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Another great Lynn festival event

Lynn 2020. A memorable Saturday afternoon session – they’re all good in their own ways, but this one was special. A fine turnout, despite this bloody virus, showing, perhaps, how much we need excellent books at difficult times. When things get tough, only the best is enough.

First on was Louise Doughty, standing in at very short notice (I got the email about her doing so at ten past nine that morning!) So limited research possible. Not that this mattered; she was a marvellous guest. The best festival speakers, like her, have plenty so say, but what they do is full of intelligence – all off the cuff, but as good as if it had been carefully thought out and edited. Intelligent and funny, too: everyone loved her account of meeting Emily Watson and being totally overawed.

We talked mainly about her experience of having her novel Apple Tree Yard made into a TV series, and more generally about the business of having a ‘breakout’ novel, which ATY was for her. Before, she had been acclaimed by critics and admired by connoisseurs, but not sold that well. Her previous book, Whatever You Love, had been on several prize shortlists – her publisher had had hopes it would be ‘the one’, but it wasn’t. ATY was. She described the moment when she knew this had happened, when TV companies began a bidding war for it. Also, an even better moment (for her), when the cast of the TV series – including Emily – read through her text and applauded her at the end. Such moments, she said, are rare and to be treasured.

Yet none of this has gone to her head. TV-land can be an illusion, and she remains at heart a writer, for whom the greatest privilege remains being quietly and thoughtfully read and enjoyed by a reader.

On the subject of reading, she read out the opening of ATY – and we all listened, spellbound. You could have heard a pin drop – a small pin, falling from close to the floor. I’m heading home with a copy and will start reading at once!

Our second writer, Jeremy Cameron, has had a different career. No breakout – a film made from his second novel, It Was An Accident, hit financial troubles. Looking at the reviews of the film (or, actually, just the cover of the DVD), it clearly didn’t do the book justice – though some reviewers did at least comment on the quality of the dialogue. So they should (if the film used his lines, which I assume it did), as dialogue is Jeremy’s forte. It crackles with wit and imagination. Yet behind it all there’s more than just updated Gor blimey gangster comedy, which is the line the film seems to have taken. Cameron cares about his characters, who all come from the Walthamstow underclass he knows well from his work as a probation officer, and their determination to put joy into lives which aren’t exactly given great opportunities.

Breaking out, it seems, is hard to do.

Jeremy has continued writing, however – more crime fiction, and, more recently, books about walking. He doesn’t do walking by halves: his first book covered a walk from Hoek van Holland to Istanbul. We didn’t really have time to cover this side of his work today – we stayed in Walthamstow. Such are the time limitations of festival gigs. Maybe he’ll come back and talk about walking another time.

Jeremy has followed a different path to most of our writers, being published by small presses and not being shortlisted for prestigious prizes (though he has had stunning reviews from all sorts of impressive media). Yet he’s a class act, quietly and doggedly creating his own distinctive, funny oeuvre a world away from the ‘my agent suggested I move to Faber’ one that most of our writers live in. Well done him.

So, all in all, a brilliant afternoon. Thanks to two outstanding guests and to the festival for letting me be part of its celebration of quality writing and why such writing matters.

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