Lit Chic: Sex, civil rights and stuff

My day began as part of a packed audience in the Main Theatre watching William McIlvanney, who assured the audience “you’ve confirmed my faltering faith in my scribblings” and read extracts from three as yet unpublished works. These works were consistently thoughtful and self-deprecating, ranging in topic matter from the ageing process to finding truths through sex. He told us that he believes “the unexamined life is hardly worth the time” and his readings certainly attempted to engage our consciousness.

The lunchtime crowds seemed intent on soaking up some – admittedly intermittent – sunshine, and those deck chairs were once again in high demand. Queues snaked around the square, whether for ice cream or Orlando Figes (more, I should say, for the latter).

Over in the Peppers Theatre I watched Julie Hill, author ofThe Secret Life of Stuff, discuss with environmental journalist Rob Edwards our tendency to accumulate material possessions. This talk provided me with what will almost certainly be my only opportunity to say that the central point of the argument was illuminated by a vacuum cleaner based analogy. To summarise: Hill believes that regulation (in this example, of vacuum cleaner wattage) will lead to industry innovation and better and more environmentally sound products.

Back in the gardens, children were inexplicably running amok, charging at pigeons and the like, so I took shelter in the Bookshop Cafe. Delicious cake; unwieldy queue.

Cake break over, I returned to the Peppers Theatre for my daily dose of Amnesty International readings. Today was a somewhat stellar cast: Meaghan Delahunt, Frances Bingham, George Makana Clark and Vivian French reading works of imprisoned writers, including Martin Luther King’s amazingly atmospheric Letter From Birmingham Jail. But it was Delahunt’s reading of Natalya Gorbanyevskaya’s poetry that really moved me. A dissident intellectual under the Soviet regime, Gorbanyevskaya’s work is beautifully human and painfully sad in its acceptance of death: she compares an execution block to a lover’s shoulder. This was probably the best Amnesty event of the three I’ve seen so far; particularly successful in its merging of iconic readings with lesser-known pieces.

Finally, my day was rounded off listening to more readings from Delahunt and Bingham: this time, from their own work. Both authors have written novels set on islands, and they came together with Jenny Brown to read extracts and discuss the wide-ranging themes in their respective books, from the importance of setting to children’s place in a family dynamic. Both authors spoke eloquently about their work and their inspiration and indeed, this event was one of the most inspiring I’ve seen so far.

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