NA week or so ago I went to the best literary festival I've ever attended. It wasn't a five ring circus like Hay, but rather a compact but imaginative mix of authors, not just speaking at events (several of them free because they were sponsored), but also spending a day in local schools. The only other festival I've ever spoken at that had the same sense of community was the marvellous Kempsford Festival in Gloucestershire. That one demonstrated that small is beautiful, while the Manx Litfest proved that you could be bigger and still have that essential link to the community.
Of course, the location helped. Getting to the Isle of Man is not a trivial exercise, especially if, like me, you choose to avoid flying and instead opt for three trains and a ferry - total journey time around 9 hours. But, of course, the great thing about travelling this way is you can work as you do, so it's not wasted time. And it was an opportunity, as I walked to the ferry, to see the Liver Building in all its glory like this.
To be fair, the island itself was on its best behaviour and gave us beautifully sunny days that meant my early morning view on the Friday, taken from the porch of the hotel, could have been the South of France. Instead, though, I was heading off to visit to Manx schools, in the morning at the Cronk-y-Berry junior school with a group of hugely enthusiastic year fours, and then off to Ballakermeen high school, where I not only had a theatre full of positive audience but the opportunity to sample the island delicacy at lunchtime. Sadly I chickened out from the chips, cheese and gravy - I should have been braver.
After a quick sandwich it was off again for the evening engagement which combined a talk by Matthew Kneale about his father, Nigel and the showing of two of Nigel Kneale's Quatermass episodes - the first of the Quatermass Experiment and of Quatermass and the Pit. I had the privilege of joining Matthew on stage part way through for a quick chat about science and science fiction, and a chance to ask him some questions in front of the audience (I'm the one in the left hand chair, with Matthew on the right and festival director John Quirke at the podium.) British TV and film science fiction was hugely influenced by Quatermass and despite the fuzzy black and white, there was real class in these productions. After Quatermass and the Pit particularly I would have loved to have watched more of the story.
At a drink afterwards with Matthew, John and others, Harry from the conference bookshop, Bridge Bookshop, asked a question no one brought up at the event, but an essential bit of info for any history of science fiction buff - where did that distinctive name 'Quatermass' come from? Apparently Nigel Kneale flicked through a London phone directory and the name caught his eye - there was just one in the directory.
The next day I had a free morning to stroll along the prom and prepare for my session on Build Your Own Time Machine. In the photo I'm just waiting to go on, seated behind a dalek (as you would be). Sadly the TARDIS that we'd hoped to have a stage prop was too big to fit on the trailer provided, so I had to make do with my standby prop, the cardboard box of time.
After my event I was whisked off for a chance to be a fan in the audience for a talk by Joanne Harris of Chocolat fame - it was fascinating to hear about her early inspiration in the Barnsley library and her new title, The Gospel of Loki, which as a re-telling of the Norse legends from Loki's viewpoint is about as far from the Chocolat image as you could imagine.
A recovering evening followed before an early ferry back to the mainland. All in all, a great festival.