The Cardiff Book Festival – Highlights from 2017

Horatio Clare at Cardiff Book FestivalThe Cardiff Book Festival began last year as a brand-new annual celebration of all things literature in the Welsh capital, and this year’s festival followed in a similar vein, with a slightly stronger Welsh slant to the majority of events. On Friday night I braved the darkening skies, sideways drizzle and end-of-week exhaustion on my walk across town, to emerge inside the bright, grand foyer of the old Angel Hotel, where most of the weekend’s events took place…  

The tired grandeur of the Angel Hotel

The tired grandeur of the Angel Hotel

Most of the events were held in one of two rooms on the hotel’s ground floor – useful, but there were a few events I was forced to miss because they were on at the same time as each other. Despite this, I still managed to enjoy a range of poetry, history, political debate and comedy – a full flavour of all that Cardiff Book Festival had to offer.

Poetry Showcase

I was thrilled to hear Sophie McKeand perform ‘Rebel Sun’ (the long prose poem from her collection by the same name). I’d read it several times, but hearing a poet read their work aloud creates a new dimension of understanding. Her poetry is brim full of powerful, surreal imagery that really makes you think.

It was also exciting to hear Susie Wild read from her book Better Houses, which has only just been published. I loved her poem inspired by the recent courgette crisis, and another called ‘Gifts like Honey’, inspired by her cat, with lines such as “I run in head first, at full tilt, my mouth a buzz with well-earned stripes.” and “I have so many bees to tell you. I lay them at your feet.”

We heard from Emily Blewitt, Rhys Milsom, Rhiannon Hooson and Rhian Edwards, all as poised and articulate as ever – a fabulous showcase of Welsh poetic talent.

Sophie McKeand at the Cardiff Book Festival

Sophie McKeand reading at the Poetry Showcase event

Refugee Writers and BAME Writing in Wales

The event entitled ‘Refugee Writing in Wales’ was a little disappointing, as none of the refugee contributors were able to attend, but we did get to hear Eric Ngalle Charles (a former Cameroonian refugee) recite his own work, and we also heard some of the poems and stories from My Heart Loves in My Language: Stories and Poems from Swansea which will be launched officially on 27th October in Swansea.

The event sparked some quite passionate debate around the issues of appropriation, language barriers and the difficulties of organising events that are accessible for refugees and asylum seekers. This continued in the BAME Writing in Wales panel discussion the following day, as members of the audience discussed the need for ‘safe spaces’ where writers from different ethnic backgrounds can take part in open mic nights and seek out writing opportunities.

BAME debate at Cardiff Book Festival

Durre Shawahr, Eric Ngalle Charles, Dafina Paca and Jafar Iqbal discussing BAME writing in Wales

Theatre critic Jafar Iqbal, who moved to Cardiff from London two years ago, made an interesting point, suggesting that here in Wales what seems to matter most is whether or not you are Welsh. This provoked some debate on the nature of BAME identity, and how being Welsh can fit alongside other identities.

The conclusion of these discussions seems to be that institutions in Wales have made some progress in opening up the field for writers of all ethnic backgrounds, but that much more needs to be done to provide real opportunities. Durre Shahwar, who chaired the event, has set up ‘Where I’m Coming From’, a new series of open mic nights in Cardiff to promote BAME voices. The next one will be on Sunday 8th October.

Truth, Lies, Myths and Legends

Horatio Clare

Horatio Clare

How do we know when something is true? This was a theme running through several of the events. Scott Lloyd illustrated the development of Arthurian legends through the ages, explaining that “if you repeat a story often enough it becomes true”, and “if it’s a hundred years old people assume it must be true”.

Horatio Clare read from his witty and beautifully illustrated Brecon Beacons: Myths and Legends, and talked about his fear that we are gradually losing something vital, as stories are no longer being passed down through the generations.

James Ball discussed his book Post-Truth: How Bullshit Conquered the World, which is actually quite frightening when you stop to think about it, showing just how difficult it can be to argue against blatant lies and defend the truth in the public realm. I didn’t know that in the UK it’s actually not possible for journalists to accuse politicians of lying, because of the legal requirements behind such a claim. These events have certainly provoked some interesting thoughts…

James Ball at the Cardiff Book Festival

James Ball talking about bullshit and lies in a ‘post-truth’ society

A Friendly, Adventurous Festival

As with last year, I was particularly struck by the friendliness of the festival. Fellow event attendees, festival organisers and volunteers were all keen to talk and I met several people in person who I’d previously only known via social media. Cardiff Book Festival takes the award for ‘friendliest festival of 2017’ hands down.

And there were plenty of exciting events that I didn’t manage to get to, including a ‘Lit Disco’, a Literature themed pub quiz, workshops and events on crime fiction, children’s writing and more. This is a festival finding its feet, unafraid to be adventurous with unusual events and now a firm fixture in the Welsh cultural calendar.

Adam Kay & Dr Dean Burnett

Medical Comedy Writers – Adam Kay & Dr Dean Burnett interviewed by Dan Thomas

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