Voewood Festival: Wellsprings of creativity
The last day of the Voewood Festival began with a stimulating discussion between Meg Rosoff and Matt Haig, refereed by Rowan Pelling. Exploring the wellsprings of the urge to write, the novelist the LA Times described as “the Queen of Weird” picked up a theme raised by Hanif Kureshi the previous afternoon: the desire to escape from suburbia. When she was younger she felt that living in the burbs meant that one was “doomed to a life of insignificance”. Only later did she realise what a rich source of material it provided, because “what happens in the city is not nearly as dark as what happens in the suburbs. Everyone in the suburbs is pretending to be normal, and that’s when it all goes horribly wrong.”
Later, the crime novelist Christobel Kent, creator of the Florentine detective Sandro Cellini, reflected on the childhood trauma of being sent to boarding school: “If you wanted to cook up a recipe for a writer, you’s say, ‘Be cruel to this child – send them away from their parents. If you’re writing stories of death and destruction, it’s useful to have a strong sense of dread in your own heart.” The presence of Diana Athill in the audience gave rise to some fascinating reminiscences of their time working together at Andre Deutsch, regretting the decline of the relationship between author and editor as publishing has been forced to become more streamlined.
Over in the big tent, meanwhile, sculptor Antony Gormley offered his views on art and the artist. A trained anthropologist, he pointed out that the specialisation of the role of the artist is a specifically Western phenomenon that has formed a “weird alliance with late capitalism”, and that in other cultures art is something that is done collectively. Of his Trafalgar Square plinth project, he professed to have been initially offended at being offered a pedestal set up for William IV, a king “nobody bloody liked enough to be bothered to put up his statue”.
A painting by Gormley, entitled “The Angle of the East”, was auctioned while still wet, and fetched £2000 for the nearby Kelling Hospital. Another popular item, the chance to have your portrait taken by Martin Parr, who has been photographing the festival, raised £540. Immortality in the form of a main character named after you in Meg Rosoff’s next novel, went for £460, with a caveat. When the same item was auctioned last year, the buyer asked for their child to be named. To begin with, all was well, but as the novel progressed and took on a life of its own, a problem emerged. Rosoff wrote to warn the purchaser: “Your child is a wonderful character, but his father is an alcoholic child killer.” Back came a solicitor’s letter, threatening to sue her to Kingdom Come if she ever used the family name in a book. Fortunately this did not deter a buyer this time round.
Following the previous two nights’ entertainment from Bristol blues diva Beth Rowley and Ex-Pistol Glen Matlock, the festival concluded on a radical musical note with Billy Bragg’s tribute to Woody Guthrie.
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter