Saturday, 29th October 2016 is day one of Burnley Literary Festival. Burnley is six miles away and earlier today I went to see how things were getting started.
Event 1 Sheena Byrom – midwife
My first port of call was Burnley Central Library at 11:00. BBC Radio Lancashire were set up to interview Sheena Byrom who, for many years has worked in midwifery. Before we go into details I should note that on account of her views, Sheena has been labelled a feminist. All I saw was common sense observation.
I arrived five minutes before ‘kick-off’ and was in time to see the final setup by Radio Lancs – I have to admit I wasn’t expecting them to be there – on the other had this was the first event of Burnley’s first Literary Festival – the mayor of Burnley was there and Sheena was very accomplished. It wasn’t clear at first where the event was to be held but by peering into the main room, I picked out where folk where gathering, they were on the right.
The interview looked at the origins of her interest in midwifery and went on to cover how that led to her books, the subsequent championing of a gentler, compassionate, more caring approach to childbirth. What was plain was her concern that the current approach in treating childbirth as a factory process, sets unrealistic expectations. Childbirth is dehumanised which in turn causes unwanted and unnecessary stress. She put her points well and her works would make good reading for those concerned about the birthing process. We need to get birth right yet there’s increasing evidence that current thinking is too mechanistic and inflexible.
At the conclusion, the audience were invited to make comments and I manfully pitched (with my industrial background).
Sheena comes from Burnley, learned nursing in Blackburn and went on to become a midwife in Burnley. Her books include Catching Babies and The Roar Behind the Silence: why kindness, compassion and respect matter in maternity care.
Her event was a good showcase for the festival.
4 out of 5
I left the event feeling informed – the interviewer let her make her case. She’s my age but I don’t remember her –Burnley’s not that small! There was just oven one hour to the next events with a choice of either Livi Michael – historical novelist or story telling with Sue Allonby. Livi’s session is at the Paddock; as I will be doing an open-mic slot there on 03/11/2016, this seemed a good way to check things out.
In due course I walk from Burnley Central Library, past Burnley Police Station, down Grimshaw St. The pavement has a hardened patches of white – choddy (old chewing gum) spat out onto the street and hardened by careless feet.
Event 2 Livi Michael – Historical Novelist
Our venue, the Paddock, is a single, stand alone room alcoholic and non-alcoholic (not the Cocktail and Coffee bar). I arrived barely in time but needn’t have worried, our Ms Livi Michael was fiddling with a projector trying to get a decent image. Livi began her session by running through her research in order to place her main subject Margaret Beaufort – mother of Henry VII, grandmother of Henry VIII.
For the most part Livi didn’t talk about her books – she went through some of her research which dealt with the Hundred Years War, the feuding between the branches of the Tudor dynasty and the War of the Roses. She demonstrated connections between local places, especially Manchester, and the characters she researched. If I’d known Livi planned on asking questions about that time and place, I’d have boned up. As things worked out, the session felt more like a lesson in class than a writer selling her latest masterpiece. Clearly Livi knows her research, but their results can wait till I open the pages. She didn’t read any extracts, the presentation was experimental and needed to be tightened up. Several attendees left during the event. Come on Penguin – Livi is your author – make it easy for readers to engage. Introduce herself, her work, the context of this talk, ease us in.
The War of the Roses forms part of a picture that sets the scene for the beginnings of Western Civilisation – it’s the tiny part whose main consequence is that the Angevin legacy on the continent ends. Or if you’re a Science Fantasy fan it’s the model used by Roger Zelazny in his Amber series of books.
Livi has produced three historical novels: Succession, Accession, Rebellion; and a body of work outside that field. It surprised me to discover she has written on the process of writing and continues to lecture in creative writing.