Xan Brooks and Sarah Phelps on history and nostalgia

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Just attended a brilliant Birmingham Literature Festival panel on historical fiction and period drama.

We had an engaging and knowledgeable host in Will Tattersdill, of Birmingham Uni, and two highly entertaining and formidable panellists.

Sarah Phelps has most recently been adapting Agatha Christie for television, to great acclaim.

Xan Brooks is blowing everyone away with his debut novel with a dark take on post-Great War England 'The Clocks in This House All Tell Different Times.'

Both had some very interesting points to make about the dangers of nostalgia and how we airbrush history.

Closer to the shock of seismic events, they both agreed there can be a collective and wilful amnesia after appalling brutality, resulting in an unwillingness to see the truth.

The hedonism of the 1920s, seen in this light, was an escape from the war trauma that had gone before.

Both Brooks and Phelps seek to reinstate the truth, or at least turn 'the truth' on its head.

I came away with an atomised sense of history - the need to find the individual beneath the dominant narratives, the importance of digging out the story in order to challenge the received wisdom.

I can't wait to get stuck into 'The Clocks...'

And I can totally see why Phelps is so good at what she does. She loves Agatha Christie, and champions her dark, disturbing fiction.

It was a winning combination, and made for an illuminating discussion.

Literary festival fare at its best, undoubtedly.

Birmingham Literature Festival: Spring Edition

 Luke Kennard reading from 'The Transition' 

Luke Kennard reading from 'The Transition' 

Luke Kennard is mercurial.

The man talks at a million miles an hour and his synapses spark at an alarming rate.

Having been dubbed an 'overachieving poet' (The Guardian, for youngest Forward Prize recipient etc etc) he has just published his debut novel The Transition - a near-future dystopia tackling the housing crisis.

He talked about it on the opening day of Birmingham Literature Festival and the conversation was pacy and revelatory, especially on the pressing issue (for writers, anyway) of how to approach dystopia when living in one.

His book should be discussed more widely. It takes on capitalism, home ownership, and the plight of a generation sorely in need of solutions.

Of course, being a novel of the times, there are no solutions, but along the way Kennard combines humour and pathos to carve out a striking exploration of our current preoccupations.

It's also a touching love story.

Do read 'The Transition' if you want a fresh take on a rapidly expanding genre.