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I’ve seen several writers at Chester Literature Festival over the last five years, and one of those was disappointing. I’m pleased to report though, that the opposite was true after going to see Tim Dowling, who writes a column in the Guardian Weekend magazine about him, his – some might say long-suffering- wife and their sons.
We didn’t really know what to expect from the reading, and were pleased to see the Town Hall – my first visit there surprisingly – packed and several hundred people there to see Dowling read. The main purpose of the reading – apart from making us laugh – was to read from his new book ‘How to be a Husband.’
He started off by saying this was his first time in Chester – his band Police Dog Hogan had played in Chester the night before – and he had obviously done his homework. It was a nice touch and I wish more writers did this in their performance. He started by reading the – while not traditionally romantic – story of how him and his wife of 22 years met. I had read about this in his column, but he definitely brought the tale to life and the room was filled with laughter for the entirety of his reading.
Dowling made it clear that he was not professing to be any kind of expert on marriage, but it was interesting to hear his views on various things including – whisper it – sex. Us Brits are notoriously backwards in talking about sex, and it may be his American heritage which meant he was able to do this without as much embarrassment as the rest of us – well, this time as his wife wasn’t at the reading!
The event was a good mix of anecdotes and reading from the book. He went on to read from the 40 precepts of gross marital happiness, these included my personal favourite:
“Marriage and other long-term relationships have a significant public element. Like an iceberg, the bulk of a marriage is hidden from view, but the top bit, the bit that you take out to parties, should appear exemplary to outsiders: charming without being cloying; happy without being giddy; entertainingly spiky, but also mutually respectful. Above all, the whole thing should look effortless. Everybody knows marriage is hard. No one wants to watch you do the work.”
The event ended with time for questions, plenty of people had those, including a reference to Dowling’s oven, the task of wiring in a new oven awaiting him when he got home, as documented in that day’s column. He was also happy to sign books afterwards, and pose for photos too. Dowling was a delight and I can’t wait to get stuck into his book. Review coming soon!
How to be a Husband is out now, published by Fourth Estate.