Monday, October 22, 2012

Getting in deep

Swimming and Flying, 19th October 2012, 7.30pm, Whitworth Art Gallery

Words by Sophie Bannister. Photograph by Roshana Rubin-Mayhew.

Coats are cast off and confined to the backs of chairs as the crowd, fresh from the cold autumn air, begins to thicken. The lighting in the third of Whitworth Art Gallery's impressive rooms is subdued, gentle, as is the calm chatter of people filling the room. We wait for the moment that Mark Haddon, author of renowned prize-winning book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, makes his appearance.

Haddon steps out in quite an unceremonious way and begins his hour-long talk. He is truly fascinating to listen to. Yet, it's a strange event; the deeper we follow Haddon into the rabbit hole, the more we realise that this is no typical author's talk. The structure is all wrong. There is hardly any mention of his books. There are no readings. We aren't given an insight into his inspiration. He doesn't speak of up-and-coming projects. What he does is speak about himself. 

The reasoning for this is simple, and he explains it to us. When Curious Incident was first published, he dealt with all of the attention, the interviews, the repetitive questions. He got fed up of it. "You might come and see me talk two or three times," he explains, "but if you're Mark Haddon, you have to go to every single one." And so, the mode of escape from this constricted, rigid sphere that Haddon has been confined to is the huge burst of creativity and the desire to share life experiences that is fundamental to Swimming and Flying. This man is not simply the words he writes on a page; we view him laid out for us. This is not Mark, award-winning author. This is Mark who has conquered fears of planes and deep water, and took the cane at school for a crime he did not commit. The same man who regularly swims in the Thames and remembers the stories his creative writing students come up with. He doesn't need to answer the generic "author talk" questions because they no longer matter once you know him as a person first. In fact, I'd never dream of asking him about his inspiration, or what his favourite book is; not after this talk.

However, there is more to this than meets the eye. We aren't simply getting an insight into Haddon's life, he presents us with some deep, thought-consuming ideas. The universe, for example. Our smallness and incompleteness. How easily the small events in life that provide the best emotional experiences can pass us by. That fear should always be conquered. People we do not know can be the biggest influence, if just for a moment. The whole thing leaves us feeling mentally drained but enlightened. There is so much to consider about Haddon's talk. It is actually very similar to reading one of his books.

Personally, I find it easy to relate to Haddon's talk because it is presented in the way that I, and probably most of the people around me, think. He rambles on; cutting his own stories short, picking them up 10 minutes later and then mentioning the topic again in relation to other thoughts. The whole thing vaguely reminds me of those long car journeys. The ones which are so monotonous that you find yourself thinking about everything that has ever struck a chord with you. So much so, that I think Haddon probably wrote this whole talk while in a car. It works, though. We can pick up the stories from where he left off, and we recognise the links made between stories.

Unlike any talk I have ever been to, it was astounding to hear Haddon speak. I am inspired. And, by the sound of the applause and the comments people made as they left, it was a success for everybody else too.

Sophie Bannister is a second year English student at MMU. After she has finished her studies, she hopes to continue onto a Masters course, but in the meantime she is planning on learning as much about literature as possible and expanding her blog. To view her work, go to