Sunday, 10 March 2013

Literati in the Lake District

The Theatre by the Lake, Keswick
Derwent Water from just outside the Theatre

a local resident
Derwent Water from Friars Crag
Words by the Water finishes tomorrow. It has been a busy 10 days.

Some very well-known people have been wandering around the Theatre by the Lake in Keswick, Cumbria. My husband chaired talks by Jeremy Bowen and Matthew Parris, among others. There was a time when I went back to the dressing room to change and found Tracey Chevalier drinking tea and preparing to talk about her latest book, 'The Last Runaway'. Phyllida Law had people wondering whether to laugh or cry about her mother's dementia. And Alexander McCall Smith had everyone in stitches about many things, including the Ladies No 1 Opera House outside Gabarone in Botswana, that seats all of 52 people. I lunched with Melvyn Bragg and Cate Haste, his wife, and compared notes about walks in the area with Lindsey Hilsum. Many more household names were there, too, but name-dropping is pointless unless you have spicy little stories to tell about each one. And I was far too starry eyed to gather gossip.

I was also quite busy. I chaired four talks myself. This involves reading the featured book, introducing the author with a short biography, and having some questions ready in case the audience are so shocked, bemused or dozy that they have nothing to ask at the appointed time. (No one ever needs these fallback questions - the audience in Keswick is always alert, astute, and sharp as The Needle.) 

'My' authors were Sarah Wise (Inconvenient People), Mike Berners Lee (How Bad are Bananas? - the carbon footprint of everything), Harriet Sergeant (Among the Hoods - my years with a teenage gang), and Gerard Lemos (The End of the Chinese Dream). 
So, in spite of almost no fiction on offer, and almost no mention of International Women's Day on Friday, I've had a stimulating and invigorating time.

But it is clear that we must all join lobbying groups to (among other things) prevent media company monopolies, improve the care services in the UK, oust the criminal bankers, and cut the carbon emissions of the human race - especially this last. There's a book about it called 'The Burning Question: We can't burn half the world's oil, coal and gas' coming out next month. I've ordered a copy. Frightening stuff.

Last day of the festival tomorrow - then on to the 4th draft of my latest Reader for CUP... After two gorgeous weeks, the weather's awful again, so staying indoors won't be a problem.

Friday, 1 March 2013

The Boy's 1st anniversary

 Youth of Antikythera
It is one year today since The Boy with Two Heads was published. 

Connie Jensen of Trifolium Books and I liked the idea of launching The Boy on the world on February 29th. And as there isn't a February 29th this year, we're celebrating today, March 1st.

Which highlights an age old problem of measuring time and using calendars - and a tenuous connection between two ancient artefacts and The Boy. 

As I have mentioned in this blog before, in 1900 a wreck was found by sponge divers on the sea bed off the island of Antikythera to the south of the Peloponnese on the main route from Ancient Ionia (present day Turkey) to Rome. Among the many artefacts discovered were the pieces of the statue that is now the Youth of Antikythera (we used his face on the cover of The Boy with Two Heads) and a mysterious 'mechanism' in a wooden box. 
Antikythera Mechanism from Wikipedia

It is thought that the purpose of this device was to predict lunar and solar eclipses based on Babylonian arithmetic-progression cycles. The inscriptions on the device also support suggestions of mechanical display of planetary positions.*
There is a long and detailed article about the Antikythera Mechanism on Wikipedia (from which this quote comes). And on Tuesday 12th February 2013 on BBC4 there was a fascinating documentary about it called The Two-thousand-year-old Computer. This is sadly not available on BBC iPlayer, but there's an older, more emotive, 50 minute film about it on You Tube.

The ship was probably wrecked in about 70 BC and the mechanism is thought to have been made around 100 BC. From its complexity, it seems unlikely that it was a prototype and may have been the result of hundreds of years of engineering skill.

So it seems (accidentally) fitting to me that my Boy with Two Heads has his 'anniversary' on February 29th, a day added to our calendar to correct it in relation to the movement of the astronomical bodies that the Mechanism was made to predict. And both the statue we used to represent him and the Mechanism were found in the same shipwreck.

Perhaps that's labouring it a bit, but I love to find patterns in this messy and magnificent chaos we call life ...

... which is one of the themes in The Boy with Two Heads.

*M. G. Edmunds, et al. “Decoding The Ancient Greek Astronomical Calculator Known As The Antikythera Mechanism.” Nature 444.7119: 587-591. Academic Search Complete. Web. 15 Nov 2012.