A bounty of books at the Montpellier Book Fair
La Comédie du Livre
FILMS , MUSIC, DRAMA AND ARTLANGUAGEFRENCH CUSTOMS AND LOCAL EVENTS
Every year, for ten days in May, the city of Montpellier hosts one of the largest and most comprehensive book fairs in France. This year it took place in the beautiful Parc du Peyrou which overlooks the town. Thanks to 'Le Bookshop' a purveyor of books in English which is situated in the picturesque old quarter of the town, I was invited to be there on Friday and Sunday to talk about my book to interested visitors, and help to sell it on their behalf. These proved to be two of the most exciting and stimulating days of my life.
Le Comédie du Livre
This bookfair, which is known as 'Le Comédie du Livre' is one of the major literary festivals in the French calendar. It welcomes around 250 authors every year, and around 70,000 visitors. One of its aims is to introduce new talents to the reading public , and it features both French and foreign literature. At 'Le Bookshop' stall I found myself seated beside some renowned and successful British authors . I felt like an impostor with only a small pile of my one and only published work to sell, whilst my neighbours not only had a number of books to their name, but these were also available translated into French. I felt nervous. Should I have crawled away in embarrassment? Would I be treated with condescension? Not a bit of it. Le Bookshop staff could not have been more welcoming or supportive. As for the British authors, they welcomed this rookie to their fold. I found their company, and that of other French authors nearby most stimulating. Moreover, it was great to witness the passion that French people show for books . Our languages are different, as are our styles of writing, but I was able to engage with a number of French people who wished to read a book in English . I am delighted to say that my little pile of ten books was sold out. 'Le Bookshop' will be ordering some more , and running a feature on its guest authors over the next month at Rue du Bras de Fer in the centre of Montpellier. I could not be more grateful to them .
Children and Books
Not all children live in homes that possess a lot of books. That is why one of my favourite tasks as a teacher, was to run a weekly School Bookshop, to encourage children to save up for and buy a book of their very own. It is clearly also one of the French educational ideals to encourage a love of books in children, for files of school children arrived at the Book fair all Friday long. Some older pupils rushed around with questionnaires pinned to clip boards, asking questions and filling in the answers. But one 'prof' of English, who had stopped to buy my book, smiled at me ruefully. She had not issued her pupils with a questionnaire, preferring to regard this visit as 'a reward.' I could not help but agree. One cannot always prescribe what a child should or could learn from an experience anyway.
A Cartoon Character
One of the writers alongside me was Phil Corbett, a successful British artist and writer whose books feature a cartoon character named 'Kitty Quest.' He was frequently surrounded by groups of children , anxious to collect some of the cartoon characters that he had generously drawn for them on cards. Their enthusiasm and curiosity almost made me miss teaching : but not quite.
A Stimulating encounter.
Later that day we were to be joined by another British author whose small pile of books lay waiting close by. Her name is Natasha Brown. A French friend of ours had already professed interest in this British author, so I picked up a copy in order to learn more about her. Her first and as yet her only book is called 'Assembly' and is exactly a hundred pages long. Also translated into French and labelled 'Assemblege', another small pile lay close by. I was immediately drawn to the accolades on the front and back covers. Authors such as Ali Smith, Bernadine Evaristo and many more illustrious names hailed this book as ground breaking. The Sunday Times stated that 'Assembly heralds a powerful new voice in British literature.' I leafed through its pages and picked out a significant paragraph. I realised that Natasha Brown had conveyed more about the nature of race and racism in Britain in the space of a few words, than I ever could in the whole of my current book. I really wanted to meet her, but felt nervous. In the event Natasha proved to be the warmest and most generous of interlocuters. She even bought a copy of my book! Sadly I had to miss her talk on Saturday, but we met again on Sunday, by which time I had already read her unique and impressive book. As the Book Fair was drawing to a close, she told me that she was going to spend the week by the coast before returning to the U.K. In that time she hoped to finish writing her second novel. I look forward to reading it with great interest.
As we made our way back to the car we passed Le Chateau d'Eau from where the impressive arched aquaduct, which is known as 'les Arceaux,' stretches into the distance. Montpellier is a beautiful and graceful city, rich in tradition and fine architecture. I felt both proud and grateful to have been invited to participate that weekend in its diverse cultural life.