A History of Magic | Harry Potter at the British Library!

A few weeks ago I attended an event at the British Library called Late at the Library: A History of Magic, a mixture of special talks and shows, and – most importantly – after-hours access to the Library’s new exhibition on occult history, through the medium of Harry Potter. The exhibition itself is something I’ve been looking forward to for about a year now, ever since I first heard that it might be happening, but going on this particular evening was definitely a stroke of genius on the part of my mother, who suggested it (and some good ticket-buying timing for my part). Sadly, she wasn’t able to come with me and be educated on all things Harry Potter, but my friend Grace and I had a great time anyway. 😊

Of all the events that were going on (aside from the exhibition itself), we spent the most time at the amulet-crafting workshop, where I made a little clay bead with a rune for healing on one side, and (at Grace’s suggestion) the kanji for foot on the other (as I’ve been having foot problems for a while now). At the other end of the table, a few people were also writing spells, but not being sure what kind of spells to make, we gave this a miss… I had also hoped to listen to a couple of speakers (Gary Lachman on Magic and Music, and a storytelling session with TUUP), but when the time came, Grace & I both agreed that we’d rather see more of the exhibition… Speaking of which, the programme advised setting aside an hour to make sure we saw everything in the exhibition, but it actually took a lot longer to get through it all; there’s a lot to see, and the crowds (which I imagine will be pretty constant for as long as the exhibition is open) made it very slow going.

Sadly photography wasn’t allowed inside the exhibition, but they had themed ceiling decorations like these (which I took in the queue outside) in every room.

Some highlights of the exhibition:

  • The hall was beautifully decorated, and each section’s decorations matched the theme of the exhibits that were on display. There was a Charms room, a Defence Against the Dark Arts room, a Care of Magical Creatures room, and so on. I particularly enjoyed the way that the Divination room was set up with teacups hanging from the ceiling.
  • Some of the rooms had interactive exhibits, too. There was a fun game in the Potions room which let you try your hand at mixing ingredients (digitally) to make potions, and in the Astronomy room there was a program that let you examine the stars and constellations that some of the Harry Potter characters were named for. I also spotted what looked like a digital tarot reader, but unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to have a closer look…
  • J.K. Rowling herself contributed a lot of her original drafts and concept art to the exhibition, and it was scattered all over. With the drafts especially, it was fascinating to see all the notes and corrections she made to the books as she wrote them.
  • Also on display were a lot of the paintings and drawings that Jim Kay has done for the new illustrated editions. A lot of these I had seen before, but some were new to me (I still haven’t read the illustrated Prisoner of Azkaban), and those that I was already familiar with were somehow even more impressive in their original state. Many of the character portraits he were actually painted on wood panels, which is something that seems obvious now when I look back at the texture of the prints they used for the books, but it took me by surprise when I first saw them. I guess I’m just so used to everything being painted on canvas…
  • An amusing conversation I overheard between two friends (paraphrased, of course):
    GIRL (disbelieving): You haven’t read Harry Potter?!
    HER FRIEND: Shh! If anyone hears you, I might get stoned!
  • To be honest, though, the whole thing was one long highlight in itself…

The exhibition will be open until Wednesday 28th February, and although tickets are sold out for December, it seems that there are plenty left in January and February. You can find all the details, and booking links at the British Library’s exhibition page. If you’d like to see everything on offer, then I’d definitely advise setting aside 2-3 hours to spend there (plan in advance for crowds), and perhaps more if you want to browse the gift shop as well!

Swag from the gift shop! Some of the things there were a little pricey, but I couldn’t resist picking up this wonderfully snuggly jumper (with a beautiful phoenix illustration on the front), and a toy Hedwig that looks adorably disapproving (probably at the amount of money I spent 😋). The catalogue I actually picked up at Waterstones a couple of days later, just to save myself the trouble of lugging it all the way home (it’s pretty heavy), but it’s something that I was planning on getting right from the start, so I have no regrets. 😁

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Cambridge Literary Festival Wrap-Up

So my brief adventure at the Cambridge Literary Festival is finally over, and I enjoyed it a lot, though I didn’t get to go to all the events that I was hoping to: the Judith Kerr talk sold out before I could get tickets, and unfortunately I couldn’t persuade anyone to go to the International Book Aid Quiz with me…

Anthony Horowitz//Point BlancMy favourite event was probably the Alex Rider 15th anniversary talk with Anthony Horowitz, and if you ever get the chance to hear him speak, then I really recommend that you do – he’s an incredibly entertaining speaker. He talked a lot about his inspiration for the books, and how he based a lot of the villains on teachers that he’d disliked at school, and the like. 🙂 Afterwards, there was a book signing, and I took along my old copy of Point Blanc, since it’s my favourite Alex Rider book. I got to have a (very) brief chat with him, too, which was a lot of fun. 😀

Sally Green//Half BadI was a little late to my second event – the YA talk with Sally Green and James Dawson – because the queue for Anthony Horowitz was so long, but luckily I didn’t miss all that much. The talk was rather like an informal interview, with a journalist chatting to the two of them about various different aspects of YA literature, and the audience chipping in every now and then, too. As you’ll probably know if you’ve been following this blog for a while, I’m already a huge Sally Green fan, and it was really great to hear her talk about how she came up with the idea for Half Bad; James Dawson I’d never heard of before, but he made his books sound really interesting, and I definitely want to pick up his new book, All of the Above, when it comes out later this year.

I decided to buy physical copies of Half Bad and Half Wild so that I could get them signed, and I was tempted to get one of James Dawson’s books as well, but most of his already-published books are horror, which is a genre I really don’t get on with… But they were sharing a table in the signing room, so I got to chat to them both, and I even asked Sally Green about the likelihood of a Nathan/Gabriel endgame in the Half Life trilogy – the upshot of her answer was that I’d have to wait and see (of course!), but she did agree that they were perfect for each other, so I remain hopeful. 😉

Robert Douglas-Fairhurst//The Story of AliceLastly, on Sunday I went to a talk by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst about his new book, The Story of Alice, which is a biography of Lewis Carroll, the real Alice Liddell, and of Alice in Wonderland itself. The talk was interesting, and there were several good questions asked by the audience at the end. Gillian Beer (who was chairing the talk and asking questions) also read out one of Carroll’s poems – My Fairy – which I liked a lot (and you can read it online here, if you so desire), and Douglas-Fairhurst finished up with an extract from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Again, I got my copy of The Story of Alice signed at the end of the talk, and I was very tempted to buy a copy of Jabberwocky and Other Nonsense (a collection of Lewis Carroll’s poetry), since they had the beautiful clothbound editions available, but unfortunately I didn’t have enough cash on me… :/

Cambridge Literary Festival! (14th-19th April)

I found out about this festival quite by accident, while reading a magazine over my Dad’s shoulder, a few days after getting back from the Oxford Literary Festival. But I’m definitely excited! The festival runs from Tuesday 14th April to Sunday 19th April, and you can find out about the different events that will be going on at cambridgeliteraryfestival.com.

Here are some of the events I’m hoping to attend (though I’m certain I won’t be able to go to all of them):

1) A talk by Judith Kerr, who wrote The Tiger Who Came to Tea and When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, amongst other things (18th April, 11.30-12.30).

2) A talk by Anthony Horowitz, celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Alex Rider series (18th April, 2.30-3.30).

3) A joint talk by James Dawson and Sally Green about YA literature. I haven’t read anything by James Dawson, but I am very excited by the chance to meet Sally Green, who wrote Half Bad and Half Wild (18th April, 4.00-5.00).

4) A talk by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, who’s written a new biography of Lewis Carroll called The Story of Alice, which I bought when I was in Oxford (19th April, 10.00-11.00).

5) The Book Aid International Quiz, which is exactly what it seems to be, and which I will undoubtedly not be attending unless I can find some people who are willing to go with me… (19th April, 8.30-9.30).

Back from the Oxford Literary Festival!

I was in Oxford this weekend, in order to attend a few of the Oxford Literary Festival events! I’ve never actually been to a literature festival before (or any kind of festival on my own), so I was a bit nervous that I would get bored between events, but I was excited as well, because the events themselves looked really fun. And they were! The four events I attended (on Sunday and Monday) were:

1) A talk by Diana Gabaldon about her Outlander series – how she came up with the idea (apparently it was inspired by an episode of Doctor Who!), how it ended up getting published, and how it ended up being turned into a TV series. I actually almost missed this talk, since I was all set to arrive on Sunday morning, a short while before it was going to start, and then (quite horrifically), I realised that I’d booked my bus ticket for the wrong day, & there were no busses that would be arriving in Oxford earlier than a few minutes before the talk was due to finish! 😮 (But I made it, thankfully, with help from a speedy taxi driver and my dad, who looked up the train timetables for me…)

2) A brief talk by Robert Eaglestone about contemporary fiction and what the term really means, which was only fifteen minutes long, but was rather more theory-heavy than I was expecting… I ended up skipping the Q&A session at the end, since I wasn’t all that interested, & in any case, I needed to queue for my next event, which was…

3) A celebration of the Harry Potter series, which was a really entertaining (and interactive!) talk for children about J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter books and films.

4) And lastly, a lecture by Julia Churchill (a literary agent) about how to get children’s books published, which was both incredibly interesting and entertaining, and also full of helpful advice for aspiring authors. This was the only talk that I ended up taking notes on (and I ended up taking a kind of ridiculous amount of them), and I really enjoyed it.

I also bought quite a few new books, but you’ll be seeing them in my next book haul, so until then! 😉

The Oxford Literary Festival is still ongoing (it lasts until Sunday 29th March), and you can find information on all the different events (and book tickets, if you’re interested) at oxfordliteraryfestival.org.