Jonny Nexus

Writing, life, politics

Brighton Festival Events One to Four

A few years back we went to Edinburgh for the festival. I remember being really jealous of people who lived in the city; I resolved that should I ever live there I’d become a festival fanatic each August, immersing myself in it and seeing as many events as I could.

We didn’t move to Edinburgh; at least we haven’t yet. But it turns out that in moving to Brighton we did the next best thing, for just as Edinburgh in August has its Festival, complete with anarchic Fringe, so Brighton in May has its own Festival, again with an accompanying Fringe. It’s not anything like as big as Edinburgh (is anything?), but its Fringe is apparently the third largest Fringe festival in the world after Edinburgh and Adelaide.

So I’m going to try and see as many events as I can. (And we’ve been aided in this by our friends @luciddestiny and @syleth, who having booked some events were unable to get to them, and very nicely let us have the tickets).

Event One (Festival), Saturday 1st May: The Children’s Parade

We watched the Children’s Parade two years ago while visiting Brighton to see a friend’s art exhibition; in fact, it was one of the things that convinced us that Brighton would be a good place to live.

This year’s parade was just as good. Where two years ago the theme was games, this year it was the Planet and its climates, with the eighty floats being divided into four themed sections, the poles, the tropics, the oceans, and deserts.

Some of the floats were really inventive, and all the kids seemed to really enjoy themselves. Towards the end rain threatened, but it thankfully held off. (If the event had been held twenty four hours later it would have been a right disaster, because it seriously pissed down).

If you’re ever in Brighton on the Saturday of the Mayday bank holiday weekend, then get yourself to the town centre and check out the parade. It’s pretty cool.

Event Two (Fringe), Sunday 2nd May: The Baltimore Waltz by Paula Vogel

We booked this on Sunday morning on the strength of the blurb:

After Paula Vogel’s brother succumbed to AIDS in 1988, she wrote a fantasy trip through Europe in his memory. In The Baltimore Waltz, Anna & Carl are in search of hedonistic pleasures and also a cure for her terminal illness, the fictitious ATD. Highly theatrical, funny and irreverent in places, an ultimately haunting elegy for every trip not taken.

It was at the Marlborough Little Theatre, which is a lovely little theatre in the upstairs room of a pub just off the A23 in Kemptown. It had a small, and very simple stage, a dozen free-standing chairs arranged in rows on a flat floor, and felt very, very fringy.

It was really, really good. The play had a grand total of three actors: Oliva Thompson, who played Anna; Chris Herriott, who played Carl; and Robin Soutar, who played “the Doctor, Harry Lime, Airport Security Guard, Public Health Official, Customs Official, Little Dutch Boy at age 50, Munich Virgin, Radical Student Activist, Concierge, Dr. Todesrochein… and all the other parts”.

I thought they were all pretty good, but we were especially impressed with Robin Soutar who, with only trivial changes of costume (hats, jackets and pairs of glasses) managed to be utterly convincing as totally different characters.

If you’re in Brighton, you can still catch the play. It’s also playing on: 4th May 6:15, 8 May 6:45, 9 May 6:45, 15th May 7:00, 16th May 7:00.

Event Three (Festival), Sunday 2nd May: Apollo: This is for all Mankind

This was the first of two events that we were gifted rather than having chosen, but like the later event was well going to.

This event was a live performance of Brian Eno’s studio album Apollo, which had originally been written as the soundtrack for Al Reinert’s 1989 film For All Mankind. As the band, Icebreaker, played a rearranged version of the music, the film, a documentary assembled from original NASA Apollo film footage, was shown above them on a huge screen.

I couldn’t say I hugely enjoyed the music, but it was undeniably powerful to hear it performed live, and I did like the countryish piece that played during the moonwalking sequences. But for me, the real star of the piece was the footage, particularly the shots of astronauts walking on the moon. Seeing them bounce around, filmed by a remotely operated camera on the lunar rover, was brilliant.

On top of the music and film, we got a really interesting introductory talk from the music’s composer (and guest artistic director of this year’s Festival) Brian Eno, and then some extra songs from him afterwards.

Event Four (Festival), Monday 3rd May: Judging a Book: What Makes Good Writing?

This actually turned out to be a quite different event from what I’d been expecting having read the blurb:

Five representatives of the creative writing and publishing world discuss what makes good writing: Author Sue Eckstein, convener of creative writing courses at West Dean Greg Mosse; literary agent who will also chair the event; Hannah Westland; editor of Waterstone’s Books Quarterly Ed Wood; and Myriad Editions’ fiction editor Vicky Blunden. Together, they announce the winner of the West Dean Writer’s Retreat Competition and talk through the challenges and opportunities new writers face in 2010, offering insights and tips to fledgling authors.

It actually turned out to be more of a Q&A on how to be get published. That said, it was pretty interesting, perhaps more so that the event I was expecting would have been. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I don’t know that I learned anything, but it did reassure me that the approaches I’m taking are in the main correct.

What did strike me is how many of the would-be authors asking questions seemed to assume that the marketing of any book they might get published would be entirely the job of their publisher.

Note: I hesitate to write this next bit, because I’m being quite critical, perhaps even harsh. But for me, it was by far the most note-worthy piece of the hour long event, and it would seem a bit pointless to write a review that didn’t mention it. Anyhow…

Particularly interesting was the response to a question asked by my wife about what impact the panel thought ebooks might have on the publishing world. Now it’s my personal opinion that there’s a tsunami about to hit the publishing world over the next five to ten years as ebooks become more prevalent. Unlike some, I don’t say that with relish. I think that the world may, as a result, be a poorer one. But life is rarely about what we want to happen.

Of the panel, I think the agent Hannah Westland got it, as did editor of Waterstone’s Books Quarterly Ed Wood. But I’m not sure that Greg Mosse who was acting a chair, did.

Ed: [I’m paraphrasing from memory] I think epublishing will lead to an explosion of self-publishing because it will lead to millions of people uploading their books using create your own book software and either selling it, or more probably just giving it away for free.

Greg: [Again, paraphrasing] But how will they afford the DRM? Isn’t that costly?

I don’t expect there will be many people reading this who will require further explanation as to why my immediate reaction upon hearing this statement was: “He doesn’t get it. He really doesn’t get it, at all!”

(Note: DRM standard for Digital Rights Management. It’s a technology that aims to prevent you from making copies of electronic products such as games and music to pass on to others. Unfortunately, it’s often the technology that stops you listening to your music after you’ve changed to a new computer and copied your old music library across, only to find that you’re not authorised to listen to the tracks you’d bought on that new computer. And that’s before we start mentioning things like backups.)

But just for the sake of completeness:

Most of these new authors will be giving their works away for free, and thus won’t need DRM.

Those of them who are trying to sell it would be advised (in mine and many other’s opinion) to avoid DRM because it generally doesn’t work, failing to stop pirates, and succeeding only in punishing those customers who were decent and honest enough to buy your book.

Thinking about it now, one quote comes to mind, that of the Lady Chatterley’s Love trail prosecutor Mervyn Griffith-Jones, when he famously asked if it were the kind of book “you would wish your wife or servants to read”. The world had changed, but his words revealed that he had not yet realised.

* * * * *

So that’s four events and three days down, hopefully quite a few others to go.

3 Comments

  1. Vicki Morley

    May 4, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    I couldn’t get to Brighton for the festival. Do you know who won the West Dean writer’s retreat prize?
    Re. the digi and e-book question, I think the next five years will see an explosion, just like the change over to digital cameras.
    I heard an author Anne Cleeves, speak down here in St Agnes, Cornwall, library last month and she was clear about how much authors have to market themselves and their books. The publishers do expect authors to do the leg work.

    • Hi Vicki,

      No, sorry. They did announce the prize, but I didn’t note down the names. All I can say is that they eventually decided to award two first prizes because they couldn’t decide which one was best. One of the first prize winners was a novel, the other was short stories.

      And it’s interesting to hear that the author you heard repeated the lesson that you have to do the legwork yourself.

  2. Vicki Morley

    May 4, 2010 at 8:52 pm

    Hi Jonny
    Thanks for the update, two prizes are better than one!My writing tutor was on the shortlist for the prize, name Kath Morgan. She will give her group feedback on Friday.
    Page 12 of The Guardian today (also available for free on line) has useful article on zettabytes and the exponential rise of digi-comms.
    Title is ‘Goodbye petabytes, hello zettabytes.’

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