Last week I was invited to join a private tour of Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands and needless to say I was very excited about it! (Should I change my resume from book blogger to literary event blogger?)
The whole tour took about an hour and it was exclusive for 8 people, who were a mix of bloggers and non-bloggers (I wasn’t quite sure who the non-bloggers were). Once again I met Kim from Reading Matters (the first time was at Faber Faber night, which I have yet to write about). And for the first time I felt like I have the need for name cards! A few people were exchanging name cards and I wished I had some to pass as well :(. Well, that shall be on my todo list.
So what is Writing Britain about?
Writing Britain is the newest exhibition by the British Library. In conjunction with the Olympics, they were thinking to have something that showcases the breadth of British writing. So the curators (all 4 of them) came up with theme, separated it into sections, decided who gets in and who doesn’t, combed the basement for goodies, and voila! The result is exhibition that is organized into six themes with lots of original manuscripts (some owned by the Library, some borrowed) and old editions of books. The books that are chosen have strong sense of place in Great Britain.
Memorable pieces for me include:
the manuscript of The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (link to my review)
Apparently during or at the beginning of writing Ishiguro was toying with the idea of writing about someone in Japan, but ended up with a Butler in England (which is written on top of his manuscript as the working title). Unfortunately I could not get a picture of this from the Library (we were not allowed to take picture inside, but could request for them).
the manuscript of Harry Potter.
The part that is shown is the one that describes Harry’s first encounter with platform 9 3/4 in King’s Cross station – which happens to be just next door of the British Library! It’s astonishing that it looks so ordinary. Imagine J.K. Rowling writing this at a cafe somewhere in Edinburgh, not knowing that in a few years time this piece of paper would make her one of the richest person in Britain. It boggles the mind.
British Library has borrowed the manuscript from Rowling in year 2000 and at the time Harry Potter wasn’t quite as big as it is now, so she just mailed the papers! This time she had a courier :)
- Harry Potter manuscript (click to enlarge)
The first time I arrived in London, I specifically looked for platform 9 3/4 in King’s Cross. There were maps showing “Platform 9 3/4 HERE” but they did not mention Harry Potter at all, so I thought that was a nice slightly cryptic touch so that it could only be understood by people who knew what the platform is about. But recently I passed by again, and the maps have included references to Harry Potter, so it’s not so cool anymore.
Anyway, for those of you who wonder what platform 9 3/4 actually looks like, it is a slab of wall with half a trolley stuck to it. The wall has been moved around (so it’s not actually located between platform 9 and 10, which was where I went to the first time I looked for it and saw the maps), because of extensive renovation of King’s Cross station.
- Mee at Platform 9 3/4
the manuscript of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (link to my enthusiastic review)
I was very excited to see the original manuscript of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland! My heart was totally jumping a bit. To think that Lewis Carroll wrote this with his own bare hands! And there’s illustration too! How wonderful! Do you know that Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was previously titled Alice’s Adventures Under Ground?
- Alice’s Adventures Under Ground
You can check out more images here.
More memorable pieces include J. R. R. Tolkien‘s original artwork of The Hobbit, manuscript of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (that I talked about recently, albeit in not as enthusiastic post. Apparently Daphne was once sued for plagiarism of Rebecca and the early draft in that notebook helped to prove that she had progressive work and no she did not copy it from someone else’s work.), manuscript of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (the book that I’m in the middle of and takes me forever to finish), manuscript of Persuasion by Jane Austen, notebook of Emily Bronte (that is written in tiny tiny writings – apparently the Brontes used to write in this tiny writing as some sort of a secret code between the sisters), the old edition of A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh (link to my review), manuscript of a work by Charles Dickens that got saved from a crashed train that he was in (accident that made Dickens a hero), a photograph of Arthur Conan Doyle, and watercolour proof of Tamara Drew – the satirical reworking of Thomas Hardy‘s Far From the Madding Crowd, shown side by side (I didn’t know Tamara Drew was based on Hardy’s novel! I liked Tamara Drew the movie, have not read the comic.)
Those are just the ones on top of my head. Really cool collection all in all.
What is set in where?
The exhibition guide has more information on the setting of some highlighted books. Did you know that:
– 100 Acre Wood in Winnie the Pooh is based on a real forest in Britain: Ashdown Forest, East Sussex. I sort of knew maybe, but wasn’t sure.
– Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is set in Soho! That’s where I work! I pass Soho every single day and totally fell in love head over heels for it! I really need to read the book now!
– Wuthering Heights is set in Haworth, West Yorkshire
– Dracula is set in Whitby, North Yorkshire (so this Yorkshire place seems like a dreary place. Wuthering Heights and Dracula mmm)
– Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier is set in Bodmin Moor, Cornwall (and the actual inn is still there!)
– Persuasion by Jane Austen is set in Lyme Regis, Dorset (Last year I visited Southampton – an area near Dorset and found a couple of Jane Austen plaques. I shall write about it sometime.)
– Watership Down is set in, guess where, Watership Down, Hampshire
– Brighton Rock by Graham Greene is set in Brighton, East Sussex (I knew about this one)
– Ulysses by James Joyce is set in Sandymount Strand, Dublin
– The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi is set in Bromley, London (I read Intimacy a while back but didn’t think much about it so I haven’t read his other books)
– The Canterbury Tales is set in Southwark, London
– White Teeth by Zadie Smith is set in Willesden, London
If there’s one thing that I was a bit disappointed to be missing is Kensington Garden for Peter Pan! I read Pan a couple of months ago and totally loved it! I’ve been thinking to write about it, but not without a picture of Peter Pan statue in Kensington Garden that shall be taken by yours truly. It is coming I assure you.
So if you’re thinking to go:
Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands is at the British Library from now until 25 September 2012.
For a limited time-period visitors can get a curator-led tour of Writing Britain for the normal ticket price of £9
The curator-led tours will take place as follows
Tuesdays between 6.30 and 7.15
Thursdays between 3.30 and 4.15.
They start on 7 June and end on 5 July.
The special tour tickets can be booked online http://bit.ly/KpF0Mh or at the box office.
You can win two tickets to the exhibition!
Either comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org telling me why you are excited to go! Which exhibition piques your interest the most?
The tour with the curators have given me insights to what I would’ve missed by myself so it was definitely worth to do! Remember, the tours only go on for limited time (up to 5 July) so you need to hurry up if you want one. Otherwise you can check it out on your own as well :).
I’ll open the competition for a week then send the tickets to the winner, so let me know if you’re keen!
Big thank you to the people at the British Library to invite me to be a part of this amazing exhibition.