The same thing seems to happen to me every time I arrive at Lowdham Book Festival. I walk into the main hall and find Ross (one of the organisers) and Jon McGregor chewing the cud near the main door, along with various people I've known over the years from the MA and the first punters of the day perusing the book stalls. I really love this about the Lowdham festival; that the writers and readers mix like this and there is none of this fake separation between the 'talent' and those who pay the wages. It feels very down to earth.
This year when I saw Jon, and Ross, and the people from various previous Trent MA intakes, I was struck down with a very strong sense of deja vu. My very first Lowdham came to mind, freshly published, a double act with Jon. His relaxed style and gentle sense of humour put me at ease completely and the day was a lot of fun. There's something about Lowdham that throws me back, though, further than that. Back to when I was a student.
The thing that's weird about that is that the Lowdham I'm thrown back to was one I didn't even go to. It was the day I started to write The Killing Jar. I was at the end of my first year on the MA course. It was a lovely summer Friday and a bunch of us met for a drink and ended up at a Warehouse party. I'd been thinking about the Broxtowe Estate for a while, about the sense of anarchy I felt being around there. I was staying with my sister at the time, just outside the estate the other side of Strelley Island, and my bus stop into town was the one I wrote about Kerrie Ann waiting at, more than once. I'd been watching from there; remembering what it was like on the estate and how it had felt to be part of back in the 70s and early 80s. I'd also done an writing exercise in class that had led me right back to the close I used to live on, and to the long hot summer of 76, ladybirds and butterflies. The warehouse party was the last piece of the puzzle.
The next morning, almost everyone from the course was heading to Lowdham for the book festival. I had crashed at one of my Uni mate's houses, and was considering going with them, but I had a strong urge to write that morning and I couldn't ignore it. I left St Ann's and went into town, found the nearest Starbucks, sat down and wrote the first scene of The Killing Jar. Kerrie Ann's voice came to me strong and clear, like possession. In hindsight, I am very glad to have missed that Lowdham and, at the same time, it has given that festival final Saturday a special place in my heart.
Being back there on Saturday and seeing Jon and Ross by the door, walking around town, nipping into The Ship for a quick drink, it brought to mind so many times I'd had in that village. Getting drunk last year with Clare Littleford and her partner after launching the Okinawa Dragon (really quite appropriate for that book, I'd say) and her book, The Quarry, and doing very bad impressions of Goldie Looking Chain. Launches for both The Killing Jar and Starfishing, kindly hosted by Jane at the Bookcase. Good times.
The whole thing made me think about spacetime. It made me wonder; can a place and time be so connected in your mind they almost become the same thing? Because I can't help walking into Lowdham and feeling like I'm walking into various previous chapters of my life, and one of my first novel. It's strange.
It reminded me of a phrase, one I've used a few times in my current work in progress, which has a good deal of action in Pere Lachaise cemetery. 'Someone walked over my grave.' It's a phrase I really like because, for me, it gives a sense of a fourth dimension somehow more fluid and malliable than we usually see it, a dimension that can be traversed in both directions, like the others we know. I love the idea it gives of a future that's connected to now, just like you can draw a line from that bus stop at Broxtowe all the way to Lowdham.
I'm digressing more than slightly so I'll get back to the point. I spent the day at Lowdham wandering between tents and book stalls then, it felt, randomly standing up in one talking about my work and reading from it. It was the kind of day when I can't help but love my job, surrounded by writers and readers and love for books. The quality of the readings and speakers was absolutely excellent. There were several things I was considering missing my own reading to attend. (Don't worry, Ross, I never would have done that...)
I was particularly impressed with a new publisher that has launched in Nottingham. They're called Pewter Rose Press, and have been set up by a previous graduate of the Trent MA. They've produced two books so far, short story collections, beautiful books and, what I've read of them so far, beauiful stories. (Watch this space for a review soon...) I actually published Robbie Dewa, one of the writers, many moons ago when I was editing Pulp Net. I really like her writing so it was very pleasing to see her first short story collection in print.
If you're interested in writing and you haven't been to Lowdham yet, you must. Expecially that final Saturday, when it's free. The only good excuse for not going is if you just have to, really need to, are possessed to and can't ignore the call to write the first couple of pages of your first published book.