The 14th Birmingham Book Festival opens today. Graham Young reports.
Writing is a solitary enough existence as it is, but author Patrick Gale lives on the last farm before Land’s End.
Currently criss-crossing the country on the literary festival circuit, he’s enjoying the company of readers and fellow authors.
But he has a specific date in mind for settling down in November and starting on his 17th book.
Patrick normally spends a year thinking, then it will take as long to write.
First in longhand, then edited later each day as he transfers it to computer.
In the meantime, he is going to use his visit to the 14th Birmingham Book Festival to test himself.
He will be taking part in an event with a professor of psychiatry from the University of Birmingham, who has published several books of poems and numerous critical texts.
In Patrick Gale & Femi Oyebode: The Psychiatry of Character, the pair will challenge each other to define what makes a person who – and what – they are.
The chances are, Patrick will only meet his sparring partner for the night minutes before they go on stage.
“I think to write books you have to take a psychiatric approach and be a little bit mad,” says Patrick. “Femi might confirm my worst suspicions.
“I think psychiatry is one of my pet subjects. If I hadn’t been an author, I would have been a psychotherapist.
“I don’t know what Femi is going to say, so I will be well outside of my comfort zone.
“But I think an event like this works much better if a conversation is fresh and you are hearing it for the first time.”
Patrick’s latest novel, A Perfectly Good Man, is about the challenges facing a priest in the 21st century.
He also brings back Morwenna from his best-selling novel, Notes From An Exhibition.
“I was concerned about what was happening to her,” he reasons. “So I thought ‘I’ll find out... and bring her back!’”
Down on the farm Patrick shares with his husband, they grow barley, cauliflowers and rear beef cattle.
Their sense of isolation was heightened during the foot and mouth crisis of a decade ago, but ordinarily the farm’s twin coastline public footpaths are very popular in south west England. He has been to Birmingham many times, but mostly through New Street station. Staying in a high-rise city hotel, though, once showed him just how green the city is.
Admiring the city for spending the best part of £200 million on a new library, Patrick says: “Most places are closing libraries not building them.”
At home, he had admits to having his own shelf for his books. But as his collection expands “the danger is they are going to be on a shelf below the line of the sofa”.
Admitting to never having had ‘a proper job’, Patrick thinks he has not been as prolific at writing as he might have been but has hopes to transform some of his stories into films or TV series, like his great American friend, Armistead Maupin (Tales of the City) and with whom he swaps first-proof copies of their latest novels for non-critical, back-slapping appreciation.
Patrick’s biggest-selling novel to date, Notes From an Exhibition, has sold a quarter of a million copies and he delighted in finally meeting Richard & Judy, whose TV praise had done most to push it into the public consciousness.
But he wonders if he’d had the meteoric success of JK Rowling whether he would have felt compelled to move on to try something completely different by now.
“I’ve not started (her new novel) The Casual Vacancy yet,” he says. “But I’ve got it and I think it’s got a very ugly cover. I think they will change that for the paperback.”
By way of contrast and on a much lighter note, Patrick will be at the Barber Institute on Saturday for a Readers’ Afternoon from 1pm-4pm when there will be a series of short talks and question-and-answer sessions with several authors meeting readers.
Patrick’s friend Tiffany Murray will be there.
“We’ve both got a passion for dogs,” he laughs. “I think we’ll end up talking about greyhounds and whippets.”
FRIDAY: Patrick Gale & Femi Oyebode: The Psychiatry of Character, 7pm-8.30pm at the Ikon Gallery, 1 Oozells Square, Birmingham B1 2HS. £8 / £5.
SATURDAY: Readers’ Afternoon with Patrick Gayle, Gaynor Arnold, Tiffany Murray and Andrew Killeen, 1pm-4pm, The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham B15 2TS. £8 / £5.
* www.birminghambookfestival.org or 0121 236 4455 for bookings/information Writing West Midlands: 0121 246 2770. The official Festival Hotel is the Copthorne Hotel, Paradise Circus B3 3HJ, www.millenniumhotels.co.uk or tel 01212 200 2727.
14th Birmingham Book Festival
Pop-up Bookshop: Open from 10am-5.30pm weekdays, 9am-4.30pm Saturdays (closed Sundays) in the Central Library Foyer, Chamberlain Square, B3 3HQ. Buy books, tickets or pick up a festival mug, bag or postcard and take advantage of multi-buy offers.
To take part in ‘City of 1000 stories’
Fringe Festival: 10 free events supported by Birmingham Libraries, six of which are drop-in and free at the Central Library, including A Right Read! guide to setting up a reading group; The Gentlemen Press – young competition winners talking about their future plans and What’s Love Got to Do With It, in which writers Sagheer Afzal, Yasmin Hai and Bali Rai will discuss the subject of love and relationships for young Asians today.
The new Birmingham Poet Laureate will be revealed from 6pm-8pm at the Custard Factory’s Cafe Yumm. Special guest: Elvis McGonagall: One Man & his doggerell! Free, but booking advised.
To celebrate National Poetry Day, there’s also an Emergency Poet in a 1960s’ ambulance (1-6pm, The Custard Factory). ‘Dr’ Deborah Alma will prescribe an uplifting couplet or life-enhancing stanza. Nurse Verse will hand out poetcetamol from the Cold Comfort Pharmacy. Free, just drop in.
Simon Armitage: Walking Home 7.30pm-9pm, Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham Conservatoire, Paradise Place. £10/ £6.
In the summer of 2010, poet and author Simon Armitage walked the 256-mile Pennine Way in the least used direction – north to south. To create physical and emotional challenges, he didn’t have a penny in his pocket.
Readers’ Afternoon: 1pm-4pm, The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham B15 2TS. Ideas for inspirational autumn reading.
Being Human, 8pm-9.30pm, The Custard Factory Theatre. Poetry to chart the drama of our lives. £10 / £6.
Dreamingham: A Birmingham Road Trip, 11am-4pm, Ikon Gallery, 1 Oozells Square, Birmingham B1 2HS. Imagine Birmingham as New York and New York as Birmingham. £25 / £20.
Blank Canvas: (5pm-8.30pm), Ikon Gallery. The best of Tell Me On A Sunday from 2012, with special guests from the storytelling circuit. Free, but reservations advised (0121 248 0708).
Discovering Alternative Genres: Science Fiction, fantasy and the spaces in between: 7pm-8.30pm, The Custard Factory. Are we entering a golden age for genre fiction?
The New Libya: Its writers and bloggers, 7.15pm-8.30pm, Bay Leaf Restaurant, The Custard Factory. Three Libyan authors read from their works. £8 / £5.
Off Campus – Student Writers’ Performance Challenge: 7.30pm-9pm, Bacchus Bar, Burlington Arcade, New Street, Birmingham B2 4JH. Teams of three will take it in turns to perform short pieces of creative writing to an audience.
Writers Without Borders: Independence Party, 7.30pm-9pm, Library Theatre, Chamberlain Square. Free.
The World According to... Caitlin Moran & Stuart Maconie: 7pm-8.30pm, CBSO Centre, Berkley St B1 2LF. (£10, £6). The Wolverhampton feminist handbook writer and the patron of Writing West Midlands will share their wisdom. £10 / £6.
Words Into Movement: Inspired by Tagore, 7pm-8.30pm, Fayle Studio, MAC. £6 / £4. South Asian classical and contemporary dance performances with poetry and stories.
Ray Tallis: In Defence of Wonder, Waterstones, 128 New Street, B2 4DB. £6/ £4. With Ray Tallis, professor of geriatric medicine at the University of Manchester.
David Edgar: The Poetry of Plays, Lecture Theatre, Muirhead Tower, University of Birmingham B15 2TT. In a talk with readings, the playwright will show how drama shares many of the elements and structures of poetry. £8 / £5.
THURSDAY, October 11
In Ramallah: Running, 6.30pm-7.30pm, Ikon Gallery, launches Guy Mannes-Abbott’s personal encounter with Palestine. Free, booking advised.
Art and Writing: The City, 6.30pm-8.30pm, The Barber Institute, a lively evening of storytelling with writer-in-residence Andrew Killeen. £5.
Jackie Kay: Reality, Reality - from 7.30pm-9pm, Birmingham Cathedral, Colmore Row, £10/£6. Short stories, read from the pulpit.
FRIDAY, October 12
Tindal Street Press: On Narrative Voice (quick workshop), 6pm-7pm, Ikon Gallery is ‘a taste of the Tindal Street masterclass series’, £6 / £4.
European Literature Night with Rosie Goldsmith: 7.30pm-9pm, Ikon Gallery, £6/£4. A reading journey across Europe.
SATURDAY, October 13
Creative Writing Workshop Day: Develop Your Own Skills, 10am-12.30pm / 1.30pm-4pm, South Birmingham College (Digbeth Campus - Main Building on corner of Milk St, Digbeth, £25/£20.
Liz Lockhead & Liz Berry with LiTTLe MACHiNe: 7pm-10pm, The Old Library, The Custard Factory, £10, £6. Liz was appointed Scots Makar – the National Poet for Scotland – in 2011. Liz Berry, from the Black Country, is the Emerging Poet in Residence at Kingston University.