Attending the Writeidea Festival this year for the first time in a while, I was reassured to see how strong it is. The programme is eclectic, mixing some big names (Chris Difford, Viv Albertine, the Gentle Author), with the less well known.
Most of my writing tends to be longer, or as one recent review recipient tactfully put it, ‘very detailed’. So in the interests of brevity this is a very brief taster of Writeidea 2018, reflecting both my interests and heritage – and what I could logistically fit into a visit on Saturday 17th.November.
Like Melanie McGrath, I come from the second generation east end diaspora of Essex, and having enjoyed her talk a few years back on the writing of ‘Silvertown’, ‘Pie and Mash down the Roman Road’ was a must. Readings from her latest work, brought the Roman Road and its inhabitants – from eel magnate George Kelly to ‘Auntie Ginger’ – vividly to life. McGrath also treated us to a history of the truly global dish that is Pie and Mash via the ancient history of Bow and Stratford. A palpable affection for the east end life of old (not that old actually) as it was lived, is the essence of McGrath’s work. Her public acknowledgement of the debt to those whose experiences contributed to the book, was a salutary reminder that many of the last witnesses to a way of life largely still to be documented are leaving us, and time is of the essence in ensuring their history is known.
Three of my grandparents carried Huguenot surnames of varying lineage and I am always interested to learn more about my Huguenot heritage. Joyce Hampton’s ‘The Story of the Huguenots: A unique legacy’ did not disappoint. Hampton describes the persecution suffered by the Huguenots in France, their emigration and determination to overcome subsequent challenges with an emotion that is quite raw. She is also passionate in her belief that their wide ranging legacy for contemporary life (including everything from annuity calculations to Reading Glasses) deserves wider recognition. As the first ‘refugees’, we still have much to learn from the Huguenot experience, and Joyce Hampton’s work is a valuable contribution to this.
Rounding off the day with ‘The Life and Times of Mr Pussy’, couldn’t have been better. In a departure from his established work on the life of the East End, the Gentle Author shared an intimate portrayal of his life with a loved feline companion. The Gentle Author understands cats, and their world. But beyond this he also demonstrates true insight into the complex relationships between human and animal and the extent to which these underpin, mark and define the milestones of our lives, carrying us through everything from the everyday to bereavement. Mr Pussy, would I think be proud.
In the last decade Writeidea has, grown in scope and reputation, but retains at its heart a direct relationship with the historical context and multilayered cultural heritage of east London. This is its core strength. Embedding the festival in a location not known for literary activity, and (through Arts Council Sponsorship) maintaining free entry, delivers an inclusivity which is both welcome, and sadly far from the norm.
Here’s to the next 10 years.
© All text and images – Later Than You Think/ A Sense of Place
Writeidea Festival 2018 continues on Sunday 18th November at the Whitechapel Idea Store.
See here for further information