Lit Fest: Saturday review

Alexei Sayle by Seb Wheeler

Yesterday at Stoke Newington Literary Festival was a blur of sunshine, great real ale and, oh yes, some pretty good readings. Plus the England football team failed to live up to expectations again, but who cares when performances by Gavin Knight and Shaun Attwood were far more scintillating than our national squad have been in years.

We saw Oliver Jeffers, who did a great Q+A revolving around his kids books and illustration, taking questions from both children and grown ups; Gavin Knight talked about his investigation into some of the UKs hardest gangs, Shaun Attwood described his time in one of America’s toughest prison, they then asked each other a few things, which lead to exhilarating tales of life in the underworld; We tried to get into the Fire & Knives talk, but it was packed with eager foodies; We (stupidly) missed the CHAVS talk by Owen Jones, reported to have been excellent and most definitely sold out; Louise Wener was funny and insightful about her time spent in a successful britpop band; Rowland Rivron and Alexei Sayle were, in a word, funny; and the final event, a special showing of Masque of the Red Death, was brilliantly surreal. We’ve also got footage of a new Edgar Allen Poe bust being unveiled by Steven Berkoff on Church Street, which we’ll upload soon. Phew.

One of the best of all, however, was the conversation between acclaimed comedian Stewart Lee and novelist Dan Rhodes, which took place in front of a packed audience. It ended up being the type of affair where, once it had sold out, you couldn’t get a ticket for love nor money, and the duo didn’t disappoint. ELL’s Chris Stevenson was there:

Review: Dan Rhodes in conversation with Stewart Lee, Stoke Newinton Library

Dan Rhodes was at pains to point out that this event was not just a comedy vehicle for Stewart Lee. In fact, he said those attending this chat – at the ‘Stork Newington Literary Nestival’ as he christened it – who expected fun should just lower their expectations right away.

He fully appreciated that many of the audience would not know who he was, or any of his books. Perhaps that was true, but the waves of laughter that rippled through the crowd at a steady, tidal pace throughout the hour showed that by the end, many had got the message.

Lee had promised to give Rhodes “the grilling of his life” and the fact that he sat listening to the answers to his questions, glasses perched on his nose, in what Rhodes called “his serious face”, suggested a man who respected the man next to him and his work.

But the occasion augmented by several asides from Mr Lee, with a particular story about how two of the four acting jobs in his life involved being a cyberman from Doctor Who (one with a Brummie accent), pleased the crowd.

Rhodes read some of his newly crafted short stories that were still in manuscript form and hot from his own hand. They were based on the theme of weddings, with the mix of characters and themes involving lesbians, amputees and bejewelled ostriches. While the content was typically eclectic, bordering on the eccentric, the wit and warmth with which the stories were told was greatly appreciated by the crowd.

Lee mused that what made Rhodes interesting was that he viewed a reading more like a performance, and the way he read his material added a new dimension to the words and helped bring them vividly to life.

Lee read his favourite passage from Rhode’s first novel and touched on every book in his questions, reflecting the great amount he had taken from Rhodes work and helping the audience get into the world of this great author.

Both protagonists seemed very down- to-earth, with Rhodes himself very modest about his own achievements. Although he did let slip that the ending to his next book would be much less tragic than some of his other novels. Both were at ease in each others company and this helped to produce a great atmosphere in a very hot hall, where it would have been easy to lose the interest of the crowd.

After the event, when asked for his thoughts on how it had gone, Mr Rhodes said: “It was a lot of fun, I know that isn’t a great quote, but I think it sums it.”

Rhodes said he likes to “Surprise and disappoint as many people as I can” with his writing, but the line that formed at the book stall selling Rhodes books after the performance suggested that the rest of the audience had as much fun as he did.

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