Margate Bookie 2023: Adam Kay, happiness, and silent storytelling

Margate Bookie 2023: Adam Kay, happiness, and silent storytelling

Exploring the depths of thought and expression at the former funfair

by Suswati Basu
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The seaside town of Margate played host to the much-anticipated return of the 2023 Margate Bookie, a literary festival that bills itself as the first literary festival held in a former funfair. This four-day event featured a diverse lineup of talks and workshops with some of the most prominent figures in literature and philosophy, including British philosopher A. C. Grayling, former doctor-turned-comedian Adam Kay, and renowned playwright and author Deborah Levy.

The event had its first festival in a single room in a disused warehouse in 2015. The Margate Bookie now takes place every October in iconic venues like Dreamland and the Turner Gallery. The Bookie also runs workshops, walks, and courses around the town. It was founded by local boy Andreas Loizou and became a registered charity in 2017. From a tiny first audience of 80 people, the Bookie now gets 4,000 visitors per year.

Read what Margate Bookie told us: Sustainability in publishing: unveiling the greenwashing debate

Their five mantras are:

  • Attract high-quality writers and teachers to Margate.
  • Build a team that runs great festivals, courses, events, and a hub.
  • Create a community for people who love words for East Kent.
  • Deliver education in writing, well-being, and skills.
  • Export literary talent from Margate.

Loizou shared with How To Be Books earlier this year that they are leading by example in adopting sustainable practices. He highlighted the elimination of printed hard copies for brochures, utilisation of digital screens for posters, and banning single-use cups and plastic bottles. The festival also focuses on programming that addresses climate change, fostering a platform for authors to discuss positive steps towards environmental protection.

A. C. Grayling’s insights on happiness

British philosopher A. C. Grayling, a prolific author with over thirty books to his name, including the 2011 humanist bible titled “The Good Book,” offered his insights on the subject of happiness during one of the festival’s talks. Professor Grayling’s extensive reading list is packed with wisdom, making him one of the country’s most remarkable thinkers. His latest book is “Philosophy and Life,” which looks at how we should lead our lives through the teachings of prominent philosophers.

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He shared insights on the subject of happiness, saying, “Ideas most useful for disposition on the subject of happiness, which of course, we are all interested in.” Professor Grayling drew from ancient Greek philosophy and the story of Solon, one of the seven sages of Greece, who emphasised the brevity of life, encouraging people to think about what would make them truly happy.

British philosopher AC Grayling at the 2023 Margate Bookie.

During his talk, Professor Grayling delved into the subject of happiness, drawing inspiration from a story in Herodotus’ Histories. Grayling said Solon was asked to create new laws for the Athenians. Solon then embarked on a journey, leaving Athens for several years to allow the laws to settle. During his travels, he encountered Croesus, the fabulously wealthy king of Lydia.

“Every peak that we climb to, there’s always another peak that we want to get to after that […] Didn’t Epictetus say that the rich person is the person who has enough and who doesn’t need more? And to accept that and to be able to live with that is what, in Epictetus’ view of it anyway, would give one a certain kind of peace of mind and tranquillity.”

Professor A. C. Grayling, “Philosophy and Life” Author

Croesus, curious about the happiest person in the world, asked Solon for his opinion. To Croesus’ surprise, Solon didn’t point to the king himself but mentioned two ordinary Athenian men instead. Solon’s response puzzled Croesus, who expected praise for his wealth. Solon explained that true happiness depended on understanding what would make a person happy, and that life’s brevity, with its limited number of months, should drive people to pursue happiness in the present.

Read: International Week of Happiness at Work 2023: 6 books on workplace wellbeing

He underscored the importance of finding happiness in this life, given the decline of religious views that once provided hope for happiness in the afterlife. The scholar argued that happiness was now understood as an emotional state rather than a state of being, and its sources lay outside material wealth, focusing on elements like good relationships, satisfying work, autonomy, and respect from others.

AC Grayling book Philosophy and Life signed from the Margate Bookie Festival.
AC Grayling book Philosophy and Life signed from the 2023 Margate Bookie festival. Credit: Suswati Basu.

While material comfort provides a foundation, the pursuit of happiness often involves striving for personal goals. Professor Grayling noted that achieving a goal might bring temporary satisfaction, but humans tend to seek new objectives, creating a cycle of striving. He also suggested that the quality of life depended on how one embraced the journey, rather than fixating solely on reaching goals.

He concluded by challenging the concept of time, asserting that there was no such thing as time, only life and experience. When living fully, time becomes elastic, and every moment is meaningful. Conversely, a monotonous life of repetition results in a singular day, reiterating the importance of embracing life’s richness.

Adam Kay and Dr. Roopa Farooki discuss medical education

When former doctor Adam Kay published his book “This Is Going To Hurt” in 2017, he had no idea it would become a publishing phenomenon, read by millions and adapted into a major TV series. His latest work, “Undoctored,” delves into his life after leaving the NHS frontline, exploring the toll it took on him physically and emotionally. Kay shared his experiences in a conversation with Dr Roopa Farooki, whose memoir “Everything Is True” was recently published by Bloomsbury.

Kay expressed his fascination with the teaching of anatomy, highlighting the inefficiency of traditional methods involving cadavers for first-year medical students. He advocated for more effective techniques like pro-section and 3D visualisations. Moreover, Kay questioned the practice of recruiting 18-year-olds for medical school, suggesting that postgraduate entry might lead to better retention rates and more mature, well-rounded doctors.

“[The] best doctors are not the cleverest doctors. It’s a job about communicating.”

Adam Kay, “Undoctored” Author
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Kay also criticised the current selection criteria for medical students, highlighting the need to shift the focus away from strict academic achievements and extracurricular activities. He argued that being a good communicator and understanding the challenges of the medical profession should be prioritised over academic excellence.

“When you are on a ward and you’re kind of dealing with someone’s body fluids and you’re holding someone’s hand who’s going through a tough time, they really don’t care that you got the gold star award in the maths challenge. It’s got nothing to do with your ability to help them.”

Dr Roopa Farooki, “Everything Is True” Author

Dr. Roopa Farooki, who also transitioned to medicine as a postgraduate, echoed Kay’s sentiments, stressing the importance of recruiting doctors who represent the diverse communities they serve. She highlighted the need to assess candidates based on their ability to communicate effectively and empathise with patients, rather than traditional academic metrics.

Both Kay and Dr. Farooki shared personal anecdotes and insights into the challenges of the medical profession, especially in terms of coping with stress, emotional strain, and the lack of support for healthcare.

Deborah Levy: exploring themes of silence and expression

Deborah Levy discusses her new book “August Blue” at the 2023 Margate Bookie.

Deborah Levy, a British novelist, playwright, and poet, discussed her Cost of Living Crisis series, living autobiographies, and the possibility of a Prospect Cottage residency during her appearance at the festival. Gaby Wood, the chief executive of the Booker Prize Foundation, engaged in conversation with Levy. Wood, a former editor and staff writer at the Observer, transitioned to become the Head of Books at the Telegraph.

Levy shared her own experience of a period of silence in her childhood, where she struggled to articulate her thoughts despite having a rich inner world. She related this to the characters in her books who often grapple with the difficulty of expressing themselves fully.

“There was a time in my life when I was about seven where I just didn’t speak very much. And I think of it now as a kind of training to be a writer because it was so difficult to get language out of my lips […] It’s not the most articulate person in the room who interests me. It’s always the person who says less.”

Deborah Levy, “August Blue” Author

In particular, Levy discussed a scene in her latest book, “August Blue,” where the protagonist, Elsa M. Anderson, experiences a moment of creative expression while playing the piano. This scene illustrates the complexities of communication and the power of unspoken emotions. Levy’s work reminds us that the art of expression is not always straightforward and that silence can be just as profound as words.

Blending culture, community, creativity, and climate

The festival provided a platform for these renowned figures to engage with the audience and explore topics ranging from happiness and the challenges of medical practice to the art of storytelling and the power of words.

Overall, the Margate Bookie showcased its commitment to bringing literature to life in unique and captivating ways, blending culture, community, and creativity in the heart of the coastal town. The event continues to grow, drawing both local talent and celebrated figures to celebrate the written word.

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