On Saturday, I went to see Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre at Cambridge Literary Festival. It was a perfect day for it: the sun winked in a clear blue sky, and the Cam sparkled as punters carved their way through the water, snapping pictures of all the old college buildings.
Cambridge is a city of two halves. It is one part magical and old and charming, and one part new. You could easily spend an afternoon on St Andrew’s Street, which is dominated by the usual high street chains. But walk further in, past the market square, and you’ll discover cobbled back alleys and towering turrets, spires and gateways and buildings that date back to the time of the Tudors.
On sunny days like this, there aren’t many prettier sights than walking through the old part of Cambridge. Happily, that is precisely where this event was taking place, on Trinity Street, close to two of the most perfect shops imaginable: Heffers, for books, and an old-fashioned sweet shop where everything is poured from jars behind the counter and weighed out for you.
I was directed to an archway that I hadn’t really noticed before. It’s hard to imagine there’s much more to a street than what you can see on the surface. But so much of Cambridge University is hidden out of sight. Secreted away next to a colourful shopfront, it felt like walking through the back entrance of a castle. And through it was another world…
Up some steps and over some rooftops and there was the lecture building. Inside, Philip and Sarah were on stage, dressed like sailors, busily drawing caricatures of each other as the crowd filed in.
The event was based on Oliver and the Seawigs, a quirky little book the two made together after meeting at Edinburgh Book Festival three years ago. If you haven’t read it, I’d recommend checking it out – it’s a great adventure with a spring in its step. Reeve is a naturally funny writer, and Sarah McIntyre’s illustrations are brilliant.
On stage, Philip Reeve bounces around like the Doctor, and Sarah has great presence too. The stars of Oliver are the Rambling Isles, giants who like to collect things and arrange them like decorative wigs on top of their heads. At one point during the event, Sarah was frantically drawing a wig of UFOs and tigers and solar panels and tornadoes throwing up tanks as the audience shouted out more and more ideas.
There were readings. The kids in the audience (and some grown ups too) had the chance to draw their own sea monkeys, and there was even a song, as Philip and Sarah whipped out a pair of ukeleles and led the crowd out of the hall and into the streets, towards the bookshop for a signing.
This is my monkey.
I’m not entirely sure why its eyes look like deflated balloons. Everyone else’s were much better.
This was the second Cambridge Lit Fest event I’ve been to, as I went to see David Almond last year. Both have been well run and both captured the magic of storytelling in different ways. There are still plenty of events on, so check out the lineup and make sure you go along to something if you’re in the area. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!