Monday, 19 October 2015

BLF 5 - Final Review - Ahlberg, Coles & Maconie

Saturday saw the end of the Birmingham Literature Festival2015, with the final event being Stuart Maconie in the Studio Theatre talking about The Pie at Night.

Maconie, author and BBC Six Music presenter, gave a short stand up performance based on his book before moving into the q&a section. What I really liked about the evening and about Maconie’s style is the way he essentially takes ethnography and the anthropological approach and turns it into something fun rather than academic. He is an intelligent interpreter of the wold around him with a wonderful sense of what is funny and what is not. In The Pie at Night he has been using this to look at leisure.
The observation in his work is brilliant and he understands it because he is essentially an insider. Like many great artists he is truly declass having crossed the barrier between classes and deciding on one hand it is nonsense but on another it should not be forgotten because he knows what life is like for those who suffer as a result of it. This is why he is so clear on the danger of a London centric approach to culture dominating.
The sponsor to this event was Walter Smith a Birmingham based butchers. They gave away pork pies at the end of the event which tasted wonderful.
The audience was large for this event as it was for the Richard Coles event earlier in the evening. Now I have to admit the queue for the Coles event caught me by surprise. I did not realise the guy was so popular, having not listened to his Radio Four show and having only really come across him as one of the “celebrity gay Christians”. That I realise says much about the world I inhabit.
The Coles event was introduced by the Very Reverend Catherine Ogle, dean of Birmingham Cathedral. This made the dynamic quite interesting because as we heard early in the evening Catherine had been a priest Richard had been on placement with when training for the priesthood. I think it was good because it firstly made the event more relaxed because it really was two friends chatting and secondly I think that it meant that Coles may have camped it up less because of who he had interviewing him.
As somebody currently living as in a theological college, as spouse of a trainee, I found what he was saying about his time at theological college particularly interesting.  The idea that part of the process is intended to get you to find your own limits so you can get out of the way and let Jesus work in your context was really interesting.
The book which was being discussed and promoted in this event was Fathomless Riches: or how I went from Pop to Pulpit. When I’ve heard it referred to by others the sexual elements have been focused upon somewhat. They weren’t in this presentation. What was discussed in a moving yet not emotionalist way were his experiences of mental health difficulties and of living through the 80’s when AIDS appeared. He made an important point that many gay men who lived through that time have repressed a lot of grief which needs to be dealt with. His own experience of writing the book was such that it was not cathartic but rather opened up issues which he needed to deal with.
There were also discussions within the Coles set about the role of Christians in broadcasting and the way in which he refuses to separate his religious self from his broadcaster self whilst not inappropriately using a secular space to push Christianity and so on. He views his role in that context as missional and about taking Christ into the world.
Overall I think this was the event I was most surprised at and pleased by. It was a wonderful example of how faith and life more generally can be discussed in a normal way and how secular and sacred can mix in a way which does not have to be a parody of itself.
The other event I went to at the BLF which I have not covered on this blog yet was author Alan Ahlberg, author of over 150 books, mainly children. His event was also incredibly popular and fun. It was also slightly poignant because it showed how age can catch up with us in ways we don’t expect. The readings from his work he did were excellent and it was a privilege to hear him talk although I do wonder if a more intimate venue may have been more comfortable for him.
So overall what did I make of the BLF? Well, I thought it was an amazing event which I was overjoyed at having been able to attend so much of through my purchase of a festival pass.
My main criticisms or suggestions for improvements may have been (i) to perhaps have small events going on in the foyer between evening events when people were just hanging about for ¾ hour, (ii) have a paper information pack for pass holders with events, etc for them detailed which they would be given with their festival pass, (iii) brief ushers to signpost pass holders to get pass if they were just using normal tickets, (iv) try to get venue doors open a little earlier and (v) to perhaps have more evening events for want to be writers rather than just daytime workshops.
However, as I say it was a really great programme of events. I loved it and am thankful for everybody who worked and/or volunteered on this event in whatever capacity. 

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