If I have been reminded of one thing during the first week of this year’s festival, it is that the best talkers are those who seem to be an anomaly. I have already taken in a talk on early writing by a man who, whilst conforming to the image of the dusty halls of academia, came on like a slightly drunk, slightly sweary, hybrid of Brian Blessed and Terry Pratchett. Also a TV actor-cum-food writer managed to mix some thought-provoking ideas about food, publishing and pre-conceived image expectations with the gossipy intimacy of a long overdue chat over coffee.
As we head into the second week, I found that same juxtaposition present in Terry Waite. For a man whose life has revolved around talk, diplomacy, negotiation and debate, he has the vocal qualities you would expect – eloquence, good diction and rich tone. Or put another way a shoo-in for reading the shipping forecast or A Book at Bedtime… if that is even still a thing.
And of course these appealing factors are balanced out by the often-difficult subject matter that informs his talk. As an envoy of the Archbishop of Canterbury and more specifically working as a hostage negotiator in Lebanon, he famously found himself taken prisoner by Islamic extremists and lived through a, nearly five year, captivity much of it in solitary confinement.
But the message at the heart of his talk is that suffering need not destroy you, that something creative can come out of even the most horrendous experiences. In his case, as his body deteriorated due to limited food, lack of sunlight and no exercise, he had only his mind left and so kept it stimulated by writing in his head. Those thoughts and mental writings would become the basis of his first book, the autobiographical Taken on Trust.
His latest book is, however, a less direct comment on such things, a collection of poetry, prose and reflection on, not just his own harsh time in captivity but a general meditation on the difficulties we face in life. But Out of The Silence is so much more besides. Like his talk, it is full of humour, joy and vibrancy and has the ability to celebrate life much more than it dwells in the past.
And with a hour gone in no time at all the presence that is Terry Waite, and it is a presence, a gentle, reassuring and warm one, is gone to sign books and make new friends (I’m sure he wouldn’t be so indecorous as to use the term fans) and people wander back out into the daylight feeling invigorated and more positive about the world. If only for a short while. Such is the power of talk.