We were very pleased to receive a submission for this year’s HULF from historical novelist Marg Roberts, and to be able to include her in the line-up for the lively and well-received final panel of the day, “Around the World in 8ish Books”. Today she shares her impressions of taking part in the Festival, both as a guest speaker and as a member of the audience.
A Time for Peace is a complex story of love and loss set in Serbia during the First World War. The narrative weaves between that of a Serb colonel and a British medical orderly. Stefan, a brave soldier and family man longs for peace, while romantic and spoiled Ellen, seeks adventure before she marries. War brings trauma for each of them. Only by facing the horror of their experiences, are they able to find personal peace. Their psychological journeys are based on the actual exodus of the Serbian government, army and 30,000 of its cadets.
Hawkesbury Upton is an evocative place name and never having visited, I imagined a village on uplands, where hawks fly.
In fact, I approached by a narrow steep lane. I didn’t see any hawks.
Following a cyclist intent on fighting wind and hills, I was relieved to turn into the village proper. The main street was lined with parked cars, so I was confident I had reached the right place. I unloaded copies of my novel, A Time for Peace, in the bookshop and enjoyed a chat with others enjoying coffee and cake in the adjacent café.
I attended an illustrated talk about the relevance of Katherine Mansfield’s work to modern times. It’s many years since I read any of the New Zealand writer’s short stories and I was unaware of the personal life that informed some of her work. Dr. Gerri Kimber used the short story, The Doll’s House, as a backdrop to Mansfield’s life. She showed slides of her home on the outskirts of Wellington, interspersed with extracts from the story. Mansfield seemed to have lived quite a life – adventurous, feisty, breaking many social convention and perhaps inevitably breaking literary boundaries.
I felt sorry Katherine Mansfield never knew how popular and admired she was to become.
I wondered whether all writers rebel – in more modest ways- but like Kezia Burnell in the Doll’s House, challenge the established order. Kezia invited outcast children to see the doll’s house that all the other girls in their class were allowed to see.
In our stories and poems, do we shine a light on an aspect of life, a way of telling a story or writing a poem that is out of the ordinary and makes our readers think?
I was delighted to take part in readings in Bethesda Chapel (for a small population, the village has three places of worship). The event, Around the world in 8ish Novels, was represented by eight countries and several periods in time. It being my first time at this Literary Festival, I don’t know if it’s a regular feature, but I thought it was a great idea. (Editor’s note: We think it should be a regular feature in future – it was great fun!)
We were asked to read from our novels for no more than three minutes. A Time for Peace is set in Serbia during the First World War. The story weaves between that of a Serb colonel and a British woman medical orderly and it’s about how the war affected their personal relationships. I chose a passage about the Serb colonel leaving Belgrade and worrying why his wife was no longer as obedient. (Times were different then!) It was little longer than a page.
The purpose was to help the audience glimpse the writing – rather like flipping through the pages in a shop to see if the book appeals.
Despite some apprehension about the prospect of reading at the penultimate event, I relaxed and enjoyed the day. There was a wide range of events to choose from: workshops, talks and readings. I chatted to writers, readers and villagers and found some good places to eat. It was one of those days when no one was whinging, when strangers smiled. A fabulous day.
Thank you, Debbie and all your volunteers.
Find out more about Marg Roberts and her work at her website: www.margroberts.co.uk.