Sunday, February 10, 2008

Literary Lunches

I'm having lunch with Ian McEwan tomorrow. Well, not just me. There's about forty of us who have paid a nice sum for the honour of eating and drinking some fine fare, and then listening to Mr McEwan talk about his work for half an hour.

And all this feels very relevant as next month I will be taking a month off touring the various Chinese literary festivals, and I'm wondering what exactly lit fests and lunches are all about. What do we hope to achieve or learn by listening to an author talking about their work. And - as an author - what do I gain by meeting an audience?

I suppose that the author's motivation is clear. Beyond the pure ego-boost, and the chance to sell books, I'm very clear about the purpose of these events for me. It stems from the fact that writing is a peculiarly divorced art form, with artist and audience seperated by time and place and in case of translation - even language. Readings are the only time an author meets their audience and when I read I get to feel their reaction, in the same way that an actor can feel the audience from the stage.

As a spectator I'ma little more confused by lit fests. And I suppose there's a rainbow of reasons why people attend. I go to learn something from the authors, or to be inspired. But the problem is that authors are so random at delivering a performance anything like thier books. Very entertaining raconteurs I remember seeing include Louis de Bernieres and Simon Winchester, but - my first - AS Byatt was less interesting than a pot of paint.

I'm not sure what I'm expecting from tomorrow's lunch. I'm not a big fan of McEwan's writing, but he has certainly hit a groove in the popular British literary scene - and I am sure I can learn tomorrow - and now all that's left is to hope that McEwan is one of those writers who can hold the attention of an audience in the flesh, as well as on the page.

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