BOOK FESTIVAL – Joan Bakewell

Friday 17 August 2012 11.30am

A packed theatre joined Chairman Steven Gale in welcoming journalist, television presenter, Labour party peer, CBE, DBE, campaigner for the older generation (and of course author) Joan Bakewell to this years festival.

Gale started the event by asking if there was an event or idea that had got Bakewell’s new book ‘She’s Leaving Home’ rolling. Her answer was simple – that it was in reaction to the many people that had over the years, asked her what the 60’s were like. So via a “nostalgic wallow”, she decided to enclose her recollections in fiction, “just to see what it felt like”.

Over a two-year period she set to researching her thoughts and memories back in Liverpool. Interviewing ageing DJ’s and watching many an old movie, she went on to expand her findings and link them through to the post-war social conditions that Britain found itself within.

The resulting book is set in Liverpool between 1959 and 1963, and the audience were told about this period also being a time of great creative expansion. A time that saw Liverpool thrive on its river Mersey artery – as the ships that crossed the Atlantic set sail with a hail of requests to bring things back – and usually re-docked with an obliging cargo of great multicultural influence.

From a town on the outskirts of the city, the main characters are introduced. Eddie, a cinema projectionist; his wife Beattie, a housewife who longs for her long lost sense of wartime purpose, and their daughter Martha, a 16 year old who wants to escape the typing course she is on and experience the life that a changing Liverpool offers.

The author told how Martha flees to the big city and joins a commune, where she experiences a sexual awakening and struggles to accept all that is going on about her – but stressed to the audience that the book isn’t solely Martha’s story, but also of how their now alone parents deal with the changing times.

Describing the context of Beattie, she said that we had to remember that she was of an age where the all-encompassing war was a major part of her life. While the men were away fighting, the women worked in the factories – gaining independence and purpose. Then with the war over, the men assumed their jobs back in the factories and the women returned to the peaceful, family orientated, quiet lives that they had all fought for. A situation that was very hard for the women like Beattie to deal with – and a situation that had left a lot of women very depressed.

Children like Martha recognised this and wanted their lives to be something different to their parents. Fuelled by the ships American cargo of Gaggia coffee and Chuck Berry, Martha’s generation started to leave the censorship of the fifties, and to invent the sixties.

Gale introduced a reading from Bakewell by which we heard her fluid, descriptive writing style portray a vibrant, exciting time. The reading captured not only observations from the sixties beautifully, but also gave us an insight into the mother / daughter tension that exists between Beattie and Martha.

Questions from the audience brought the event to a close, including one that asked who would play the lead roles, should her book convert to the big screen. “It would have to be Julie Walters as Beattie…” “…maybe Emily Mortimer as Martha…” “…and I have a teatowel at home that says ‘Last night I dreamed of Daniel Craig’, so let’s go for him…”

The audience were amused by her manner, interested in her research and gripped by her storytelling – but with Joan Bakewell reciting her own words, and indeed some of her past, you’d expect nothing less.

By Tony Bibby

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