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Our Birthday Guests!

It’s time to showcase the fabulous Guests appearing at our 4th Birthday Party Book Festival Edition Salon. We’ve been able to catch up with all three at their Festival appearances, starting with Olga Wojtas who was at the Book Festival, with Jenny Brown, sharing with us the latest of her book series, Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Weird Sisters, which Jenny described as ‘post-modern crime.’


It would be difficult to place Olga’s work in a genre, and while her style may be likened to various writers, it was Wodehouse who came out strongest in the in the discussion. As any of us who know Olga can vouch, humour is never far off; often zany and mischievous. In the case of her characters, the jokes come out of their situations and their ‘voice.’


Time-travelling back to find the ‘real’ story of Macbeth, the sisters in the title are anonymous in Shakespeare’s telling, but Olga gives them names: Ina, Mina, and Mo. Unlike Mo, who speaks in prose, Ina and Mina’s dialogue – for obvious reasons – rhymes, but in strict Shakespearean metre. These strong voices, tinged with a good dose of Morningside and Muriel Spark (whose Miss Jean Brodie the character Marcia Blaine loathes) guarantee an entertaining read – and an uplifting book event.


Saying that she “doesn’t hold with modern poetry because it doesn’t rhyme” will make for an interesting coupling of Olga with our other Book Festival Guest, poet Samuel Tongue! Samuel (whose poetry does rhyme) appeared with Jason Allen-Paisant, and after each read a selection of their poems the discussion centred on the ‘diction’ of the poetry, which is another way of considering ‘voice.’


Both poets were exploring elements of how our humanity is inextricably linked with nature and history, and each expressed this through the voice of their different experiences. In the case of Sam’s background, brought up on a pig farm in South Wales, he feels the importance of giving animals voice, to re-affirm their place in a world dominated by human hierarchies.


For Sam, nature and religion are inescapable, but the poet should try to write from the body, rather than the ego, since writing is a privilege. Writers may be solitary creatures (which is why we run the Literary Salon...) and yet solitude is never total. As both poets illustrated, the human, social, and political always come back at you. Ecology is about the body: messy, complex, and vulnerable – just as nature is – and everything is linked.


Telling stories through voice, diction, and empathy links to our final guest, Lynn Ferguson, who is at the Festival Fringe. Going to the first performance of Lynn Ferguson’s Storyland was doubly fun since Lynn spotted friends in the audience and brought us all into her ‘story’ that way. Engaging and outspoken, Lynn explained, “We’ve all got stories to tell – each of us has our own, personal Storyland.”


We then had a romp of tales about how Lynn and her family coped with the challenging events of recent times – Covid-19, Roe vs. Wade, Ukraine – by setting up a chicken coop, a beehive, and then a wormery. Even if you hate worms (as Lynn does) engaging in such activities sets up a new narrative, away from our own ego. Lynn then told a deeply personal story, yet with undeniable universal resonance.


Each show features a Guest, and on this occasion, it was broadcaster Kay Adams, who spoke about interviewing people who only give their ‘celebrity’ story; we don’t get to see that person’s true story. We did get to learn about Kay's favourite 'sandwich' though. The Pandemic brought humanity together for a time, whether sharing stories, clapping for carers, or leaving eggs on a neighbour’s doorstep (easy if you keep chickens!)


So we must continue trying to look for others’ stories. They may give us the important information we need; that missing jigsaw piece in the puzzle of our humanity.


We’re looking forward to bringing these distinct voices together, to hear their stories from the last few strange years, and to celebrate 'gathering' in all senses.


Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Weird Sisters by Olga Wojtas is published by Saraband.


Sacrifice Zones by Samuel Tongue is published by Red Squirrel Press


Lynn Ferguson’s Storyland is on at the Gilded Balloon at The Museum until the 28th, at 12.30 – an hour of 5-star stories, wicked humour, and heart-warming empathy.

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