I was the first guest writer at a new initiative here in Sussex: literary dinners at a house party in the countryside near to Lewes.
A dozen of us gathered and the evening was partly structured (everyone introduces themselves one by one around the table over the first course, I’m asked questions in the second course etc) and partly free-form. I found it very enjoyable and yet also slightly uncomfortable – but in a good way! I found myself feeling the same way a few evenings earlier when another writer/psychologist Anni Townend and I did an ‘evening in conversation’ together in Lewes. Why the slightly uncomfortable feeling? Because on both evenings we were trying something out for the first time. When you give a standard talk – say 40 mins plus 20 mins Q&A – the rules or boundaries are familiar to all, and you can relax into it because it’s familiar territory.
On both these evenings, though, we moved out of our comfort zones into the ‘stretch’ zone, where it’s not so familiar. But how lucky we are to be living in a time when we can experiment so freely, where we can explore different ways of doing things. The distinctive feature of both evenings was that we were attempting to ‘create conversations’. It wasn’t about ‘the expert’ giving a talk, but about creating participatory events that were focalised or focused by one or two people. And I think in both cases this worked – they were evenings of many conversations.
At one point in the literary evening we talked about blogs (which in the same way have changed the rules and now the boundaries aren’t so clear, which can make writers feel uncomfortable, but which is also grealy liberating for them) and come to think if it, the results are similar: a blog gives the opportunity for conversations to develop: between readers and between readers and the blogger.
At one point I asked everyone how many books they read – and that was so interesting. One person read two novels a week consistently – plus several non-fiction works a month, and she had two young kids and a husband too! Another mercurial and amusing chap who works in the city revealed that he used a set of glasses that plug into his ipod and that can project a movie that seems to be on a 42″ wide screen. Rather than read books he preferred to watch movies on his commutes, while clearing a bit of email on his laptop at the same time.
Another person who is a slower reader had calculated that at his present rate he only has ten books to go before he pegs it. He now finds it impossible to choose a book to read because he’s got to be sure it’s very good if it’s one of the ‘last ten books I read in this incarnation’.
I’m off to Germany until the end of the month, then Holland and then I shall hole up somewhere to finish writing the next book, so – as I did when I was in India in February – I’ve asked a number of friends to be guest bloggers. I do hope you enjoy their posts!
Meanwhile you can see how the other guests of the dinner party experienced the evening, and find out about future parties you could join, here! (scroll to bottom)