Tuesday, 17 June 2014

A few little gems from the Stoke Newington Literary Festival

As someone who has totally embraced the phenomenon of listening to book readings whilst consuming cider since Latitude 2006, it was with great delight I attended to the annual Stoke Newington Literary festival last weekend. Having been a regular here since moving to Stokey in 2011 (apart from 2012 where possibly ill judged scheduling meant  it clashed with the jubilee celebrations), I have a shopping list of delightful experiences: witnessing David Walliams doing an impression of Wonder Woman; Howard Marks apologetically explaining why he couldn’t bring himself to jeopardise the future of the festival by sparking up a spliff on the stage of the town hall; Irvine Welsh being asked why exactly he’d chosen to do such an agonisingly long reading (I am paraphrasing but it was agony); Cailtin Moran and Suzanne Moore pausing mid interview to order more gin and tonics and Cleo Rocos talking about the time when she teamed up with Kenny Everett and Freddie Mercury to smuggle Princess Di into their local gay bar.

This year did not fail to disappoint. The first talk featured Laura Bates, creator of the Everyday Sexism Project accompanied by journalists Holly Baxter and Rhiannon Cosslett of ‘The Vagenda’ (humorously targeting the media’s portrayal of women) located within the Unitarian Chapel on Newington Green. It’s not often you can attend a talk on feminism sitting beneath a plaque declaring that your seat once held the derriere of Mary Wollstonecraft, the mother of British feminism  (oh alright I wasn’t directly under the plaque, I didn’t get there early enough). 

So what can I share here that I think you would appreciate that doesn’t involve me going off on a (hopefully) well informed rant? Well, my question was 'do palatable glossy magazines written for women, by women, exist without lecturing you on diets and bashing celebrities?' Apparently so. ‘In Style’ magazine has pledged not to criticise celebrity looks nor will they feature any diets. Likewise the Vagenda girls also confirmed they had consulted with Editors of Elle magazine about how they could positively promote feminism. Also the #everydaysexism project which so far has received in excess of 60,000 accounts of ‘everyday sexism’ detailed on their website and twitter feed, has resulted in Laura now being able to take her campaign to schools and universities, contributing to the retraining of 2,000 British Transport police officers and raising the reporting of incidents by more than 25 per cent. Not to mention Laura being the youngest member listed on this years Radio 4 Woman’s Hour Game Changer Power list.  

From feminism and onto the Miner’s Strike where Owen Jones interviewed Seumas Milne about the shocking persecution of the striking minors by MI5. A talk which could have quite easily have been the chilling premise of a Spy thriller blockbuster rather than real live events instigated by a Western, ‘democratic’ government. I learned how at the time the BBC, unable to show footage of the Police attacking the peacefully protesting minors, broadcast this film backwards, to show the Miners attacking the Police, amongst numerous other injustices.

A few other quick gems include: Joanne Harris, author of ‘Chocolat’ among other titles, who regularly tweets her short stories to her followers; food writer and Times Journalist Rachel Cooke expounding the wonders of salad cream and apparently the best recipe for this retro-condiment was created by chef Simon Hopkinson. She is also an authority on incredible women from the 1950s including raleigh car driver Sheila Van Damme, who was faster than Stirling Moss; festival ‘headliner’ Lynn Barber talked about when she tackled Jimmy Saville about the rumours about him liking little girls and her being blacklisted by Hollywood as a result of a disastrous interview with actor Nick Nolte; A L Kennedy having to hastily change her choice short story about an experience in a sex shop because at the last moment an apologetic mother in the audience piped up that it might not be suitable for her young daughter sitting next to her.

The highlight for me though was Professor Tanya Byron who, years ago, presented the BBC’s earlier version of Supernanny: ‘The House of Tiny Tearaways’ and is now a leading expert in adolescent psychology. When she was asked, as a mother of 2 teenagers, if she had amazingly behaved children, she recounted an occasion when, at the height of her TV fame, she found herself being recognised in a busy coffee shop at the precise moment her 3 year old son descended into an uncontrollably riotous tantrum that involved him rolling around on the floor. Her solution to this was provided by her friend who offered to briefly claim ownership of her son whilst she made her escape, which of course she accepted. Was it reassurance that when it comes to parenting even the experts get it wrong that made me feel better? Possibly. 

My Stokey Litfest 2014 reading list 

Everyday Sexism - Laura Bates
The Vagenda: A Zero Tolerance Guide to the Media - Holly Baxter and Rhiannon Cosslett
The Skeleton Cupboard - Tanya Byron
We Made a Garden - Margery Fish
The Enemy Within - Seumas Milne
On Writing - A L Kennedy
Instyle magazine
‘Kitchen essays’ - Agnes Jekyll 
'Plats Du Jour' - Patience Gray


  1. Brilliant- an excellent round up. I was at university in South Wales during the miners strike, marched with them, brought food boxes to their families and witnessed first hand, police brutality and goading. From waving their overtime pay packets in the faces of the miners families to outright violence, they behaved in the most disgusting manner. I also lived in Stokey during the corrupt years of policing when SN police station was a bloody dangerous place to be in if you were black. HUGE risk of falling downstairs, there.
    Not a fanof CM- she is far too show offy for me (have had the displeasure of sitting next to her on a train and she so wanted the whole carriage to know who she was) but AS Byatt, Owen Jones and Rachel Cooke- brilliant.

    Re Lynn Barber- people fawn over her as some kind of super interviewer but she does nothing more than even an under performing psychiatric nurse does several times a day.

    Thanks for this :)

  2. Ah Nic, thank you so much for taking the time to read this and give detailed and lovely comments! You're a superstar and I had no idea you were an ex-Stokeyite! I am embarrassed that I knew so little about the plight of the miners and the police who covered up their atrocities went on to cover up Hillborough, it really was an education. Loved the whole festival although had to walk out of Jonathan Meades after he did 40 minute long reading in a similar style to my old Metephysics lecturer - it was unbearable! I actually knew nothing about Lynn Barber but having a weekend ticket decided to go along anyway and I have to say of everyone I saw she was easily the most down to earth and endearingly normal, was rather hoping she might dish a little more dirt but no such luck :-)

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