Jack Straw, who spent 13 years at the heart of the New Labour government, as both Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary, has published his memoirs; Last Man Standing.
Straw recalls memories of his parents mis-matched marriage, the arguments and poverty that led him to ask them to send him to boarding school (after reading about such possibilities in novels about middle-class families). Politics was the only thing his parents agreed on, and his socialist beliefs were inspired by his father, a conscientious objector during WWI. Reading from an early age fed his aspirations.
At Leeds University he became president of the NUS, qualified and worked as a lawyer. He then worked for Barbara Castle and Peter Shaw in the Labour government of the 70’s before becoming an MP himself. Asked the key to being a successful minister, he advises “be clear about what you want to do. The Civil Service is not the enemy, they are the means by which you can deliver. Work hard and apply yourself, and with a bit of luck provide inspiration.
There was much discussion about his conflicts with John Smith over his wish to amend clause 4, and we heard how Smith ranted at him for about an hour. He agreed principle to the amendments but thought it was not the right time to make them. Straw has made controversial comments about John Smith and his reliance on alcohol in his book, something he stands by.
Florence pressed Straw on the war on Iraq and defending his position Straw challenged Hans Blix’s version of events.
When asked about his proudest achievements in politics Straw answers that getting an inquiry into the Stephen Lawrence murder was one, his work on race relations and also the improvements to how people on society treat one another.
I must confess to (shock horror) not being too aware of the works of Edna O’Brien before yesterday’s session. I went along because I knew she was a hugely popular writer, and I love to hear her speak.
It’s was a bit of a revelation, listening to her talk about her harsh childhood, her disastrous marriage, and subsequent exile to London. She admits to being “more serious about the truth as I reach my eighties”. She read us a passage from her memoirs, Country Girl, an evocative account of her earliest memories as a young girl in the house where she grew up. When reading, Edna O’Brien always wants to “enter into the mind and soul of the writer – and I want my readers to experience the same”.
Booker prize winner John Banville talks to Rosie Goldsmith about his new novel Ancient Light. He tells us a little bit about his early life in Dublin, and how he still loves the light and climate. When asked about his actual writing process, Banville confesses that he “writes as if in a dream”.
We were treated to a reading from Ancient Light, a passage about grief and memory. It is about “why the past is so precious and so vivid”, Banville is clearly fascinated how we feed off of our pasts; “I always try to get to the essence of things” he says. Benjamin Black, he admits, is probably his own ‘dark half’ and his Banville novels are “all versions of me”.
On the time it takes to write his novels; “Benjamin Black takes 3-4 months, Banville, probably 3-4 years.”‘ He hopes, and believes however, that each novel is equally skilfully crafted, and honest.
He confesses a need to write the Banville novels with a fountain pen, which is then transferred onto a screen, whereas Black’s novels are typed straight onto a screen. It’s all to do with the speed of the thinking process for each type of novel, he says.
You can’t help but warm to a man who confesses how he loves female humour, and how they can ‘undo’ men with their tender humour, as he puts it. The Quirke mystery novels by Black are being adapted for a BBC One series, and as he said this his phone rang – “it’s Hollywood!” he joked. It’s clear he has an immense love of language and its ambiguities.
A quick review from ten year old Max on his weekend at the festival :
‘On Saturday I went to see the Etherington Brothers, they were really funny and were really good. Also on Saturday I went to see Eric Schmidt and he told me all about a little micro chip which you swallow (I want one!) On Sunday I went to see ‘What is Contemporary Art?’ and I learnt a lot and got their autograph and their book.’
Check back here later for more reviews of yesterday’s events and possibly another word or two from Max!