I wasn’t planning on going to any of the London Lit Fest events at the Southbank this year simply because I had too much going on, what with friends visiting and me going off to Munich for a holiday. I had such a lovely time there last year that I was a bit sad about it, but then one of my lovely friends wasn’t able to make it and had a spare ticket to see Barbara Kingsolver! So of course I said yes (who wouldn’t?)

I hadn’t read any of her books so I wasn’t really desperate to see her, but I thought I’d better start The Poisonwood Bible before the event just to get a flavour of her writing. I read the first page and got goosebumps. You know when you read a few sentences and just know that the writing is something special. I had to read each sentence very slowly. I wanted to take my time and savour each word. It’s amazing, and I’m only on the third chapter. Said lovely friend is a big fan of her work and had recommended The Poisonwood Bible a few years ago. Her partner, who was at the event, informed me my friend’s favourite book by Kingsolver is Prodigal Summer. I’m definitely getting that. That is, after I finish this book and The Lacuna, both of which I got signed…heheh!

Kingsolver is a brilliant raconteur: self-deprecating, funny and very personable. She spoke a lot about her writing life and the mechanics of writing. One advice she gave was to write for yourself, not for the market. Make a contract with yourself that you do not have to share it with anyone else. This will lessen the fear somewhat and allow you the freedom to write. And it helped that her interviewer was Suzi Feay (who reviews books for The Financial Times) of whom I’m a great fan. So if you ever have a chance to go and see Kingsolver talk, I urge you to do so. It will be a most enjoyable hour and a half that you won’t regret.

And talking about reading slowly, here’s an interesting article in the Guardian.

And did you know there was a Poetry Library on the 5th floor of the Southbank Centre? Oh yes, and it’s free to join and has an amazing collection of books which you can borrow. I can’t believe that I’ve been visiting the Southbank Centre all these years and didn’t even realise.

Agatha Christie

As you all know, Agatha Christie is one of my favourite writers and is probably solely responsible for my addiction to crime and mystery novels. No one forgets their first Christie, and the panel of writers at the Agatha Christie Night at the Southbank Centre were no different. And what a panel. Let me list them for you: Val McDermid, Jasper Fforde, Kate Mosse and chaired by Simon Brett. Out of the three, I haven’t read any books by Simon Brett, but I plan to remedy that as soon as I’ve made a dent in my TBR pile because he was an excellent chair. I jumped at the chance of going because of Jasper Fforde. His surreal crime novels (in Simon Brett’s words) featuring Thursday Next and the Nursery Crime Division (two separate series) are fantastically clever, funny and very thrilling. And his website is amazing. And have I mentioned how handsome he is?

All seats were taken and the audience was a very mixed bunch. What was clear was that everyone in the panel and audience loved Agatha Christie and was extremely knowledgeable about her books and her life. Val McDermid recently recorded a BBC Radio 4 Archive programme about newly discovered audio tapes of Christie speaking about her life for her autobiography. There’s only three days left to listen to it, so hurry! McDermid is a clear and brilliant expositor and I enjoyed listening to her comments. She is a charming, funny and erudite speaker.

We all laughed and nodded when each panelist spoke about their first Christie: McDermid’s was Murder at the Vicarage at age nine, Jasper Fforde’s was The ABC Murders at age twelve and Kate Mosse’s The Body in the Library at age fourteen. And like everyone, they spoke about how it was their first adult book, and how they were stunned by the red herrings and the dénouement. And what they were all adamant about was how good a writer she was. Christie has had her fair share of detractors but the panelists fiercely defended her work mirroring her popularity across the globe today. She even appears in a Dr. Who episode!

I haven’t read her novels for many, many years and after attending this talk I feel like going out and buying a handful just so I can reacquaint myself with her.

My first Christie was Murder on the Links at age nine and is still probably my favourite. What’s yours?