Mid October in Cheltenham is always an exciting time for me as it is the time for the Cheltenham Festival of Literature – one of the biggest and longest running book fairs in the world. With over 400 contributors, as you can imagine, it is quite an effort to sit down and choose the ones you want to say. Then when you have a short list, there is then the problem of timing clashes and also just simply how much you can afford for tickets! This year I managed to whittle my nominations down to nine finalists, the first three of whom I have now seen and are pictured below.
The first talk I attended was with Bruce Parry – adventurer, presenter and all-round nice guy whose series ‘Amazon‘ has been bringing to light the plight facing the rainforest and all of its people. I met him last year at the festival – after his series ‘Tribe‘ (where he actually lived with tribes and tried to integrate with their day to day lives) and my daughter mnaged to get a photo with him. This year though, he seemed far more popular and almost filled the 2000 seater venue to capacity. My mum and I raced upstairs afterwards to get a book signed but unfortunately didn’t get there soon enough to get anywhere near the beginning of the queue. Seeing that it would have taken us over an hour to reach him (and they weren’t allowing photos this time), we gave up and went and had a drink instead. At least mum managed to get a pic of him onstage though (I’m afraid that due to the circumstances some of the pics are a bit blurry! This in no way reflects on mum’s ability as she is a fantastic photographer by the way!)
The next talk we went to – straight after Bruce actually – was with Ray Mears – an expert on bushcraft and survival whose programs I have enjoyed for a long, long time. Yes, another secret little fascination of mine is outdoor living! Like Bruce he is a nice, genuine gent and the talk was OK – it would have been much better if it hadn’t been for the woman interviewing him who acted more like a flirtatious little girly – messing with her hair, simpering and looking at her notebook for every question – rather than a professional interviewer. I think at times that even Ray was getting a bit fed up – but he is far too polite to make it obvious. He certainly ended up taking over the control of the Q&A session at the end as at this point Barbie had slid down into her chair with her notebook practicaly covering her face!
Afterwards mum and I walked a little faster to get to the signing and succeeded this time in getting closer to the front and therefore in getting a book signed and a photo! Mind you – I did feel sorry for him – you could tell that he’d far rather be out in the woods somewhere than stuck behind a desk signing hundreds of names for people he didn’t know!
And then yesterday we went to a talk that rates in my top five talks of all time – John Barrowman! Star of Dr Who and Torchwood as well as countless stage shows (and judge on TV shows like How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria, Any Dream Will Do and I’d Do Anything). He and his lovely sister, Carol, were promoting their book (about him, written by her) called Anything Goes. I have never laughed so much in my life – the man is not only a great actor but also a natural comedian! And with his sister it turned into a great double act. The crowd loved him too – very much. In fact when he first appeared I thought they were going to mob the stage!
Judging that he might be just a *tad* popular, mum and I prepared to do our fastest walk yet in order to get to the signing afterwards (and as we were on the end of a row we were in poll position to get through the auditorium doors!). However, we hadn’t banked on the effect he seemed to have on women (and some men too). As the end applause started, it was like the first day of sales, a stampede on the African Plains! Mum nearly got pushed over by a very tall young man as he sprinted ahead and the staff on the doors panicked to get them open as the rampaging hordes came toward them! Dignity was not just thrown to the winds – it was rocket-propelled into space!
Being sat where we were, mum and I had a naturally good head start on most of them – and we were pretty well practised at the fast walk up the stairs by now. It was also helpful that many of the fans were ahem – shall we say a little plump – so this added to our advantage and we managed to find ourselves not too far from the front of the queue yet again.
Not that we needed to have worried too much. John and his team are obviously used to such events and managed a very effiient regime of no long dedications in books (he and his sister just signed their names) with people almost being manhandled along in front of him like a prodution line. This is in no way a criticism – it had to be done so that everyone could get to him. I also noticed that the event staff surrounded him on both sides – probably to forestall any attempts by over-amourous fans to rugby-tackle him to the ground. Mum kindly allowed me to go up to the table while she struggled (think press scrum!) to get a photo from the side.
It was then my turn. I handed the book over. He looked up at me and – oh my God!!! All I could think of was ‘you are gorgeous!’ Most authors just look at you when they talk to you – he looks into you! Right into your eyes. Despite the numbers involved, somehow he makes every person feel like they are the only ones in the room (or that’s how I felt, at any rate!). At that moment I so wanted to be a gay man! I also managed to get to shake his hand (no one else tried – but I thought, if you don’t ask….). What a firm grip! My hand was still tingling half an hour later.
OK, I admit it. I am now besotted! I don’t care if he is openly gay and in a very happy civil partnership – I am in love! He is now on my dream-team cast and crew for when Despenser! – the novel, becomes Despenser! – the film/TV drama etc! He’s hoping to get into production in the future as well – so maybe…. producer????? ….. I can dream!
All three contributors were, each in their own ways, very positive and genuine people who really cared about what they did and the effect it has on others. I came away feeling quite uplifted. Who could ask for more?