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Meet the authors: What have Big Book Weekend's guests been reading?

15 March 2021

Val McDermid, Sir Lenny Henry, Kit de Waal, Russell Kane, Grace Dent and Guvna B - six of the 30 authors who are taking part in Big Book Weekend - share pearls of writerly wisdom and reveal which books have helped them through the past year.

Clockwise from top left: Guvna B, Grace Dent, Sir Lenny Henry, Kit de Waal, Val McDermid, Russell Kane.

Big Book Weekend | Saturday 20 & Sunday 21 March

Author Kit de Waal is one of the co-founders of Big Book Weekend, and hosts the closing Sunday session in conversation with Sir Lenny Henry. So what was the motivation to establish the event? We also asked Kit to share the title of a book that she enjoyed reading this year.

"I wanted to bring the magic of books to lots of different people, especially those who might read a book once a year or never at all. Books are really all about ideas, so if we talk about those ideas we are inevitably talking about books and the ideas inside them."
"I loved The Correct Order of Biscuits by Adam Sharp because it’s funny and clever and easy to dip into."

Kit de Waal is an award-winning writer whose novels place ordinary people at the centre of the story. My Name is Leon, de Waal's debut novel, was the winner of the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year 2017 and is being adapted for the BBC.

Kit actively supports writers, through Birbeck's Kit de Waal Scholarship for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, as well as the joy of books for all through Big Book Weekend and the Primadonna Festival. Her latest book, published in 2020, is a collection of short stories titled Supporting Cast.

Kit de Waal on the BBC

Kit de Waal's chat with Sir Lenny Henry is the closing session of Big Book Weekend, at 5pm on Sunday 21 March.

Guvna B describes himself as “a rapper who writes books and is on your TV sometimes”, and he joins Big Book Weekend to discuss the topic of masculinity with Alex Wheatle and Russell Kane. We asked him why the discussion appealed to him, and to select a book that was important to him this year.

“I'm personally invested in productive conversations around Toxic Masculinity and the detrimental effects it can have on society as a whole. It's something that isn't unique to a particular background, but being working class I recognise that there aren't enough voices from my world involved in the conversation.”
Akala - Natives: Race & Class in the Ruins of Empire. “It was good to read a book on the part Britain has played, and can play, in the conversation about Race.”

Guvna B is a multi-award winning rap artist from London whose musical work blends grime and gospel. Since winning the first of two MOBO Awards for Best Gospel Act, at just 20 years old, he has carved a unique place for himself in the music world.

Guvna's writing draws on his personal experiences, bringing together themes of identity, faith and masculinity. His new book - Unspoken: Toxic Masculinity and How I Faced the Man Within the Man - is an intimate, honest and unflinching account of how Guvna reassessed his assumptions about life when confronted with personal tragedy.

He presented the documentary Gospel Meets Hip-Hop on the BBC's World Service and BBC Radio 2's Keeping the Peace, part of a season on 21st century peacemakers.

The Documentary

Guvna B is joined by Alex Wheatle, Russell Kane and Ace to discuss How To Be a Man, at 3pm on Saturday 20 March.

Crime novelist Val McDermid will be talking at Big Book Weekend about her passion for reading, and why she thinks we all need stories that get under our skin. Ahead of the weekend, she reflects here on how the act of writing brings you into someone else's imagination, and reveals the book she has been dipping into every morning.

“There's a joy in disappearing inside someone else's head and figuring out how they would deal with their circumstances differently from me.”
The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St Clair. “She delves into the history of paints and dyes and reveals the stories behind 75 shades. It's a fascinating splash of colour in these grey days of winter.”

Dubbed the Queen of Crime, Val McDermid has sold over 17 million books and is translated into more than 40 languages. Best-known for her Wire in the Blood series, much of her work has been adapted for screen and radio. A broadcaster in her own right, Val has guest edited BBC Radio 4's Front Row and presented features for the Culture Show, as well as triumphing as a Celebrity Mastermind champion.

Val McDermid holds a treasure trove of precious Dagger Awards for crime writing, and an Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction among her many awards, which she began to collect while working as a journalist.

Val McDermid on the BBC

Val McDermid's Big Book Chat with Alex Clark starts at 6pm on Saturday 20 March.

Ahead of Sir Lenny Henry's Big Book Chat, we invited him to share some key insights for budding writers and asked which books have helped him through the last year.

“My insights are that you have to finish things - glue your bum to the seat and get it done. Also take some exercise once In a while - when you get stuck: move, it helps. It’s also great to have an ‘ideal reader’ in mind as you write.”
“I’m re-reading Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman, Defining Moments in Black History by Dick Gregory, Alias by Brian Michael Bendis, The Artist’s Way by Juliet Cameron and Save the Cat by Blake Snyder.”

Sir Lenny Henry appeared on television at a young age, winning the talent show New Faces, and gained cult status on children's television. He has built a career as a celebrated comedian, presenter, writer, co-founder of Comic Relief, and as an award winning actor.

Born Lenworth George Henry in 1958, he was knighted in the Queen's 2015 Birthday Honours for services to drama and charity. In 2018, following years of study alongside his professional activities, Sir Lenny received his PhD doctorate in Media Arts from Royal Holloway, University of London. He regularly speaks to audiences around the world about diversity. Sir Lenny's memoir, Who Am I, Again? was published in 2019; he is currently working on new writing commissions.

Sir Lenny Henry meets Louis Theroux

Sir Lenny Henry talks to author and Big Book Weekend co-founder Kit de Waal at 5pm on Sunday 21 March.

In a full-flavoured Big Book Weekend session, author, broadcaster and columnist Grace Dent weighs up what the food we eat tells us about ourselves, our roots, and our society. Ahead of that, she spills the beans on her book of choice this year.

"I love talking about food and class. The two subjects are incessantly interlinked – from what supermarket you choose, to what you ate as a child, to which cookery book you pick up in a book shop."
Stalin Ate My Homework by Alexei Sayle. "It’s his memories of being brought up in Liverpool by staunch communists. Weird, touching and funny."

Grace Dent is a tireless writer and presenter. She is restaurant critic for the Guardian and a key voice in the world of food. Grace is a familiar face on the BBC's Masterchef and Great British Menu, and presents The Untold on BBC Radio 4 and What We Were Watching for BBC Four.

Grace has written eleven novels for young adults, among them the series Diary of a Snob and Diary of a Chav. In 2020 she published Hungry: A Memoir of Wanting More, a story of how the British working class have lived, loved and eaten.


Grace Dent is joined at Big Book Weekend by Ruby Tandoh, Jack Monroe and Shahidha Bari for Digging In: How Our Food Shapes Our Lives, at 1.30pm on Sunday 21 March.

Joining Guvna B to discuss masculinity at Big Book Weekend is comedian and author Russell Kane. His recent book, Son of a Silverback, reflects on father-and-son relationships, what is perceived as 'manly' and the impact this can have. His reading recommendation is one that aims to reclaim the joyfulness of being a child.

“There’s a big conversation around male mental health at the moment - but often the role of humour and ‘banter’ gets overlooked.”
"I’ve just read the most amazing TINY book. Wild Thing by Mike Fairclough. About bringing child-like exploring and play into adult life."

Russell Kane is an award-winning comedian, presenter, actor and author.

Russell hosts the weekly podcast Evil Genius for BBC Sounds. He and his guests deconstruct historical heroes and villains - from Boudicca to George Best, Winston Churchill to Whitney Houston - and decide whether they merit their status. Russell also hosts Boys Don't Cry, a podcast panel show about male insecurities that mixes humour and serious conversation.

Russell's first novel, The Humorist, was published in 2012. It is the story of a comedy critic who uncovers a joke that can kill. Son of a Silverback is his moving 2019 memoir about growing up with an alpha male father.

Evil Genius

Russell Kane debates How To Be A Man with Alex Wheatle, Guvna B and Ace, at 3pm on Saturday 20 March.

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