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Once upon a time...

Waxing lyrical about Litfest and live illustration

This is the first official blog on my new web adventure. Therefore it may be slightly longer than others...but there's pictures and video clips and music too! So pull up a pew, grab a cuppa tea and a nice slice o cake.

Chris Riddell illustrator after 'Poems To Live Your Life By' event with Manx Litfest Team

While I type, we're in the last wee hours of the month known* as 'Festember' (*perhaps only by me). This is a creatively-crackers, festival-filled month on the Isle of Man. There's The Food and Drink Festival, the Film Festival (more of that in next blog), a host of mini music festivals and - wrapping up right about now - this past week has seen a mammoth Manx Litfest.

I was extremely honoured to be invited by Litfest founders John and Emma Quirk to host two of their events; the first was "Zoe Gilbert and the Bookshop Band", an evening of twisted fairytales, conversations about Folk and fables and mesmerising live music in Kirk Andreas church. It was pure magic, starting with the voice of Simon Smart singing two old Manx fairytales acapella from the balcony above and behind the audience (congregation?), closely followed by a fabulous fairytale-inspired short set by Beth Porter and Ben Please (the Bookshop Band), then a wonderfully enlightening conversation with author Zoe and yours truly. Zoe was the enlightening one, of course! The band then finished the evening with a longer set of their entrancing, ethereal, literature-inspired songs.

About Zoe's book 'Folk' - loosely inspired by Zoe's discovery of some of our darker folktales while visiting family on the Isle of Man, the stories about the remote Island village of 'Neverness' are meticulously crafted with incredibly prosaic passages depicting traditions and fables of old; mysterious and magic-infused tales of courting and coupling and curing and killing, it sears with primal sexuality, often led by young protagonists who walk (and waiver on) the paperthin line between innocence and feral danger.

The Island's inhabitants are intrinsically connected to nature - they are rooted and tangled in it, both supported and defeated by it. Reading about this people and their trials and triumphs feels voyeuristic - like peeling back the curtains on a dark abandoned village, or like we’re hiding in a shadowy corner of the barns and houses, spying or stalking and - in my case at least - often looking through fingers as there are some disturbing moments that will likely linger with or near you... Some of the more unsettling tales burrowed into my darker dreams for several days actually (but then, I am a big softie!). Neverness may well haunt you, but in an uncomfortably beautiful way.

About The Bookshop Band - I did not know about these superb musicians before Litfest but I am so very glad I know them now. I can't quite fathom how they manage to do what they do, and so prolifically - 13 albums in 8 years?! The arrangements and lyrics and performance of their literary-inspired songs are captivating, beguiling and unlike anything I've heard before. They somehow also manage to present what they do in some of the tiniest and overstuffed venues you could imagine - bookshops. Please do check out their music, such as the two stunning commissioned pieces for the launch of Philip Pullman's latest 'Book of Dust'. Here is 'Sanctuary' (with a cameo from Philip himself. No pressure, then...)

CHRIS RIDDELL - Poems to Live Your Life By.

Last night, Noa Bakehouse played host to the utterly wonderful Chris Riddell, who live illustrated as we chatted about - and heard readings from - his new anthology of collected work "Poems To Live Your Life By".

Chris was so generous with his time, very open about his work and his process and shared some wonderful stories about people he's collaborated with - or just shared train carriages with...

Despite me having about 4 pages of questions prepared to ask him (I'm something of a fan!) I only needed to ask half a dozen over the course of the evening, because Chris was endlessly engaging from the off - hilarious and fascinating and gracious. He was also the Children's laureate once, you know...

A bit of a queue for Chris...

Local poets Jacqui Grace, Helen Jessop and the new Manx Bard Annie Kissack did a brilliant job, reading selected poems from the book along with something of their own. It was a very special evening. The book itself is a must-have; with contributions ranging from Shakespeare to Carol Ann Duffy and a beautiful short poem by Chris himself, alongside lyrics by masters of songcraft Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen; it will warm your cockles one minute and make you weep the next. It has inspired and enriched my life already and I hope it might yours, too. Check it out here.

Below is an Actual Chris Riddell original sketch of YesItsActuallyMe, one that he just knocked up, live, while we were chatting. I cannot tell you how much joy it brings me to look at it. Not least because he's very kindly shaved about 20 years off me... Illustration for the win!!

Maybe next year the Litfestians will be able to convince thatthere Riddell-collaborator Neil Gaiman to come see us? We live in hope.

Chris Riddell live illustration of yours truly at Manx Litfest!

And Finally (phew!) Because Litfest 2018 seemed to have something of a theme of twisted Fairytales, I thought I'd brave it and share one of my own... 'This Is The Life' (links to Soundcloud). The lyrics are below, should you be so inclined.

That's it! Thanks for sticking with me for this long. See you next week. In briefer form - I promise.

The End.

'This Is The Life'

Keep the tigers close where I can see them,

Teeth and claws and all the trimmings,

Sleep now, there's a girl, the sun will raise you - here it comes -

It's the Life for you, hiding from all that's fairytale,

Where angels and demons and Princes and thieves,

Rest under forests where all who believe will find Love.

Keep still! There's a girl, the dark will hide you,

Why, you're all arms and legs, no trimmings! Look no further for your fate will find you - here it comes -

It's the Life for you, hiding from all that's fairytale,

Where feathers and fortunes fly through the sky

Love is forever and nobody dies...

Where we drink from the Cup of Golden Promise

Swinging on stars and holding office

This is the life for you, hiding from all that's fairytale

Where feathers and fortunes fly through the sky,

Love is forever and nobody dies,

Where angels and demons and Princes and thieves,

Rest under forests where all who believe will find love;

They will find love..

You will find Love.

(Christy DeHaven)

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