Andy Hamilton Kicks Off Last Days of Summer Festival with Long-awaited Physical Event
Joe Gallop, Journalism & English Language Graduate, University of Roehampton
Andy Hamilton opened Last Days of Summer 2020 alongside journalist John Crace, where they discussed his unique handwritten book Longhand [Unbound]; a 349-page story in the form of a farewell letter.
The stage was set on a dusk lit opening evening on Wimbledon Common. Hamilton, a renowned writer and comedian, treated the audience to their first live event in months - 14 years after he took part in the inaugural BookFest. “I had not appreciated how much handwriting had died out,” he told the raring sold-out crowd. “Young people think it’s witchcraft!” The entirely handwritten novel, which is thought to be a publishing first, was penned as a love letter to the art of handwriting and Hamilton’s process of writing was done so “in bursts” alongside his other work. “The idea had been bouncing around in my head for a few years,” he said. “It seemed like the perfect marriage of the two ideas.”
The story of Longhand follows protagonist Malcolm George Galbraith, described as a ‘large, somewhat clumsy, Scotsman’, who writes the letter to explain why he is being forced to leave the woman he loves behind. Hamilton’s passion for written word was abundantly clear on the opening night as he fixated on the visual impact it can create on the page. He enlightened the audience about his inspiration for writing the book in the distinctive style. As a child he admired his brother’s “beautiful italic handwriting” and years later, a trip to the British library “galvanised” him to pursue the concept of Longhand, where he found a letter written by Queen Elizabeth I. He spoke of his fascination with the letter, which subtlety portrayed the Virgin Queen’s mood progressively changing through her handwriting and how he could see on the page that she was becoming “crosser and crosser”.
These visual implications are seen in Longhand, with crossings out found throughout, all of which Andy claims are “part of the narrative”. Despite these blemishes on the page, along with the fact Hamilton forgot to use margins or write on lined paper at the beginning, it still remains incredibly tidy from start to finish. “I did try to concentrate on making it as neat as possible,” said Hamilton, who also stated he uses pens every day - 43 of which were used to write Longhand.
His impressive italics on the page is a refreshing sight and certainly adds an extra aesthetic to the reading experience. But as Crace explored, initial difficulties may arise for some readers who are not so used to it. Crace claimed the handwriting was a barrier to begin with and it took him 25 pages to properly tune in, which Hamilton said he anticipated to hear from a reader.
When it was time for audience questions on the socially distanced microphone, Hamilton was taken on a trip down memory lane regarding his legendary TV and radio career, which began with Not the Nine O’Clock News in 1979. He was also asked whether Longhand is the work he is most proud of. “That’s like saying what’s your favourite kid,” he replied flippantly. Even though he could not affirm that it was his proudest work to date, Hamilton did go on to express his emphatic love for books as being “physical entities". “There’s just something about a book. It’s an artifact…it’s got an eternal life.”
Books are not the only thing Hamilton prefers in physical form and he went on to profess his prior longing for the return of live audiences - something he and every other speaker at Last Days of Summer had not experienced since before lockdown. “That live connection with an audience is irreplaceable, people laughing on zoom just Isn’t the same. It’s a privilege to hear people laughing again. So thank you for coming,” he said, followed by a warm round of real life applause in the Baillie Gifford Marquee.