Postcard from Guernsey #gsylitfest 2017

For the second time in a month I am en route to a literature festival.  This time its a little closer to home but certainly no less exciting.  I am going to be part of Guernsey Literary Festival.

Three weeks ago I was in an expo center in Sharjah telling stories to children and families.  The whole thing came about quite suddenly and was over almost as quickly.  My trip to Guernsey has been scheduled for over six months.  It all started last summer when seeing the success and popularity of my retelling of “The Twits” I contacted various literature festivals about what I was doing and Guernsey got in touch.  My sessions on Friday evening and Sunday afternoon will be the culmination of months of planning and I’m happy to say that Lauren and VB are travelling with me – the Kirk’s are on tour!

The following was written at the time and updated after leaving the festival.

Thursday evening

Lauren and I are sitting in the dark in a Premier Inn on the outskirts of Poole Harbour.  No, there hasn’t been a power failure, VB is asleep.

Its been a very long day.  We left Walthamstow in our camper van at midday and made our way down to Poole arriving just before 8pm.  We got the van last year and had a few weekends away in him (his name is Bertie) before Verity was born.  Bertie’s very comfortable even if it was a bit of a squeeze to get the pram, my work paraphernalia and everything we need for what will be camping trip inside.  Also what I find is that if you drive him too quickly the steering wheel shakes so I tend to cruise along – it takes longer but that’s part of the fun.

Progress out of London was pretty painless.  That’s great because VB had her second round of jabs this morning and we weren’t sure how she’d respond (the Nurse said she was a very brave girl).  Lunch was at Fleet Services and tea (we say tea in Lancashire) was a Fish and Chip shop on Bournemouth beach.  This was Verity’s first time on a beach and her first time in a fish and chip shop.  Tomorrow will be her first time on a ferry.  I’m sure if she could talk to us she’d tell us that she’s just as excited as we are as we head to the Channel Islands.

The ferry is just after midday tomorrow and the journey time is about three hours.  When we get to Guernsey we’ll have to find the campsite and then I need to be at the Castle Cornet for 5.45pm for a session of spooky stories and then to judge a fancy dress competition(!).  The weather forecast is reasonable so fingers crossed for smooth sailing.

Friday night

From sitting in a hotel room in the dark to sitting in a tent in the dark (this time it’s because we’ve only got one torch).

Today was rollercoaster-esque – calm at points, crazy at others.

Our journey to Guernsey was pretty straight forward.  We reached the ferry terminal in good time and the ferry actually departed early!  Unlike the cross channel ferries I remember from my childhood, we had allocated seats.  Verity was very patient and the other passengers took it in turns to coo over her during the three hour crossing.  I find my daughter completely amazing and it was lovely to stand on the viewing deck and point out Brownsea Island and the Isle of Purbeck as we left Poole harbour.  So what that she’s three months old and asleep as I did it, this was a special moment that I shared with just her.

Arriving in Guernsey we clear customs (after declaring my daughter’s bum as an offensive weapon) and it should have been straight forward to find the campsite but the road we needed was closed and typically I hadn’t printed off a map.  We eventually found ourselves (Guernsey’s not that big) but the lost time meant I was now under pressure to get the tent up and get back to Castle Cornet for my event.

Now when I say tent I should mention that our awning is so big that you could probably park our campervan in it and still have space.  Nothing makes me more stressed than putting up tents and by the time we arrive at the Fauxquets campsite Verity’s grouchy which means I won’t even have Lauren’s help to do it.  Somehow I get the tent up but not before throwing my toys and tent poles out of the pram in a manner that would make my daughter proud.  Then there’s just enough time to turn around and head back into town for my event.

Driving back into town is a lot easier than driving out was but Guernsey’s roads are narrow and I’m glad I don’t have to do any 3 point turns or that I meet any large vehicles coming the other way.  Back in town we unload for the short walk into Castle Cornet only to discover I have parked on the wrong pier!  With only 25 minutes before I am due to start I have parked the van a lot further than a pram will be able to travel at speed.  Lauren waves me off and I leg it to the castle.

When I reach the castle I am greeted by a labyrinth of passageways which in my haste all seem exactly the same.  This castle was built to confuse invaders and as the minutes tick down I am totally baffled.  With 6 minutes to spare I find the South Battery where there is a marquee set up for the festival and the Museums at Night festivities.  Better still a friendly technician gives me a headset microphone.

The event is well received by a good sized crowd even if I am a bit flustered at the start.  I tell four spooky stories in my half hour slot covering hauntings, misadventure and witchcraft, and I leave the stage to generous applause.  Sunday’s event is a sell out and if the audience is anything like this evening’s it will be a fantastic afternoon.  After staging some photos in the castle grounds I track Lauren and VBz down at the van (Lauren couldn’t get the pram into the castle because it’s basically a vast network of ancient staircases) so has spent our hour apart food shopping.

I would like to break from my narrative about my time at #gsylitfest to mention that my wife is a hero.  She has the misfortune of being married to a workaholic who spends most of his life with the head in the clouds and barely a toe in reality.  She is my rock and my ship’s rudder and since Verity was born has been just brilliant.

Compliments paid and family reunited we leave St Peters Port and head back to the campsite for a noodle stir fry and to make a plan for tomorrow.

Saturday afternoon

Today I don’t have an event but there are still things to do and after a slow start including some tent maintenance and washing up from last night we head into St Peters Port.

I visited St Peters Port five years ago when I was freelancing for the Schools Shakespeare Festival.  It is a very picturesque place and today it is basked in sunshine.  We have a wander around the shops to buy some camping supplies and take the photos of the imposing Castle Cornet I forgot to take yesterday.  As we go we stop off at the Market Square which is easily recognised because of the series of inflatable marquees there.  There is a lot of festival activity here and volunteers in their recognisable black t-shirts are busy handing out brochures.  I meet Mandi at the ticket desk.  This is really putting a face to a name because she has been responsible for booking our accommodation and ferries and has been my point of contact with the festival up to now.  She shows me the Inner Street Market where I’ll be working tomorrow and we chat about Guernsey for a while.  It’s a lovely day so we head off to Cobo Bay but we’ll have to return tonight to touch base with the Tea Party organising team who will be decorating the space.

Saturday evening

We spend the afternoon at Cobo Bay on the western side of the island.  It is a long sweeping sandy beach broken occasionally by rugged rocks that jut out into the turquoise waters.  The weather is absolutely incredible and as I type it’s too easy to forget that this is actually a work blog rather than an advert for Guernsey’s tourist board.

Back in town I meet the team organising tomorrow’s event.  The event is scheduled for the Inner Street Market.  At one time it must have been a covered market but today it’s more of an arcade with HMV and the Co-op occupying the units at either end of what is a long rectangular space.  This is where I’ll be telling The Twits tomorrow afternoon to an audience of 100 children and their parents.

The premise of the event is very exciting.  The space is to be transformed into a magical world of Roald Dahl (the props, and scenic backdrops being prepared look fantastic).  Mrs Twit and Willy Wonka will welcome the guests and once I’m finished the Oompa Loompas will shepherd them onto the next activity.  In essence my presentation will become a part of a much larger interactive experience.  Having done something similar last year with “The Wind in the Willows”, I’m impressed by the vision and ambition of the project but I won’t lie, I’m glad I’m not the one who has to pull it off.  Between now and three o’clock tomorrow the organisers are going to put in a lot of work.

For the Kirk family it’s been a long old day and so after a dash round the shop we head back to our campsite – tomorrow Daddy has to work.

Sunday evening

It’s been another glorious day on the sunny island of Guernsey.

The day starts in relaxed fashion.  Living as we do in east London it’s great to wake up to the sound of birds and be surrounded by fields and Fauxquets is the perfect getaway from the stresses of modern life.  It’s a well-equipped, well-kept place and the owners are lovely.  Once we mobilise we drive around the island before heading into town to Candie Gardens for a picnic lunch.  After lunch I grabbed my gear from the van and go over to the venue.

Today was seafront Sunday in St Peters Port and the road along a section of the harbour has been transformed into a street café cum artisan’s market for the day.  The locals and tourists are out in force.  There is an enormous cruise ship in today and I hear tourists from France, Germany, Japan and America as I pass through on my way to work.

Something miraculous has happened in the market square and the Inner Market has become the Dahl wonderland described to me yesterday.  There is Pin the Tail on Fantastic Mr Fox, George is demonstrating Science experiments, drawing with Matilda and Miss Honey as well as a Wonkavision photo booth and much more.  It’s all very impressive and my hat goes off to the team that made it all happen overnight – a vision is one thing but the skills to execute that vision are invaluable.

Again I break from my narrative to recognise the contribution of the volunteers who make Guernsey Literary Festival what it is – a lot of the organisation and the preparation is done enthusiastically and passionately out of sheer goodwill so that people like me can waltz in, do our bit and waltz off again afterwards.  During our short stay here the island there’s been loads going on; wherever we’ve gone on this sunshine island we’ve found a friendly, welcoming atmosphere which is both infectious and humbling.

I set up for my event being sure to load extra water pistols for this extra special occasion and then the guests arrive in their costumes for the tea party.  My particular favourite costumes are a pair of Roly Poly birds who put my little puppet to shame.

The event goes well – as ever I’m super hyped to be in front of an audience and I tell the story perhaps a little faster than normal partly because I am aware that the tea party itself is waiting.  At the end I am given another generous round of applause and the audience is whisked away by a colourful band of Dahl characters.  Again we manage to get a few pictures with the event photographer (when I met him on Friday I thought he was familiar – it turns out he was featured in the ferry company magazine this month!).  This done I say my thank you’s and goodbyes and Lauren, VB and I leave town.  Lauren and VB were present for the story.  It’s the first time in close to five years that Lauren has actually seen me working and obviously its VBs first time.  They leave after 15 minutes because it wouldn’t do for the storyteller’s daughter to scream the house down; I think she enjoyed it though.

So we head to Jerbourg Point for beautiful views of the Channel Islands.  My contribution to the festival was actually only 55 minutes but I have enjoyed myself immensely and so have my family.  The last few days will live long in the collective memory and as we watch the cruise ship heading out of the harbour it will soon be our turn to follow but one thing’s sure, I hope I’ll be back again soon.

Post script – Monday evening

We’re on the dock awaiting our ferry but I thought I’d slip a bit more into this blog which I might otherwise forget.  After a lovely afternoon out on the north coast we came into town in the afternoon and I slipped away from Lauren and Verity and managed to catch the last 10 minutes of Chris Riddell’s presentation at the library – if I was only going to see one event it had to be this one.  Chris Riddell is an illustrator and author of Goth Girl and until June is the Children’s Laureate, a title previously held by among others Julia Donaldson, Michael Rosen and Malorie Blackman.  He had already visited a couple of schools and worked with over 500 children.  When I arrived he was discussing his books and showing some of his wonderful illustrations.  As someone who works in libraries a lot it was heartening to see that he makes himself so accessible (let’s be honest, Guernsey is off the beaten track) and that the final festival event was being held in the library.  The young people he spoke to were entranced by his work and his craft and the queue for book signings snaked out of the room afterwards.  For me the turnout confirms that so long as we have great storytellers there is a bright future for libraries.  It was a perfect way for my experience of the Guernsey Literary Festival to come to finish.