We have two great debut writers at Bath Literature Festival: literary supremo and ex-Booker judge Alex Clark is continuing the series she started at Stoke Newington Literary Festival — Alex Clark’s Stars of Tomorrow — with Darragh McKeon, author of Everything That is Solid Melts into Air on Friday March 7 at 8pm. This is a much-talked about elegant debut which tells the story behind what happened at Chernobyl. (I am struggling not to use the word “fall-out”.) Recommended. Colm Toibin: “Daring, ambitious, epic, moving.”
Here’s the blurb: “Russia, 1986. In a run-down apartment block in Moscow, a nine-year-old piano prodigy practices silently for fear of disturbing the neighbours. In a factory on the outskirts of the city, his aunt makes car parts, trying to hide her dissident past. In the hospital, a surgeon immerses himself in his work to avoid facing his failed marriage. And in a rural village in Belarus, a teenage boy wakes up to a sky of the deepest crimson. Outside, the ears of his neighbour’s cattle are dripping blood. Ten miles away, at the Chernobyl Power Plant, something unimaginable has happened. Now their lives will change forever.”
I am also so proud that Joanna Rossiter is the (debut) author of this year’s Big Bath Read. I need to check the archives but I’m pretty sure it’s the first time a debut novelist has been chosen for the Big Bath Read. The local response to the book has been phenomenal. Over 60 people signed up for our Goodreads book group online (the first time this has ever been trialled — and already it has been chosen as a featured Goodreads Group, promoted to Goodreads’ 18 million members) and we’ve been holding face-to-face book groups across Somerset, talking to readers about The Sea Change.
Tonight’s group at Midsomer Norton (pictured above) awarded it an unprecedented (for them) 7.9 out of 10. Judging by their faces, this was an exceptionally generous mark and meant it was a book they would recommend to anyone. (They gave Wolf Hall 5 out of 10 and they really liked it. Scary.) Earlier today, I talked to Joanna Rossiter on BBC Radio Bristol and she talked about how much something like this means to an author with their first novel. This is exactly what the Festival is for and it makes me very happy.
You can join me for our big Festival Big Bath Read Book Group on Wed 5 March at 1pm in Bath — it will be a lot of fun.
Or you can join Joanna at Keynsham Library at 7.30pm on Wed 5 March — or in Bath at 1pm on Thurs 6 March — both are waiting list only now, I’m afraid.
Hurry hurry hurry to secure tickets for Bath for 28 Feb to 9 March! Because lots of great events are sold out: Germaine Greer, Austentatious, Rory McLean on Berlin, Alev Scott on Turkey, Henry Marsh on neurosurgery, Stephen Grosz on psychotherapy, several of Joanna Rossiter’s book groups (author of our Big Bath Read, The Sea Change — click here for the Goodreads group to join the conversation online)… If you are desperate for a ticket, please sign up for the waiting list with our box office on 01225 463362 — I have been monitoring the situation and I am seeing tickets emerge from time to time so it is worth doing. (This happens because sometimes people make block-bookings and then realise a couple of people can’t come.)
And a lot of events are down to single figures for remaining tickets: Jeff Williams’ jazz gig on the final night (he’s a jazz drumming legend and Mr Lionel Shriver — this is the first festival they’ve performed at together); historical novelists Sarah Dunant and S J Parris in conversation about what will be the next Wolf Hall; philanthropy expert Theresa Lloyd on the psychology of giving.
What you should buy now because tickets flying and will soon be in the final phase: Jennifer Saunders, Great Bath News Debate (with Alain de Botton and Jon Snow), Joanna Trollope, Tim Moore, Ben Chu’s Chinese Whispers, Hanif Kureishi, Claudia Roden, Alastair Campbell.
Some of my own favourite events:
— Patrick Barkham and his badgers — Britain’s leading nature writer on our most elusive creature
— Julian Baggini on the art of eating — The entertaining philosopher on why we’re obsessed with food
— Sally Magnusson on her memoir about her mother — An extraordinary moving family story about memory and grief
— Gary Shteyngart: “America’s funniest writer” on a rare visit to the UK — if you love David Sedaris, you have to see him
— Miranda Seymour: the award-winning biographer on the colourful historical relationship between England and Germany
— Tom Rob Smith: “My father told me my mother needed psychiatric treatment. My mother told me my father was lying. Who was I to believe?” His new novel The Farm is based on this nightmarish true story
— Darragh McKeon: Fantastic debut author with an extraordinary novel that tells you everything you need to know about Chernobyl.
PLUS: The “A Woman’s Place Is…?” debate with Kirsty Wark, Jane Shepherdson, Hadley Freeman and Sarah Bailey; and the Encouraging Wealth Creation debate with Stefan Stern, Nick Cohen, Steve Richards, Theresa Lloyd and Tom Hughes Hallett. For a guide to all our debates click here.
There are more updates on the all the events and the changing picture daily as we come into the Festival countdown on our Facebook page, including news on the latest press coverage for all the authors at the Festival. Meanwhile I need to start planning my shoes.
Here’s my guide to the Festival in the Independent. 2 weeks to go! Top tips: Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld; Miranda Seymour; Tom Rob Smith; Gary Shteyngart (I’m reviewing his new book on BBC Radio 4 Saturday Review next week); Darragh McKeon (amazing debut novel on Chernobyl).
Germaine Greer’s White Beech: The Rainforest Years reviewed in Red.
“With all Germaine Greer’s campaigning and public speaking it can be easy to forget that she’s a great writer too: above all White Beech: The Rainforest Years is a surprisingly compelling read, filled with expert botanical details and personal asides.”
There is an outside chance still to see her in Bath on Saturday March 1. The event sold out just before Germaine’s 75th birthday in January — but you can still go on the waiting list if you call 01225 462231.
Here’s a couple of guides to the comedy at Bath Literature Festival in GQ and on the Bath Festivals website including Jennifer Saunders (who I’m interviewing), Jo Caulfield, Lucy Porter, Mark Watson, Count Arthur Strong, Steve Richard, Ellie Taylor, Mary Bourke, Rachel Parris, Austentatious…
There’s a handful of tickets left for our Great Big Comedy Night: Happy 75th Birthday, Germaine! on Friday March 7 at 7pm — and for my show I Laughed, I Cried at 4.30pm the same day.
The Germaine Greer public lecture (based on her new book, White Beech) on Saturday March 1 at the Independent Bath Literature Festival is pretty much SOLD OUT! I’m so thrilled. A handful of extra tickets may be released in the next few days or you can go on the waiting list here. Keep checking the Bath Festivals website.
If you can’t get a Germaine ticket for love nor money nor first editions of The Female Eunuch, then this is a great substitute: The Great Big Comedy Night – In Honour of Germaine’s 75th Birthday (which is in late January — but better late than ever). It’s at Bath Komedia on Friday March 7 at 7pm in association with Bristol’s award-winning all-female comedy night What the Frock. At Bath we’ll be featuring a token man – Live at the Apollo’s Mark Watson. I think it’s what Germaine would want.
Our official big launch for the Independent Bath Literature Festival 2014 kicks off at 9.30am on Monday 20 February at the Bath Box Office next to the Abbey. Several events have already sold out and Germaine Greer only has a handful of tickets left.
I will be there handing out free copies of The Big Bath Read 2014, Joanna Rossiter’s The Sea Change, a brilliant novel by a local debut author about the relationship between a mother and a daughter as the fall-out from the Second World War echoes across the generations. Here’s more on The Sea Change in our discussion group on Goodreads. See you for free books! (Bring coffee for me. And cake. I will have a day off my sugar detox.)
The second I got the job as the new artistic director at the Independent Bath Literature Festival, I knew I wanted to put Austentatious on the 2014 programme. They were the first thing I thought of. So it makes me especially proud that they were the first event to sell out, almost two weeks ahead of our official programme launch on January 20. Featuring Cariad Lloyd, whose BBC3 pilot has earned her comparisons to Catherine Tate, and Rachel Parris, star of Channel 4’s The IT Crowd, Austentatious is a seven-strong crack team of improvisers who conjure up a “lost” Jane Austen novel out of thin air, based on audience suggestions.
To go on the waiting list for Saturday March 8 click here or call the Box Office on 01225 463362.
Interview for this smart new website, Culture Whisper, with recommendations for film, books, theatre and live events. In case you are feeling too lazy to click and read (and I would not blame you, it’s turning out to be a long month, this January malarkey), they are: Hanif Kureishi’s new novel The Last Word (he’s also at Bath on Sunday March 2: tickets here), American Hustle (like it needs me promoting it when it already won loads of awards and Golden Globes and things), Germaine Greer’s exclusive appearance at Bath Literature Festival on Saturday March 1, the Hampstead theatre play Rapture, Blister, Burn (I’m doing an event there on 5 Feb) and Austentatious 2014 Tour (including their performance at Bath on Saturday March 8). Culture = sorted.
On our 2014 programme: Alastair Campbell, Rachel Joyce, Patricia Hodge, Jonathan Dimbleby, Jed Rubenfeld, Amy Chua, Gary Shteyngart, Jo Caulfield, Ben Watt, Lucy Porter, Philip Hensher, Michael Rosen, Douglas Alexander, Jonathan Aitken, Gabin Esler, The Incredible Spice Men, Nicky Haslam, Adele Parks, David Lodge, Mrs Moneypenny, Frieda Hughes, AL Kennedy, Boris Akunin, Olivia Laing, Lionel Shriver… and over 150 more names.
If you cannot *possibly* wait until all the tickets for the Independent Bath Literature Festival (which I’ve curated) go on general release on Mon 20 Jan, you can jump the queue as of today. Sign up here.
Here’s how it works: support Bath Festivals by becoming a Member and unlock all of our tickets now. £20 buys you PenPal status which includes this in the deal:
— Advance brochure mailing (of the lovely booklet with the candy floss on the front, which is a guide to all our events and also operates as a handy guide to all the best books out in the first quarter of 2014)
— One week priority booking on all Festival events
— Invite to exclusive supporters’ events
— Discounts and special offers with our Festival partners and our Festival bookseller, Waterstones.
Why else would you want to do this? Above and beyond all this, it is a great cause. Because Bath Festivals are a not-for-profit. Like many of the other great British arts festivals, there is no way we could do what we do without the generous support of friends, patrons, supporters and sponsors.
Plus, if you sign up as a PenPal and tweet me about it, I’ll send you bespoke reading recommendations. I will flood you with them until you ask me to stop. Just tweet me at @vivgroskop
I loved what Philip Hensher (who’s with us on 3 March talking about “Bliss is… Wagner”) said in his recent piece about “putting the arts at the heart of our society”: “This should be a golden age for readers but it feels like the end of days.” Except I don’t think it is the end of days. I am willing to bet £20 that it is just the beginning of days.