Travelling across the Vale of Evesham in the small train towards the Cheltenham Literature Festivals, I wonder if I will be able to see the writers and panellists at the pre-booked sessions. Or does it matter? After all, I already know what many of them look like from close-ups on my iPad. But one of my big regrets with failing vision and lack of focus is not being able to see at the theatre. I am not sure whether this is comparable or not.
The white Regency terraces and the Autumnal trees glowed in the unusual October sunshine. The town was milling with visitors and the large marquees in the Montpellier and Imperial Gardens were well marked and cables and obstacles kept to the minimum.
Although for most sessions over a period of days, we sat in the front row, I could not see the faces on the stage, but most were identifiable enough by their familiarity and voices. As at a pop concert, images of the panellists were projected onto a screen behind them. This was really useful but not always clear to me.
So what did we see, hear and learn? The choice was agonising. If any readers are interested, just refer to The Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festivals and you will see our dilemma. Subjects range through cooking, travel, education and literature, with many exciting diversions in between. Books were available everywhere but I was sorry not to see any audio or Braille.
We started off with “The Right Kind of History”, a fascinating discussion on teaching history in an increasingly multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society. The panel agreed that history can no longer be viewed in a linear fashion. This view was echoed in the next session, “Re-writing History” with the Classicist, Mary Beard (see her terrific blog, A Don’s Life) and historian Ruth Scurr. As well as their scholarship, I enjoyed their accounts of rushing their computers to the Apple Genius Bar to have them rescued from coffee and wine spillages following late-night writing.
For me the treat of the Festival was to hear Jane Smiley talk about her writing methods (linear!), cheerfully competing with a children’s choir in the neighbouring tent, and then later hearing her views in the Trollope session with Victoria Gendinning, Joanna Trollope and Alan Johnson, MP. As many readers will know, Alan Johnson was formerly a postman, and therefore has a particular interest east in Trollope’s career as Postal Surveyor, setting up postal services throughout the British Isles and Ireland.
In the end, my low vision did not diminish my enjoyment. Of course, listening to a group of people sitting in a row on chairs is very different from following live action on a stage. I found accessibility better than expected. I cannot imagine why I have not attended this annual event before.
I would like to have access to podcasts of the sessions. I think some excerpts are available on YouTube, but these are not necessarily accessible to people with VI. Organisers, please note!
Incidentally, disabled people can take a companion with them free of charge for each session.
Tony Little – “An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Education” (2015)
David Olusoga – “Black Poppies: Britain’s Black Community and the Great War”
Mary Beard – “SPQR A History of Ancient Rome”
Ruth Scurr – “John Aubrey: My Own Life”
Peter Stothard – “Alexander: The Last Nights of Cleopatra”
Jane Smiley – trilogy “The Last Hundred Years”, final novel “The Golden Age”
Alan Johnson – “This Boy” and “Please Mr Postman”
Victoria Glendinning – “Trollope”
Joanna Trollope – Aga Sagas! The latest being “Balancing Act” (2014)
Some Anthony Trollope recommendations
“The Barsetshire Chronicles”
“The Palliser Chronicles”
and many more
Cheltenham Literature Festivals www.cheltenhamfestivals/literature.com
Mary Beard’s blog http://timesonline.typepad.com/