In parts of Italy, December 13th - or Saint Lucia’s day - is a very special day. Forget about Santa Claus and Christmas day, this is when you get your presents! I haven’t celebrated Saint Lucia’s day since I was a little girl… until this year, when the people who organised The Big Book Group event at Brighton’s Pavilion Theatre brought the magic back into an otherwise uncelebrated day!
As the name suggests, this was an occasion for book groups to come together and enjoy an evening of bookish delights. “Unattached” book lovers, however, were also welcome, which was good for me as I haven’t yet taken the plunge into the world of book groups.
The stars of the evening were authors Carol Birch and Araminta Hall, who both experienced a very successful 2011.
Carol Birch’s latest novel, Jamrach's Menagerie, was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, while Araminta Hall’s debut novel, Everything and Nothing, made it to Richard and Judy’s Autumn Reads. The two writers took it in turns to have a chat with the evening’s host, Craig Melvin, and interact with the audience. They shared their top 5 books of all times, the experiences that got them to write and, ultimately, led them to publication, they read an extract from their novels and they answered the public’s questions.
What a treat that was!
The evening included a book quiz and tips for book critiquing, both skilfully and wittily presented by Craig Melvin. He also touched the print vs digital debate, cited bookish quotes and generally made interesting remarks about writing and reading. He was a perfect guest: engaging and resourceful. And he seemed to produce books out his pockets as easily as a magician might produce rabbits out of his hat!
As Melvin pointed out, in Brighton one every two people is a writer and the audience did in fact hide at least two of them, Nina de la Mer and Lizzie Enfield, who briefly introduced their debut novels : 4am and What You Don’t Know.
The literary night was amusingly concluded with a spot of flash fiction by Carol Birch, who followed the public’s suggestions to create a short piece of writing featuring Nick Cave, the Prince Regent, Brighton’s sewers and a bad samba band. You must be a good writer to be able to work with that!
As Flaubert put it: The only way of tolerating existence is to lose oneself in a perpetual orgy of literature. And events like The Big Book Group certainly help achieve this.