5×15: Bodies

This Writers’ Centre Norwich event brought together five speakers for a diverse set of 15 minute talks on our often frustrating and surprising bodies.

Suzanne O’Sullivan spoke about treating broad manifestations of epilepsy: not just commonly-known seizures, but symptoms like uncontrolled running. Research has moved on from hitting parts of the brain with spatulas to targeted surgery to prevent incidents.

Jack Hartnell protested that medieval medics get a bad wrap; while their ideas might not have lasted, some themes and concepts are paralleled in today’s approaches.

Rachel Clarke opened with the shocking statement that “dying is my day job”, going on to speak movingly on palliative care and the power of storytelling in an area of the NHS not easily captured in numbers and targets.

Aarathi Prasad gave a fascinating and challenging insight into how little we know about reproduction, from the ancient non-human retro virus that makes pregnancy possible, to the chimera-like individuals whose DNA defies convention.

GP Gavin Francis rounded off the talks looking at how we change throughout our lives, from puberty grow spurts to mental changes, and down to a microbial level how our blood shapeshifts to carry oxygen.

Manual for Heartache

Reading from his debut book Grief Is The Thing With Feathers, Max Porter said it was too hot in the bejewelled Spiegeltent surroundings to get in to the really heavy stuff – as if the extracts he delivered with such brave force were easy words.

Alongside Richard Beard (The Day That Went Missing) and Cathy Rentzenbrink (The Last Act of Love), Porter gave honest insights into their experiences of writing about grief, covering both fictional versions and troubling personal memoirs.

Beard spoke of his family’s ‘unblacking’ of the day one of his brothers died, and Rentzenbrink the slow loss of her older brother and the way memories mutate over time, both having wrestled with writing about their experiences for many years.

These were sensitive and dark topics for a summer’s day but also a reminder that human connections and creativity can come from difficult places, if we’re prepared to wallow just a while.