Friday, 16 July 2010

Full-on Friday!

Today's the day that we've all secretly been building up to. Every day has had its fair share of well-known names and sold out events but today has been particularly full of them. Our first substitution happened today as well: Lindsay Porter couldn't attend due to illness so Ian Mortimer stepped in last minute to talk about Medieval murders. Pretty much all the Barn events were fully booked and they've been one steward down so I stepped in for the Ian Mortimer talk, which I was very excited about and it didn't disappoint. I sat, captivated, willing the minutes to slow down as he spoke fluently and engagingly on the demise of Edward II, III and Richard II. By far my favourite event of the festival.

Next up for me, front of house duty for the Great Hall on arguably the busiest afternoon of the week - three consecutive sold out events -Antonia Fraser, Ian McEwan and Fraser, Foreman & Nicolson. Two down, one to go. Getting as many people in has, so far, progressed very smoothly, to everyone's delight: people are squishing and squashing and getting very cosy with their next-door neighbours! I've escaped the hall though, because it's stiflingly hot in there and, I hate to say it, Ian's books are rather more captivating than the unfolding event (but I believe a little bit of honesty when reviewing talks is appropriate).

I'd better leave it here as I'm needed back for FOH in quarter of an hour. Another thing to note: it's Jo's last day today so we all wave a big GOODBYE to her in a couple of hours :-( - I'll definitely miss her this weekend, It's been great to be an intern with her!

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Sleeping in the rain

So the rain arrived yesterday but really settled in today. I got caught in a downpour whilst cycling to the festival and spent the first few hours in the office barefoot as I tried, rather unsuccessfully, to dry my shoes and socks in the warm server room nearby. Unfortunately they hadn't really dried out by the time I had to go and sell extra books by Rosemary Bailey in the Waterstones tent after her event in the Barn.

As I was standing in the marquee, shivering in my hoody and waterproof, the heavens opened and torrents of water thundered down. We could have been standing underneath a waterfall it was so loud. It was the sort of rain that makes you giggle at the sheer force of it. People rushing from porch to porch look funny, huddled three to an umbrella, skipping over the ground as if they'll keep their shoes and hems drier that way, scarves blowing and newspapers scattered around being turned to mulch.

A quiet day in the box office, really. And then a quiet session stewarding in the Great Hall for Jon McGregor. Quiet because, whilst I sat leaning against the back wall I fell asleep for, I have to be honest, most of the session. Sorry Jon. I did wake up - with a little help from my fellow steward - just in time to be the roving mic and so avoiding a potentially embarrassing situation...

Van Rouge has closed up, the phones are silent and people are eating their dinner. I have half an hour before I have to be back on steward duty for Martin Bell who will be talking about the expenses scandal.

I think it's time to head off for another quick nap in the West Wing lounge - I don't think I'll be able to get away with a snooze in this session....aaand another downpour. Great.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Silent moment = holy moment

Hello everyone and welcome to Tuesday's installment of festival news. This is brought to you in a rare moment of stillness in the box office and I'm slowly coming down from the adrenalin high of trying to fit as many people as possible into the Great Hall for Melvyn Bragg. [Ha, scrap that, I wrote that sentence about 45 minutes ago and haven't touched the keyboard since!]

Melvyn's talk was the most full I've seen so far. Generally people were very happy to squish together and make room - apart from one very difficult woman who refused to move along. Far from backing down, I got caught on a bit of a power trip and was determined to fit someone in next to her if it was the last thing I did! Having the support of audience members around her was encouraging and equally satisfying was a woman who came in to congratulate me on how I dealt with "that b****"! Hectic, but the kind of challenging fun that I like.

Time for a small round-up of talks that I've been to since the last update. Kate Adie, John Lanchester and James Long provided a hugely interesting talk about the banking crisis, it's causes and consequences. All three were knowledgeable, thought-provoking and sharp, with Kate Adie posing the sort of insightful and penetrating questions that took her to the top of journalism.

David James Smith spoke without notes for a good three quarters of an hour about his experiences researching and writing his book about the young Mandela. He dared to rub some of the polish off the great man's image, revealing a man whose passion and commitment to his ideals caused much discord and strife throughout his family life. Focusing more on Mandela's wives, children and grandchildren, this was an intriguing and fascinating talk, reminding us that everyone has shadows in their past.

The afternoon session finished with Jackie Kay reading extracts from her new book, Red Dust Road and taking questions from the audience. I can't remember the time I laughed so much. From her voice impersonations to relating how she fielded questions about her sex life from her just-met Nigerian birth father, she was warm, engaging, funny and open whilst discussing issues of identity and upbringing.

Today has been notable for another reason - the rain arrived and the vibe is a lot quieter outside than previous days. More notably, it has stopped for now - which is important when one is cycling home as yours truly is later on! Other than that, the box office continues. Kate's mum has supplied us with delicious chocolate fairy cakes which we are all enjoying very much, the bookings keep coming and bits of paper continue to fly everywhere. For now, peace has once again descended and I can feel a wave of fatigue starting to lap at the edges of my being. The next event is in forty minutes and the guests will be along soon enough to shake me back to life.

Monday, 12 July 2010

And the show goes on...

Day four is underway at Dartington Hall and we've seen some fantastic talks already in the Great Hall and Barn Theatre.

Friday was lively under bright sunshine: although the festival didn't open until 12, the lawn was dotted with people relaxing in the deck chairs waiting and the office was bustling to say the least! I took a break from the heaving box office to head over to the launch party in the private gardens where wandering minstrels were entertaining Friends and special guests drinking local Sharpham wine. Before long, the queue for Joan Bakewell was snaking round the courtyard - everyone was eager for the 19th Ways with Words to get underway. Michael Dobbs, Roy Hattersley, Michael Bird, Alexander Maitland, Sue Shephard and Martin Amis completed the schedule for Friday. At 6.30, I left with my parents who had emerged, very impressed, from Roy Hattersley's talk for a birthday dinner; that's right, Launch Day was also known in the office as Fi's Birthday!

Saturday brought yet another job for me - stewarding. From my post on the balcony in the Great Hall I herded guests along rows, prevented them from traipsing through the writers' dining room and kept a watchful eye out over the audience whilst listening to the talks - which is an upside to dealing with folks who don't particularly want to "move along".

I was underwhelmed by Giles Coren, and disappointedly so. I love his writing but I'm in two minds about his book. I thought it didn't do him justice, falling into the commercial, turn-you-into-a-celeb-and-show-you-off category; I preferred it when I had to seek out his columns. As much as I enjoyed listening to him - his articulate wit and intelligence still shone through - I thought his talk lacked direction, instead meandering loosely around an image of Giles that has been constructed mainly on the basis of one incident and sculpted as such. As so often happens, but I felt Coren was above this.

PD James with Penelope Lively was a breath of fresh air. Intelligent, insightful and completely in touch with the modern world and open to progression. At almost ninety, this was all the more impressive - and welcome.

Surprisingly, my favourite event was the session on bereavement with Barbara Want and Blake Morrison. It was chaired impeccably by Joan Bakewell, who guided the discussion sensitively and involved the audience as much as possible. What followed was a powerful, moving session that I suspect was very cathartic for many of those who attended.

And so to Monday. I've just been to Soundart Radio studio for a chat with Rob and am about to head off to the Great Hall for a stewarding shift, where I'll get to see Kate Adie and John Lanchester talking about the economy, David James Smith on Mandela and Jackie Kay on identity. Fun stuff!

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Hellooooo Dartington!

With the return of Chloe and Videl last week and Rachel, a previous intern, this Monday, the office was feeling quite cosily chaotic. Squeezing past elbows, envelopes, booking forms, show cards, banners and on drastically reduced coffee breaks, the Ways with Words team has been a hive of activity for the last few days.

But that is nothing compared to now. This morning we didn't go to Droridge Farm but cycled (well, Flo and I did!) up the hill to Dartington Hall. Legs shaking and sweating slightly (it's quite a climb) we began to unpack Steve's car and shift the entire contents of the office to a corner of Dartington reception area. It's about a third of the size and with more boxes. We're all set up now and doing various tasks, some normal, some slightly irregular. We're still doing ticket orders and processing payments but, for example, this morning I spent an enjoyable half hour or so erecting a marquee with some very lovely guys from a sports event company. I then continued my handywoman tasks by ensuring that the deck chairs' screws were all tight enough. All in a days' work!

We're gearing up for the arrival of speakers. And as I write this, I can announce with great excitement that Michael Bird has arrived and is currently hanging out in reception. Slightly less exciting is the fact that a huge screen has just gone up in front of our area and so Michael is possibly the only person we'll see with ease....

Next task: press board, and Flo needs the computer to send some emails regarding our Turner prize winners Richard Long and Martin Creed, so I will sign off from here - but I promise to be back soon with more updates from the lively Ways office!

A bientot!

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Off The Page - an extra event at Ways with Words!

Sunday 18th July, 6.30pm, Signature Lounge.

Are you feeling inspired? Do you have words and ideas that need airing in public?

Off The Page is a quirky, relaxed, live literature event for anyone who wants to share their creativity. Submissions welcome from anyone and everyone! It can be anything: poetry, a play, monologue, short story, a song, many lines or one line, short or long. Perform it yourself or have someone else read it.

Join us in the Signature Lounge (formerly the Upper Gatehouse room) for some creative entertainment and a drink or two.

To submit your work, email or pop into the box office at Dartington Hall from Friday 9th July.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Happiness is a chocolate covered waffle cone

So my friend said, seconds before she dropped said cone with a wet thud onto the concrete of the ice cream parlour terrace in Cardiff this weekend.

No such misfortunes for us today, with several things to be happy and excited about this Monday morning. The festival has been drawing closer for a while now, but now it has dawned on us that it starts next week! Kate and Flo are having a nice afternoon out in Totnes creating window displays with show cards for all the speakers. Jo has been awarding bursaries and has almost got that finished. Kate's stewarding schedule seems to have ironed itself out and everything feels like it's coming together. And, say it quietly, *the sun is still here*.

If you're a fan of us on Facebook, you may well have seen the event listing for Off The Page.
Off The Page is a quirky and relaxed live literature event for anyone who wants to share their creativity. It can be poetry, a play, monologue, short story, a song, many lines or one line, short or long...anything goes - it doesn't matter if you've been writing for a long time, or consider yourself a casual scribbler.

Come along on Sunday 18th July at 6.30pm to the Upper Gatehouse room to have a few drinks and share your work - or listen to others'. Please submit your ideas and entries to by 9th July. Soundart Radio online will be covering the event as well.