Festival of Literature 2016
Bishop's Stortford College’s Festival of Literature returned for its seventh year with another exciting line up in February.
The aim of the week is to fuel a passion for all things literary in young and old alike, with lots of different ways to get involved. In addition to the open evening events and a full daytime programme for College pupils, there will be five open events especially for local schools.
Review: Sara Hirsch by Felix Harper
After viewing Sara Hirsch open the Festival of Literature this evening, only one possible summary springs to mind; charmingly unconventional.
This was illustrated perfectly in her opening ‘joke’ that turned out to be an endearing poem on how she wants her life to be spent. Of all the other possible features of her poetry that I could compliment, the stand out element that really made Hirsch unique and utterly captivating was her ability to move seamlessly between heartfelt, meaningful messages in her poetry to light hearted, relevant moments of comedy gold that had the audience including myself unable to control our regular bursts of laughter.
A personal favourite of mine was ‘Five Little Words’. Based on the harshly honest yet all permeating nature of love, the poem was written in such a way that the audience was very able to identify with the multitude of emotions portrayed here. Laughs and sighs were all genuine, and based on past experiences that were being evoked through the effectiveness of Hirsch’s delivery, and the thought provoking expressions and imagery she was portraying.
Finally, a heartfelt moment right before the end of the performance was Hirsch’s apology to her mother for reading out a poem about her father’s fight with cancer. This, I thought epitomized Hirsch’s style of poetry, one that tackles difficult, personal topics and which leaves you no choice but to applaud the charming way in which she presents these issues. I admired her courage and talent in being able to create brilliantly emotive poetry out of them.
Felix Harper, Lower Sixth
Review: Germaine Greer by Christina Radukic
Friday night saw the eagerly awaited Germaine Greer take to the Festival of Literature stage. Germaine has certainly made a name for herself in the media world with regard to her somewhat controversial views on trans genders but most notably, feminism.
It is easy for many to think that the need for feminism is a thing of the past, but Germaine’s lecture on the phenomena of the ‘disappearing women’ seemed to argue otherwise. The idea of the ‘disappearing woman’ reflected the view that women are shrinking away in society, increasingly under-represented from a young age up to and including the elderly. Germaine argued the need for ‘militancy’ in women’s protection of their rights in the workplace, specifically healthcare and education. Her argument continued as she tackled perceptions of the “pill”, abortions and a young woman’s self image.
Those expecting to get a glimpse of Germaine’s renowned aggression and cynicism weren’t to be disappointed. She criticised the lack of respect and understanding the modern-day young women has for herself, attacked the lack of militancy in the teacher’s union and questioned the viability of our approach to the miscarriage and the uterus.
One may not have liked or agreed with what she was saying, but it cannot be denied that she is a simply fantastic public speaker. The audience were riveted throughout; amused by her select use of humour, intrigued by her thought provoking questions and irritated by some of her more outlandish statements.
Christina Radukic, Upper Sixth
Thanks to our Festival Partner, Hutton Construction, for supporting this event.
Review: Arthur Smith by Elizabeth Francis
Not being a regular listener of his show on BBC Radio 4 meant that I was somewhat unsure of what to expect from Arthur Smith on Saturday night. However, to put it as he did: eventually we will all listen to Radio 4. Indeed after the whirlwind of hilarious one-liners, quirky poetry and uncanny Leonard Cohen impressions, I know that for me this will be sooner rather than later.
To begin with Arthur read us an extract from his highly acclaimed memoir My Name is Daphne Fairfax by which he attempted to convince the audience that his role as a stand-up comedian is not the impossible one we are led to believe it is and is instead similar to the heroism of slaying a lion! Then, after an onslaught of ‘Doctor Doctor’ jokes which left us all in stitches, we experienced what can only be described as emotional whiplash as Arthur performed a poem about his mother’s heartbreaking struggle with dementia, a story made all the more poignant by being amidst the hilarity. From here Arthur paid tribute to Leonard Cohen with a haunting rendition of Hallelujah while donning the typical black fedora.
A truly entertaining evening that not only bodes well for the remainder of this year’s Literature Festival but leaves me hoping that we will be seeing Arthur make a return appearance in the coming years.
Elizabeth Francis, Lower Sixth
Review: Ben Haggarty by Rachel Cunningham
When I first volunteered to review Ben Haggarty’s performance at the Festival of Literature all I knew was that he told ‘fairy tales for grown ups’ and so, naturally, I had already created an idea of what I expected the evening to entail. I was ready for an hour of retellings of my childhood favourites: Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Snow White. All of which I love dearly and would have been happy to hear through Ben’s fascinating narrative. However, we were instead introduced to Jack, the protagonist of a story I had previously never heard and it was not long before I found myself wrapped up in this world of invisibility cloaks, hideous hags and wise old blacksmiths, feeling far too involved in the captivating twists and turns of this story.
Ben’s commitment to the story he told and the way in which he brought his characters to life made the evening truly magical and I felt it captured the true essence of what fairy tales are all about. This combined with his clever side notes, regarding dreams and such like, kept the audience involved throughout. In fact what I liked most about the event was that I was not alone in my childlike excitement. This was established when the audience was asked, “What does every story begin with?” and with the enthusiastic response of, “Once upon a time!”, I was happily transported back to childhood parties and story times.
I would definitely recommend Ben Haggarty to anyone, young or old, wanting to return to the days of fairy tales and adventures, but with a new level of intelligence and wit.
Rachel Cunningham, Lower Sixth
Review: David & Ben Crystal by Zoe Benton
On Monday evening, the sensational father and son duo, David and Ben Crystal, revealed to us their fascinating insight into the world of Shakespearean language. David, British linguist, writer and broadcaster, commenced the talk with discussion on their newly published ‘Illustrated Dictionary of Shakespeare’, stressing its deviation from your everyday word finder. The book serves as an innovative gateway into understanding the denotations behind the plays and offers visual representations to embody the Elizabethan settings.
Ben, actor, author and producer, captivated the audience with his enlightening knowledge of the spoken form. He focused on this topic of ‘original pronunciation’ and the ways in which Shakespeare, over the years, has been tainted by the use of received pronunciation. In reality the original actors’ voices would have come across as far more colloquial and perfectly adapted to the rhyming verse, emphasising the beauty of the language. Ben puts this into practice through his theatre company, ‘Passion in Practice’, having directed many plays as they would have been performed over 400 years ago.
In a hilarious demonstration of the impact of Shakespeare’s words, the pair acted out a short extract from a book currently being written by David Crystal, composed entirely of Shakespearean idioms, each first recorded phrases within the bard’s plays. Furthermore, the pair discussed at length the prominence of iambic pentameter and the central role it plays within our everyday rhythm of speech, demonstrating the huge influence Shakespeare’s writing has had on modern language, shaping our very lives today.
The pair held an incredible chemistry, often furthering one another’s knowledge between quips and familial remarks. To conclude the evening, several insightful questions were asked by members of the audience, with responses covering a huge range of literary topics and personally, sparking an interest to look further into the progression of the English language and its influence on current day media and literature. Both David and Ben were excellent in their presentation and, together, managed to captivate an audience of all ages with their seemingly endless knowledge and insight into the world of Shakespeare.
Zoë Benton, Lower Sixth
Review: David & Ben Crystal by Philippa Johnson
On Monday the 8th February, I went to watch Ben and David Crystal’s performance on Shakespeare. I thought that Ben and David got their points across in a very amusing way. It was a very funny and engaging performance. I learnt lots of things that I did not know before, for example, 1167 words that Shakespeare created, we still use today. I also learned that Hamlet is the play that has the most words. A very factual performance. It was very good and I really enjoyed myself.
Philippa Johnson, Lower Third
Thanks to our Festival Partner, Kinetics, for supporting this event.
Review: Alastair Humphreys by Oliva Hart
If there was one man who could make my adventurous streak feel inadequate, it would be Alastair Humphreys. Having cycled around the world, rowed across the Atlantic and run 150 miles across the Sahara desert, he has some incredible stories to share.
Despite having met Maasai warriors and visited the world’s coldest village, where temperatures can reach minus-seventy degrees Celsius, one of the stories that the audience found particularly shocking was when he ate dog in China. However, he admitted that these adventures of his may never have happened. Before beginning his first expedition, he feared he might fail, or not live up to the expectation of those around him. Yet as soon as he began his journey, a weight was lifted from his shoulders, and he realised that with every small step, he was making progress.
Now his latest challenge is to make adventure accessible to everyone. Alastair aims to prove that anyone is capable of beginning their own adventure and ‘problems’ such as lack of time, equipment or money are no excuse! In order to demonstrate this, Alastair revealed that he was able to keep his 1551 day adventure, spanning across 60 countries, to his budget of £7000.
Since then, Alastair has been on his first “micro-adventure”- a trip around the M25. Although he admits that sleeping under a plastic sheet on the roadside in the snow was rather miserable, it is still one of his favourite adventures to date. He has also written a book titled “Micro Adventures”, in which he gives more ideas of different adventures for ordinary people with little skill or money to try.
Overall, it was a very enjoyable evening. Alastair was engaging and his humorous stories had everyone laughing. He adapted his presentation to the budding young explorers in the audience, including the lively, enthusiastic and inquisitive cub scouts. Not that long ago Alastair was just a normal man, without the funds, skills or physique of the stereotypical explorer, and since then he has achieved so much. His desire to live adventurously and live life his own way is admirable.
Olivia Hart, Lower Sixth
Review: Alastiar Humphreys by Philippa Johnson
On Tuesday the 9th February I went to watch Alastair Humphreys talk about micro-adventures. I thought that this event was very inspiring. It showed us that our lives are actually rather boring!
Alastair told everyone about his 4 year and 3 month cycle around the world, explaining he had no skills or money, just a bike and boundless curiosity. I agree with the young boy at the front row who shouted ‘awesome!’ - it was an awesome talk of Alastair’s journey accompanied by fascinating photos and experiences. I would recommend this talk to anyone wishing to “step out of their comfort zone” and discover something new about themselves.
Philippa Johnson, Lower Third
Review: John Trotman by Georgie Elliott
Tuesday evening saw the return to the College of a living legend, John Trotman, headmaster between 1997 and 2011. Having been only twelve years old when the seemingly worshipped leader retired to the Isle of Wight, I still recall the school assemblies where Mr Trotman would give his quirky yet highly intellectual addresses, and how these were always tumultuously received.
The witty, yet eloquent speaker that many remember so well was in full force from the offset of the evening; his ease of words reminding us immediately of the many times before he had stood at that podium.
Mr Trotman opened the evening with a poem he explained he had written following a school concert; to suggest the ‘insubstantiality of music’ and its ability to drift away ‘like a train leaving the platform’. After Mr Trotman had finished the reading, a short pause was followed by a performance of Debussy’s Clair de Lune. This accentuated the message of the poem, highlighting the beauty that exists within music, and its transient ability to ‘leave the platform’ and disappear as soon as it is presented to us; that music exists in time and does not stand still.
Many of the poems Mr Trotman recited were deeply personal both heartfelt and honest. We learnt of his virtuoso mother, his artistic father and the love he feels towards his wife – touching all who listened profoundly. The orchestra replied with subtle emotion and passion with fine performances of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 and Vaughan William’s atmospheric Rhosymedre.
The evening was one of nostalgia for both the audience and Mr Trotman himself. All present felt honoured to have been a part of such an occasion and I, alongside the whole College thank Mr Trotman for returning to us once again.
Review: Sophie Hannah by Shona Reid
Enigmatic, unconventional and hugely enjoyable; their friendly chemistry combined with a question and answer style to the evening, caused award-winning editor Jason Cowley and internationally best-selling writer Sophie Hannah to inspire the audience to rethink the crime thriller genre.
Together, Sophie and Jason explored the depths of her heroines, giving us, the keen eared audience, insight into just why her spiky, ruthless and often eccentric characters are the way they are. Her answer: they simply say and do the things she really wants to.
Sophie’s novels amalgamate the classic 19th and 20th century murder mystery puzzle with the modern day realism of psychological crime. This new outlook on the thriller genre provided the audience with plenty of questions and I cannot help but applaud Sophie for her willingness to indulge us into many of her life’s inspirations, particularly her fascination with the secretive nature of schools.
We were also lucky enough to be given a thrilling sneak peek into Sophie’s new psychological crime novel: ‘The Narrow Bed’, just before it was released to the public, with titbits of the story line and characters, thrown to us from both Sophie and Jason.
However, the evening wasn’t simply us clawing on to every detail of her new book, and after some more thought-provoking questions from the audience Jason introduced us to an intriguing idea: the possibility of the glamorisation of serial killing as the genre popularity rises. This produced even more captivating conversation, including Sophie’s thoughts on two of her novels being adapted for television.
I for one thoroughly enjoyed the energetic ‘book club’ atmosphere to the night and was first in the queue to buy Sophie’s new book as I’m keen to find out whether serial murders really are the new ghost story.
Shona Reid, Lower Sixth
Review: Julie Summers by Georgia Tinson
My first impression of this talk, was the wondrous buzz generated around the room. This was created by her three-dimensional talk and the lovely ladies swanning around in their practical, yet glamorous clothing of World War Two - complimented by their daintily coiffured hair. Julie Summers herself styled a 1939 dress and hat, hand-made by a navy reserve.
Julie was thoroughly entertaining, with her obvious interest in the make-do-and-mend aspect of fashion in the war; her many anecdotes also provided a highly educational insight into how women coped with staying stylish, with limited coupons in the many years of the war. A personal favourite of mine is the method of faking silk stockings; by applying gravy browning to create the effect of colouring on their legs, or staining ones lips with beetroot. I have now been inspired by a more make-do-and-mend approach; after all, if beetroot worked in the 40’s, why not now?
Georgia Tinson, Lower Sixth
Review: Lauren Child by Rebecca Towns
It was an amazing day for the pupils in Form One and Form Two when Lauren Child came to speak at the Bishop's Stortford College Festival of Literature.
Lauren Child is the author of utterly fantastic books such as Charlie and Lola, Ruby Redford and Clarice Bean. In total, Lauren has written over 40 incredible books and if that isn’t enough she also illustrates her own books as well. Her characters are funny and engaging and her illustrations definitely take you into the story.
Lauren spoke about her childhood and how she became an author. She also talked to us about how she wanted to write films and how she made Charlie and Lola come to life in their very own TV series. In her presentation Lauren also spoke about how she came up with her characters –Ruby Redford was named after a film star. Lola’s character was inspired by a talkative girl that Lauren saw on a train whilst travelling to Denmark.
Everyone had a great morning with Lauren and she was kind enough to answer the many questions we had to ask her. Everyone left the Hall wanting to write their own stories, but not sure that they could draw their own illustrations.
Rebecca Towns, Form One
Review: The 2 Steves by Edward Campbell
The 2 Steves talked about their series of books called I hero, they are different types of books where you don’t read about a hero you ARE the hero. You get to choose what you do throughout the whole book.
The 2 Steves were very funny and very inspiring. They grasped the audience and they were all joining in. they even got people from the audience to join in with them and once you had been up you got a certificate at the end.
Their books are unique and I haven’t read anything like them. They must of written over 40 books which all are funny and all make you laugh.
Also The 2 Steves work very well together and both have written most of the books together.
Some of their books include: Alien Raid, Space Rescue, Code Mission and Superhero.
But they don’t just write I hero books they also write books about a different hero called Luke Challenger.
Their real names are Steve Barlow and Steve Skidmore.
They got teachers to join in with one of their activities and put them under loads of pressure, which was really funny.
I would defiantly recommend their books because they are different and inspiring.
Edward Campbell, Form One
Review: The 2 Steves by Karla Shuttlewood
I think that the 2 Steves were very funny. They acted like comedians. I liked the 2 Steves because they said when you read other books you were reading about a hero but when you read their books you were the heroes. They have so much energy so nothing is silent.
They even got some of the audience, including teachers, to join in with their activity. I personally think The 2 Steves work together very well. Most of their books are aimed for boys but they do have some books for girls. They were very generous to all the people who took part and to all the audience.
I defiantly recommend The 2 Steves. There books are funny and inspiring and you never know what’s coming next. I bought one of their books and I am really enjoying it even though its not a girls book.