Ellis Sharp & Steven Hall at Lit Fest

Reviewed by Helen Bland

Two of the country’s more extraordinary imaginations appeared onstage together at LitFest on Saturday evening.  Steven Hall read from his Arthur C Clarke Award shortlisted debut novel The Raw Shark Texts in which, amongst other things, a man loses all memory, meets himself and is pursued by a conceptual shark.  Straightforward enough alongside Ellis Sharp who took us deep into the world of Nietzsche’s moustache and told of the adventures of a mismatched couple exploring therein, then onto a starship crewed by Lenin, Nico, Engels and Janis Joplin. 

1 raw

This use of absurdism achieves for both writers a camouflage of and a platform for a serious element in their work, something both discussed at length in the following Q&A session.

Hall, in particular, stressed what he called ‘the creative process of reading’ where a significant part of the information comes from the reader.  Sharp, whose politics are clear in his work regardless of surreal decoration, talked of the long tradition of anti-realist writing going back to Tristram Shandy, and of how the science fiction community more than any other form encourages engagement with authors and texts.

1 deadBoth writers responded warmly to perceptive and intriguing questions, and seemed well-matched in their openness to ideas of genre and imaginative creativity.  Neither seemed overly concerned with mass appeal, preferring in Sharp’s case to ‘rewrite history to suit my own whimsy’ and for Hall to ‘do things you can only do in books.’  As these are things many of my own favourite writers already do I was personally fascinated by their ideas and concepts and as both authors are also witty and erudite the talk was most entertaining on all levels.

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