Like everyone else, I’m desperately trying to find positives from being in lockdown during the current pandemic. As an avid reader and book festival fan the crisis has had an unexpected silver lining.
Firstly, stuck at home without my usual work and social commitments means I’ve got more time to read. Over the last few weeks, the best book I’ve read has been Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo. It’s a very worthy winner of the Booker Prize and although it’s a chunky tome I flew through it. Before lockdown, I’d ordered tickets to see Bernadine at the Aye Write book festival which was of course cancelled. But I didn’t miss out! I ‘attended’ the Big Book Weekend.
MyVLF is a free global virtual literary festival, connecting readers with authors. Their online event space gives readers access to the best of today’s literature and fiction from internationally-based traditional and independently published authors and I was chuffed to see that Bernadine was appearing in conversation with Mairi Kidd. It was an excellent event and I also watched Damian Barr chat to one of my favourite writers, Maggie O’Farrell, as well as Marian Keyes being interviewed by Catherine Mayer.
The common theme from these conversations was that all three of the writers talked about their interest in exploring flawed characters and the complexities of humanity.
I’d already bought Bernadine’s novel and was always planning on trying Hamnet, Maggie’s first foray into historical fiction but after listening to Marian I also ordered her latest novel, Grown Ups. To be honest, I’ve never read any of Marian’s previous novels assuming they were chick lit, which isn’t a genre I’m drawn to reading. But I now know that the themes explored in Grown Ups are anything but lightweight and fluffy. It’s next on my tbr pile and I’m confident Marian will deliver on my high expectations.
The best bit about MyVLF is that it’s free! I feel passionately that there should be access for all to arts events. Not everyone can attend a book festival for various reasons whether that’s due to lack of finance, geographical location, time constraints, physical or mental impairment. But in this scenario you can sit in your jammies, press ‘pause’ for a pee break and enjoy a book festival experience from the comfort of your own couch.
There’s also been new book programmes springing up on telly and I’ve watched Damian Barr’s Shelf Isolation and Richard and Judy’s Keep Reading and Carry On.
I look forward to the day when I can attend book festivals and launches again but, in the meantime, I’m making the most of book events online and on tv. So, it’s not all doom and gloom for book lovers and I’d like to hope that after we return to some form of normality the virtual opportunities will still be available and there will be no barriers to anyone who wants to enjoy book banter.