the subject – the ever-uplifting inevitability of death – which made her speech even more absorbing. This juxtaposition, this contrast of feeling at ease and slightly distressed and mournful all at once, was cleverly manipulated by Margaret – she didn’t allow the audience to become too despairing; despite the sad topic of her book, we weren’t all wailing at the inescapability of death and forgetting the many variants of bacon (pancetta and lardons, in case you were wondering). We were, in fact, laughing at the ridiculousness of the protagonist’s obsessive behaviour which we could all relate to in some way (although I’m 19, I’m not completely immune to being caught up in habits that are stupid in the scheme of things, but impossible to break – although these habits don’t involve cooking soup for my ex-husband).
Another event that I helped with was Jo Marchant’s ‘Cure’, in which she discussed her extensive research about the physiological impact of psychological circumstances such as stress and even taking placebos. I believe I can speak for the majority of the audience when I say that listening to Jo provided an enlightening and slightly shocking insight into the world of drug companies and medical treatment. If you haven’t come across this book, then I highly suggest you get your hands on a copy (or two!)
Overall, I believe that the 2016 Literature Festival has been a great success. The audience members (which included Sir David Attenborough!) were engaged and many of them took the time to say how impressed they were with this year’s programme. And, in true clichéd form, I would like to say thank you to everyone involved - it has been a great pleasure to work amongst such talented and diligent people. Thank you if you attended the festival, I hope you feel that your November has not faded to grey, but instead been enriched by the incredible art form of all the authors involved. And if you didn’t get to attend this time, then hopefully we will see you next year! In the meantime, let’s prepare for the onslaught of Christmas!
Community Arts and Engagement Apprentice, Richmond Arts Service