Transcription of BWT podcast special ep.12: Oundle Lit Fest (March 2011) – Day 1 of 5

The twelfth special episode of the Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast was released on 22nd March 2011 and featured the first day of five as a volunteer at Oundle Literature Festival here in Northamptonshire, England. The content has never been released other than website links (on my website

Running from Saturday 12th to Sunday 20th March, I attended the Oundle Literature Festival from the Wednesday until the Sunday evening. Welcomed warmly from the start, I pitched in and undertook a variety of tasks from putting out chairs to helping children draw spaceships, from selling quiz sheets to buying Mark Billingham a bottle of beer (one of my highlights!).

Wednesday 16th March 1.30pm: Andrew Lane (Young Sherlock Holmes)

Having been to the Oundle Literature Festival the previous year, as a member of the public, I had no trouble finding the Great Hall where the first event of the day was due to take place; with fiction author Andrew Lane. I arrived early while Andrew was setting up so had the opportunity of chatting to him before the children arrived when I helped direct them to their carefully chalked areas, lead by Kid Lit Committee Member Helen Shair.

Andrew introduced his talk by providing the path he had taken to writing from Dr Who books and Wallace & Gromit to the Young Sherlock Holmes books that were being promoted at the Festival.  A life-long fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character, Andrew had previously included Sherlock in the Dr Who books and talked about him and his capabilities (chemist, violinist, actor, boxer, fencer). Explaining that Doyle had written him over a 30-year period he’d had to adapt the stories as cars, planes and telephones were introduced for authenticity. After Doyle’s death other authors adopted the character incorporating him into their stories so he featured in science fiction, horror and even appeared with Batman & Robin and Tom & Jerry! Andrew mentioned Sherlock’s brother Mycroft who was incredibly intelligent but far lazier than Sherlock, so much so that if people (say, the police) wanted his help they would have to go to him! Andrew then introduced his three Young Sherlock Holmes books, explaining that the first was set in the UK, the second in the US and the third (due out in June 2011) set in Russia, then showed slides of other depictions of young Sherlocks and comedy adult variations including Peter Cook & Dudley Moore, and John Cleese & Willie Rushton. With a hall full of over 300 school children and accompanying adults, Andrew held their attention (and mine) all the way through so it wasn’t surprising that the Q&A session produced a forest of hands. Andrew was first asked why he had written Sherlock Holmes as a teenager to which he answered that it hadn’t been done before and he’d been intrigued as to what could have made Sherlock the complicated character that he’d grown up to be, Andrew explaining that he plans to write a series of 9 books, all in close liaison with Sir Arthur’s Estate. The second question asked why Andrew had become a writer? Andrew had read a story by Terry Nation in a particular issue of Radio Times celebrating the 10th anniversary of Dr Who and was so gripped that he’d not wanted to do anything else, especially since he had a very encouraging English teacher at school, although it had not made him want to study English at University favouring the sciences instead and said how logical Sir Arthur’s writing is. Andrew then revealed that his next book is going to be set in Edinburgh and will feature bodysnatching but in a realistic way rather than relying on zombies etc. Talking about his writing, Andrew was then asked how easy it was to describe a young Sherlock Holmes to which he explained that it was on the surface, his external attributes, but internally was much more difficult for instances when he was scared or vulnerable as it would pave the way for his adult complexities. The next question focussed on Andrew’s favourite aspects of Holmes to which he replied that he loves the fact that he jumps from one thing to another; his ability to analyse people from their outward appearance then explain the steps behind his conclusions. When asked if there was anyone cleverer than Sherlock, Andrew quoted Stephen Hawking but said that the great power of fiction is that you can make anyone anything. To the next question, Andrew said that, alongside his day job and book promotions, he writes about 1,000 words a day which he said equates to about 4-6 months for a 70,000-word novel so can write 2 books a year.

Once the event had finished, books signed and everyone had left, I headed to ‘The Coffee Tavern’, one of four coffee shops in the town. Having been recommended to me by one of my writers, I could see why as it felt like a traditional village café with a friendly atmosphere and I was more than happy to stay there until six o’clock when I returned to the Festival.

Wednesday 16th March 7.30pm: Nigel Warburton (Philosophy Bites)

Set in the Great Hall’s other ground floor room, chairs were set out in the evening for the tickets sold plus a few spare but it soon became apparent that more chairs would be needed and by the time the talk started, the room was packed to (almost) bursting; a sign of Nigel’s popularity. Not surprising, since we learned in the introduction that his podcast has had over 9 million downloads (3 million since the festival’s brochures had been printed) and Nigel was currently 81 in the Twitterati tables. Nigel started his talk but discussing current news items and his views on them. Comparing the recent Japanese earthquake to one which took place in Lisbon, Portugal in the 18th century. This lead on to the question as to whether God exists, Nigel stating that he is an atheist, which raised an audience-led debate. Nigel then set a couple of dilemmas, the first of which was: if someone was on a train track with a train bearing down on them on one side of the points, and six people on the other side, who would you save? What if the six people were criminals and the one an innocent child? The audience, in the majority, went for the ‘greater good’. Nigel then moved on to talk about free speech before quoting John Stuart Mill’s ‘Dead dogma’ argument of the 19th century, Nigel explaining that views need to be challenged before going on to explain that philosophy is a particular way of thinking; that it challenges questions about reality – getting right what the world is; about thinking critically and not accepting on trust.

The Question and Answer session started with Nigel being asked how philosophy has changed his attitude to his life? He told us a true story about his wife having left her mobile on a taxi and the taxi-driver had rung the number marked ‘home’. Nigel then arranged to meet him in Brompton, Greater London and when he later rung the taxi driver to meet him, it turned out that they were already in exactly the same spot at the same time. He was then asked whether philosophers ever have a direct answer to which Nigel quoted Carl Marx and said that it was a case of asking the right questions, although he admitted that not all would be answered in a lifetime. The discussions then turned to good vs evil and nature vs man. A member of the audience asked how much bad do we need to experience to appreciate the good, to which Nigel compared it to a small black mark on a white canvas before recounting an incident in Australia where a thief had stolen a car with a child it in. He’d abandoned the car in a rural area on a very hot day and it wasn’t until he was under significant pressure that he told of the location (and the child was saved). It was agreed by most that it was right for the thief to be coerced in order to save the child. Nigel then lightened the mood by cracking a budget-related joke where a maths teacher asks for a table, paper and a wastepaper bin; the philosopher then beats that simple request by saying that he wouldn’t need the bin.

As with all the author talks at the Festival, the Oundle Bookshop had books for sale, with some even selling out, and Nigel too had a long queue of people wishing him to sign books for them.  I had a quick chat with him, talking blogs mainly, and it was him saying that he has 1,000 hits a day to his (I’m 1/7th of the way there :)) that inspired me to start mine.

So, that’s what happened on day 1 out of 5 – links to the transcriptions of the other days will put listed on when they’re posted.

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