A few of my blogs from this year’s inaugural Jaipur Literature Festival in Belfast and Bellagy have now been published on the JLF website (see my previous blog post here for more details on this), but there’s a few from the Saturday which haven’t appeared, so I’ve decided to post them on my own blog in the meantime, starting with the first event I attended below. 🙂
Places Called Home
Patrick Gale and David Park in conversation with Elaine Canning
Family is at the heart of the most recent novels by British writer, Patrick Gale (Take Nothing with You) and Belfast author, David Park (Travelling in a Strange Land). It was subsequently very much at the core of this event, facilitated by Elaine Canning at the Lyric Theatre.
With both writers brought up in very religious households, they agreed that this was something which had seeped into their work.
Park, whose upbringing was in the Baptist faith, said the first stories he ever heard were from the Bible. “The language of the Bible became cloaked around my brain,” he said.
Gale also had a “very religious upbringing.” Indeed, his father was the son and grandson of a priest and may have become one himself, said Gale, had he not married Patrick’s mother…
The event was interspersed with readings from both authors, including both their non-fiction and fiction.
“When you write about yourself and your family, as Patrick has revealed, there are pain moments,” said Park. One of those ‘pain moments’ for Park was in writing about an instance at Primary School, when he told the class his father was a bread server, as he felt shame in saying ‘labourer’.
Both Park’s and Gale’s novels ultimately focus on the dynamics of family relationships and belonging. “What you’re doing is writing about interesting failures,” said Gale.
In Gale’s novel, his protagonist, Eustace, reflects on his youth while receiving treatment in hospital. His parents are going through a rocky patch and Eustace, who is dealing with the business of growing up and discovering who he is, subsequently finds solace in music. “It brings him into contact with people who become substitute family,” said Gale.
A cellist himself, Gale added that the discipline of learning to play music has helped him as a writer. Park agreed that music was a big part of his own life. “Music, for me, is a constant all day long,” he said. “It calms and motivates me.”
As Canning pointed out, place also plays a huge role in both Park and Gale’s novels and not just place, but enclosed spaces. Indeed, Park’s story plays out in a car while Gale’s sees Eustace reflecting in a confined room during his treatment.
“There’s no such thing as the perfect family,” said Park. “My book is from the father’s perspective and about how to be a father, which is a difficult thing to know. It’s about a journey from Belfast to Sunderland.”
“Both books illustrate the way we carry our families in our heads,” added Gale.
The novels also explore the idea of self-love and self-protection, said Canning, who also touched upon the function of music in both narratives. The cello and classical music is integral to Eustace, said Gale, while for Park’s story, pop music takes precedence.
The event itself finished on a musical note, with Gale reading an extract about music from his novel, followed by an audience Q&A. During this, Gale was asked what book of his own he would recommend a young person to read with regards to understanding their sexuality, as he speaks a lot in schools and is often asked the same. He said Friendly Fire was what he would advise and added that it was loosely based on his own upbringing.
The final word of the day went to Park, who was asked if things had to happen in real life to be able to write about them, or of imagination was enough.
“Everything you need is in the world of the imagination,” he said. “It’s the richest gift humans have.”