Swimming and Flying, Friday 19th October 2012, 7.30pm, Whitworth Art Gallery
Words by Anna Hart. Photograph by Roshana Rubin-Mayhew.
It’s Day 12 of the Manchester Literature Festival and I am sitting in Whitworth Art Gallery, wondering what the next hour has in store for me. A few weeks ago, I had discovered that Mark Haddon would be giving a talk about his life and writing as part of the festival, which sparked my memory of reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. I found it to be a compellingly unique story, which captured my imagination by exploring the world in which we live from a different perspective to how the majority of people experience everyday life. Thinking about my enjoyment and interest in this book, I was excited to gain an insight into the mind of its author.
Mark Haddon steps onto an extremely minimalistic set, consisting of only himself, a British Sign Language interpreter and a bottle of water. He commences with a relatable tale from his childhood, talking about his experience of attending boarding school. One day, he had accidentally made a hole in the games room radiator during a game of darts and owned up to committing this "crime" when the housemaster questioned the students. Much to the audience’s amusement, Haddon proceeds to explain his underlying feeling of smugness at having told the truth and his secret expectation of an award for honesty, only to reveal the reality of the situation – a caning from the housemaster. According to Haddon, he’d never been cooler than after being beaten six times with a cane; those younger than him were desperate to have a peek at his wounds and hear all of the "grizzly details", whereas those older than him would reward him with a knowing pat on the back.
Smoothly progressing from this specific recount, Haddon shares an overview of his childhood years with the audience. As a young boy, he was obsessed with science, which is the basis for many of the interesting, and often hilarious, stories that Haddon tells. One that is greeted with a particularly enthusiastic ripple of laughter is about the time when he thought that he’d invented an electric motor and was devastated to find out that someone had done it before him.
Many recurring themes emerge throughout Haddon’s talk, including his experiences of teaching creative writing, his fear of flying on planes and his fascination with the fact that the darkness between the stars is actually full of more distant stars, which are shining bright, but just not bright enough for us to see. This is just one of the numerous dramatic and inspirational images that Haddon describes.
Haddon tells many delightful anecdotes, punctuated with the occasional quote or extract of writing. His communication with the audience, through both his very clear voice and narrating hand gestures, is extremely important to help people to connect, appreciate and engage with his words. Haddon proved that all he needed to deliver an entertaining and insightful talk was himself. The evening was thoroughly enjoyable and a valuable experience to discover more about a brilliant author.
Throughout the Festival in 2012 we have been working with a group of young people to support them to become digital reporters, and to document a range of events from their perspective. As well as writing blogs and reviews, the young digital reporters have responded to our events using other methods such as photography, illustration and radio.