Festival Thoughts

Tim, a volunteer with Get Into Reading who was also involved with the recent Shakespeare in the Park performance, shares his enthusiasm for putting literature at the heart of communities.

With the Liverpool Literary Festival approaching I have found myself considering its significance as an event for everyone, with accessibility as well as quality at its core. The presence of Philip Pullman should help. Pullman writes with such clarity and yet such challenging depth that to label his work ‘children’s literature’ or ‘fantasy’, or any single category, is clearly far too narrow.

In The Amber Spyglass, the last of the His Dark Materials trilogy, for instance, the simplest of scenes possess a deep metaphysical understanding. When Lyra tries to wake herself from a near-fatal slumber, her processes are described thus: ‘She flung a mental lifeline to that physical self, and tried to recall the feeling of being in it: all the sensations that made up being alive.’ The conflicting division between body and soul is rarely described with such clear sightedness. This book was the first children’s book to win the Whitbread Book of the Year Prize (in 2002); Pullman’s work has frequently challenged the preconception of writing for children as something separate from and inferior to the literary.

That kind of challenge is part of what the festival should be about and the large number of reading groups, after-school events, even a reading of Melville’s Moby Dick, suggest that it is. Having seen the Shakespeare in the Park production of The Winter’s Tale in Birkenhead, and its popularity both with those well versed in Shakespeare and those completely unfamiliar, it has become apparent to me that when literature is positively offered to the public it is not ignored; the openness and will are there in ways that are often unrecognised.

Art, when it is encouraged to flourish, lodges itself in the community and becomes part of a vibrant relationship. I hope, simply, that this festival increases that realisation.

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