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Saturday, 23 March 2013

Oxford Literary Festival

I adore Oxford! There are so many things to do - browse around the Ashmolean Museum, tour some of the colleges, visit the Bodleian Library, take inspiration from the botanical gardens, wander around Blackwell's compiling a dream list of books to read or just relax in a punt, preferably with a glass of champagne and some strawberries while someone else does the hard work! And because it is such a beautiful city you don't really have to do anything at all if you don't want to except stroll around and soak up the stunning architecture.

I spent two years living in Oxford while in my teens so I know it pretty well but I never tire of it and last Saturday it was a real treat to meet up with my daughter and an old school friend for a day of culture and catching up. We had booked tickets for 3 events on the first day of the Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival and our first port of call was The Great Hall at Christchurch to hear A.C. Grayling talk about his new book, The God Argument, The Case against Religion and For Humanism.

The Great Hall was the inspiration for Hogwarts' Great Hall in Harry Potter although filming wasn't done there. It was copied and re-built as a set. To be honest I was a little apprehensive about this first talk but I actually agreed with Mr. Grayling on a couple of points, one of those being the oppression of women as a result of religion.  And I particularly liked his statement that 'literature teaches us what we need to know in order to flourish - as well as about our frailties'. Even if you didn't agree with his atheist stance, it was generally thought provoking stuff and as we walked into the quad God smiled on us and the sun shone briefly -

- although Mr. Grayling would no doubt dispute that point vigorously!

After a fortifying lunch at the Queen's Lane Coffee House on High Street (do try it if you go to Oxford, the food is good, the service excellent and there's always a nice buzz about the place), we headed off to the Sheldonian Theatre to hear Alexander McCall Smith.

And what a nice, amusing man he is. Of his books, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency alone has  sold over twenty million copies and been translated into 46 languages. I love those stories. Apparently when writing he often has 3 books on the go at once, can write 1000 words per hour and doesn't edit his work. Hmm! As a writer myself that last bit did send him down a notch in my estimation. To be honest I've read a couple of his books that would definitely benefit from a bit of an edit. You must have to be extraordinarly confident not to do any self-editing. I can't foresee that I will ever get to the stage when I feel my books wouldn't benefit from re-drafting and in some ways I don't think I'd want to. In my case the art is knowing when to stop editing

Finally, after tea and cake at Patisserie Valerie it was back to The Sheldonian for Roger McGough.

He was reading a selection of poems from his book As Far As I Know. It was the perfect end to the day. There was a particularly beautiful and poignant poem written when he was 53. He was carrying his small daughter into the night after a pantomime. She was holding a star on a wand and he was wondering if he would see her grow up. He has, thank goodness, or it would have been a very sad poem indeed. But it is the very first poem he read to us that seems apt for ending my post. It is called Take Comfort and begins like this:-

Take comfort from this  
You have a book in your hand 
For me books have been and are a comfort. Meeting up with old friends, listening to inspirational authors in stunning buildings is comforting too. We are already looking forward to next year.

Thank-you for reading and I hope you have the comfort of a good book in your hand this week.

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