20 May Meet Su Bristow
In a new series of blog posts, we thought it would be nice to introduce members of our steering committee, together with our patrons. First up is Su Bristow, who has been on the committee with ExeLitFest for a couple of years. Her debut novel, Sealskin, won the very first Exeter Novel Prize in 2013. Winning that award, set her on the road to publication.
Su, how did you come to be involved with the Exeter Literary Festival?
That arose from my role as Chair of Exeter Writers, and my involvement with many local readers and writers. I’ve been involved in organising various literary events over the years.
Last year the festival programme had a bit of everything, from well-known writers to debut authors, from poetry to thrillers to non-fiction. Local authors were well represented, and there were workshops for writers as well as readers.
In helping to put together ExeLitFest, I’m delighted to be giving something back to my home town
Why do you think literary festivals are important?
Literary festivals can put writers in touch with readers, and tempt people to try books they may not have considered. They represent an important way for writers to publicise their work, and for the local community to showcase and celebrate home-grown talent.
If you’ve never been before, you may meet fellow lovers of reading, get to meet and ask questions of your favourite authors, and learn something new. Even with online events, this is still possible, and of course the participants may be anywhere in the world.
Aside from the Exeter Literary Festival, my favourite in recent years was the Tidelines Book Festival in Ayrshire, where I spoke about my novel Sealskin and attended several other events. It’s a lovely location on the Scottish coast, and the enthusiasm was wonderful.
What have been your personal highlights of the Exeter Literary Festival over the past years?
Last year, I spoke with Lindsay Clarke (author of the Whitbread prize-winning novel The Chymical Wedding) on the theme of Fantasy and Imagination, to a packed audience. That was a peak moment for me! And I was also privileged to introduce our Wilding panel at the RAMM: Isabella Tree, Martin Wright and Dan Eatherley. There’s such a buzz of excitement about re-wilding, and it was marvellous to see so many people turn out for this.
Given the Festival will not be happening in 2020 in the form that we know it, have you had any thoughts about how to keep the spirit of previous years alive?
We’re hoping to hold a smaller number of ‘live’ events in October this year, probably centring around a Good News panel. There are so many positive initiatives out there, working towards building community, increasing biodiversity and reducing the harms caused by climate change, and they don’t get enough publicity. We all need to hear good news, especially just now.
These certainly have been challenging times, do you have any recommendations to read at the moment?
I’m reading Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. It’s a journey through the life experiences of BAME and trans women in Britain, and if that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, think again. I’d recommend it for lockdown, a little at a time. The other thing is a poetry collection edited by Allie Esiri, with a poem for every day. Some of them are not so good, but that just makes you think about how they could have been better written. And some are wonderful.
Su Bristow’s own novel, Sealskin, is available now from Orenda Books.