Some things in life are worth waiting for, as Wednesday evening's event demonstrated. 15 minutes later than advertised, festival director Colin Midson arrived onstage looking a little breathless. As he explained, persuading authors to come down to Falmouth from London can be a bit of a challenge: it either relies on authors and their publicists not really knowing how far away it is, or reassuring those in the know that there's nothing more pleasant than a nice relaxing 5hr journey on the Cornish Rivera Express. However, a 3pm call from Ben Okri at Exeter St David's Station today, explaining that all routes westwards had been cancelled due to bad weather, rather exposed the truth of the matter: sometimes getting to Cornwall is hard work!
Somehow, Colin then set off from home, drove along the A30, swooped up Ben (and by now, three fellow travellers, one of whom was coming to Cornwall especially for the event) and drove them back to Falmouth (not quite) in the nick of time!
But everyone would agree that it was well worth the wait.
The recently knighted Sir Ben Okri has been a lifelong environmentalist but it was only relatively recently that he chose to focus his writing energies on the issue of climate change.
And so he introduces us to different short forms that he chose to use in his new book Tiger Work: Stories, Poems and Essays about Climate Change. It was a real challenge to write, he explained to Falmouth University's Amy Greenhough. It was hard to know where to begin: there’s no tradition to turn to for a start - no examples by the likes of Dickens or Austen or Shakespeare for a response to global warning. This is a new challenge and a new approach is needed. New stories need to be told. The scientists do great work but they just create data - the media scare the hell out of us. But a writers job is to help people to see and to feel.
As he ruminates on the problems that face us, he imagines that there will be an orchestra of human solutions to it. It's hard for us as individuals but we must all collaborate: it’s not going to be solved without a mass movement, he says. We all have to make it impossible for governments to ignore the facts, to not allow them to get into power without committing to addressing the reality of the situation.
Okri has lived in the UK for the last 30 years or more, but was born and grew up in Nigeria. It feels very global as a collection, says Amy. Was that important?
It is global, Okri insists. No one is able to escape it. As he says, "Maybe half way to Mars you’ll escape it... but you better hope that Mars works out". He sees it as the biggest challenge to the humans race in the last 10,000 years and feels that there is something uniquely existential about it. In the past we’ve not really known that catastrophe is coming whereas now we’re abundantly aware of it. The knowing and the consciousness of it at the same time is very bizarre, he feels. It is time to change the way we think, travel, dress ourselves, eat. We are overdue a transformation. "We’ve been winging it for too long."
While he is scared and worried, he is also hopeful. We all have a purpose and we have work to do. This is a time for us to get up and fight for change. He refers to it as "a special responsibility we have been given." And he is constantly inspired by the younger generation. There's something incredibly moving in the way he articulates his thoughts on the matter. And it's inspirational too. He doesn't just talk about campaigning and speaking out. This is about becoming a new species.
Your daughters birth was a big part of this shift. Is that right? Amy asks.
"Most of us past the age of 30 - it’s hard to get us to change our ways of thinking. I like to speak to the young in all of us. It took a kid to get to the kid in me.”