Just four years ago the very first Chiddingstone Literary Festival was held in the splendid grounds of Chiddingstone Castle near Edenbridge, Kent, bringing a missing element of unadulterated literary indulgence to the south east. It has gone from strength to strength, each year attracting a diverse range of authors to entertain and inform in the most glorious of settings. ‘The four days of talks, performances and workshops are set in the historic house and grounds and have been carefully curated to ensure there is something for everyone, of all ages and interests.’
Tickets are available to buy either per event or as day tickets and whichever way you choose to buy includes entry into the castle and grounds.
Personally, it already holds some great memories. In the first year I had the joyous privilege of introducing the then Children’s Laureate, Chris Riddell, to his eagerly awaiting crowd. He then proceeded to hold the audience completely spellbound whilst he chatted and drew his way into our hearts.
Each year there has been a whole host of authors, illustrators and performers at Chiddingstone. Last year I was thrilled to catch talks by Abi Elphinstone, Philip Ardagh and current Children’s Laureate, Lauren child.
This year includes another impressive line-up of events with talks and workshops so much so the adult day has increased to two days (Saturday and Sunday), with the family day still making a brilliant bank holiday Monday day out.
As well as listening and watching there are also many opportunities throughout the event to get creative and last year I was invited to run several children’s creative writing workshops on both the family and school’s days. I have to say, it was so much fun and the atmosphere was wonderful. Work commitments unfortunately mean that I am unable to run them again this year but I will be attending and writing about the event over the weekend.
There are of course plenty of workshops available for both adults and children. Why not indulge in a spot of poetry, creative writing or life drawing? For children there is also plenty going on including film making workshops, creative writing and even Wallace and Gromit clay model making workshops with Aardman Animations.
Furthermore, there is a feast of events waiting for you in the Castle grounds across all four days.
Bank Holiday Monday is our Family Day, with events for children and adults.We have our festival favourites Pericles Theatre company performing The Little Mermaid and clay modelling workshops with Aardman Animations, who are celebrating 30 years of Wallace & Gromit.You can watch their films, learn how to make an animated film with Press Play, meet the illustrator of children’s classic Giraffes Can’t Dance and enjoy live drawing and funny antics from duo A F Harrold and Emily Gravett.
Tuesday sees the return of our annual Schools Day, with another wonderful line-up of children’s authors and performers including Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Maz Evans, Dan Freedman and poet Joseph Coelho, alongwith a fun-filled show from Really Big Pants Theatre Company.’
There are too many highlights to mention so do check out the website (link here) where you can view the full event programme and book tickets.
I have already booked my ticket to see Joanne Harris but I am already starting to wish I had just gone straight for a day ticket. :). There is just so much going on.
In a previous life I had the great privilege of working with Chiddingstone Literary Festival’s Artistic Director, Victoria Henderson. She has been at the helm since the very start and does an incredible job each and every year. I’m delighted that she has had time to answer a few questions for me ahead of this year’s festival.
In conversation with Victoria Henderson
Chiddingstone Literary Festival is now in it’s 4th year and has extended to a 4 day event. Why did you decide to add an extra day?
Last year’s festival was such a success and we were overwhelmed with the positive response, so we felt it would be a good idea to introduce a 4thday to include the Saturday of the Bank Holiday weekend. We also felt that running 7 consecutive events in a day for those who bravely bought All Day tickets was a bit of a big ask, so we’ve reduced the number of back to back events to 5 each day and introduced more time between events so visitors have more time to have a book signed, get something to eat, visit the Castle’s collections and enjoy the Castle grounds. This year we have also added more workshops for adults and children so people can really get involved. We have Life Drawing, Creative Writing, and Poetry classes and a session on How to Get Published, running alongside the author talks and conversations.
Each year from the very first has seen a collection of interesting and varied authors and events. What factors do you consider when putting together your plan ?
We start planning and researching authors about 10 months before the festival. It’s a mixture of following up authors of interest, talking to publicists about upcoming books, browsing through publishers’ catalogues and keeping an eye out for subjects that are topical. On the whole we look for new authors although we’ve had a couple of returnees such as Anna Pasternak who last year gave a fascinating insight into the life and work of her great-uncle Boris Pasternak, and this year is publishing her biography of Wallis Simpson, which has attracted attention because of the recent arrival (and very different treatment) of another American divorcee into the Royal Family. We like to feel that there is something for everyone on offer at the festival so we try to keep the subjects as varied as possible. This year we’re covering cookery, science, history, biography, poetry, fiction, politics and real crime. The family day is a lovely mix of children’s and adults author events with a performance of The Little Mermaid for all the family, workshops from Aardman Animations, Press Play Film and Creative Writing classes.
Do you have a favourite part of the festival?
I love the Schools Day. It’s such a joy to see the reaction of the children as they listen to some wonderful authors who inspire them with their enthusiasm to think about books and reading in a new way. We’ve been lucky enough to host two Children’s Laureate’s – Chris Riddell and Lauren Child – and How to Train Your Dragon author Cressida Cowell. We have over 1500 pupils visiting the festival on our Schools Day and it’s an emotional moment watching them empty out of the coaches and minibuses to enjoy a day devoted to the joy of books. A number of the schools make a day of it and set up camp in the grounds, playing games between events, exploring the lake and the woods, visiting the Castle’s Egyptian and Japanese antiquities and enjoying a picnic. They get to meet the authors who sign copies of their books and they go home with lots to fire their imaginations.
What do you feel is the key to the festival’s success?
I think it’s a mixture of the glorious setting of a historic house in the beautiful Kent countryside and the warm and intimate atmosphere we’ve created for both authors and visitors. The festival is a small but beautifully formed event, in the heart of the Chiddingstone community, bringing top quality writers to this idyllic corner of West Kent.
The British weather can be rather unpredictable. Of course Chiddingstone Castle is stunning at any time of year but what is the greatest challenge you face with the festival weather wise?
Don’t tempt fate! We’ve been incredibly lucky over the last 4 years with the weather and have enjoyed some glorious Spring sunshine, including last year’s mini-heatwave which was almost too hot! We had one downpour in the second year during Nicholas Crane’s talk about the British geography and climate which seemed highly appropriate! Almost all the events take place either in the Castle or in marquees with the exception of Pericles’ Theatre Company’s performances in The Orangery, where the audience sits on chairs in the gardens. If it does rain the show goes on – with brollies!
Who are you most excited about seeing at this year’s festival?
I am looking forward to seeing Joanne Harris talk about her latest novel in the Chocolat series, 20 years after the first book was published. We have Giles and Mary, the unlikely stars of Gogglebox who will be very entertaining, and we’re honoured to be hosting Jackie Kay, the Scottish Poet Laureate. We have a conversation between a forensic scientist and a barrister on some of the most sensational dramas played out in court, and two eminent scientists Dr Giles Yeo and Vybarr Cregan-Reid talking about the obesity epidemic and how humans are adapting to the technological age.
After four years, what is your most memorable moment at the Literary Festival?
Memories of the last four festivals include an extraordinary conversation between a former Commissioner in the Metropolitan police and a convicted murderer about the effects of crime on their mental health, meeting Terry Waite in the Green Room and feeling awed by his presence, his height and his astonishing survival in captivity. I remember Rev Richard Coles falling foul of the Bank Holiday train timetables who arrived with only minutes to spare and Chris Riddell spontaneously volunteering to illustrate the winning entries of the children’s Short Story Competition whilst they were being read out on stage, to the delight of the winners.
Chiddingstone Literary Festival has all the ingredients for a fantastic weekend of everything literary, no matter the weather. It is a real gem for us here in the South East and I urge you to pop online and book your tickets just as soon as possible. Perhaps I’ll see you there.