Chudleigh Literary Festival

With nerves jangling like a hanging skeleton caught in a breeze, we set off for our second literary festival – Chudfest. Most writers probably attend a festival before speaking at one, but we’ve always done things backwards.

Chudfest

the marquee where the festival took place

We met one of the organisers, Kate McCormick, who writes as Elizabeth Dulcie, at the Salem Literary Festival last year. If you want to know how that went, you can read it here. You can watch the reading here. If you don’t have time/can’t be arsed, to sum it up, we failed to find Sir Walter Raleigh’s house on a straight road and showed up soaking wet, covered in mud and smelling of farm animals. Despite this, Kate still invited us to read at Chudfest. She’s a brave woman.

For once, we didn’t get lost. Usually, if a journey goes well, Fate balances it out by causing something else to go wrong, and we warned people that should the marquee come down on them, it was entirely our fault. But Fate decided to let us have a day off being her puppets. We set up our table of books, complete with spiderweb table covers and leaflets that our friend, Hayley made for us. Our table was by the bar, which we felt was prime position – when people are drunk, they do random things they later wake to regret, so we hoped that would stretch to buying books from unknown authors.

Chudfest

our table

We weren’t reading until 7:30 p.m. but arrived at 1:20 p.m. to attend a writing workshop run by Kate and a woman called Margaret. We’ve never attended a writer’s workshop before, or any kind of creative writing course, so we were intrigued. Yes, you read that right. We have no writing qualifications. We haven’t taken a single creative writing class. And yet we’re writers. We’re convinced someone will one day expose us as frauds and we’ll be captured on camera, hiding our faces beneath our coats and walking into lampposts.

This workshop focused on senses. Everyone was split into pairs (we were separated) and were given optical illusions to look at. After we’d discussed them, we had a few minutes of free writing about one of the images. Lynx wrote about a person’s hidden dark soul and Cat wrote about a person finding faceless bodies hanging from a tree. Their faces were in a different tree.

Our next piece involved touch. One person was blindfolded and their partner had to guide them around the marquee by holding their fingertips. Talking was forbidden. It was interesting that when blindfolded, we noticed things we hadn’t paid attention to before, like the different floor surfaces, the slight gradient and using hearing to help navigate. Then we had to write how we felt, either being the leader or the blindfolded one. This exercise was also a challenge for us in a different way – physical contact with strangers and being blindfolded. Normally, we refuse to close our eyes if we’re with people we don’t know. When we did adult learning courses in sleeping and dreaming, a lot of it involved closing your eyes in class. We refused to participate because we didn’t know our classmates. Closing our eyes involves trust and makes us feel vulnerable.

Chudleigh Literary Festival

everyone’s gone home

The next exercise was using smells to evoke memories. We learned that our dislike of strong smelling/flavoured food extends to any strong smell. Vinegar and bleach are two smells that induce retching. Everyone else was able to differentiate between the smells. We identified perfume, (another smell we find cloying) bleach and vinegar. Everything else smelled like vinegar. Then we couldn’t get the smell of vinegar out of our nostrils. We had to write a memory, or a mind map. Cat’s involved ‘omg that’s rank.’ ‘Vinegar. Ugh. Vomiting.’ ‘Vinegar? Again? Why?’ ‘Sure that one’s also vinegar’. And ‘can still smell that damn vinegar.’

Taste was the next sense to be explored and this was possibly everyone’s favourite. Mainly because it involved a big bowl of sweets. Again you had to write about a memory. We chose pear drops. They remind us of visiting St Fagans (a Welsh outdoors museum), because every time we visit, we buy pear drops. Cat’s also included a side note of ‘sure I can taste that damn vinegar.’

the lane where we did our lsitenin

the lane where we did our listening exercise

We had a break to go outside and listen for any sounds so we could write a poem based on what we heard. We explored the area, wandered into a housing estate and befriended two English Bull dogs and a pretty brindle Whippet. After that we stood and listened. As we were in a lane, we mostly heard footsteps and children from the nearby primary school. And we’re pretty sure we terrified the locals. Two strange Goth twins loitering in a lane isn’t something they’d encounter in their every day lives, so they hurried past, avoiding eye contact. Apart from the dog walkers, who were forced to speak to us when their dogs befriended us.

After the break, Margaret wanted us to explore our sixth sense. Everyone lay on mats and closed their eyes. Once she’d taken us through relaxation exercises, we had to imagine walking down a corridor lined with books until we reached a door. We both imagined a castle corridor with an oak door at the end. Through the door was our writing area. Lynx pictured our shed, Cat imagined an asylum with rusting beds and a circular pewter table with a large white skull. Once we were in there, we had to imagine we were the best writers we could be, with words flowing. So, basically, any writer that isn’t us. We then had half an hour to write about anything that we’d been inspired by from the workshop. We expanded on the optical illusions we wrote about. We’re visual writers, so that’s what tends to attract us. Everyone was given the opportunity to read out what they’d written, if they wanted to. We passed. Ours were so terrible, we didn’t even want to read them ourselves, let alone have anyone else listen to them.

Chudleigh Literary Festival

this way to the housing estate

There was a break between the workshop and the authors’ supper, so we chatted to Sharon, who had the thankless task of looking after us. She introduced us to her teenage children, who had seen some of our YouTube videos. Whenever someone tells us they’ve seen our videos, our first instinct is to ask ‘why?’ Our second is to apologise. We also spoke to Su Bristow, who we’ve met a couple of times. She won the first Exeter Novel Prize, and was at the Salem literary festival, so it was great to meet up with her again.

Although there was vegan-friendly food at the supper, we’re extremely fussy, so we sat at one of the tables with Sharon and other authors, with our vodka and lemonades, eating our crisps and chocolate buttons. Everyone at our table was lovely and were fascinated when we told them about how we can’t eat foods that have a strong smell, flavour or unpleasant texture, or is the wrong colour. They’d never come across that before. We’ve recently discovered there’s a condition called Selective Eating Disorder which is on the autism spectrum where people experience the same aversions as us. We thought we were just fussy buggers.

Chudleigh Literary Festival

us with our mum, Lynette

Our mum texted to say she was outside, so we went to meet her. Our sister, Sarah, was looking after the animal army. We’d written out instructions for Sarah, including ‘obey the cats’. They made sure she stuck to that rule. We’d also warned her Bandit was a wanton thief and so sneaky, she wouldn’t notice him pinch stuff. She texted later saying ‘Bandit stole my shoe. I was sitting right by him and didn’t see him take it’. We really need to take that dog to a bank.

Then it was time for our reading. Our mum was put on camera duty. You can watch the video here. We’d picked three stories from Disenchanted – Long Live the Queen, Master of Puppets and Once Upon A Nightmare and read a short extract of each. As we didn’t know our audience, we figured it’s the book with the widest appeal, as there’re only small amounts of horror in it. After our reading, some of the audience asked questions, so we talked about the gory stories we wrote as kids, how we could’ve gone two ways – serial killers or writers. We think people are glad we became writers, though if we’d been serial killers, we would’ve had a massive book deal by now and people would stop asking when we’re going to get a proper job.

Chudleigh Literary FestivalWe also talked about the disaster that is Calamityville and how the Care Bears influenced us, except we used our Care Bear stare to destroy random children we’d taken a dislike to. One woman asked about what kind of gravestone we wanted, so we relayed our plans for our tomb. It has to be big enough to have steps and corridors, with sconces lining the walls, gargoyles and a plaque which reads ‘this is the story of C L Raven. (They die in the end).’ To be honest, we haven’t given it much thought. Our sister is refusing to comply with our wishes, so we may write it into our will that nobody gets anything until we have our tomb.

There was a quick break for people to get refreshments. In our case, that meant a trip to the bar. We got chatting to a lovely Scottish woman. She confessed she knew nothing about Goths, but that we were very pretty. We laughed. We’ve been called many things in our time, but never ‘pretty’. That’s more an adjective for things that are delicate, or feminine. Not exactly an adjective that fits with us, but it’s nicer than most of the things we’ve been called. She said “to look at, you’re quite intimidating, but when you speak, you’re really friendly.” We need to work on this. Maybe growl at people. She also gave us our only sale by buying two copies of Disenchanted, making this the best month for sales since February. We’re not kidding. Our career is that depressing.

Chudleigh Literary Festival

Matt Harvey

The evening finished off with poet Matt Harvey. He was brilliant. He’s done Saturday Live for BBC Radio Four, poems for The Guardian, different writing residencies and commissions and even poetry for the London sperm bank that was put on posters in the underground. We’ve…did we mention we had spiderweb table cloths? Watching him, it was clear we have a hell of a lot to learn about performing readings. He was confident, articulate and entertaining. His parts between poems were natural. We were our usual awkward selves and read our introduction off a piece of paper, with some adlibbing thrown in ‘cos we were too nervous to concentrate on what we’d written. We were glad we’d gone first. If we’d had to follow him, the audience would’ve heard our footsteps scampering out of the marquee, followed by squealing tyres as General Pinkinton fled into the night.

Matt admitted he had shed envy after hearing about our writing shed. We offered to hang some skeletons in his for him. Skeletons always make a place feel homely and welcoming.

Parts of the A38 were closed on the way home. Our mum missed the diversion signs and ended up back in Chudleigh. Luckily she texted us to warn us, so we knew to look out for them. Though we were a bit worried when the diversion involved going through country lanes. That’s where the cannibals live.

5 Comments

  1. The two of you were decadently lovely as always. You seem to be getting more comfortable being ‘on stage’. Remember, Matt Harvey has been doing this a lot longer then you two, so I think it was a job well done by you to be as entertaining as you were! I’ve read that Matt Harvey is considered a ‘performance poet’. That fits what the two of you did perfectly!

    • Thanks 🙂 Not sure we’ll ever reach the level of being utterly comfortable on stage, as we’re never entirely comfortable around other people. We live up to the ‘socially awkward writer’ image 😀

  2. Reblogged this on Peter Germany's Blog.

  3. I’m sure you had the audience laughing. Glad you didn’t get lost and that no cannibals found you (yet) 🙂

    • They weren’t sure what to make of us at first but we did get some laughs. We’re also glad cannibals haven’t found us yet. It doesn’t seem like a heroic way to go 😀


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