The 2022 Clapham Book Festival is all but over. It began on a gloriously sunny autumn day on 9th October, walking around the Common on the Literary Trail, something which was repeated this Saturday last. It was a lovely day again, but, as the walk neared its end, the sky grew black. People dispersed and I headed for home to change for my afternoon session when the heavens opened. I got soaked through.
Undaunted, I dried, changed and strode off for Omnibus Theatre where the team had already gathered. Books were laid out for sale, mainly those written by Abir Mukherjee, with a few of mine too. This was the first afternoon session, which began at 3 pm. Abir was tremendous, a joy to interview, in that he has a huge fund of anecdotes and amusing tales which makes life very easy for the interviewer. He grew up in Hamilton, just outside Glasgow to Bengali parents and talked about schooldays tribalism – ‘Are you a Catholic or a Protestant?’ ‘I’m a Hindu.’ Silence, followed by, ‘Yes, but are you a Catholic Hindu or a Protestant Hindu?’. The hour flew by and there was little time for questions, but everyone was entertained and impressed. The books practically flew off the counter, all signed by Abir.
Given that I had been working since ten o’clock that morning, I took a rest and didn’t go in to see Dame Jenni Murray, in conversation with Elizabeth Buchan, but members of the sizeable audience seemed very appreciative as I took in flowers and chocolates for the participants. The contents of the book table, meanwhile, had been swapped over, to hold Dame Jenni’s and Elizabeth’s books, which were being bought with enthusiasm.
The cafe/bar at Omnibus had been packed all afternoon, not just with Festival goers, but also a ‘New Mums n’ Dads’ club meeting, but this ended by about five thirty, which was a relief, as we knew we had a completely full house that evening for Sir Antony Beevor and Dr Piers Brendon. The Cafe/bar is a super space, but it would be creaking at the seams with eighty Festival folk, let alone the new parents. We need not have worried. Although crowded, this leant the whole evening an excited buzz.
Ably steered by Dr Piers, Sir Antony exhibited a comprehensive knowledge of all things Russian and the remarkable ability to render the very complicated accessible and easy to understand. Why did the ‘Reds’ win the Russian Civil War? What did he think would happen in Ukraine? Why was the Russian Civil War so full of atrocities and were we seeing a repetition in Ukraine? The hour, as with Abir Mukherjee, flew past, though for different reasons, this was intellectual engagement of a high order. Afterwards the queue for both presenters was long, with people anxious to get their books signed before the evening closed.
But that wasn’t the end. Last night (Monday 17th October) the first of our online events took place. Hosted by Lucy Kane from media partners Time & Leisure Magazine, I was ‘In Conversation’ with West Camel, a local novelist. West’s first novel was listed for the Polari Debut Prize and long listed for The Guardian’s ‘Not the Booker Prize’ Prize. We had a very enjoyable time chatting about his latest novel ‘Fall’ set in Deptford, brutalist architecture, magic realism and twins.
There’s one more online event, on 22nd November, when the conversation is with local, award-winning travel writer Shafik Meghji about his book ‘Crossed Off the Map; Travels in Bolivia’. Tickets are only a fiver and I can guarantee the quality of the discussion.
If you want to listen to last night’s broadcast click here.