Friday, 01 April 2016

Literary Festival From Hell

Jane Escapes into a wistful memory of the Literary Festival From Hell

Written by Jane Green
I was browsing the biog of one of the musicians who played at our David Bowie Night of Celebration and started wriggling with excitement when I noticed he had played with Rupert Holmes.

Rupert who? I hear you ask. Rupert Holmes! He sang (and wrote) Escape.

Escape? I hear you ask. Never heard of it. I shall jog your memory with one line from the chorus: ‘If you like Pina Coladas, and getting caught in the rain.’

I happen to know Rupert Holmes. When not writing the catchiest tunes of the last century, Rupert keeps himself busy writing novels (among many other things). A couple of years ago Rupert and I found ourselves as guests of the Literary Festival From Hell.

It was a three-day festival in sunnier climes than New England in winter. We arrived and were whisked to a four-hour reception in a giant banqueting hall in a large hotel to sign books. There were about 30 authors, and they placed each of us behind a table, by ourselves, with a large stack of books and a pen. We all sat there desperately hoping someone might come along to ease our pain with a glass of wine, or a bite to eat – but nothing.

And so we sat in silence, watching the guests mingle, as we desperately tried to catch the eye of someone, anyone, as if a pleading look might entice them to come over and get a book signed so we wouldn’t actually have to sit there by ourselves, behind a table, for four hours.

It was all in vain. I became more and more demoralised; the only light relief coming from Rupert Holmes’s table. Every three minutes a gaggle of giggling women would stand in front of Rupert Holmes, and burst into the Piña Colada song. He was enormously gracious, and kind, and funny, as if it had never happened before, even though it had just happened three minutes earlier. And three minutes prior to that…

After our four-hour reception we were whisked off to a private dinner in someone’s home, where we had to first give a speech, then move to different tables for each course to amuse and entertain. I quite liked that bit, although small talk is always a bit challenging for me.

The next day was spent giving a talk at the actual festival, and late in the day I was told that I would be driven two hours out of town at 6am the next morning to give a talk to teenagers in a local high school. I knew nothing about this. I don’t give talks to teenagers because I have teenagers and being trapped in a house with teenagers to whom you gave birth is bad enough, but being trapped in an auditorium with 200 teenagers who don’t know you, who stare at you with arms crossed and sullen looks on their faces, is just about my idea of hell.

It was just as bad as I expected, if not slightly worse. All my jokes and humorous stories fell flat, and I stared out into a sea of bored hostility. Afterwards, at the airport, I bumped into Rupert Holmes. He too had found himself in a school auditorium, but luckily they had a baby grand piano on stage.

He sat down at the piano and played them the Piña Colada song, and every teenager in that room knew it, word for word. He spent the next hour playing for them, and telling jokes, and everyone had a wonderful time. Thank God for the piano, he said, commiserating that he would have had no idea what he would have done had it not been there.

I know what he would have done. Died a slow and painful death, just like me. And this is the reason why I may never do a book festival again.

Next week: ‘Lady problems’

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