On Saturday I spent a lovely afternoon and evening at The Centaur at Cheltenham Racecourse listening to two of Cheltenham Literature Festival talks. We began by listening to J.K. Rowling in conversation with James Runcie, and then listened to Benedict Cumberbatch in conversation with Louise Brealey.
J.K. Rowling was there to talk about her new book The Casual Vacancy. Relatively early on in the talk they checked how much of the audience had finished the book that had only been released 10 days before, about 15-20% of us raised our hands so she was careful to not give anything away. She was wonderful to listen to, interesting and inspiring from start to finish. She talked about how she came to write The Casual Vacancy, and the strong theme of morality that runs through it. I am not always a fan of author readings but listening to Rowling read was wonderful, the scene she chose absolutely sprang to life. The Q and As that ended the session were generally well thought out and Rowling’s answers were always full and interesting, she was generous in her advice to the various writers who asked for it, and I think the whole room was excited to hear her say that the next project she expects to complete will be a book for children.
Benedict Cumberbatch was there to talk about Sherlock, and the creative process in bringing the character to the modern screen. I loved that he was interviewed by co-star, and journalist, Louise Brealey – it really did feel like we were listening to two friends chatting. They covered a lot of ground in the time they had, talking about all of Cumberbatch’s recent projects including them not being able to talk about the third series of Sherlock. It was also an opportunity for him to clear up some of the comments that he’s been reported to have made over the summer – about Elementary and his friendship with Jonny Lee Miller, and about “posh bashing”. It was clear that he’s learned more lessons about dealing with the press and sadly will be more guarded in the future. The questions asked by the audience were again generally thoughtful (we’re used to the questions posed by the audiences at conventions that tend to be littered with inanities such as wondering whether the panel would “prefer to fight a horse sized duck or five duck sized horses”) and it was nice that some of them were posed to both Cumberbatch and Brealey. The session was sponsored by the Radio Times, they have the full audio of the panel here.
The one thing about both sessions however that was far from positive in my opinion was the rude behaviour of a proportion of the audience. Both times people got up and started to leave during the session, they were off to join the queue for the signing that came after the talk. Once one person decided they needed to go and get their place that was it and we watched more and more follow suit. It was most distracting to us sitting in the audience, I know that I missed things in both talks because of it, and I can’t begin to imagine how it must have appeared to the people on the stage. James Runcie made a point of telling people that there was no need to leave and start queuing as Rowling was going to be signing for however long it took to make sure everyone who wanted their copy of the book signed was seen yet still they streamed out. The same happened for the second talk, Cumberbatch stayed for a couple hours after signing despite the talk not finishing until gone 10pm.
One of our group who only came to the first session ended up talking about this with someone who had walked out, she was told that lots of people only buy tickets in order to attend the signing part of the event. Now whilst that wouldn’t be my idea of money well spent I can understand that for other people it would be. To me though if people are only buying the ticket for the signing then them going in for the first part of the talk and then walking out is pretty inconsiderate.
I’d love to know what other people think about this, were we wrong to find this rude? Would you get up and walk out of a talk just to get closer to the front of the signing queue?