Thousands of literature fans descended on Marlborough this weekend to see some of the country’s most celebrated authors during the town’s annual Literature Festival.
Now in its fourth year, the festival celebrated record ticket sales with well-known author and playwright Fay Weldon opening the weekend-long event.
As this year’s annual Golding Speaker, she kept a packed town hall entertained with her musings on life as a working mother and author during the past 30 years.
Visitors to the festival were treated to a dazzling array of literary talent from broadcaster and filmmaker Kevin Jackson to British-Palestinian novelist Selma Dabbagh.
Poetry lovers enjoyed readings from published contemporary poets in the Poetry Café on Sunday morning and the new Poetry in the Pub session in The Green Dragon provided a packed-out open mic platform for local poets to perform.
As part of the festival’s ongoing commitment to working with the local community and creating literary enthusiasm among schoolchildren, each year it invites local primary schools to a creativity session with either a poet or author.
This year new children’s fiction author Rob Lloyd Jones had the children re- enacting sieges from the Crusades within minutes of arriving at the town hall.
And on Saturday bestselling children’s author Jeremy Strong gave an enthusiastic talk to parents and children.
Among those in the crowd was the winner of the festival’s limerick competition, eight year-old Liam Moore-Bethel who goes to Woodborough Primary School. His limerick told of his quest to learn Korean and his prize was tickets to see the bestselling author.
Award-winning Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy brought the festival to a close on Sunday evening with the help of musician John Sampson.
Mavis Cheek, founder patron of the festival, said: “The town and surrounds have really stepped up the plate this year and ticket sales have rocketed.
“In a time of austerity, literature not only entertains, it speaks to people.”
She added that word must be getting out about the Marlborough Literature Festival because legendary British theatre actor Simon Russell Beale went to see Claire Tomalin speak on Saturday night at the town hall.
Bidisha & Selma Dabbagh
Journalist Bidisha and novelist Selma Dabbagh gave an insightful and uncompromisingly honest talk about modern Palestine to an
enthralled audience in Marlborough Town Hall on Saturday.
The writers had approached the issue in from differing standpoints – Selma as a British Palestinian with her novel Out of It, and Bidisha as a reporter.
Her visit to the West Bank in 2011 led to her book Beyond the Wall: Writing a Path through Palestine.
Despite these differences, throughout the talk both writers appeared to possess a similar desire to present in their works the truth of life in Palestine and to dispel any preconceptions on the part of the reader.
Selma spoke of avoiding the use of real names of people and places in her novel to enable the reader to make a judgement based purely on a visceral response to the book, free from the burden of associations.
She also explained how writing fiction provided her with a means of creating patterns in her novel, perhaps not seen explicitly in real life, to make a larger point about the true experience of life in Palestine.
Indeed, at times during the talk, the respective mediums of fiction and non-fiction seemed to become blurred.
Bidisha gave a vivid description of walking through streets in Hebron, likening it to being “in a game of Grand Theft Auto”, where rows of shops were left abandoned, in ruin, and one felt the need to get through the experience somehow, as if completing a game.
She also used the word “fairytale-like” to describe the experience many citizens had of coming home one day to find their home re-occupied “and suddenly, you’re homeless”.
Clearly, it seemed, at times real life bore a strong resemblance to a work of
fiction and at others fiction was a powerful way of presenting an otherwise complex truth.
A hugely evocative talk from Claire Tomalin on Saturday night left me wanting to wander the streets of Victorian London in search for Dickens on one of his night-time excursions and quiz him.
Tomalin treated us to a story of parallels between the lives of Queen Victoria and Charles Dickens, chartering Dickens’ evolving obsession with the Queen and her interest in his work and beliefs.
The talk included some especially brilliant anecdotes from the lives of Dickens and the Queen, including an account of Dickens rolling in the mud outside her window in the pure agony of being in love with her.
Tomalin’s endless knowledge about Dickens and the Victorian era never fails to impress, stimulate and inspire.
Marina Lewycka proved that success can come to those who wait.
A prolific writer all her life, it wasn’t until she attended a creative writing course approaching the age of 60 that A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian launched her career.
It was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2005 and achieved phenomenal
Eight years and two novels later, Lewycka was in Marlborough to talk about her latest novel Various Pets Alive and Dead, which explores the themes of family relationships and politics set against the backdrop of the City’s financial crisis in 2008, life in a Doncaster commune in the 1960s and the family’s present day life in Sheffield.
During the relaxed question and answer session afterwards, Lewycka wryly confirmed that the novel’s dedication “to quietly flowing Don” referred not only to a person (“let’s say no more about that”); but also to two rivers: the Don in Doncaster and the Don in the Ukraine.
Living in a commune herself in East London during the 1960s had influenced her choice of material and fascinated by modern dialogue, accents, snippets of news and conversations, she confessed to eavesdropping to get the voice of her novels right.
Observing that young men nowadays swear a lot but
acknowledging that this was not really her personal style she had tried to find ways around the problem, to no avail.
The end result is a novel that is modern, fresh, witty, relevant and honest – just like Lewycka herself.
We went to Marlborough to hear Jeremy Strong talk.
delicious cakes from the café and we were allowed to take them into the talk.
Jeremy Strong is really funny and so are his books. He showed us his writing when he was at school which was not very good, which was interesting because he is now brilliant. His handwriting is still rubbish so he uses a computer.
He talked about good stories that we can’t help liking even thousands of years after they were written, like Jason and the Argonauts.
When he writes books he goes to a turquoise shed in his garden and one of his cats always follows him there and lies on his paper.
He has a fridge next to him when he writes and it is full of chocolate and fruit, but no cake!
Kit Jones (aged 10)