Festival Fringe preparations, and another new book I’ve just read

Personal: It’s a privilege to act as tutor to the creative writing group in Chapel-en-le-Frith, under the aegis of Chapel Arts. No two members of the group are alike in writing interests, style or background, but they’re all enthusiastic, all talented, and – collectively – they keep me very muchon my toes. As we’ve done for the previous three years, we’re going to put on a performance of our work for the Buxton Festival Fringe in July; specifically, 7th July 7.30-9 pm, 17th July 2.30-4 pm. Our theme will be “Reconnecting”, but I can guarantee that everyone in the group will interpret this theme in a distinctive and imaginative way. It will be good to be able to perform live rather than via YouTube recordings, now that Covid is no longer perceived as a major threat.
Between the end of May and the start of July we’ll have five two-hour meetings, one per week, mostly aimed at preparing and rehearsing our various contributions to this venture. We’ll also, no doubt, spend some time discussing our various works in progress.

Review: I’ve just read Andrew Dutton’s Nocturne: Wayman’s Sky. It’s an unusual novel in that it doesn’t have a “plot” in the usual sense of the term. The quiet, successive-tableaux-like delivery but me in mind of Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time, and the style of writing, refined and erudite and often whimsical, suggest the influence of Anthony Burgess – though I don’t know whether any such influence actually obtained. The eponymous Alfred Wayman is an odd character; solitary, eccentric, and apparently lacking any past or back-story. He teaches history, but his obsession is the night sky; the stars, not the moon, which cast too much light and makes the stars invisible even when there are no clouds. His other obsession is “twaddle”, particularly astrology, against which his rantings are venomous. Whatever else might be said of Wayman, he isn’t a liar, and his solitariness and eccentricity by no means imply deliberate mystification.

Wayman’s fellow-teachers and pupils struggle to understand his character and motivation. We never hear his voice directly, only as it’s recalled by seven disparate characters, fellow-teachers and pupils, who tell the story. Chapter by chapter, as they scratch their heads over Wyman, these seven characters reveal ever more of themselves, their backgrounds, their joys and sorrows, their loves and hates, their motivations and rivalries. By the end of the novel we understand them better than we understand the protagonist. On the way we find ourselves reflecting on the nature of art, and of history, and of our relationship to the stars – and to each other.

I found it a rewarding book to read, though it took me a little while to get into it. Mr Dutton can certainly write!

Andrew Dutton, Nocturne: Wayman’s Sky, Leaf by Leaf, 2022; ISBN 9781788649070

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