Words of Power: The Book on Tour

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It’s been about two months since Words of Power was published, and I’ve been visiting a few places with the book.  On the launch day, we had a drinks party at the Blackwell’s on the campus where I work, during which a surprising quantity of raspberry lemonade was drunk in proportion to the cava.

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Launch day. The plastic flutes had a leak rate of about 30% in every batch, which speeded up consumption.

It was great fun to see friends from the university outside the round of seminars and lectures, including a few I hadn’t taught for a couple of years.  (I really miss teaching the first-year medieval module.  Shakespeare and film is terrific fun, but I slightly pine for the days of Beowulf and The Dream of the Rood.)  Photos of the event revealed quite how much I wave my hands around when I’m talking.

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My wife somewhat unkindly calls this photo “But I don’t like to talk about that.  I didn’t banish the divergent hemerneutics by smiling at them…”

A couple of weeks later I visited Derby Cathedral, to give a talk as part of Derby Book Festival.  It is quite some cathedral, and I had lots of fun being shown round the place by the Canon Missioner, the Rev Dr Elizabeth Thomson.

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I’ve never spoken in any room with quite so much ironwork or gilt…

We quickly discovered we both enjoy Dorothy L. Sayers, after a joke about the relative lowness of the clerestory roof.

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You can’t see the clerestory roof, the joke’s not that consistent.

The book itself was nearly not in evidence, though: some logistics malarkey meant that the cathedral bookshop wouldn’t have actually got any copies until the next morning.  But, with a matter of hours to go, David from Lutterworth’s picked up a box of copies from the floor of the publishing office in Cambridge, jumped on and off a complex series of trains and arrived in Derby just in time.  Aptly enough, he was wearing a Big Hero Six t-shirt.  Never underestimate a publisher.

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Book culture as collaborative network operating within institutional and material constraints: the selfie.

 

Next was the Modern Church Conference, held in Hertfordshire.  It’s hosted by an organisation which promotes liberal theology within the Church of England, and was my first experience of a Christian conference.  As we dropped our bags in what looked like a reading room, we overheard two people trying to rescue a butterfly.  “You know, if this was an Iris Murdoch novel, you’d have caught that thing first time, in your cupped hands, and it’d be a metaphor.”  “And then everyone would all spend the whole weekend being frightfully highly-strung and neurotic at each other, and it’d all go wrong somehow.” “Yes, probably for the best. Still, probably get quite a lot of sex on the way to the catastrophe.”

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There’s a bell in the photo, but that is not an Irish Murdoch reference, it’s just a bell.

The conference was thoroughly enjoyable, with Alison Milbank giving the introduction and Bea Groves delivering a fascinating paper about Measure for Measure and Mystery Plays.  (Halfway through, whilst arguing for verbal parallels, she put up some quotations on powerpoint, causing a two-stage murmur of “Hmm… Oooh…” as the audience found the line which clinched her point.)  I gave my own talk in a rather smaller room, to an audience who asked some very probing questions.  A lot of the fun came from chance conversations at drinks and dinner: we met a Methodist preacher who talked about using liturgical colours and candles in her tradition, discussed teaching Genesis in a religiously diverse class with a school chaplain, and I bumped into Paul Edmonson of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, who when I said I was working on Agatha Christie and Macbeth casually named every book in which she refers to the play.  Unfortunately we had to leave after the first day, so didn’t get to attend either Rowan Williams’ keynote, or Paul’s Eucharist built from Shakespearean passages.  (I didn’t leave, however, before accidentally meeting the mother-in-law of an old Oxford church crony, who explained he couldn’t come because he was working on his next novel…which I am now anticipating thoroughly.)

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His previous novel – well worth a read.

At the end of this week I’ll be speaking at the Waterstone’s in Nottingham city centre – Friday 22nd July at 6.30 pm, for anyone who can make it!  There’ll be drinks and nibbles, and I shall discuss Shakespeare and the Bible again.  The talk seems to change rather each time I give it (in fact it turns out that at least two of the audience at Modern Church had heard it at the cathedral): at the moment there is less King Lear and more medieval Jewish mystics, but who knows where that will go next.  I always mean to get onto St Augustine and St Ambrose, but St Paul and Bottom the Weaver always take longer than I expect.  As I say, anyone who can make it would be very welcome this Friday – I’m having a lot of fun discussing the book and the subjects it covers.

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