BY SOPHIE BUSH
“I don’t want to seem like a megalomaniac,” says Zelda Rhiando, co-organiser of October’s Brixton Bookjam, ‘so I try not to read every time myself’. She could, I tell her after the event – the audience loved it. Zelda and fellow creative Stuart Taylor have seen the Bookjam at Brixton’s Hootananny snowball by its sixth outing, and this year will see the first Kids Bookjam, happening on Saturday the October 18 at No.6 Somerleyton Road. Their kids have demanded it, and so it shall be.
The lucky pair peruse material by (mostly) local authors, and curate a selection of fresh prose to entertain an audience that fills the Hootananny’s generous event space. “They’ve invested in chairs now”, says Stuart, “so we didn’t have to borrow the primary school’s this year” – testament to the Bookjam’s popularity and position in Brixton’s event calendar (kudos codified by the Bookjam’s appearance on BBC Radio 4’s Open Book programme).
“If you weren’t nervous, it probably wouldn’t be good,” an organiser reassured a nervous reader pre-event. Sherbaan Valean shook off those jitters, joking before he read from a quirky debut that played with style and metaphor. Playful too was south London author James Benmore, describing the Artful Dodger and his sticky-palmed cohort as ‘stuck together like toffees in sun’ in the second part of a rollicking trilogy.
Fantasy, humour, death, and snippets of London unified the authors’ works. Alice Furse astutely and hilariously detailed the mouldy conditions of a rental flat; Daniel Rhys Townsend elicited belly-laughs for the guilt of a character both bereaved and snappily dressed (in green); enigmatic author Miranda Miller gave a passionate reading from her latest novel, in which a character is possessed by Egyptian god Osiris; Hilary Mantel said Miller has a ‘strong and original imagination’, and the audience’s reaction demonstrated agreement. Kit Fraser barely had time to read any fiction, as he and the audience got caught up in an exchange akin to stand-up comedy. Young authors Montague Kobbé and Sophie Sparham read from impressive, finished novels, while Ravinder Randhawa dropped a classic cliff-hanger, and coyly ended her reading without ever telling us what the Indian fire-hoops are.
Outside, budding readers encouraged each other to perform at the next event. “I’m going to a local reading group – a sci-fi one – where the members are all librarians who read like the clappers!”, one author said. Don’t worry if you can’t join the sci-fi librarians, but do make sure you check out the Kids Bookjam on Saturday the 18th. Zelda’s nine-year old daughter is compère on the day, and if she’s learnt public-speaking from her mother, she’ll be stellar.
You can follow Sophie Bush on Twitter @Esskbush.