On the 10th October 2018, I had the pleasure of attending my very first event at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. This is bizarre when you consider the fact that I’ve lived in Cheltenham for 22 years of my life. That is on top of my love for reading and writing. The Literature Festival should have been on my radar from the moment I was born. Yet, somehow, I’d never attended the festival that my hometown is renowned for.
On the 4th October 2014, I vowed to change that. Unfortunately, I was due to start a University course in Birmingham the following October, making it incredibly difficult to justify returning home for the sake of watching people I had never heard of discuss books I’d never read.
Let us transport ourselves, for a moment, to the south of the country. Picture yourself on the Isle of Wight. That’s far enough away from Cheltenham to justify having never visited, let alone speak at any sort of event there. This was the case for Kieran Larwood who, like his attentive listener, had likewise never attended. The 10th marked a first for us both.
I’m still unsure as to who this was a bigger deal for: Kieran or myself.
Okay, probably him. You could see his nerves flaring as he walked onto stage, which is weird, considering that he used to be a Primary Teacher. Kieran constantly made jabs at teachers who had escorted their children there, joking that a highlight of writing meant he no longer had to teach. It was almost as if he had spied my pink volunteer T-Shirt, acknowledged my desire to teach, and did everything in his power to turn me from the career.
But I doubt that was his true intention. His true intention was to make kids laugh – and that he succeeded in wholeheartedly. You should’ve seen it: the room roared to life with laughter at his comments. The talk, organised for visiting schools, progressed much smoother now, as the nervous man transformed into a confident commander of kids. It was as if he had become a Primary Teacher once more.
The children were gripped by Kieran’s tales. His personal life featured heavily in the discussion, revealing the influence of Tolkien on his works. So many children raised their hands when asked if they’d read The Hobbit. Even I haven’t even read The Hobbit, but as one fantasy fan to another, it is a pleasure to know that the genre is no longer being turned from us, as was the case with my generation.
Kieran proceeded to read from his book, The Legend of Podkin One-Ear, exciting the attendees for its sequels. However, Kieran’s own excitement turned to disappointment when questioned on the state of his first novel, The Peculiars (originally entitled Freaks, a far inferior title), which never garnered a sequel. Questions continued and, as a volunteer at this event, I soared over the heads of staff and students to present them with microphones to query Kieran with. There was a lot of repetition:
“Are you writing a sequel?”
“Are you writing a new book?”
“Are you writing more Podkin?”
Respect must be paid where respect is due: Kieran came up with a multitude of creative answers, rather than resorting to a simpler ‘Yes. Yes. Yes’. He also handled one question about the possibility of time travel featuring in future stories exceedingly well. Rather than a flat-out ‘no’, he forced the student to consider how difficult it is to execute the plot device, referencing Doctor Who as one series that gets away with such a feat successfully. Thinking about it, Kieran makes a great point. How Chris Chibnall has any new ideas to bring to Jodie Whittaker’s run as The Doctor, I’ll never know.
The Q&A ended with the creation of a fantasy map that used the help of the audience, getting their creative juices flowing. Kieran advised that stories often come from the worlds you create, encouraging kids to brainstorm their worlds before writing. I must admit to having never considered this but felt inspired to do the same in my own time. Bravo, My Larwood.
His talk concluded to a rousing round of applause. I had never expected to enjoy or learn so much from a discussion aimed at Key Stage 2 children, but Kieran pleasantly surprised me. And Kieran, if you’re reading this, then stop with the children’s fiction already and get started on your Silmarillion, your creation myths and your fantastical histories. Write something that I can read on a train without worrying that commuters will think I’m eleven-years-old.
Cheltenham Literature Festival Rating: