Never been much of a one to volunteer for anything, but I must admit I was delighted to be asked to help out at a book fair to raise funds for my daughter’s school yesterday.
What made the event really special was the quality of the guests lined up by fellow parent and journalist Dan Carrier: Al Alvarez, Dannie Abse, Travis Elborough and Peter Richards.
Meeting Mr Alvarez was a real thrill as I grew up in the same town as his old friend Ted Hughes. Quite surreal, trying to ask him about his career and friends like Phillip Roth as me son Sean advanced on us with a box over his head.
Al also had some very good advice for my daughter, Emma, 5. I said maybe she’s be a writer too and he said “oh no, don’t do that... anything but that.” Al went on to entertain the audience with anecdotes about his lifelong obsession, poker, and read from his memoirs.
As well as having published about 67 books of poetry, Dannie Abse is also a highly respected doctor, and talked about how these two seemingly contradictory areas of his life complement one another. He also read beautifully from his latest anthology, “New Selected Poems”.
Travis Elborough has written about the decline of the Routemaster bus and the beauty of the long playing record, and we chatted about these and other subjects including London, publishing and the seaside towns of Britain.
Last but by no means least, local author Peter Richards read from his wartime memoirs, the fabulously titled “bombs, bullshit and bullets”. The book describes with passion, poignancy and humour Peter’s experiences of the Second World War, and his lifelong socialism.
As both of my grandfathers served in the war, and both are still committed socialists, I was deeply moved by Peter’s description of his return to the battlefield and his belief in equality and justice for all.
Do yourself a favour and buy any of the books by one of these authors. Better still, buy one by each.