Last proper seminar of the first year on Friday morning; then Dad arrived and I loaded up far too much computer hardware and not nearly enough clothing into the new car (same basic model as the one we totalled in Wales), and he dropped me and my laptop and pyjamas off in Oxford on his way home for a weekend of orchestral things. It had been far too long since I’d seen Eli, and about the right amount of time since I’d seen Oxford. It’s a wonderful place to have a wander, even with tiny pavements and far too many people about.
Tom arrived on Saturday and we had milkshakes that were basically cakes you should drink through a straw, then the literary festival! We got directed by an extremely drunk-seeming Christchurch porter through an absolute maze of white marquee passages, and eventually (a bit too late to sit in the front row; likely a good thing as they’d have probably found my grin deeply unnerving) came across the correct lecture theatre. The Talented Mr Reeve and The Talented Geraldine McCaughrean (whose books I haven’t read but really must, though there’s an intimidating number of them!) then read extracts from The Death-Defying Pepper Roux and A Web of Air, and interesting stuff happened.
There was as usual (he says, with the exaggerated weariness of someone who’s seen, what, half a dozen of these things at most?) an interviewer/prompter chap with a checklist of topics to raise and a worryingly keen smile. I find these people quite annoying, but I guess not everyone can be as amazingly self-possessed as Eoin Colfer (who was apparently a stand up comedian in a previous life); brilliant authors seem to tend to be modest types who aren’t really ones to stand up and just talk about themselves. The fellow admittedly wasn’t bad; a bit overenthusiastic, but he is a children’s librarian and his job is to get the youth of today excited about books. His patter is, while hardly persuasive for jaded and mercurial students like me, likely rather better for folks in their early teens (though as I recall I was a right cynical little bastard at that sort of age and wouldn’t have been swayed by it then either). But he drew out lots of interesting points and funny anecdotes, and Reeve and McCaughrean played off each other very well (apparently being a longstanding Double Feature in the world of classy children’s literature), and it was all very “good talk a++ would oxford again”. Bought copies (at full absurd high street price for a hardback – yipes, internet has spoiled me – but worth it) of A Web of Air for people and generally basked in authorial wit and cleverness. Carnegie winners (in my limited experience; met 3 so far) are really rather amazing people. Wondering if in emergencies they can pull out their Carnegie medals and combine their power to form a giant robot powered by words.
Tom, Eli and I loitered after the book signing, and on the way out, with the CILIP Rangers and some of Geraldine’s own groupies, we all got slightly lost in the maze of Christchurch and nattered:
Philip: Well, I grew up reading [Geraldine’s] books, I thought she was wonderful long before I was published…
Geraldine: Oh, get away with you, embarrassment, etc.
Me: Well, I grew up reading his books, so if you want the same embarrassment visited upon him…
Geraldine: Hm, so I’m sort of your literary grandmother?
Then we went to a coffee shop and had tea and small pastry things that Philip bought us, and Tom and I showed off sketches of rifles/Stalker armour/land ironclads and wondered about making a Green Storm propaganda film as a summer project; then Tom and Eli disappeared to buy ingredients for the Lasagne of Eternity.
The Talented Mr Reeve and I wandered round Oxford looking for a food place and found an Italian restaurant (my first restauranty meal in… er… I don’t even remember) and talked about books and films and his soon-to-be-published stories and my never-going-to-be-finished stories and the internet and Early Modern Europe and the future of TV and the disenfranchised youth of today. I think I managed to avoid being too enthusiastically groupie-weird (though describing 4chan and having my phone shout “MAGGOTS!” may not have helped…). I won’t flatter myself (this time) by saying he’s how I see myself in twentysomething years, (well, if family genes have anything to do with it, I’m guaranteed to be rather tubbier and much balder at least…) but he’s absolutely what I hope to be like. Though I should really start coming up with an actual plan for Life sometime soon.
Then I stomped back to Chez Eli and we spent the rest of the weekend eating The Lasagne of Eternity, watching Moon, Babel, The Pacific and Generation Kill, reading 4chan and fighter-pilot anecdotes and godawful purple prose off the internet, and on Sunday afternoon Tom and I paid our respects, hopped aboard coach and train respectively, and rolled home.