I have been on the Advisory Group for the Words by the Water literature festival at Theatre by the Lake in Keswick, Cumbria, for several years. At first it was more like a ‘Test the Water’ festival to see if it would attract audiences to the western edge of the Lake District – a long way off the beaten track for the publishing world. But, under the skilful guidance of Kay Dunbar, Stephen Bristow and their team from Ways With Words, it has developed into a world ranking event, attracting speakers and audiences in their droves. Words by the Water has continued in a difficult funding climate and brings much into the local economy and enriches the lives of the thousands of visitors who come along regularly for a literary and cultural injection and a delightful break in one of the most beautiful places in the UK.
What I like about the festival is its diversity. One can hear writers famous and not so famous on subjects ranging from cake making to the economy, science and history, as well as the usual ‘literary’ things like novels and poetry. I have supervised poetry workshops and chaired sessions on books relating to meteorites, urine, Gray’s Anatomy, psychology, genius, herbal medicine and Sylvia Plath. This year, on 7 March, I am chairing sessions on geology and climate change with scientists Jan Zalasiewicz and Bill Mc Guire with their respective books: ‘The Planet in a Pebble’ – an extraordinary exploration of the origins and history of Earth explained via the vehicle of a pebble picked from a Welsh beach; ‘Waking the Giant: How a changing climate triggers earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes – a hard look at the science of climate and how it is linked to the way our planet works meteorologically and geologically. By contrast I am interviewing on 10 March the travel writer and journalist Noo Saro-Wiwa (daughter of the murdered activist Ken Saro-Wiwa) with her sparkling new book ‘Looking for Transwonderland – Travels in Nigeria’. A highly personal account of her return to the rich and diverse country of her birth and her rediscovery of her father and his legacy to his family and country.
There is a lot more, of course. It is a celebration of the power of the book.
telephone Theatre by the Lake in Keswick: 017687 74411