Oranges and LemnS (for the Belles of St Clemns)

I can hear you festival-goers from St.Clémentin groaning at my blog post title. For the unlucky readers and writers who weren’t able to come this year’s literary festival, some explanation may be necessary.

Who planted the seeds on my bike?

Who planted the seeds on my bike?

The LemnS bit is easy. Olympics (and a long list of other awards) poet Lemn Sissay, the festival’s keynote speaker, wowed everyone with his unique performance. His choice of clothing – a slick grey suit with fluorescent green trainers – was only the tiniest hint of the paradox to come.

It’s not every day that a performance combines first class stand-up comedy with heart-rending poetry. His desperate themes delivered in dramatic poses and followed up by boyish grins and jokes were a see-saw of emotions. The image of him hanging over a cliff face, clutching a branch, is engraved in my memory. What a man of contrasts! His name, although he pronounces it as ‘Lem’, sounds more like ‘lemon’ in Ethiopian. It means ‘why’. Surely that shows a poetic destiny?

After we’d lived his poetry and sympathised with his answers to Roisin McAuley‘s astute questions, we plundered the festival bookshop for his books.

The ‘Belles’ part is fairly easy too – these are the lovely ladies present at the festival: the readers, writers, speakers, helpers and, of course, the belle organiser Jocelyn Simms. Perhaps I should also mention the beaux men, headed by Gordon Simms and followed closely by John Hudson (see my blog post about him here), Roger Elkin, Ian Mathie, Gavin Bowd, Peter Hoskins and all the others I didn’t manage to see.

During the festival, Gordon kindly announced my publication deal with Impress Books, which led to an invitation for me to lead a workshop at the Charroux litfest in 2017 and lots of congratulations from my supportive fellow readers and writers.

There seem to be two kinds of writer: those who tell stories about their exceptional life experiences, and those who use their language skills and imagination to invent or retell stories. At St.Clémentin you could find both. Ian Mathie kept a full room of spectators spellbound with his tales of living in a mud hut in Africa for forty years. And Clare LeMay gave us a fascinating insight into the skills of an audio describer for theatre, film and art galleries.

We were spoilt for choice of practical workshops for poetry, play and prose writing. Alison Morton, of Roma Nova fame, doled out generous helpings of tips for self-publishing. And, as it’s a bilingual festival, different translators talked about what it’s like to inhabit two languages. Ed Briggs, notably, pleasured her audience with her poetic essay on English and French words – which Katherine Gallagher advised her to take to Bloodaxe.

Yes, yes, we get the point, I hear you say. We’ll make sure we come to the 2018 edition. But what about the ‘Oranges’ in the title?

Patricia Duncker

Patricia Duncker speaking at St.Clémentin

Orange is a reference to Patricia Duncker and her infectious, grounded energy – and I don’t mean the colour she was wearing. Patricia’s literary knowledge, technical craft and analytical skills qualify her as an intellectual. But she’s not a whimsical ‘wrrrrriter’ (as she says with a flourish of her hand and rolling of ‘r’s).

Her bold opinions and her passion for literature inspired us all and made us laugh. Those lucky enough to participate in her workshop (Me! Me!) had a thorough dousing in beginnings, structure, double narrators and genre. She also lavished us with advice on the challenges we face in our own work.

She is a writer who truly knows what she’s talking about, both in English and French literature. I can understand why Michèle Roberts, when she was a judge for the 2010 Orange prize, argued in favour of long-listing Patricia’s novel ‘The Strange Case of the Composer and His Judge’.

Ha! There you are: the oranges. It took a little research…but you’ll find the reference here, in the article Michèle wrote for the Independent in June 2010.

So the festival is over for another two years. I look through the programme of the 70 events which took place over three days and wish I could go back and attend all those I missed. Perhaps I could have squeezed in a few more – but then I wouldn’t have met the other literary lovers and discussed reading and writing with them over tea, cake, aperitifs, picnics, lunch…

Bravo and many thanks, once again, to the Simms, to their host of helpers, to the speakers and to the enthusiastic public. I’m sure there will be some official photos on the St.Clémentin website in the weeks to come.

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10 thoughts on “Oranges and LemnS (for the Belles of St Clemns)

  1. nessafrance

    It’s great to see so many literary events springing up like this. I must try to make it to St Clementin in 2018. See you at Charroux in 2017 – if not before!

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  2. carolcliffe

    Sounds like a fantastic festival, and congratulations on your invitation to speak at the Charroux Litfest, as well as your publishing deal. #AllAboutFrance

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  3. loumessugo

    Congratulations on your Charroux appointment. This festival sounds such fun, I don’t know of anything like it on the Côte d’Azur. Maybe I should try and get to the next one. Thanks for linking ot #AllAboutFrane

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