This time last week, the sixth Gibunco Gibraltar Literary Festival was underway and there was a palpable buzz about town. This has got to be my favourite event in the Gibraltar social calendar, when local and international speakers come to the Rock to speak about their books, their lives and so much more. To have an event like this, just a short bus ride or walk from my home is a luxury I treasure and I do my best to attend every year – this one is my fifth. Here’s my experiences from this year’s festival….
First thing last Thursday morning I made my way to the John Mackintosh Hall for a talk by local biologist, Dr Alex Menez. He’s written a book called Almost Homo Calpicus about Gibraltar 1, the Neanderthal skull which was found in Forbes Quarry in Gibraltar the nineteenth century. In his talk he detailed what happened to the skull after it’s first presentation to the Gibraltar Scientific Society back in 1848. This very famous and important fossil, which was actually discovered before the ‘Neanderthal skull’ in Germany, was not recognised as being different from a human skull in the early days.
It was thanks to the work of amateur scientists and archaeologists in the British military that early excavation work was carried out in Gibraltar. It was a chance meeting of one of these achaeologists and a visiting physician (who was aware of the Neanderthal discovery) which lead to the skull being identified as being from a different species. When it was taken to London for further investigations it was seen by a whole host of prominent figures including Charles Darwin, who described it as “the wonderful Gibraltar skull”.
Dr Menez said that he believes this skull was of much more importance than the one found in the Neander Valley, because this one has a face. He went on to say that it’s still a valuable fossil and catalyst as it still captivates people all these years later. The Gibraltar skull can be seen at the Natural History Museum in London, a replica is on display at the Gibraltar National Museum.
My second talk on Thursday was by local poet Giordano Durante at the Gibraltar Garrison Library…
In a talk entitled “The poem I’ll never write” Giordano took us back to his childhood living in Upper Town and extolled the benefits of living alongside and going to school with families from all walks of life. He said he was educated with children who’s parents were accountants and doctors, and others who’s parents were tobacco smugglers. He said that unlike in the UK, where there’s an early segregation of children from different backgrounds, his upbringing in Upper Town granted him “entry into two worlds in a frictionless way”.
After leaving Gibraltar to study Philosphy in London, he returned to the Rock and found work as a prison officer for 3 years. Again, he said that he was able to mix with people from all echelons of society, something which has now been reflected in his poetry which focuses on “the harsh beauty” of characters living on the fringes of society. Now working as a journalist, Giordano pinpointed the moment he first felt compelled to write a poem; after catching the waft of bleach as he walked past Bishop Canilla House one day back in September 2016. The smell triggered something which led him to write the poem; Bishop Canilla House, which is the first in his collection of poems ‘West‘.
His collection is split into four sections focusing on Gibraltar, Spain, the UK and a miscellaneous section to end with – it draws from his own personal experiences and observations. Describing himself as a philosophical poet, he says he fights against clichés both in his journalism and writing saying “clichés are the enemy of original thinking and limit one’s view of the world”.
As for the poem he’ll never write? Well, it would be about Gibraltarian identity, “an epic Llanito poem” charting the rise from notoriety of a young Gibraltarian hoodlum or ‘vrada’ from his life of petty crime to a new found respectability as a lawyer who marries Miss Gibraltar. Giordano claims the process of writing the poem, committing the Llanito dialect to paper, would fall short of what he wants to convey. I for one, would love to read it if he ever finds the right words….
On Friday, I was transported to the Medieval world of Game of Thrones during a fascinating talk by Oxford University Fellow and Tutor of Medieval English Literature, Carolyne Larrington. Her book came about after a meeting with her publisher about another project. They found the conversation kept returning to her fascination with Game of Thrones, and her publisher suggested she should write a book about that as well. In fact, she described her binge reading of the George R.R. Martin stories as the “lost summer of 2012”.
Drawing parallels between the world of the Seven Kingdoms and actual historical fact, Carolyne explained where she believes Martin got the inspiration for the settings and events in his epic tale. The Hereford Cathedral Mappamundi (map of the world) is a possible inspiration for his map of the Seven Kingdoms, with the Mediterranean Sea a basis on which to model the Narrow Sea. Westeros, she believes has a very British feel with “European bits” (I always imagined Hadrian’s Wall when reading about the Wall) and that the Dothraki are very similar to the real life Mongols.
The social settings for the story are also, she says rooted in reality, with the northern way of doing things at Winterfell very similar to an Anglo Saxon English earldom and Kings Landing being more like a medieval court and city. It was fascinating to hear how many parallels there are between historical fact and this huge work of fiction. This was a hugely entertaining talk for anyone who has read Martin’s books or seen the HBO TV series.
And finally, my last Gibraltar Literary Festival experience this year was with TV actor, playwright and ‘cosy crime’ writer, Robert Daws. To date he has written four stories featuring police officers Detective Sergeant Tamara Sullivan and Chief Inspector Gus Broderick of the Royal Gibraltar Police. His first novella, The Rock was published back in 2012, and was followed by a full-length sequel; The Poisoned Rock in 2017. His third novel Killing Rock is due out early next year.
At his talk on Friday afternoon, he first of all treated his audience to a reading of a short story featuring DS Sullivan; Tunnel Vision, a ghostly tale set in the Dudley Ward tunnel – it was captivating. Robert went on to explain how he got into writing novels, after a screenplay he had written didn’t get made and he thought his plot would easily transfer location to Gibraltar. That screenplay evolved into his first novella, The Rock.
It was a family connection which first brought him to Gibraltar around 30 years ago, and he has been visiting every year since. It was his knowledge of the place, it’s streets and people which gave him the background to set his books here. Robert has been to the Gibraltar Literary Festival on several occasions before and this wasn’t his only talk, he gave another one on Saturday and also appeared in Just a Minute on Sunday.
Robert also spoke a little about his work as a screen and stage actor (on Poldark, The Royal and Outside Edge), recounting anecdotes about productions and colleagues with affable charm and wit. As the talk drew to a close, we were again treated to a reading, this time of an excerpt of his third, and soon to be published Sullivan and Broderick mystery; Killing Rock. I shall be looking out for that one when it hits the shops.
I was lucky enough to meet Robert before his talk (he has followed Postcard from Gibraltar for a while now – fancy that!) and he is a truly lovely man. (If you’re reading this Robert, thank you again for being so generous with your time).
So that is my experience of the Gibraltar Literary Festival 2018. It’s a brilliant event, with so many diverse speakers and topics to see – I just wish I’d had more time to see even more. I’m counting down the days until next year….
If you enjoyed reading this, you may like to read my previous blog posts about the Gibraltar Literary Festival: