It’s been a literary weekend at Cheltenham Festival for the oldest book event in the country. As well as eating a lot of cake (and I mean a LOT), salivating over the superb shops of the region and marvelling at the fact that Cheltenham boasts the one remaining 80s clothing haven, dash (really…), there’s been a wealth of talks and readings from the great and the good of the book world.
To pass as a fully-fledged member of the literati, you first need to know how to pronounce your authors’ names. Despite overhearing a few strange attempts over the weekend, I have gleaned a few pointers. I can proudly confirm that legendary children’s author and creator of Mog and The Tiger That Came to Tea, Judith Kerr’s surname is pronounced ‘car’. Birdsong author and literary stalwart Sebastian Faulks’ surname should rhyme with ‘smokes’. If addressing novelist Louise Doughty (possibly the nicest author I have ever met) one should make sure one annunciates her name as ‘Dort-ty’.
Once armed with these basic tools, it was time to delve in. Jilly Cooper told Mariella Frostrup that she thinks that Boris Johnson looks as though he would be, “great fun in bed. Though I don’t think he’d fold his clothes up before or after”. She then revealed a second lust – for Alastair Campbell. The ex-spin supremo told me (and I mean personally, swoon) that he was “flattered”, but “taken”.
Elsewhere, LA Confidential author James Ellroy offended his audience by telling a blue limerick, Alistair Darling was complimented on his sun-tan (but not his eyebrows) by a group of local children and Booker of Bookers winner Salman Rushdie compared Beowulf to the Super Mario brothers.
There was many a disappointed fan on Sunday as one time Lib Dem MP and some-time Cheeky Girl botherer, Lembit Opik, sent word that he would be pulling out of his talk to launch his bid to be London Mayor. Boris and Ken must be quaking in their sensible shoes.
Finally, Martin Amis’ talk turned a little racier than intended with a frank discussion of sex in literature. It is, all conceded, far easier to write bad sex than to do it well (no pun intended). It’ll be interesting to find out Giles Coren’s take on this when he arrives at the festival on Friday. His debut novel Winkler won the annual Literary Review ‘bad sex’ award for colourful depictions of bodily unions and toe-curling descriptions, such as the section where he referred to a male character’s genitalia as, “leaping around like a shower dropped in an empty bath”. Oh my.
I’m off for a reviving cup of something. And perhaps some more cake.