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I think what I love best about the festivals is how quickly you can jump from one theme, one era, one type of show, to another. Even though I spent my day solely at the International Book Festival, I moved from America, to two dystopian societies, a sheep farm on an unnamed island, and finally landed in Orkney under a grey sky.
I spent my morning with Meg Wolitzer in an American summer camp whimsically named “Spirit in the Woods”. I confess that Meg Wolitzer was not on my radar until today. I had heard her name, but, for whatever reason, hadn’t read anything by her. After listening to her talk about her newest novel, The Interestings—which spans some 30 years, following the lives of what might be best described as the ‘bright young people’ (if you aren’t familiar with the term check out Stephen Fry’s Bright Young Things) of Spirit in the Woods—, I walked straight into the bookstore on location and bought myself a copy. It’s the biggest compliment I can give her.
I moved swiftly from America and Wolitzer to two dystopian novels. The first novel by Gemma Malley—a well-known and talented science fiction writer, the second by Susan Greenfield—controversial scientist turned sci-fi writer. Malley’s latest work, The Disappearances, is the second novel in her trilogy, The Killables. The trilogy presents us with a world without evil; a world created by employing what might best be described as moral eugenics (i.e., the “new baptism”, a brain surgery that removes the “evil” part of our brains). Susan Greenfield’s first novel, 2121, which is set in a world where technology is king, pulls heavily from her life’s work and views on modern technologies. Her views, if you aren’t familiar, focus on the destructive potential of technologies like social media—a topic she discussed with me during our interview. Greenfield’s novel serves as a warning against the potential atrophy of our minds. She forewarns that we risk becoming infantile and complacent (like most of the population in her novel) through our unchecked use of technologies. It’s a warning bell that’s been struck many times, over many different technologies and ideas, but it’s a fear, nevertheless, that many share. Personally, I’m hesitant to jump on the social-media-will-end-us bandwagon (this coming from a girl who doesn’t particularly like social media). I’ve just always come back to the idea (that I admittedly stole from War and Peace) that human characteristics (i.e., human nature) do not change in any real way, that throughout history, technology has evolved and it will continue to do so, and to label social media, for example, as the destructive force that will change human character is, at its best, a little unimaginative.
I ended my day by returning to a familiar face. Remember Evie Wyld from her four-minute hangout with us? Well, I caught up with her and Amy Sackville before their joint discussion. It was a great interview for me. I don’t want to give too much away, but I will tell you that they are reading each other’s new novels—a thought that makes me smile as I write it here. After our interview,which will be available at the end of the week, I sat in as the two discussed their latest works. Both read haunting passages. Evie chose a scene from her newest novel, All the Birds, Singing. Her reading perfectly described the fear one feels alone at night, that unexplainable terror that forces you to flick on the light in the middle of the night and check the closet (not that I do that…). Amy read from her latest work, Orkney. The reading brought me straight to a dull, sodden landscape, where an ageing professor and his new bride have come to stay. Both novels have made it to my bookshelf and I’m eager to find out what will come next from these two talented authors.
Tomorrow is going to be filled with slam poetry from David Lee Morgan, plays, discussions with Joe Sacco and Chris Ware, comedy from Jem Rolls, and an interview with Litro reviewer Tara Burton. I hope you’ve been sending in your festival reviews. We want to hear what you have to say about the festivals!