Tag Archives: Andy Miller

Durham Book Festival; It’s Been A Bookish Blast

So. That. Is. It. Durham Book Festival has come to an end for me. It has been an absolute bookish blast with over two days of non-stop bookish delight. I have been introduced to authors old and new (to me or debuts) and enjoyed every minute. From the Gordon Burn Prize (which I have now decided I want to judge one day), to the finale event discussing Wearside Jack it has been brilliant. Pat Barker thoroughly entertained me and made me want to read everything that she has ever written, I got to join in with a fascinating debate on hard evidence, I saw Lauren Laverne talking fashion, got to take part in Read Y’Self Fitter giggling away with our tutor Andy Miller, be thoroughly freaked out about the state of modern Russia and heard Patrick Gale and Liza Klaussmann talking about sexuality and sexual secrets. What more could you want and where else could you get all of this other than a literary festival?


It has also been a real hoot (as you can see from my naughty gleeful look captured above brilliantly by Picador’s Emma Bravo) and the lovely team at New Writing North and Durham Book Festival have been wonderful hosts and putting up with diva demands, well they probably would have if I had made any. I didn’t honest. I got to meet lots of lovely people who I have not met before but I have spoken to for ages on Twitter, like the brilliant Ben Myers and Andy Miller, as well as some lovely faces that I have met before including some of the lovely young talented reviewers that myself and Lauren Laverne have given masterclasses to and who I had some ace chats with at the events…


And they will be the lovely folk who will be blogging and reviewing for the rest of Durham Book Festival on the Cuckoo Review website and on the festival’s blog BECAUSE THE FESTIVAL IS NOT OVER and you can still go and see some corking events (Philip Pullman, Carys Davies, Stuart Evers, Mary Portas, Bill Bryson and more) over the next week, which they will all be reviewing on the site along with some of the books discussed and more. All good stuff!

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Durham Book Festival; Read Y’Self Fitter with Andy Miller

The word ‘giggles’ might not be one that you would associate with a literary festival event. In general this perception would be wrong but even more so in the case of Andy Miller’s Read Y’Self Fitter event which is based around his brilliant book The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books Saved My Life.


On entering Durham University Library’s event space we were all asked to write down our names, a book we’ve always meant to read and sign it (for legal reasons, ha!) I’m not telling you what mine was, so there, you can all guess. Then Andy took to the stage for a devised Ten Step Programme on how we can read ourselves fitter! This involved much audience participation.

I won’t give away Andy’s programme, though I think it should be complusery for anyone who reads a lot and who will laugh a lot, but I can share some highlights. Especially as some of the points really resonated with me amongst all the giggling. Two seemingly apposing tips were that ‘we are not as clever as George Eliot’ and also ‘we are not as clever as Dan Brown’ the latter got some snorts and some nervous giggles. Now the George Eliot part makes instant sense in many ways but Dan Brown, really?!? Well using a similarly brilliant method as he does in the book, Andy compares The Da Vinci Code with Moby Dick, no really is brilliant, and makes everyone laugh and also think. Brilliant.

There were two particular parts of the talk resonated with me personally in a way that made me think more than laugh, which I was going most of the time. The first of those was the step There is No Subsititure for Reading the Book, Than Reading the Book. (I paraphrase there!) Andy talked about how we always say we are too busy for difficult books. Ironically I had said this very thing to him at breakfast in the hotel when he came with David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest under his arm and my eyes widened in horror. But he’s true we do say it and it’s bonkers. As Andy, and his wife we are told, say it’s as simple as reading 59 pages a day. He then added how he was blogging at the start of his quest he blogged and then realised he was blogging more than reading, and that struck a chord with me around what I’ve been thinking for a while. So I have that to mull more, how do we get the balance right? All of us, not just me. Read more is the answer, just crack on with it.


The other part that made me think, and apparently has caused boo’s in some sessions, was Always (Try To) Finish A Book. There were no boo’s but there were some definite murmurs at this because, rightly or wrongly and I am in this boat, we all say that ‘life is too short for bad books’ or ‘a book should hold me the whole way through’. And I think it’s true. BUT, and there is a but, Andy said if you don’t finish a book how do you know? Good question. He used the example of The Goldfinch at which I rolled my eyes and then thought ‘hang on a sec, I haven’t even read that!’ See. Andy Miller. You’re point was proved, kind of.

At the end of the session we all joined in as Andy pulled out people’s book choices out and made the stand up. This was particularly funny when the first was a choice of 100 Years of Solitude which Andy had had a small rant about earlier and we all laughed before chanting that the reader would and must read that book. It felt like a huge bookish healing session with lots and lots of laughing. I think Andy should go and visit every book group spreading Read Y’Self Fitter everywhere. So there.

If you haven’t read Andy’s book you must. I will pop up my review very soon, I’m not sure why I haven’t before. In the meantime if you want to hear Andy talking about his book, other books and reading dangerously you can hear him on You Wrote The Book with me here. Who has seen his show and who has read his book?


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Durham Book Festival; Patrick Gale & Liza Klaussmann

The audiences of the Durham Book Festival are a saucy lot if two of the events I have been to are anything to go buy. It seems that the subject of *whispers* sex, sexual secrets and sexuality gets the forces out in their droves. I know it is early on a Sunday, do forgive me but ‘shenanigans’ (which seems much more of a Sunday word for it all) came up in Pat Barker’s session within  few moments of her being on stage. The same happened when Patrick Gale and Liza Klaussmann were in conversation with Caroline Beck late yesterday afternoon, as sexuality and sexual secrecy (and shame) seem to be at the hearts of both their books – which of course makes us all want to read them instantly.


Lots of you will have heard me rave on and on about the brilliance of Patrick Gale’s work and in particular his latest, A Place Called Winter which is one of my favourite books of the year. You can read my review here for a more in depth look at it, but a brief summarisation is that it tells of a man who leaves Edwardian Britain under a cloud of shame and in some form of penance, and in some ways survival, heads to outback Canada where of course he still can’t hide from his true human nature. I just realised that makes it sound like a murder mystery, rather than a love story and tale of friendship. Can you see why I am not in book publicity? Anyway, it’s brimming with secrets, sexuality and bear grease – well maybe not the latter but it sounds fun, see totally not appropriate as a book marketer am I?

Alongside Patrick was Liza Klaussmann whose latest novel, Villa America, I have not read yet (there is a theme at the events I have been to so far on unread yet books, but as Patrick told me yesterday re Pat Barker ‘if it is a brilliant book, it will keep’ which is now my new life motto) sounds like an absolute corker. It tells the tale of Sara and Gerald Murphy who it’s said were inspirations for Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night and who seemed to have the perfect lives, which Liza said ‘seemed to perfect, so I knew something was going on there’ and so she looks at what could have been going on behind the scenes of a perfect seeming marriage and reveals some sensational secrets. Come on, admit it, you want to read both of these. I told you so.

What is great about a live event is seeing how much some books, no matter how different the setting or indeed the authors are, can link together in so many ways. Obviously there is the subject of sexuality (I don’t think I have written the word sex so much in a post ever, what have you done to me Durham Book Festival?)and sex, plus secrets, lies and facades. There was more.

Both books are written about real people; Patrick’s is very much based on his great great Grandfather and what might have been his story and reasons for heading to Canada, Liza’s about the Murphy’s and the Fitzgerald’s and the whole whirlwind that went around them in that time. When asked about the responsibility and what these people thought Patrick said he felt now that most of the people who knew his great great Grandfather were dead he felt he could be freer, but he knew they might have disapproved, Liza too felt the Murphy’s might be unimpressed (as they were with Tender is the Night) but as they were dead it was alright. There was much laughing throughout and many a book was sold and signed afterwards.

Lovely stuff, a couple more books to add to your TBR’s if you haven’t already. If you have read either or both books I would love your thoughts on them. I had a corking first day at Durham Book Festival and now have Andy Miller, Louise Welsh, Lauren Laverne and Mark Blacklock ahead of me today, its almost too much bookish delight!


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Durham Book Festival Begins & I Will Be Doing Something A Little Bit Different This Weekend!

This week is the start of the two weeks of book joy that is Durham Book Festival. And I am really excited. I love a book festival at the best of times (and even at the worst) yet Durham holds a very special place in my heart as it was the place I would often beg to go (after the airport and the Hancock Museum) at the weekend when I was a little from the age of about three until I was about ten. I have yet to go back. This will all change from Friday as I have been kindly asked to be the festival’s inaugural Blogger-in-Residence… and the line-up is corking!


From today until the 17th of October, the great and the good of publishing will be heading to Durham for a whole host of wonderful events. There are exciting conversations from debuts to events with the likes of Philip Pullman (whose Northern Lights has been distributed to 3,000 readers in the county as on big read) from talks about the world of fiction to politics in Russia or the British countryside. Seriously there are some marvellous events which you can see the whole gamut of here.

Over the first weekend of the festival I will be heading to events with Xinran, Pat Barker, Patrick Gale (who probably thinks I am stalking him), Liza Klaussman, Andy Miller (who I am hoping to have a pint and a pie with), Lauren Lavern (who I might actually be stalking, not really but I think she’s ace), Richard Benson, Louise Welsh, Mark Blacklock and more… Phew. That’s quite a lot to fit in. Oh and of course the announcement of the Gordon Burn Prize on Friday night, which I am really, really, really excited about – I have read two of the long list and am going to try and squeeze the rest in this week on lunch breaks, evenings and on the train where I can.

To do something different, and as blogger in residence it seems fitting, I am going to spend the whole weekend live blogging and tweeting as I attend the events. I have also been meeting with, talking to and doing a master class with some amazing young talented reviewers and bloggers who will be doing the same over the weekend and in the weeks that follow. They will probably put me to shame, so it is best I go first. Ha.

I am also really hoping that I get a bit of time to have a mooch, fall into some bookshops (and possibly some book tents) and see one of the icons of my childhood… The Durham Cathedral Knocker!


Do let me know if you will be there as it would be lovely to say hello and if you can’t be there let me know what you would like to hear about the festival and from the events!


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