Opinion: The Greenwich Book Festival

Last weekend I went along to the Greenwich Book Festival – in the exquisite University of Greenwich buildings – and had a fantastic day in the company of a varied group of authors.

I started my morning listening to journalist Lucy Mangan in conversation with Katherine Woodfine (herself a children’s writer who hosts a podcast about children’s books, Down the Rabbit Hole). Katherine asked Lucy about her memoir of childhood reading, Bookworm (my full review of it is here.) This talk was a complete nostalgia trip, Lucy referenced lots of books I had also read as a child and spoke about how Enid Blyton sadly does not hold up when being re-read as an adult, ‘that was a terrible experience‘ (due to Blyton’s lack of skill as a writer and now non-PC terms she uses.) It was Lucy’s dad that ignited her love of reading, buying her books as a child, so it was lovely that he was in the audience too. When the floor was opened up to questions, someone asked about how to encourage teenage boys to keep reading for pleasure, which I found interesting as – although under the age of 3 now – my boys will one day be teenagers and I am trying so hard to develop a love of reading in them, so it’s great to know what I could potentially tempt them with (if you’re wondering: Jonathan Stroud’s books, Charlie Higson’s zombie series and Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses Trilogy.)

The stunning venue

My second talk was with YA superstars Patrick Ness and Angie Thomas. They both embody exactly what I love about coming to these book festivals – their personalities shone through and automatically made me want to read their books. I am a Patrick Ness fan, having enjoyed a few of his titles already but I haven’t yet read Angie Thomas’ much talked about debut, The Hate U Give. However it’s now zoomed to the top of my TBR list as she was such a warm, funny burst of energy who made some really interesting points about her inspiration for this book. She didn’t like reading as a teenager as she couldn’t find a character in books that she could relate to as a young black woman, so decided to write one.

By the time it came to my third event in the afternoon – Emma Gannon in conversation with Dolly Alderton (pictured above) – the bar had opened. This was very fitting for a talk that had the atmosphere of chatting in the pub with friends. It was Emma’s birthday, so Dolly whipped out a surprise cake and the room of 200 people all sang Happy Birthday! It really set the scene for an intimate, inspiring, motivating talk about their books, the elusive work / life balance, building confidence (‘You don’t have to be confident every single day‘) and using the internet to enhance your career but not letting it take over your life – face to face contact is v. important too! Dolly wrote one of my favourite non-fiction books of this year, Everything I Know About Love – a witty, insightful memoir about her relationships with men, friends and herself (you can read my full review here.) Emma has recently released The Multi-Hyphen Method – a business book that explains how you can have a successful career without being chained to an office 9-5 all week doing a job you don’t really enjoy. You can delve into different areas you’re passionate about and have more than one career path. Emma explains that she wrote The Multi-Hyphen Method as she was looking for a book about this type of career but it didn’t exist, so she took matters into her own hands. Both women have successful multi-hyphen careers, so are a great testament to Emma’s ideas. I left with lots of thoughts buzzing around my head – it was the perfect end to a brilliantly enjoyable and inspiring day.

Interestingly, a common theme that came up in all three talks – mentioned by Lucy, Patrick and Dolly – was how it’s such a shame that as adults we tend to lose the immersive joy of reading like a child, with no expectations or applying a critical eye to everything. Letting yourself get fully absorbed in the story is almost a privilege of a child, so when you find a book that still invokes that in you – you know it’s a great one. This message tied in perfectly with the other thing I noticed – I was really impressed by all the family and children’s workshops and activities available at the Greenwich Book Festival. Sparking a joy of reading in our children is so important, so seeing it done so well here was really great. My boys were still a little young to bring this year, but next year we’ll all be there!

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