Michael Rosen talks English

Phil: It’s Stratford Literary Festival time again and I’m off on a solo trip to see an event because someone else is away on holiday (also why I’m writing the Tuesday blog post but I don’t mind). Looking at the listing I decided it would be interesting to see Michael Rosen.

Many will know Rosen from his role as Children’s laureate, a post he held from 2007 to 2009. Parents will probably know We’re Going On A Bear Hunt as it’s a notorious bedtime story book that children love to hear time and again until the reader can recite the story from memory. After this, it’s told through gritted teeth.

I’ve only read one book he has authored, Michael Rosen’s Sad Book , in which he describes how his son, Eddie, died of meningitis aged 19. It’s a book for children that talks about loss, sadness and the feelings around grief. I’ll be honest, I spotted the book displayed in the foyer of my local library and read it sat inside. It’s not a long book and as befits something written with children in mind there are lots of illustrations by Quentin Blake. Despite all this, it is a fascinating read, one of the reasons I thought the evening would be interesting.

All started well with a pun:

Q – Which are the most jealous letters in the alphabet?

A – NV (Audience laughs)

You see, it wasn’t Rosen the author we had on stage. It was Rosen the presenter of Radio 4’s Word of Mouth, a programme devoted to words, where they come from and how we use them.

You might think this sounds a bit dull. I’m not sure if all of the audience were ready for this as book festival crowds can be a bit star struck, but there were certainly loads of erudite members who thoroughly enjoyed themselves. To be honest, if you have an interest in language or writing, you couldn’t fail to be. It was a very entertaining show.

Nothing illustrates this better than the move from talk to Q&A half an hour in. This is a brave move, especially with a slightly academic subject. Needless to say the crowd were up for it. Most were so excited they couldn’t even wait for the roving microphone before bellowing their question. We over-ran too. The “final” quick question was, “When did the vowel shift take place and why?” – the questioner obviously being unaware of the meaning of “quick”. It wasn’t even the last as someone yelled out another final question, which our host couldn’t answer. In the end the organiser had to leap on stage and wrestle Rosen off so they could clear the hall in time for the next event.

If I’m honest, this wasn’t what I was expecting. If I’d realised, my enthusiasm would have been dampened by memories of Bill Bryson’s books covering similar ground which are the only ones in his repertoire I’ve never been able to wade through. Here though, we had a topic covered amusingly by an author who can communicate brilliantly. Rosen has strong views on education, Mikey Gove’s name popped up a couple of times and he deliberately declined to take the talk in that direction, on this evidence he probably has much to say. If my English teachers had been half as interesting when I was at school, perhaps I’d be a great writer now.

Oh. Hold on…

Visit Michael Rosen’s Website.

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