was my first ever Literature Festival and I was really looking forward
to hearing from some very familiar names. The three day Spring Literature
Festival kicked off in Cheltenham on Friday 2nd April and featured
the likes of Dame Judi Dench, Martin Bell and Rita Marley.
dark art of Spin
all began for me with The Spin Kings on the opening night. This
was a highly topical lecture especially after all the recent perceived
excesses of spin in modern government.
intrigued to discover that nobody knew what a spin doctor was in
the early 1990s, much less what they actually did. It was a term
coined in America by political aides as an expression of the ability
to 'bend' the truth to make a story move favourable. Today, almost
everyone knows what spin is and treats it with a groan or a roll
of the eyes.
when you think about it, spin has existed throughout the ages -
just look at any notable individual or organisation who wanted to
appear in a favourable light to its people. They almost certainly
attempted to twist the truth of a situation to make themselves look
as good as they possibly could.
spin, though, has been taken to a new level with the perceived extremes
of modern government. Take Jo Moore's now infamous e-mail about
releasing bad news in the wake of the 9/11 atrocities - certainly
morally dubious but a good example of the extreme heights spin has
Sixsmith was one of the speakers at The Spin Kings, and he has had
personal experience of government spin from when he was a Civil
Service press officer. He spoke at length about how the so-called
'black art' of spin was used in the new Labour government, how he
objected to its extremes and where he feared it could lead the country
in the future. He also briefly revealed just how powerful and influential
a character Alastair Campbell was at the heart of the government.
say that I found the debate on spin truly fascinating. Michael Shea
also contributed to the discourse but he seldom found voice such
was the intrigue of Martin Sixsmith's narrative. I guess people
are as fascinated with spin as much as they loathe it.
man in the white suit
Five Live's Matthew Bannister with Martin Bell and Roger Hardy
topic of current affairs was continued with the legendary war reporter-turned-politician
Martin Bell and Roger Hardy, who is the Middle East analyst for
the BBC's World Service. They were standing in at short notice for
Rageh Omaar, who had to withdraw from the festival due to family
reasons. It was a shame Rageh wasn't there - to hear about his experiences
in Baghdad during the war would have been most interesting - but
speakers of the calibre of Martin Bell certainly didn't lessen the
all that's going on in the Middle East and in Iraq, the discourse
was bound to be both intriguing and difficult. There are clearly
no easy answers to the questions posed in Iraq or the Middle East.
The whole situation seems to be descending a vicious circle of violence
and hatred to which there seems no end.
Bell, who has seen war at its most horrific intensity in Bosnia,
seems to think that we won't see an end to the conflict in Iraq
in his lifetime. Personally, I can't see it in mine either.
seems that the reasons for war in Iraq were largely disagreed with
by both those on the stage and those in the audience, although Bell
revealed he would have accepted regime change as a legitimate reason
for war. However, he vehemently disagreed with the weapons of mass
destruction argument and both he and Roger Hardy were concerned
with just how easy it was to go to war. They were also critical
that no thought seemed to have been given to what would happen in
Iraq after the initial conflict was over.
kind of debates are the lifeblood of democracy and one of the refreshing
things about both of these events were the opportunities for the
audience to question the speakers. All in all, I was very impressed
with the opening night.
Judi Dench with her biographer John Miller
which was the final day of the festival, stood out for me as a real
revelation. I bought tickets to hear Dame Judi Dench speak on her
experiences of Shakespeare. This event was held in the newly opened
Centaur auditorium at Cheltenham Racecourse.
amazed to see so many people there - I later discovered there were
over 1700 people who came along to hear her speak. Assisted by her
biographer John Miller, Dame Judi was great value. She's played
a wide range of Shakespearean characters in her career and she revealed
her thoughts on her favourites and her most loathed ones.
also told an enthralled audience anecdotes of her experiences on
the stage like the time she took Shakespeare to Africa. She played
to an audience in Nigeria which included real vultures perched high
on a wall - she noted that it was a little disconcerting because
the play was Macbeth and those who had been 'killed' had to twitch
every now and then to make sure the birds didn't swoop down for
she ever returns to speak again at a future festival, make sure
you grab a ticket because she is as entertaining as she is likeable.
evening with Jasper
Jasper Fforde with Nic Baddeley
was rounded off with a visit to Cheltenham Town Hall to hear novelist
Jasper Fforde talk about his
well, how can you describe his
stories? They're an almost surreal reality where literary characters
come to life and life itself is not quite how you'd expect it to
be. I would like to tell you more but I've only just started to
read his first novel The Eyre Affair (and because its premise is
very hard to explain in a nutshell).
Jasper speak about the unusual world he'd created and his heroine,
literary detective Thursday Next, really did inspire me to pick
up the The Eyre Affair in the book tent and buy it. I even got it
signed by the author which was a real bonus!
saw a handful of events at the Spring Literature Festival and I
really wish I could have seen them all. The weekend was littered
with ordinary people discussing what they'd heard and what it all
meant to them. One stranger approached my friend and I, and began
enthusing about a poet he'd seen the night before - such were the
meaningful impressions left for all those who went along. It's important
to see one of mankind's greatest achievements celebrated in such
a positive way.
say I really enjoyed the events I attended at the Spring festival
and I can't wait for the next one which is due to be held in October.
I'd recommend it to anyone. As the promotional blurb promised -
it really did put a literary spring into my step!
about Gloucestershire festivals
Tim Telling's review of the festival