Durham Book Festival is produced by New Writing North and events are held in various venues and cover a wide range of writing. Supported by Durham County Council and Durham University, part of the festival is the Durham Big Read where a particular book is distributed to libraries, book groups etc and people are invited to get involved in events centred on the book. This year it was Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights and a screening of the film was held at the Gala Theatre.
Other big names at the festival included Bill Bryson, Chris Mullin, Pat Barker, Mary Portas and Xinran. I attended the talks given by Xinran and Chris Mullin who both gave very lively, enjoyable and informative talks which were well attended.
Xinran (pictured above) spoke at the beautiful Palace Green Library situated between the Cathedral and Castle. She was promoting her new book Buy me the Sky. Xinran is a Chinese journalist and author, born in Beijing in 1958 but living in England since 1997. She loves coming to Durham, considering it to be one of the most English of cities. Her new book is about the effects of China’s one child policy on the ‘one and onlies’ – the children (now young adults) resulting from that policy. She related anecdotes about the over protective parents and the often naive and/or demanding young men and women. Have the children been made into ‘pets’ or the parents into ‘slaves’? One effect of the policy that I hadn’t previously considered is that in the cities more girls have survived than might have been the case and they have become well educated. This creates a different problem, as although there are over 30 million ‘surplus’ men they don’t want to marry educated girls!
There was an unexpected link from Xinran’s talk to Chris Mullin’s opening remarks. She had talked about young men not being able to do anything for themselves. He described how once Tony Blair became Prime Minister, everything was done for him – he just had to pick up his jacket and walk out of the (already opened) door.
Chris Mullin’s well delivered talk was on the ‘Art of Political Leadership’. He is a book festival regular and his talks are very popular and sell out quickly. He was M.P. for Sunderland for 23 years and is the author of A Very British Coup. Using various Prime Ministers and othe world leaders as examples, he gave us a list of qualities he considers needed to be a good polical leader. These included having your feet on the ground, knowing when to go and luck or being in the right place at the right time, such as Clement Atlee. Ruthlessness (Thatcher) (Blair) tempered with charm, particularly to the members of your own cabinet and decisiveness (not Gordon Brown) were also useful qualities. He peppered his talk with many anecdotes about the leaders he had known.
Ranging further afield to Bush and Gorbachev, a leader should never let a crisis go to waste. Lastly a good leader is judged on outcomes and after considering Churchill, Lloyd George and Thatcher, he concluded that Atlee was the best leader so far.
I thoroughly enjoyed my two events. Everything was well organised; it was a lovely warm autumn day and, like Xinran, I think Durham is always worth visiting.
FROM THE ARCHIVE: Big Interview nb68: Andrew Motion POETRY IN MOTION
Down and Out Today by Matthew Small
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