Tuesday 7 June 2016

Hay Festival 2016, Part Two

Peter Carey talks to Martha Kearney:

A less coherent event in which we learnt far more about Carey’s (sometimes controversial) political opinions than we did of his books and writing techniques. He spoke of often thinking that what he is creating is original and very different to anything he’s done before and then being somewhat disappointed to discover that there are definite patterns in his writing.

Kearney commented that many of his books are set in the past, although they wear the research lightly, and asked about his processes in creating a believable world that he has never inhabited. Carey is very against being referred to as an historical fiction writer but admitted that a lot of research goes in to being able to put in the little details that make the fictional world feel real. Oscar and Lucinda was the first book he really researched deeply as he realised that he had to. He argued, however, that it should always be the story that is the main focus, not just a vehicle for showing off all the research you’ve done.

His latest novel, Amnesia  is far more obviously a modern novel (he likes to think of them all as such), dealing with technology and its impact on our lives. He spoke of Julian Assange as being part of the inspiration for it, the sense of people getting excited over someone they’re calling a traitor without knowing what they did to their country. He was quick to point out that the hacker in the novel is very different to Assange, the most marked difference being that his character is a teenage girl. When asked whether or not it was difficult to get into the mind of a teenage girl Carey replied that he’s received comments that it was astounding how well he’d achieved it. The factors he cites as having helped with this are the fact that everyone has been young and you don’t forget that but also the importance of being aware of what people are going through.

BBC Storyville: Notes on Blindness:

We were privileged to be present at the discussion with filmmakers Peter Middleton, James Spinney, and the wife of the subject of their film Notes on Blindness, Marilyn. It was a moving evening hearing of John Hull’s rapid move into blindness and the challenges and triumphs it led to in their young family. John recorded his experience of blindness on audio cassettes and it is these recordings that have been used as the basis for the film.

Middleton and Spinney first heard of his remarkable story  in 2010 and spoke of being drawn to the poeticism of the recordings. The tapes show a journey of loss and grief leading to a sense that by the end his blindness was seen more as a strange kind of gift.

Marilyn spoke of the ways John learnt to adjust to his new life and find his own identity. Part of this was to deliberately forget what colours were and more difficult still, what his wife looked like. These painful decisions were essential to accepting himself. She spoke not only of the losses but also the way in which he gained through other senses, for example the sound of falling rain allowing a space to become 3D.

Middleton, Spinney, and the Hulls had clearly developed a great trust between them. They had conducted a number of interviews with John and Marilyn, encouraging them to talk to each other more than to them. These later recollections are merged with the original audio recordings in what promises to be a sensitive, moving piece. The film is due for release in UK cinemas on 1st July and more details of the project can be found here.

Christiana Figueres talks to Nick Stern:

Christiana Figueres and Nick Stern discussed climate change and the 2015 Paris Agreement. Figueres spoke of the practical factors that contributed to success in Paris such as the drop in price of sustainable energy but also of a general change of feeling, a realisation that it’s not a competition and that collaboration would benefit everyone. She also stressed the importance of the US and China wanting to do something together, at home, and to set an example, without which the Paris Agreement would not have been possible.

They went on to discuss the voluntary nature of parts of the agreement. Stern expressed the view that people are often more devoted and co-operative when it is voluntary and asked Figueres to explain the mix of voluntary and compulsory in the Agreement. There is a legally binding end point and an expectation of constantly increasing performance and collaboration but there is no set contribution between each five year checkpoint. This decision was made partly due to the fact that it’s incredibly difficult to predict.

This is not to say that they are lax in their expectation or sense of urgency – both Stern and Figueres emphasized how critical the next twenty years are. Figueres claimed that as difficult as Paris was it was the easy part, it is what comes now that is hard. Ever the optimist, and wanting to end on a positive note, she spoke of being in a strong position with both the technology and its costs being with us now.

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