Tag Archives: Hay Festival

Hay Festival 2014: Steven Moffat – The Showrunner

SM1

My final talk at Hay was a discussion with Steven Moffat. If you haven’t heard of him, Moffat is best known for being at the head of two BIG BBC shows: Doctor Who, of which he is the head writer and the showrunner, and Sherlock, the brilliant, modern adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s detectives stories which he co-writes and co-created with Mark Gatiss, and which kicked a previously unknown Benedict Cumberbatch into stratospheric fame. As a huge Doctor Who and Sherlock fan, I was pretty excited to hear the brain behind them both talk about his process. That said, I wasn’t sure how likeable Moffat was going to be. I’ve never seen an interview with him before but I know from his shows that he’s a tad on the misogynistic side and he’s also affectionately disliked among the fandoms for being a ‘troll’ – that is, he will happily spread lies or deny certain facts in order to keep everyone in the dark about upcoming plots for his shows. OK, that is a good thing as it ensures that the plots are as surprising as they should be, but it means you have to take EVERYTHING he says in interviews with a pinch of salt. Plus, being the head of arguably the two biggest shows on BBC right now (both of them beloved around the world, too) made me think he might have a bit of an ego. Thankfully, I was wrong.

Moffat was charming. Man, how I hate to admit it. He was remarkably cool, didn’t take himself seriously, and cracked joke after joke to keep the audience in stitches. Both Doctor Who and Sherlock have a very cheeky sense of humour so I don’t know why I found this surprising, but it’s difficult to tell with individuals in the industry and, as I said, he’s got very good reason to think of himself as a big shot. Yet I was pleasantly surprised by how down to earth he was. He talked about his career and the early shows and sitcoms he wrote as he climbed the ladder (always regretting the fact Doctor Who was off the air and he’d never have a chance to write for it – just you wait, young Moffat!). I’m also a fan of his other modern literary adaptation, Jekyll, which is low-budget and doesn’t have the same glossy feel as Sherlock but is tightly written and superbly acted by James Nesbitt, so it was nice to hear Moffat talk about his humble origins. That said, the focuses of the talk were his two big current projects. Let’s get stuck into those (and if you’re not a fan of either, you might find this blog post particularly boring, so feel free to look away now).

Doctor Who

DW

Doctor Who was the focus of most of this talk at Hay. Moffat spoke about his early days writing for the show under the then-showrunner Russell T Davies, his boyhood dream reawakened (a shock, considering he was never 100% sure it would come back on air), and then being asked to fill Davies’ shoes after he stepped down. Apparently he was initially reluctant, but was spurred into accepting the job by his father, who sent him a picture of Moffat as a boy playing with Doctor Who memorabilia. At that point, he knew he’d forever regret it if he didn’t step in.

Doctor Who was relaunched in 2005 and the first series, with Christopher Eccleston in the lead role and Billie Piper playing his companion, was, in Moffat’s eyes, very ‘BBC’ – a straight talking Doctor wearing a relatively normal outfit having adventures completely based on Earth (seriously, the whole of Series 1 is set on Earth – albeit at different points in time). Moffat said the joy of Doctor Who is that it’s a show about very scary, very surreal things happening in ordinary settings, with monsters that all incorporate an element of childhood fear – a great recipe for adventure if there ever was one. I was relieved to hear that he finds daleks as ridiculous as I do (I mean, come on, they’re moving dustbins!); he is particularly amused by the fact they have sink plungers for hands, as if they’ll find time for various plumbing jobs around their plots for total domination. Probably a feature that should have been left in the sixties, but I respect they wouldn’t be as iconic without them.

The modern version of Doctor Who (which has now been on air for nine years! Crikey) has raced through seven series and three Doctors – and we’re about to meet the fourth. The first, as I mentioned, was Christopher Eccleston, who only stuck around for one series. After he left, Moffat said they chose David Tennant (my personal favourite) based on his performance in other BBC series Casanova; ‘he was playing the Doctor in that role,’ said Moffat. Tennant became a bit of a sex symbol during his time as the doctor, which is amusing as he was initially criticised by the press for not being particularly attractive. Tennant stuck around for three series (with three different companions) before exiting stage left.

After Tennant left, Moff said he felt annoyed that the team were only auditioning young actors. The Doctor was never traditionally played by a young man (he is hundreds of years old, after all) and in Moffat’s mind, even David Tennant (who was 34 when he took the role) was far too young. Then, of course, Matt Smith turned up (pictured above, with recent companion Clara, played by Jenna-Louise Coleman). Smith’s audition was astounding, but Moffat was horrified to learn that he was only 26 – still, he landed the part, and I remember very clearly the reaction of the press when it was revealed that a man in his twenties was to play the Doc (hint: it wasn’t great). But Smith stole the hearts of Whovians in his first five minutes, at the very end of David Tennant’s last episode when he regenerates as the TARDIS is crashing (feeling his slightly longer hair, he exclaims: ‘I’m a girl!’). Smith starred in three official series over five years, and has only just taken  his leave in the Christmas episode of 2013.

Matt Smith had announced his leave for a while and there was a great deal of anticipation over who would be next. For seemingly the first time, there was a great public demand for it to be a woman – after all, the Doctor could be either sex and we’re in 2014 now; we don’t need to see a smart, strong man run around with a simpering female companion (or ‘assistant’) and more. I’ve got to say I was in that bandwagon – not necessarily because of the reason above but more because I thought would freshen and transform the show, which was in need of a new formula. But Moffat sucks at writing for women, it has to be said, so there was no chance of it happening this year. When asked about it Hay (the audience member who brought it up received a round of applause), Moffat was firm to point out that there was no reason it couldn’t happen and that he himself had actually written the loophole into the script that indicates the Doctor could become a woman – but that it wouldn’t happen until the right actress came along. With all the Doctors, there had to be something about them that just made them a shoe-in for the role; Moffat said he refuses to cast someone for political reasons and will wait until someone has that appeal, in his eyes.

SM2

So instead Peter Capaldi was cast. He is apparently an actor they had always wanted (and one of an appropriate age, at last), although his decision to take the role was marred slightly by Doctor Who canon: he pops up in other small parts in Doctor Who and also had a recurring part in Torchwood (the Doctor Who spin off set in the same universe). Moffat was asked about this plothole by an audience member and he responded cryptically, saying he’d been working with Russell T Davies to write a credible explanation for that. Sounds intriguing – but this is Moffat, people, remember! Who knows if anything actually will be explained or not. Capaldi is due to make his Who debut this month – so we’ll have to wait and see what he’s like.

Sherlock

Sh.

So then on to Sherlock, Moffat’s vanity project with long-term friend and Doctor Who collaborator Mark Gatiss. Sherlock has a funny origin story which I’ve heard a couple of times – Moffat and Gatiss often caught the train to Cardiff together for Doctor Who, but had to refrain from speaking too much about the show for you could guarantee there were fans listening in, desperate to hear about what was in store for the Doctor. With that topic out of bounds, they instead took to discussing their other great obsession – the stories about the great detective, Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous literary creation, written and set in Victorian London. Moffat and Gatiss (or Mofftiss, as they have now been nicknamed) lamented that one day, someone was going to do a really good modern adaptation of the Holmes stories and they would be annoyed it wasn’t them. Apparently the obvious solution to that never occurred – not until one day, Moffat repeated this woe to his producer wife Sue, who said: ‘er, so why don’t you do it?’ It was a revelation, and a project they both leapt on.

And so in 2010 Sherlock appeared on BBC and took the world by storm. Moffat credits the show’s popularity to Cumberbatch, who I mentioned earlier takes the lead role, and Martin Freeman, who plays Dr John Watson (both pictured above), as well as the brilliant supporting cast. Being huge fanboys, Moffat and Gatiss have worked very closely to the original structure of the stories while making sure they are relevant and interesting to a modern audience. I haven’t actually read any of the original Sherlock Holmes stories but I completely fell in love with Sherlock – I think it has an appeal to both old and new fans of the ACD adventures and is a cut above the numerous adaptations that have appeared over the years – despite unfortunately appearing at the same time as another modern update on the other side of the Atlantic (Elementary) and a series of films about the Victorian Holmes, directed by Guy Ritchie and starring Robert Downey Jr. As I mentioned earlier, Cumberbatch has become hugely famous and an international sex symbol after appearing in Sherlock, yet Moffat remembered that, like Tennant, critics initially claimed he wasn’t sexy enough. Sometimes the part maketh the man, and if Doctor Who and Sherlock (and, hell, Jekyll) are anything to go by, Moffat’s found the formula.

Each season of the show consists of three 90-minute episodes (short films, as Mofftiss think of them) and so far there have been two-year gaps between them. I’ve never found this particularly problematic. Most British TV shows only have six episodes per season so three doesn’t seem so bad, especially when they’re an hour and a half long, and sure, the breaks mean that we have longer to wait and less to savour (Season 3 was over in ONE AND A HALF WEEKS) but it keeps the quality high and also makes it more likely that the show will keep running for years – until Cumberbatch and Freeman become too famous and too expensive to hire, at least. But there’s an ill feeling amongst the Sherlock fandom about it, a fandom that consists of many teenage girls – and Americans, who are used to 24-episode seasons that are churned out year after year. One American audience member asked Moffat if there ever would be more episodes and he seemed irked by the suggestion, claiming that it would simply be impossible to schedule owing to the packed calendars of everyone involved (Cumberbatch and Freeman are fully fledged Hollywood stars, now – with the hugely epic The Hobbit taking up most of their time over the last couple of years – and Moffat and Gatiss are both working hard on Doctor Who). He jokily remarked that they had made nine Sherlock Holmes films in the same time it’s taken Guy Ritchie to make two, so really we had no grounds to complain.

SM3

So then our hour was up – and so was my time at Hay. What a cool weekend! I didn’t blog about everything I went to see but I hope these posts have given you a nice flavour of the festival (if you’re still reading). I really recommend you go if you ever have the chance. Back then on to reviews, now – see my What’s Next page to see what’s a-coming. Promise it’s good.

[Photos: hayfestival.com and bbc.co.uk]

Advertisement
Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Hay Festival 2014: Fictions – Gothics

Part of the joy of going to Hay is getting to see writers talk about their latest novels. In ‘Fictions’ talks, authors are generally presented in pairs and the talks are given a particular theme that ties the two books together, with a host engaging in a discussion about the starting points, characters, and other elements of the books with the authors. I haven’t yet worked out if it’s more practical to read the books before or after – sometimes the discussions can be a bit spoiler-y, particularly when the authors read excerpts aloud (why do they always pick the last chapter?) – but seeing as the talk itself is part of the promo circuit for the author (and they sell signed copies directly afterwards), I’ve always thought it wiser to wait until you can hear what they’ve got to say about the book before plunging in.

So! Today’s theme was ‘Gothics’ – we’re talking supernatural, horror stuff here. Always fun. It turned out both novels had a strong vampiric theme; Lauren Owen was discussing her debut novel The Quick, and Marcus Sedgwick was there with his new novel A Love Like Blood.

the quick

Set in 1892, The Quick follows siblings Charlotte and James recovering from trauma in bleary Yorkshire, while also focusing on an elite private members’ club in London called the Aegolius Club; I got the impression from the talk that all the members of said club are vampires. Generally speaking, The Quick has received very favourable reviews. Owen is a graduate of the prestigious Creative Writing course at the University of East Anglia  (which also boasts Kazuo Ishiguro and Ian McEwan as alumni) – beats the Creative Writing course at Hull, I guess – and I’ve got to admit, the novel sounded very good. She read an excerpt aloud and the writing was very smooth and elegant – I’d definitely give this one a try if it fell into my eyeline.

a love like blood

Sedgwick’s first adult novel (he’s normally a YA writer) follows a man named Charles Jackson and his life from 1944 to the 1960s. After Jackson’s girlfriend is murdered, he becomes obsessed with tracking down a man who he suspects has vampiric tendencies, partly driven by his own thirst for revenge. Sedgwick mentioned that one of his starting points was the word ‘haemophilia’, a peculiar name for a disease: it literally means ‘a love of blood’. Some reviews pointed out that the overall theme and structure of the story played it safe, but Sedgwick crafted a very interesting character and it was an impressive read. That said, I didn’t feel as keen to pick up A Love Like Blood, but that might be because Sedgwick read out an excerpt that was badly written (he overdoses on adverbs).

Both authors had plenty to discuss when it came to vampires. Their starting points were, naturally, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and it seemed that Owen’s book in particular looks back at this traditional incarnation of the vampire (I suspect the time period she set the novel in had an influence on that). Of course, vampires have changed a lot since Dracula, and I was keen to ask the authors (as part of the audience Q&A) what they make of vampires going from bloodsuckers to boyfriends in today’s pop culture. Sedgwick pointed out that vampires were always villains until Anne Rice made it tragic to be a vampire; after all, being immortal and undead is not a barrel of laughs, and vampires look human enough (indeed, they were once humans) – so why not ascribe human emotions to them, too? Owen said that vampires are often considered damaged and fiendish, which is part of their appeal. They’re versatile gothic characters in the sense that there is a mix of fear and desire in their nature and their being. I’ll go into this in great detail in an upcoming Throwback Thursday post, so I won’t spend too much time on it now.

Another cool reason to see authors talk about their novels is that they have a lot to say about the writing process. It seems to vary wildly from person to person, but it’s comforting to know that everyone has their struggles and their unique ways of overcoming them. Lauren Owen had a great metaphor for writer’s block – she compared it to starting a car. If you’ve got an idea, sometimes you have to keep revving and revving before it fully takes off (or the car starts, as it were), but sometimes you have to accept that no matter how much you rev or twist the key, the car is dead and you have to stop.

So at the end of it all, do I want to read the books? I’m not generally a fan of vampire novels – I love Dracula but the modern stuff doesn’t appeal to me – but Owen’s novel sounded interesting. I think I’ll add it to the list. Another great talk at Hay! I’ll be writing about one more before I go back into book reviews, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

Tagged , , , ,

Hay Festival 2014: The Vagenda: A Zero Tolerance Guide to the Media – Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter

20140731-143624.jpg

I don’t read non-fiction books very often, which is something I need to rectify, pronto. They’re often very informative and make for compulsive reads, but novels are more up my street. With this one, however, I had a bit of a personal tie. The Vagenda book sprang from the blogzine of the same name, which has been running for a couple of years. I’m a big fan of the blog and often engage with the team on Twitter, and last July I wrote an article for it, which is something I’d love to do again. I was invited to the book launch of The Vagenda, which was a barmy experience involving a basement bar in Shoreditch and cakes that looked like VERY realistic vaginas, so I snapped up a copy very quickly – and noticed that Cosslett and Baxter were talking at Hay, so got tickets for that, too. But first, let’s talk about the book.

The Vagenda: A Zero Tolerance Guide to the Media looks at what was originally the focus of the blog: women’s magazines. These magazines are made by, marketed for and bought by women, but does that mean they have our best interests at heart? Not necessarily, say Holly and Rhiannon (the editorial team behind The Vagenda blog and co-authors of the book). Instead they tend to focus on scrutinising women’s looks so they fall into their advertisers’ laps, put a harsh focus on women in the public eye, or simply make you hate your body. The feature content doesn’t focus on culture or business but again, looks at relatively trivial things or how best to please your man. Of course, this is generalising; women’s magazines can be quite diverse (depending on how much money you’re willing to spend) but the main glossies have the same opinion about you: you need to, or at least want to, change yourself.

I like women’s magazines, though I have noticed a dip in quality over recent years and am less inclined to read them as I once was. There are still a few I don’t mind spending a few bob on, but the vast majority of the rags I devoured as a teenager I wouldn’t look twice at now. I don’t hold them up to the same light as the Vagenda team do, but instead feel frustrated by the lack of intelligent content these days, as opposed to the messages they are communicating. I’d much rather get my magazine fill from The Saturday Times instead (seriously, read the supplement. It’s amazing.) When reading The Vagenda: AZTGM, I found myself nodding in agreement fairly often. But the overall book? I’m not so sure about it.

The problem, of course, is that I’m comparing it to the blog. In 500-word, unedited articles, the Vagenda writers really shine, and the sheer amount of contributions they receive means that the blog always makes for an interesting read, with fresh perspectives daily and a variety of topics covered by those who won’t have another outlet. They look at everything from miscarrying to masturbation, or syphillis to sexism in the film industry. I click on it everyday and thoroughly enjoy almost every article on there (if enjoy is the right word when it comes to the more painfully honest or tragic pieces), and when it’s evident that Holly or Rhiannon has written the article (usually noticeable when it’s about Grazia or if the piece isn’t credited to another writer), you know it’s going to be a fantastic read. They’re quippy and witty and downright hilarious, but that might be because they’re holding the power, with no editors or publishers to pander to.

I don’t know if it’s true, but I got the impression that with the book, the editor was stopping them from really letting loose; the sentences lack the usual snarky bite that feature so prominently in the blog. Generally speaking the book has received unfavourable reviews – that wasn’t hard to predict, given that a lot of the reviews came from women’s journalists, but I think feminist critics have looked on it with an unnecessarily harsh eye. It makes plenty of valid arguments and indeed, sections of the book are laugh-out-loud hysterical – one of my favourite bits was when they highlighted the most ridiculous sex tips they could find from women’s magazines and put their own witty commentary alongside it. It would have made a neat article, actually (coincidence? Probably not). That said, it did feel a bit fast and loose with its statistics, and I would have liked interviews with those who worked in the industry or even counter arguments with women’s journos to get a sense of the bigger picture. Opinion pieces work well in small chunks, but maybe not over 300 pages or so. There’s a reason Caitin Moran turned half of her feminist bible How to Be a Woman into a memoir to keep the pages fresh. The Vagenda ran on observation alone and it felt that anyone who was given the right amount of money and time could probably write the same thing.

Cosslett wasn’t at Hay Festival but Baxter made an appearance, speaking to a packed-out audience (it looked like the talk had to be upgraded to a bigger stage). I was hoping the discussion might focus more on the book and even address some of its unfavourable reviews, but it turned out to be more about the subject matter, similar to Laura Bates’ talk. Indeed, there was a pretty big crossover. Baxter spoke about how women’s magazines had started off as fairly influential but had rapidly gone downhill – and that’s what inspired the blog. She mentioned that young girls are groomed into this fixation on beauty and appearance from a young age, with their own publications marketing make-up and handing out freebie lipstick. Ultimately, what I found most interesting about the book and the talk was the exposure of exactly how women’s magazines work. When an editor tells you the latest handbag is right at the top of their wishlist and is simply a MUST-have, do they genuinely mean it or are they being paid generous amounts from a top fashion company for such an endorsement? Who knows, but it’s more likely the latter. Can the editor in questions even afford the handbag on a journalist’s salary? Probably not. Similarly, the ever popular ‘what we wear to work’ features aren’t as accurate as they’d have us believe – it’s much more likely that they raided the fashion cupboard 5 minutes before the shoot as opposed to owning and strutting around Central London in such elaborate outfits.

Overall, the book was good, but based on my long-running affection for the blog, I’m a little disappointed; either they stripped a lot away to please the publishers or their writing style is simply better-suited to articles. That said, as a seasoned feminist who’s heard almost every argument out there, I’m not sure I’m the ideal target audience. If I had a young teenage relative or friend, I’d certainly put it in their direction, and it’s nice that these kind of books exist for the young, impressionable audiences who are making the dangerous transition from the Beano to Cosmo.

Goodreads, then: three stars from me. A great read, but I’m sticking to the blog.

[Coming next: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller]

Tagged , , , , ,

Hay Festival 2014: Heather Widdows – Perfect Me! & Laura Bates – Everyday Sexism: The Project That Inspired a Worldwide Movement

So! It’s been a while, but it’s time to begin the Hay Festival posts! What a cool weekend it was. Literally and figuratively – it tipped it down, which wasn’t ideal as it meant the grassy sunbathing spots were out of bounds, but the talks were as interesting as ever and I bought a hell of a lot of books. Despite this being a literary blog I’m going to write about some of the talks I went to which weren’t actually about books, but rather talking points or discussions with public figures. Apologies for deviating from the norm, here – but who doesn’t like to shake it up every now and then?

With this first post I grouped two talks together as the themes are fairly similar. The next talk I’ll write about also has quite an overlap but that was actually about a book, so I’m giving that one its own post. Without further ado, let’s begin.

Heather Widdows – Perfect Me!

Heather Widdows, a Professor of Global Ethics, kicked off my weekend with a talk about the modern concepts of beauty and perfection, and how these affect our lives. Widdows is writing a book about the moral and ethical ideal of beauty and how members of society (mainly women) feel they must conform to it – a topic that seems strangely absent from other ethical studies, in her opinion. As part of what’s being considered a new wave of feminism, this is aptly timed, and Widdows’ talk was packed out. She looked at beauty in a rather unique way in that she was very much looking at it as a concept, instead of applying any personal tie to it. Below I’ll (attempt to) sum up some of the ideas she discussed.

Widdows said that we (mainly women) look at beauty on three levels: as something we aspire to, as something we feel would make our lives better, and as a social obligation. As an aspiration, women tend to feel that whatever they have is not enough, and that body image is linked to self worth and happiness. Widdows brought up the rather sad point that often we feel our own personal beauty dictates how we can and should be loved – for example, if a woman is cheated on, she might feel she has brought it on herself by not being as beautiful as she could be, or comparing her own looks to whoever her partner was with. The age of social media increases the judgement and also the pressure that we heap on ourselves, as someone could see by counting the ‘likes’ on a selfie that they put online.

Certain opportunities are deprived to those who don’t conform to the beauty ideal, which is something we see in our daily lives but is particularly applicable to women in the public eye. Looking after your appearance in order to be presentable is important, but when the standards differ for men and women, it becomes a little more problematic. Widdows indicated that we are always looking at the end result, how our lives will have improved when we have reached that beauty ideal, how much happier or more successful we will be. Adverts and products that rely on beauty heavily endorse this – ‘the best version of you’ or thereabouts is a common advertising slogan for beauty products.

As a social obligation, it’s actually a little disturbing to think about. Widdows talked about something like hair removal, and how only a decade or so ago armpit hair was more of a fashion choice than something to be stripped off completely. Today, I can’t imagine seeing a woman wearing a short skirt who hasn’t shaved her legs, or a strappy top with unshaven armpits. The idea is strangely unthinkable, yet not long ago no one would have batted an eyelid either way. It’s unfortunate that as time passes, the beauty ideal seems to be becoming more and more damaging to ourselves (dangerous skin bleaching, harmful tanning, surgery, and so on) or at least more painful (waxing! Ouch!) – not to mention homogenised.

Overall, the talk was particularly interesting as I’d never thought about the beauty ideal in so much detail before, especially from a kind of outside perspective. Instead of looking at myself in relation to it and linking it to my own happiness, it was refreshing to look at it as a concept, nothing more. The ideas that Widdows drew on about beauty being a social obligation shocked me the most, particularly when she highlighted how much worse things have got in a very small number of years. What will the idea beauty standard be five or ten years from now?

Laura Bates – Everyday Sexism: The Project That Inspired a Worldwide Movement

The next day I went to a similar talk, seeing Laura Bates discuss her infamous Twitter feed @EverydaySexism. Everyday Sexism was born out of the fact Bates was having a bad week, sick of being cat-called and patronised because she was female, so she set up an account to see if other women felt similarly exasperated. She thought it would be small and not very popular, but it totally blew up – these days it’s hard to come across anyone who’s not familiar with the name at least (particularly if they’re on Twitter).

Screenshot 2014-07-11 13.29.40
Photo: http://www.hayfestival.com

Women (and sometimes men) write in and share their experiences of sexism, whether it’s a wolf whistle, a condescending remark, an advert, a rude comment, or something much more sinister (like sexual harrassment). Bates wanted to highlight how common and, well, ‘everyday’ the problems are, and the input from women across the world certainly proved that. It’s easy to sympathise with as a young woman. I’ve faced a lot of cat-calls in my life, not many of them particularly pleasant, but never before have I thought of it as something to complain about. It’s just something that happens. Bates managed to make it into not only a problem, but as something that shouldn’t be tolerated, and it’s fascinating. It’s like Page Three – you plod along, knowing it exists but never really shining any light on to it, until someone else does and you have a moment of epiphany. Hang on! That’s not really OK, is it? Everyday Sexism has also brought these problems to light for men, most of whom are very lovely people and would never consider talking down to women. They have no idea any of this casual sexism is happening and affecting women on a daily basis.

Anita Anand (who was probably the only dampener on the entire talk, so strangely irritating is she) posed the question to Bates that perhaps publicising these campaigns and also indicating how much abuse people like Bates have faced since they started to speak out puts young girls off from making a stand. It wasn’t something Anand was implying as her opinion, but it was an interesting point, and Bates was quick to dismiss it. In her eyes, the young girls and women see the kind of abuse, misogyny and general maliciousness online anyway, but campaigns like this one are inspirational, reminding people that it’s OK to stand up against sexism and feel a sense of solidarity with other women.

Bates has gone to a lot of educational institutions as part of her ongoing battle against sexism and has seen a lot of things that have angered her, such as particular animosity towards women from university communities that promote a ‘lad’ culture (websites such as Uni Lad haven’t helped) or women being branded with nicknames or numbers instead of names. For the younger women and girls, things are arguably worse. Bates is meeting girls in schools who have seen so much porn, often shown to them by their male peers, that now what they presume to be ‘sex’ involves choking and violence, and is something they genuinely fear. With nothing else to go on they just assume that’s the norm, which is horrifying. Like much of the feminist movement these days, Bates argues how important it is for sex education in school to tackle issues such as porn and consent, in light of the changing times. Sex education is already lacking but now that it’s so easy to become ‘educated’ online, it’s even more important to address what’s real and what isn’t, particularly as porn these days is often violent and exploitative. I read that talking about porn to your kids is the new ‘birds and the bees’ talk, but it’s difficult to know exactly what you’re up against unless you yourself are immersed in that playground culture. When you’ve got young girls genuinely saying things like ‘I didn’t realise that sex had to make the woman hurt and cry’ (as Bates witnessed), something needs to be changed.

The Everyday Sexism Twitter feed proves that the stories that go to the site are generally the same, no matter what country, although there are obviously greater issues in countries that aren’t as developed as the UK. Still, it seems like no one is out  of the woods yet. When Bates spoke at Hay she had just got back from doing a talk for the UN in Washington DC, so it seems that the world’s higher powers are starting to listen to and address the issues, which is good news. Bates indicated that we need to stand up for each other when we witness these kind of events (safety allowing) and slowly we’ll create a backlash. She got a standing ovation at the end of her talk, and overall it’s pretty remarkable what one small project can lead to, particularly with the powers of social media.

So! Some food for thought, and not strictly related to literature (although both presenters had written books about their respective topics), but it sets up nicely for the next book I’ll be discussing: the first non-fiction book I’ve reviewed. Was it any good? Watch this space.

Tagged , , , ,

Oh Hay!

HayFestival2009-generic-6

I haven’t written a review in a little while (though don’t worry, a lot are coming very soon), but I thought I’d write a quick post to share some literary excitement. I’m off to Hay! For the second year, I will be visiting the beautiful town of Hay-on-Wye in Wales at the end of the month for Hay Festival, arguably the world’s best literary festival. Forget Glastonbury – this is where the really cool people hang out. (Like, er, me. And my friend Curly.)

I first visited Hay Fest last year, pre-booked tickets in hand but otherwise fairly oblivious as to what was in store. The set-up is rather neat, as you can see in the photo above. Tents are spaced out over an open site, some hosting lectures where literature’s biggest names discuss the books they are promoting, others with kitsch little second-hand bookshops or ice cream stalls (Shepherd’s Ice Cream, the former workplace of a friend of mine, is well worth a visit). The lecture theatre-style tents vary greatly in size, with the biggest one resembling what I thought of as a small arena. It was there last year that we heard Miranda Hart (of Miranda fame) and Rupert Everett discuss their latest autobiographies, while in the smaller theatres we listened to Q&As with Matt Haig, Patrick Ness, NoViolet Bulawayo (pre-Booker announcement) et al. We also went to a seriously cool performance from a Colombian jazz band and danced until our feet were sore. And when the festival’s over for the day, the local pubs and venues put on their own cultural shindigs to entertain us after hours. The whole thing was a lot of fun (particularly with the sun out).

So what’s on the menu for this year? As promised, I’ll be blogging about the festival at length – though I can’t promise I’ll be doing any live updates, given that internet connection is notoriously poor out in the Welsh countryside. But despite that, this is what I’ve got in store:

Fictions: Interesting Times
Fictions events mainly consist of one or two authors sitting down with a host to talk about their latest books. They’re given loose themes (‘interesting times’ being the one here) and, like most events at Hay, are done Q&A style, with a short audience participation session at the end. In this event, Nick Harkaway and Zia Haider Rahman will be talking to Olivia Cole about their latest novels, Tigerman and In the Light of What We Know respectively. I haven’t heard of either novel and haven’t done a great amount of research yet but the beauty of Fictions is the chance to discover new books to add to the reading list (and getting a signed copy at the end). Not that I was ever short on books to read…

Heather Widdows – Perfect Me!
This doesn’t look like a literary event itself but more of an intellectual discussion about contemporary ideas of beauty and perfection. Widdows is a Professor of Global Ethics and I’ll be excited to see how the discussion is steered and what talking points it will raise.

Laura Bates talks to Anita Anand – Everyday Sexism: The Project that Inspired a Worldwide Movement
Every woman with access to Twitter – hell, every man, too – has heard of Everyday Sexism (@EverydaySexism). The premise is fairly simple and had humble beginnings; Bates wanted to collect stories of sexism that occurred, well, everyday, and publish them online in an effort to prove how deeply sexism is rooted in our culture without anyone really batting an eyelid. The response was astonishing, as thousands of women from all ages and in many different environments shared their stories. This was very interesting to a 22-year-old woman like me who’s faced countless cat calls and public sexual objectification, but, like many others, had never really considered it out of the ordinary or anything to speak up about. Bates inspired a response by simply retweeting the many stories flooding in and creating awareness of what was going on. Indeed, I had the conversation with my dad not long ago and told him about the classic ‘white van man’ experiences; he was quite frankly appalled to hear about the comments women endure on a daily basis and he’s got through over half a century without ever realising it was an issue. No one talks about it, and so it continues. Until now! I’ll be very excited to hear what Bates has to say about how the project has grown and what she hopes to achieve with it. It’s just been turned into a book, which is presumably why she’s speaking at Hay Fest, but the subject matter itself is fascinating, so that will be an interesting session.

Philippa Semper – Who Wants to Live Forever? Mortals, Immortals and the Undead
As someone who loves me some Dracula, this will be a great insight into how immortality has sprung up in myths and popular culture, and  what that says about us.

Glenn Greenwald talks to Anita Anand – No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the Surveillance State
Oof! This is something exciting to be seeing at Hay, and something my sister Lou is incredibly jealous about. Greenwald is a journalist who worked closely with Snowden to publish stories about the NSA and surveillance in the Guardian last year, and as security and the rights of privacy come into light more than ever, Greenwald will no doubt have some very strong opinions on whistle-blowing and the freedom of the press. His boyfriend was unfairly detained at Heathrow last year on the grounds of potentially containing sensitive information, which angered Greenwald no end, and did make me wonder how he was happy to come to the UK to talk at Hay – but in fact he’s there via video chat.

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter – The Vagenda: A Zero Tolerance Guide to the Media
Cosslett and Baxter are founders and editors of the hilarious feminist blogzine The Vagenda (www.vagendamagazine.com), which I’ve actually written for in the past. They’ve just released a book which I already feel like I have a personal tie to (I went to the book launch last week), one which I will review at some point after Hay – I’m reading it now. Baxter and Cosslett look at the ridiculousness surrounding some women’s magazines and how the media can change to reflect who women really are.

Fictions: Gothic
Another Fictions event, this one with a spooky feel. Lauren Owen and Marcus Sedgwick discuss their novels The Quick and A Love Like Blood respectively; again, I’ve done no research, so we will see if those get added to the to-read list.

Steven Moffat talks to Alan Yentob – The Showrunner
Moffat, co-creator of my beloved Sherlock and lead writer of my not-quite-as-beloved-but-still-fairly-beloved Doctor Who, is discussing his work in the TV business. He’s a marmite fellow, loved for his talent but hated for his press talk (the biggest ‘troll’ in the television industry, always chucking curveballs and twists into his TV shows when he firmly denied everything prior to broadcast), and it will be very fun to hear him chat about his life experience and how he made it to the helm of arguably two of Britain’s most successful shows. Plus, a pal of Cumberbatch can do no wrong in my eyes.

And that’s it – so far! I can’t bloody wait. Stay tuned!

Tagged