Maia Nikitina: Finally we have a literary festival in North Manchester! Do you feel any competition from the other side of town?
Ebba Brooks: Ha ha, no! I set up the festival to give writers on the North side of the city a space to perform and interact with each other and with readers. All too often writers from up here are assumed to be from the south side of the city, and I wanted to set the record straight. That’s not to say I’m being parochial: the aim of the Prestwich Book Festival is to celebrate great writing from the North and far beyond.
M: There are some big names taking part this year – Alison Moore, Cath Staincliffe, David Conn… For a festival only in its second year, that’s impressive! And you got the Arts Council funding this year. How did you pull that off?
E: Thank you. I’ve got a fantastic programme steering group to help me: the poet Longfella (aka Tony Walsh) looks after the poetry strand; and novelist Sherry Ashworth has been incredibly helpful with contacts amongst the fiction writing community. Alison Bond, the reader development librarian at Bury Library has also helped me with her amazing contacts and enthusiasm. Some writers approached me about getting involved, and all those I’ve approached have been really keen to get onboard. Having Howard Jacobson and John Cooper Clarke as our festival patrons helps too! Getting Arts Council funding was hard work, but all the people I’ve mentioned played a part in getting the bid written.
M: What event are you looking forward to the most? No diplomatic answers please!
E: Too many to choose from! I’m very excited about Jay Rayner’s event at Manchester Jewish Museum – it’s a real coup for the festival to have him, with his new book A Greedy Man in a Hungry World. He’s a great speaker, a funny guy and a fine writer too. I’m also really looking forward to the Bank Holiday Monday (28 May) evening with Rosie Garland, Toby Stone and Simon Bestwick, plus a host of writers published by Hic Dragones a Crumpsall based publishing house. It’s an incredible line up, and I’ve got a real soft spot for the venue too. And then there’s Vocabaret, and the Poetry Slam, and all the events at the library… Spoiled for choice…
M: You are a writer too and you teach creative writing. What was the first thing you ever wrote?
E: A short story about a group of seven short policeman who drove round in a small police car, chasing baddies en masse and causing chaos. I think I was heavily influenced by the Keystone Cops (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keystone_Cops). I thought the story was hilarious, but since then I have realised that visual gags don’t translate too readily to the page, and that portraying internal conflict is a strength of fiction!
M: What weird habits or rituals do you have that help you with your writing?
E: I don’t know if it’s weird, but I need a quiet room with a door I can close, a computer, a chair and a table. That’s it.
M: You are a mother of two – do you feel that having children helps or distracts from writing?
E: Having kids enriches my life but definitely distracts me from writing. On the other hand, it makes me far more focused than I was before.
M: What are you reading at the moment?
E: I just finished Sherry Ashworth’s book Good Recipes and Bad Wives, which I absolutely loved for the evocation of south London in 1967, and the clarity of the plot and the prose. I’m in awe. I’m also reading Philip Pullman’s re-tellings of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, to myself as education, and aloud to my daughter as entertainment.
M: What book has made the most impact on you and why?
E: I can’t narrow it down to one. But books that I have read and loved and which have seeped into the way I think include: Paradise Lost by John Milton, Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, everything by Jane Austen, A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth, Madame Bovary (Gustave Flaubert), Middlemarch by George Eliot. Writers I look up to with awe include William Trevor, Nabokov and Angela Carter.
Go to PBF official website for tickets and more information