The Manchester Literature Festival Blog
Review: Ned Beauman
Festival Blogger Fran Slater is on hand for a fascinating encounter between writing and art at Manchester Art Gallery, when Ned Beauman meets Matthew Darbyshire
With a beard that ZZ Top might have envied, Ned Beauman bounded up to the microphone like a cowboy bouncing up and down atop a bunking bronco.
Except he didn’t. Not really. That description was closer to what I had imagined might be the attitude of this 30 year-old author who already has three critically acclaimed novels to his name. If he’d wanted to bound, he would’ve been within his rights.
But what struck you from the second that Beauman approached the microphone was his slight sense of awkwardness, nervousness maybe, a reluctance to display the startling intelligence that leaked out during the question and answer session. It was an endearing persona that made it easy to warm to him.
Beauman was here to read out his latest short story, inspired by the exhibition that surrounded him in the Manchester Art Gallery. Matthew Darbyshire’s ‘Exhibition for Modern Living’ is certainly one that gets you thinking. With its daring provocations that pick apart modern culture, questioning the way we collect clutter throughout our lives and what exactly we, as a society, see as important, it is an installation that would get any creative writer excited.
Beauman’s interpretation presented a fictional oral history of a group of Bulgarian designers known as the Nov Lik, with various voices from the past and present questioning the group’s legacy. Below the humour and Ned’s trademark cynicism, questions similar to those raised by Darbyshire’s work emerge. How did the Nov Lik become so canonised? And would that have been the case if history hadn’t insisted that that it should be?
It’s an interesting piece of fiction, and a nice addendum to a great exhibition. Reading it on the bus, I found myself nodding along, getting the nuances, realising how it connected to Darbyshire’s work. But as Beauman admitted before reading the story, it perhaps wasn’t the best piece for performance. With so many different voices it was difficult to follow. Still, for fans of his books it was enough to see the author read in such an impressive venue.
A Q&A followed in the lecture theatre downstairs. Led by Darbyshire, it took a pretty different tack to most author interviews. This was no standard ‘how many hours a day do you write and who are your favourite authors’ type of chat. In fact, these questions about the process of creating art were often so highbrow that Darbyshire had to take a step back and reword them so that even Beauman could get his head around what was being asked. Eventually, though, we were presented with some insightful and witty answers. Like Beauman’s last two novels, this felt like an event that fell slightly short of the absolute classic it could have been. But like those last two novels, it was an event that suggested there is much more to come from the author, and that his masterpiece is probably just around the corner.
Fran Slater is a Manchester-based writer and editor who is currently taking far too long to finish his first novel. Read his fiction, reviews, and poor attempts at blogging here.
Image: Catharine Braithwaite via Twitter