Bradford Literature Festival – the beginning

This year’s literature festival is well underway now – I think we have all been working flat-out since Monday when the first 80 totes of stock arrived in the shop. Since then we have booked in huge amounts of stock, built a whole pop-up bookshop in an inflatable tent, hosted a sold-out event in store and done two full days of bookstalls to support author events at up to three different sites a day. Phew. I’ve not been able to see many of the talks – having to man the bookstall – but so far the festival has discussed Jane Austen (her life and times, influences on contemporary literature around the world and the delightfully titled ‘Disrobing Mr Darcy. I did sneak in and listen to a few minutes of that last one…), monogamy, djinns in fiction and psychology, geo-engineering, politics, mythologies and fairy tales and cricket. When they say this festival has something for everyone they really mean it….

20170630_190826As I say I haven’t been able to see many events but I was working for the sold-out event with David Crystal on Friday night – there was certainly a lot of love for a man described as the foremost writer and lecturer on the English Language – and he was a very lovely chap with an impressive beard. There were a lot of younger audience members and I suspect that Crystal’s own eloquence (the subject of his talk) and ability to make grammar, punctuation and the english language generally clear mean that he has helped a lot of young people make it through GCSE and A Level exams…

What makes the Bradford Literature Festival special to me is a combination of the audiences – who are as diverse and engaging as the speakers – the authors and the volunteers. Yesterday I met one of the helpers, a young Italian girl called Ciara, who has come to the UK just to volunteer for this festival. She is staying with a host family and enjoying using her excellent english language skills. I was in awe – I don’t think I could have done that at 18! It has also been amazing to watch some of the local authors move on from small panel events last year (four panelists and about a dozen attendees) to filling the biggest venues this year. Just watch out for A. A. Dhand’s Harry Virdee novels is all I’m saying…

20170702_180217.jpgFinally I did get into a bit of a discussion with some of the authors appearing at events in Bradford college yesterday. What is the correct collective noun for a group of authors? 20170702_180228.jpgAnd is it different from the one for a group of authors doing their best dinosaur impressions (it had been a long day by then…)? Any ideas? Or maybe we should ask David Crystal? – I bet he’s cool enough to know…

Jane

Set Me Free -Hina Belitz

The world of law and literature feel like they should be worlds apart and yet there are a number of novelists who were originally lawyers. Some, like John Grisham or John Mortimer, write about the world of crime, justice and the legal system but others moved into genres as diverse as poetry, surrealist literature and satire.  Oddly, I can find some Sci-Fi/Fantasy heavyweights who started out in the law (Terry Brooks, Guy Gavriel Kay and Adrian Tchaikovsky) which will hopefully bodes well for our occasional contributor Charlotte and, when I worked in a campus bookstore, we often had Alexander McCall Smith shelved in fiction, cosy crime and with medical law textbooks.

26048658Hina Belitz is someone else who has taken the step from writing guides on employment law for the general public to writing fiction. And she has chosen not to write genre fiction, not crime or fantasy, but contemporary fiction. The story revolves around Mani and her brother Nu and how they cope with the problems life has thrown at them. These range from learning how to cope with a sudden move from Lahore to cold and foggy London to dealing with domestic abuse. They deal with suspicion and abuse because of Nu’s paler than usual skin colour, which leads to their flight from Lahore and, eventually, an attack which leaves their mother dead and Nu seriously injured. There are lighter moments with Mani and her best friend Jasmine, dreaming as all girls (whatever their heritage) are prone to of what life they will live when they are grown: this is balanced by the abusive treatment Mani receives when she is swept into marriage by a man who seems to offer everything she dreamt of – security, passion and a future.

Mani is a fascinating character who we see grow from an innocent child to a confident young woman (despite the efforts of her husband). What astounded me was that I kept having to remind myself that she is still only 17 or so at the end of the book – a child who should not have had to live through her ordeals but who has survived them with an impressive maturity. It would be easy to see the abusive relationships shown as just part of the culture Mani and Nu are born into – it is certainly part of it but we would be fooling ourselves if we didn’t admit that abuse, of both women and children, is present in all corners of society.

Jane