Three Years of Blogging – Part 1: Fiction & Festivals

Created to Read logoI launched this book blog on 18th March 2016, with no idea where it would lead me. Looking back over the last three years it’s hard to believe all that has happened in between. Reviewing books written by other people gave me the courage to look back at my own writing again, after years of relegating it to a dusty shelf, and to send it out into the world. So, to celebrate my three-year blogaversary I’ve picked out some of the posts I’ve most enjoyed writing, including my top three fiction reviews and my top three literary festivals…   

My Top 3 Fiction Reviews

Number 1 – The Unlikely Heroics of Sam Holloway by Rhys ThomasThe Unlikely Heroics of Sam Holloway

This is an impossible choice really, but I will begin with The Unlikely Heroics of Sam Holloway by Rhys Thomas. I found it gripping, entertaining and heart-breaking in equal measure:

“a hilarious, laugh-out-loud story which also manages to be deadly serious, proving that it takes incredible courage to overcome the pain of grief… an accomplished novel… which will cut you to the heart and remind you of what’s most important in life… a brilliant portrayal of true friendship…”

Number 2 – Pigeon by Alys ConranBook - Pigeon

Next, I’ll go with Pigeon by Alys Conran, a book I would never have read if I hadn’t met the author herself at the Hay Festival. The book was published simultaneously in both Welsh and English:

Pigeon tells the tragic story of two children haunted by loss and suffering from abuse. But it is also full of hope, and healing, with a little humour thrown in. It tackles the thorny issue of how we see language, how two languages can co-exist in one place and, above all, it shows us the power of words.”

Number 3 – The Last Hundred Days by Patrick McGuinness

Patrick McGuiness at the Cardiff Book Festival

Patrick McGuinness at the Cardiff Book Festival

Finally, I’ll pick The Last Hundred Days by Patrick McGuinness, who lived in Bucharest, Romania for a time, during the Ceauşescu regime. His novel is written from the perspective of an outsider, someone who, like him, was able to observe what was going on, but from a safe, uninvolved vantage point. It was fascinating to hear him describe this experience at the Cardiff Book Festival. He explained that the atmosphere in Bucharest was one of “psychological violence” where “no-one could tell the truth, they could only lie in a way that told you they were lying”.

My Top 3 Literature Festivals

Number 1 – Stewarding at The Hay Festival

hay festival steward - meWhen I decided to focus my blog on literary festivals and events, it wasn’t just an excuse to attend more of these, it was also a mental push – I had always wanted to go to festivals like Hay, but had never had the courage to go by myself. The blog gave me the perfect excuse. And stewarding at Hay was the perfect way to get involved and get to know people without spending too much money. I enjoyed it immensely, and wrote a Survival Guide for Stewards. In my second year as a steward I ventured on a whole series of posts, entitled ‘Diary of a Hay Festival Steward’ and am now so addicted that the festival is marked on my calendar each year.

Number 2 – Roald Dahl’s City of the Unexpected

Roald Dahl's Giant PeachThis was a unique occasion in the history of Cardiff, and I was thrilled to be part of it. I share a birthday with Roald Dahl, and have loved his books since I was a child, so seeing them brought to life was both surreal and magical. The entire premise of the event was utterly ridiculous – to encourage thousands of people to attend, but not to let them know what would happen, or where, or even when – Dahl would have loved it, I’m sure. I wrote a piece for Click on Wales about the experience. Here’s an extract:

“As I wandered towards Westgate Street, I was overtaken by Fantastic Mr Fox on a unicycle, followed by some angry looking farmers. I then spotted a giant peach, which was pretty incredible, being truly ginormous and surrounded by protesters. Following the crowds, I ended up back outside the castle, watching as, first James, then Mr Grasshopper, Mrs Spider and Mrs Ladybird, were rescued by firemen from inside the peach…”

Number 3 – Beyond the Border Storytelling Festival

beowulf storytellingI’ve always loved stories, and Beyond the Border (which has now changed quite a bit) was an incredible experience. I sat through an entire re-telling of the fourth branch of the ancient Mabinogion, told by three people with very little in the way of props (I think it took about 3 hours!) and a hilarious re-enactment of Beowulf told by two men with nothing but a watering can as a prop – an unforgettable experience in an idyllic setting. I wrote about the festival for Wales Arts Review.

So, there you have it – three of my favourite fiction reviews, and three of my top lit fest moments from the last three years. I’ll be posting ‘Part 2’ later this week, with a focus on my poetic highlights.

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