I'm just back from the Aldeburgh literary festival, where I had a rover ticket. A good idea, as it turned out, as there were some great events that I probably wouldn’t have gone to if I'd had to sit and choose in advance.
The opening event was a good case in point. Robin Hanbury-Tenison talked about his new book which was about the world’s greatest explorers. He was marvellously entertaining - I particularly liked the story about the fact that the first person to circumnavigate the globe was not an explorer but a slave, and that a French explorer, Bougainville, took with him a female valet who passed as a man until arriving in Tahiti. David Reynolds talked about Obama’s first term and Selina Hastings talked about Somerset Maugham (both brilliant). The 'headliner' was Lionel Shriver who discussed her most recent book, So Much for That. She was very entertaining - she spoke about the book and the ideas behind and within it for about twenty minutes, then read a very engaging scene for about ten, before taking questions for the last half an hour. I felt quite fired up by the end of it - massively grateful for the NHS and rather depressed that NICE (the organisation that has been responsible for making the tricky, uncomfortable, economic, decisions about whether very expensive drugs and treatments are worth the cost in terms of the benefit they bring) has been reduced to an 'advisory' body and therefore effectively neutered. But that's the great thing about fiction - it can highlight and draw attention to real-life consequences of decisions like that, and in a very powerful way.
It was a great weekend, then, in lots of ways, and credit must go to the organisers, John and Mary, who have created something really special in the festival and bookshop they run. I can't wait for next year!