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Kings Lynn Literature Festival, 2022

Another great Kings Lynn Literature festival last weekend, despite the hugely regrettable absence of Tony and Lizzie due to Covid (Rob stepped in and did a brilliant job).

My own ‘slot’ went well, with two excellent writers with great stories to tell.

Gerald Jacobs’ Pomeranski took us back to 1950s Brixton, and in particular the thriving Jewish community there at the time – Brixton became associated with Caribbean culture in the 1970s, but in truth has always been a much broader melting pot. The book teems with memorable characters, mostly on the wrong side of the law (or emotionally involved with someone who is). Most of these people have a sense of right and wrong – not all, however. ‘Sid the Stick’s’ rage at the world pushes him to take life. ‘Little’ Jack Lewis is a full-on gangster, a psychopath.

Gerald concluded his reading with a section from his previous novel, Nine Love Letters, which involved a character remembering their experience of the Holocaust. It was a chilling reminder of what humanity, so wonderful in many ways, is capable of. There was a long silence after he finished, then applause broke out.

David Taylor is an old friend of the festival. He read the ‘title track’ from his new volume of short stories, Stewkey Blues. I particularly enjoyed the reading because I’d read the story before, and hearing it again I was able to relax, wondering less about where it was going and simply enjoying the string of precision observations (as well as the clues to the eventual destination, some of which I had missed on the first read). We then had a delightful chat about some of the themes in the book – Norfolk, class and the struggle some people have to escape the ‘devitalizing’ (his word) influences around them.

Both writers were a joy to interview. And Ed's introduction, was, as usual, witty and welcoming.

All the sessions were good, however. Rather than praise everyone, which might sound a bit over the top, I shall remember three readings especially (when I was in the audience: my interviewees were, of course, special). Louis de Bernière’s description of bombed-out Dortmund. Kathy O’Shaughnessy’s description of George Eliot’s ‘identity reveal’ to old friends and the dislocation that caused. Robert Edric’s piece about his father’s Crown Topper (I remember the ads) was both heartbreaking and hilarious.

Over and above any individual contribution, the festival was a simple celebration of literature and its values. How it stands up for and celebrates the individual human being, not as some asocial, egotistical, relentless utility-seeker but as a complex, inquisitive, flawed participant in the world, full of aspirations, from the venal to the elevated. Life always seems a more interesting and rewarding business after weekends like this, and I feel very grateful to have been involved.


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