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The Cheltenham Literature Festival 2011

October 17, 2011

So after working in the Waterstone’s book tent at the Cheltenham Literature Festival for the fourth year running, I thought I’d do a little post on it this time. It really is endless amounts of hard work for everyone involved but I always come away on the last day wishing it didn’t have to end. It’s such a fantastic experience and not only do I get to work with lots of lovely new people, but I get to meet some great authors too! This year I got to meet some great kids authors, in particular Patrick Ness and Jason Wallace. I asked Patrick how he felt about the film rights being sold to his Chaos Walking trilogy, but he seemed pretty care-free about it all. It seemed like he was hoping to have some input and involvement with it in the same way that Suzanne Collins is having with The Hunger Games movies. It was lovely to meet Patrick, and he signed my hardback copy of A Monster Calls for me.

I also met Ilsa J. Bick, author of Ashes, and Will Hill, author of Department 19. Both thankfully recognised me from Twitter! It was lovely to meet them both, and Ilsa was very excited because she’d never seen a UK proof of her book until I got mine out for her to sign!

Of course, those of you who know me well, will know that my highlight of this year’s festival was meeting China Miéville once again. China was guest director at last year’s festival and it was then that I decided to pick up one of his books for the first time. It’s always a bit hit and miss at these events in terms of what authors you can expect to be nice and others not so much. But I remember meeting China last year, at a time when admittedly I didn’t really know much of him, but the fact that he was so lovely to everyone who came to see him, and that he took the time to talk to those around him, including us staff, made me really want to read one of his books, despite not being into sci-fi/fantasy at the time. Maybe that’s a silly reason to pick up someone’s book, but it’s always so disappointing when you’ve really enjoyed a book and then you meet the author, and you come away thinking why did you even bother?

Myself, and fellow booksellers; Bex, Di & Adie with China Mieville

So this year, after having read a couple of China’s books, it was a whole other experience being able to meet him again. First of all, he remembered my name straight away which really freaked me out! I’m still dubious as to how he managed to do this! I had a brilliant chat with China after his event with Sebastian Peake on the Gormenghast Trilogy, and I asked him if he could recommend any authors for me to try out as a starting point. His recommendations included Octavia Butler, Kelly Link, Samuel Delaney, Gene Wolfe, Christopher Priest, and Michael Moorcock. I already have a Kelly Link book called Pretty Monsters on my shelf which I haven’t got around to yet, so it’s probably fair to say that’s where I’ll start! Christopher Priest has been on my wish list for a while now, and Octavia Butler’s books also sound really appealing to me! I’m definitely going to keep these recommendations in mind and hopefully show you the results in future posts!

We also talked about the Out of this World science fiction exhibition at the British Library, and he said it was very odd seeing his book on display, but also how good the exhibition was because the books chosen weren’t the typical ones you would expect. Later in the evening, I went to his second event which was all about his latest novel Embassytown. It was a really good talk, and I’m not too sure how anyone in the audience who hadn’t read the novel would have understood much about the story because it is quite a complicated one to explain, but for me it helped clarify just exactly what the book is all about. It was especially interesting to hear how he chooses to pronounce the names and place names that feature in the book – though he said he doesn’t mind how people pronounce them.

Of course as you would expect if you are a fan of China’s work, there were many questions on how he chooses to classify his work – be it sci-fi or fantasy, and the Booker Prize was mentioned a fair few times as well, after China’s debate last year on how genres weren’t being included in the nominations. I got a sense that, as much as China loves being a genre writer, he must be a little tired of all these questions now. Why should he have to label his work as science fiction or fantasy? Does it have to be one or the other? And if he chooses elements of both, why do people feel like he is betraying one genre over the other? China basically said he felt that genres today are fairing much better than they have done for many, many years and we should stop moaning about it now and just appreciate it. It was incredibly interesting to hear him talk about genres, particularly as it always seemed to me that authors preferred to be classed as science fiction or fantasy. I’d always had trouble classifying China’s work in the past, and now I know I shouldn’t even try. I have a huge amount of respect for the fact that he is not afraid to think outside a specific genre, and to use a mixture of elements from all genres to create something new, something unique, and something entirely his own.

It was wonderful to hear China talking about Embassytown, despite the fact that it isn’t my favourite of his books. China has such an incredible way with words; I will never understand every single word China spoke about it, but it certainly helped me understand the novel better as a whole. My only gripe with the talk is that I wish people in the audience would have asked some more intriguing questions rather than just about genres and the Man Booker Prize. I would have loved to know more about where his ideas come from, what we can expect from him next, and maybe books outside the science-fiction/sci-fi genres that he’s enjoyed.

It was wonderful to meet China again, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that he will be coming back next year to talk about another new novel! If you ever get the chance to meet him, don’t miss it! And if you haven’t read any of his work yet, then I urge you to do so, and that’s coming from someone who most certainly hasn’t spent her whole life reading science fiction. You don’t have to love the whole genre to enjoy it. I think, previously I had dismissed science fiction and fantasy for genres that are simply about aliens and space, or elves and quests. But that’s really not what it’s all about – it’s about writing something that is far beyond our own lives, something that is so unreal and unknown to us that we have to make it real. It’s about being able to experiment far beyond the general fiction genre would ever allow. You don’t have to love every spectrum of science fiction to love the genre, just dip your toe in and see what feels right for you. There has to be something for everyone, right?

China’s next book is rumoured to be called Railsea and is due for release in May 2012.

A big thank you to everyone I met and worked with this year 🙂 Can’t wait for the next one!

12 Comments leave one →
  1. October 17, 2011 20:51

    Hello, a nice read I think I will check out Chinas’ books one of my fav. genres is sci-fi.
    Also A big Thank You for the link.
    A great way to envoke Literature – So surprised to see large crowds on the 3 days I went.

    • October 17, 2011 21:59

      Do check his books out! I can highly recommend The City and The City – so far it’s my favourite 🙂 No worries about the link – it’s great to see other people blogging about the festival!

  2. October 18, 2011 09:49

    Hi, thanks for linking to my post! You’ve reminded me that I need to write about the rest of my week…

    I read your bio, and your blog looks really interesting – I’m always on the look out for book lovers. And fellow Creative Writing students! Where did you study Creative Writing?

    In any case, nice to meet you 🙂

    • October 18, 2011 10:03

      Hello! No problem 🙂 I studied Creative Writing at the Uni of Gloucestershire. How about yourself? 🙂 I’m glad you like my blog! Like you said, it’s always good when you find other book lovers!! Definitely do more posts on the festival – I’d love to know who else you saw!

      • October 26, 2011 09:19

        I studied at Royal Holloway, University of London. It was really good fun, although I do wish I knew then what I do now. I think I’d be so much better at it if I’d done all the relevant readings first!
        And I’ve finally managed to post about the other days at Cheltenham! One day I’ll be good at this blogging lark, how do you get the time?

      • October 28, 2011 11:01

        I completely agree. I feel I would have written much better work now than I did a few years ago. Since I’ve had the freedom to read what I want to read, and explore loads of different genres etc, I think my quality of writing would vastly improve if I were to take the course again now. Love your post on the other days at Cheltenham! 🙂 Glad you got around to putting it up. haha well I only work part time, so I get a lot of time to do my blog really 🙂 It passes the time!

  3. October 18, 2011 20:34

    I read the first paragraph and thought hang on, she hasn’t mentioned China. And then I read on. 🙂 xx

    I’ve only read Perdido Street Station, better get a move on……

    • October 18, 2011 22:00

      hahaha :p Of course I had to mention him!! hehe. Is Perdido Street Station good? It’s one I haven’t read but have been thinking I should… You need to read The City and the City!!! 🙂

  4. October 19, 2011 21:09

    🙂 Perdido Street Station is fab! I was encouraged to read it by the Macmillan rep who was selling it to me, partly because he promised me a proof, and also because everyone was saying how Gormenghastian it was. I will indeed read The City and The City!! 🙂

    • October 19, 2011 23:22

      Brilliant 🙂 I’m definitely going to get it now! I really need to read The Gormenghast at some point too… :s


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