The Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival 2012 – Part 3: The Scarrows and Paxman

Kate with Alex Scarrow (spot Simon...)

All good things must draw to a close unfortunately and that does include The Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival. Today the Festival ended and, although I wasn’t able to attend as many events as I would have wished, I still managed to see some events that will stay with me. I also left with a fine appreciation for Hendricks Gin.

On Friday I was fortunate enough to have bagged a seat for one of the Festival’s sell out events – the talk by Jeremy Paxman on Empire (more on that below) but today was a real highlight. A cursory glance of these pages will reveal my deep and evangelical affection for the YA and adult novels of Alex Scarrow. How good then that today I grabbed a front row seat for what can only be described as the Simon and Alex Scarrow Show. The brothers, excellent storytellers both, used the hour to interview each other about their books and their careers followed by a quiz on one of my favourite subjects – The Romans. I’m not going to tell you that I fared less well than a bright spark aged about 10 who sat on the left in the red team.



Some of the lessons to come out of the chat included a deep sense of relief that I’m a vegetarian (Simon and Alex both worked in a factory doing something revolting with chicken for nuggets) and that Simon wasn’t inspired to name his character Cato after watching The Pink Panther. But much more than that, the talk gave me an absolute reaffirmation of why I love Alex Scarrow’s books so much. The TimeReaders series may be ostensibly for kids but the stories are as timeless and as ageless as their characters. It’s not surprising after hearing Alex talk about how he writes them no differently that he writes his adult books. The profanity may come out but the death and gore doesn’t. At times they are horrifyingly irresistible while at other times they are simply irresistible. Here’s my review of the latest, TimeRiders 5: Gates of Rome.

Both Alex and Simon have a big sense of fun as well as a touch of anarchy mixed up with a huge amount of dedication and talent. I do realise that I must make amends for my neglect of Simon Scarrow’s novels and now that I have a signed copy of Gladiator: Fight for Freedom, my readjustment can begin.

As previously mentioned, on Friday I saw Jeremy Paxman interviewed about his recent book and TV series Empire in a tent packed full of people and a bumblebee. I should perhaps mention that I’m not the biggest fan of Paxman, despite my love of University Challenge, and I wasn’t expecting this talk to change my opinion particularly. And it didn’t. Hearing Paxman voice his opinions on half of the globe wasn’t especially edifying – although he clearly knows his opinions well – but there were times when I laughed so hard I cried.

Paxman was predictably rude at times – not just to the interviewer – and pulled all those faces that politicians and viewers love to hate.

But the best bit of the talk was when I managed to catch hold of Giles Kristian, another of my favourite authors who happened to be in the audience, and got his signature on my advance copy of The Bleeding Land (review to come). Result! And for that I must thank Jeremy.

And so I must close with thanks and so much gratitude to the organisers of The Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival – with a special nod to The Sunday Times Children’s Fiction team. See you next year! More admiration and thanks must go to Blackwell Books for their superb tent and their friendly, kind and cheerful team of knowledgeable booksellers. I shall see you instore very shortly indeed.

All photos (c) Kate Atherton 2012

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