Today I am delighted to be hosting the blog tour for The Last Concerto by Sara Alexander.
Eleven-year-old Alba Fresu’s brother, and her father, Bruno, are abducted by criminals who mistake Bruno for a rich man. After a gruelling journey through the countryside, the two are eventually released – but the experience leaves Alba shaken and unable to readjust to normal life.
Accompanying her mother to cleaning jobs, Alba visits the villa of an eccentric Signora and touches the keys of a piano for the first time. The instrument’s spell is immediate. During secret lessons, forbidden by her mother, Alba is at last able to express emotions too powerful for words alone. Ignoring her parents’ wishes, she accepts a scholarship to the Rome conservatoire. There she immerses herself in a vibrant world of art and a passionate affair.
But her path will lead her to a crossroads, and Alba will have to decide how to reconcile her talent with her longing for love and her family…
This is an incredibly beautifully written novel. The story is engrossing and Sara’s use of language, imagery and her characterisation create a deeply moving and engrossing story. Alba’s life on Sardinia is far from easy. Restricted by family traditions and expectations, along with the trauma and guilt that weighs her down after the abduction of her father and brother, her home life is far from happy. Those closest to her see her only as a difficult, silent child who brings grief and trouble to the family. Yet Signora Elias, a local woman who her mother cleans for, spots a talent burning bright within Alba. This kind, generous old woman takes her under her wing and teaches her the piano. Alba finally finds a way to express the torrent of emotions within and releases a unique talent from within. So many times I felt the injustice of the treatment towards Alba that watching her flourish through her music was a complete joy.
I met author, Sara Alexander at Destination HQ earlier this summer. Listening to her briefly talk about this book I was immediately intrigued to know more. She seemed such a charismatic and vibrant person and spoke of both the novel and her love of music and food (touching briefly on her produce grown on her own allotment). I could tell that she was incredibly proud of her Sardinian ancestry and I felt that such a colourful person would produce an interesting and animated story. During the evening we bonded briefly over our shared love of allotment life and I was excited to receive a copy of both this and her previous novel The Secret Legacy. I’m so glad that I did because she writes beautifully and all that charisma, colour, vibrancy and knowledge seeps into the story to create an absolutely stunning novel. She reminded me a little of Victoria Hislop, although I try to avoid author comparisons, Sara’s ability to bring Sardinia alive did bring Victoria to mind. I love the way she uses music so wonderfully and her articulation and sentence structure is superb. So many of my senses were engaged whilst reading. She conjures a piece of music to your mind with words alone, the atmosphere and emotion are all there. The same goes when she talks about food, such an important part of family life and skilfully used to bring moments with the story to life.
As for Alba’s journey well of course it isn’t easy but she is a wonderful character to follow and her story is one with joy as well as sadness. Be swept away to Italy with this gorgeous novel, it is an absolute delight from start to finish.
Thank you so much to the lovely people at HQ Stories for inviting me to take part in this blog tour and for the review copy. It is wonderful and I now look forward to reading Sara’s previous novels, Under A Sardinian Skyand The Secret legacy.
As well as being a incredibly talented novelist, Sara is also and actress and I have to say my son was VERY IMPRESSED that I chatted with an actress who had appeared in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Every time we watch it (and we do quite a lot) I remind him ‘I met her!’ 🙂
About the author
Sara Alexander attended Hamstead School, went on to graduate from the University of Bristol, with a BA hons in Theatre, Film & TV. She followed on to complete her postgraduate diploma in acting from Drama Studio London. She has worked extensively in the theatre, film and television industries, including roles in much-loved productions such as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Doctor Who, and Franco Zeffirelli’s Sparrow. She is based in London.
Today I am so thrilled to help kick off the Random Things Tours Blog Tour for Do Not Feed The Bearby Rachel Elliott. My first thoughts upon finishing (as I hugged it close) – What a wonderful book!
On her forty-seventh birthday, Sydney Smith stands on a rooftop and prepares to jump…
Sydney is a cartoonist and freerunner. Feet constantly twitching, always teetering on the edge of life, she’s never come to terms with the event that ripped her family apart when she was ten years old. And so, on a birthday that she doesn’t want to celebrate, she returns alone to St Ives to face up to her guilt and grief. It’s a trip that turns out to be life-changing – and not only for herself.
DO NOT FEED THE BEAR is a book about lives not yet lived, about the kindness of others and about how, when our worlds stop, we find a way to keep on moving.
A life-affirming novel of love, loss and letting go
– for readers of ELEANOR OLIPHANT, THE TROUBLE WITH GOATS AND SHEEP and WHEN GOD WAS A RABBIT.
Freerunning – there is something that feels quite liberating about it. Parkour UK describe the sport as something that ‘…aims to build confidence, determination, self-discipline and self-reliance, and responsibility for one’s actions. It encourages humility, respect for others and for one’s environment, self-expression, community spirit, and the importance of play, discovery and safety at all times.’ I have of course never personally done it (I don’t have the personal strength of both mind and body) but I found it interesting that throughout the novel Sydney has used it as a way to channel both her guilt and grief. She uses it as an escape, a way to disappear and yet it brings her into the spot light. It’s also something I have never encountered before in a novel and I love it.
As she is reaching her 47th birthday, Sydney returns to St Ives, the scene of a terrible tragedy in her childhood. Her grief is buried deep, as it has been for her family, never enabling them to quite move on. Life has a way of coming full circle though and soon events and people from the past creep back in bringing with it a sense of hope and, if not closure, then the ability to move on.
Do Not Feed The Bear is an exploration of grief and the effect it has on us. It’s funny but only a few days ago I listened to a Happy Place Podcast presented by the wonderful Fearne Cotton featuring the superbly inspiring, Elizabeth Gilbert. She spoke to Fearne about how damaging it can be to suppress our grief, to not allow it the voice it deserves, and as I listened I thought yes, that is so true. Over hundreds of years western society has shown us that it is weak to show our emotions, that they should be held in check and explored privately. Quite often we are afraid to allow ourselves that exploration, as if we may never be able to pull ourselves out again. It can be grief for the end of a relationship, the loss of a job, the death of a loved one or the regret of an unfulfilled dream. There are different levels of grief and each and every one deserves our acknowledgment and the freedom to express them. This is touched on brilliantly in this wonderful novel.
This is a book that swept me up into it’s pages; a book that I wanted to hug and cherish all the time I was reading. The characters are unique and multifaceted and Rachel explores their present and their past so exquisitely that I felt bound to them and their journey. She steps perfectly into their minds bringing them alive on the page and oh, how I came to love them. In my minds eye they are still there, hopefully a little lighter in spirit since my time with them ended.
The shadow of events from that fateful summer in Sydney’s childhood has nurtured the pain of loss and this is keenly felt throughout. Yet this isn’t a dark book. Yes there is trauma and sadness and yet I never felt despair, I never felt that I couldn’t carry on reading. I felt their loss and yet Rachel writes with such tenderness and she encapsulates the sense that the dead and lost never really leave us. I found this extremely comforting.
When I’m reading a novel I often fold over corners of pages where a sentence or paragraph has particularly moved me (please don’t judge, I just never have my notebook to hand). There are many turned corners throughout my copy of Do Not Feed The Bear, the writing is stunning, so much care has been taken and every line, for me, was a joy to read. The beauty of the word structure and placement made me often pause and reflect. There is so, so much to connect to within this novel but at the very least there is a wonderful story told about life and the people we are and who we can be if we really want to.
I think one of my favourite characters is Stuart, an unusual but brilliantly written narrator but this story gives a voices to all of these wonderful characters and I urge you to grab yourself a copy and welcome them into your life.
Thank you so much to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in this blog tour and read the wonderful novel. Thanks also to Tinder Press for sending me the copy. You can follow Tinder Press on twitter at @TinderPress
Rachel Elliott is the author of WHISPERS THROUGH A MEGAPHONE, long-listed for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize in 2016. She is also a practising psychotherapist, and lives in Bath with her miniature schnauzer Henry.
Quickfire Questions with Rachel
Give us three adjectives to best describe your new novel.
Sad, tender, hopeful.
What are the three most important character traits of your protagonist?
Creativity, stubbornness, physical agility.
Where is the novel set?
St Ives, Cornwall, a reimagined version.
What were the last three things you Googled in the name of “research”?
• Did Lego spacemen have removable helmets in 1984?
• How many people could you fit inside a Vauxhall Cavalier?
• David Hockney’s pool paintings
Who is your biggest influence as a writer?
Everyday life is the biggest influence.
What word or phrase do you most overuse in your writing?
The words ridiculous and beautiful. Because I find so many things ridiculous and beautiful.
Who would you cast as your lead character if made into a film/TV?
Claire Danes would make an excellent Sydney Smith.
Do you have any hidden talents?
Unexpectedly, I’m quite handy with a pair of dog clippers, although my dog would disagree.
Which of your characters would you most like to have dinner with?
Belle Schaefer, a 29-year-old bookseller with an old soul. She’s a true outsider, yet a vital part of the community; she has an allotment, volunteers at an otter sanctuary, runs author events, drinks with all the old guys in a pub called the Black Hole. And every now and then, she steals things.
Today I am so thrilled to be able to chat about The Photographer of the Lost as part of the Random Things Tours blog tour ahead of publication in October. The blog tour continues tomorrow with Jaffareadstoo (twitter: @jaffareadstoo ) where she will also be revealing the stunning cover so do take a look. In the meantime here’s the synopsis and my thoughts on this wonderful novel.
Until she knows her husband’s fate, she cannot decide her own… An epic novel of forbidden love, loss, and the shattered hearts left behind in the wake of World War I
1921. Families are desperately trying to piece together the fragments of their broken lives. While many survivors of the Great War have been reunited with their loved ones, Edie’s husband Francis has not come home. He is considered ‘missing in action’, but when Edie receives a mysterious photograph taken by Francis in the post, hope flares. And so she beings to search.
Harry, Francis’s brother, fought alongside him. He too longs for Francis to be alive, so they can forgive each other for the last things they ever said. Both brothers shared a love of photography and it is that which brings Harry back to the Western Front. Hired by grieving families to photograph gravesites, as he travels through battle-scarred France gathering news for British wives and mothers, Harry also searches for evidence of his brother.
And as Harry and Edie’s paths converge, they get closer to a startling truth.
An incredibly moving account of an often-forgotten moment in history, The Photographer of the Lost tells the story of the thousands of soldiers who were lost amid the chaos and ruins, and the even greater number of men and women desperate to find them again.
This is an absolutely stunning novel. Beautifully written and heartbreaking it takes a very different approach to the subject of war and the ones who have been left behind.
Edie never really knows what happened to her husband Francis after he was reported missing in action in 1917. Four years later and she is still no closer to the truth, that is until a photograph arrives in the post from France. It is a picture of Francis and Edie is sure that it has been taken recently. She must find answers and so reaches out to Francis’ surviving brother, Harry, for help. Harry was the last person to see Francis alive and he too wants more than ever to find out what happened to him.
This is one of those novels that I feel I can never write a review good enough to give it justice. It’s not just the subject matter that Caroline has captured so brilliantly but also that sense of hopelessness that must be felt when there is a lack of closure. Never really knowing if a loved one is dead or alive. Through Harry and Edie’s journey to France we see the reality of the post-war period. Of course we are all familiar with the visions of war torn countries still appearing in the news today but the level of death and destruction during WWI was unprecedented. I recently visited the Imperial War Museum in London and some of the most moving exhibits were those concerning soldiers who lost their lives and the families they left behind. One particular piece that I found most upsetting was a telegram informing a family of a soldiers death on Christmas Day, 1914. The actual telegram. I immediately thought of it arriving and being held in hands that had once held those of that soldier and the heartbreak the news must have brought. These things make their loss relatable to us, they make it more real.
Yet it must have been equally if not more unbearable to receive a ‘Missing in Action’ telegram. There is always that sliver of hope that they are still alive and yet how on earth do you move on from that? How do you ever find closure. And the numbers of missing men. It doesn’t bear thinking about.
Through The Photographer of the Lost Caroline has explored this through Harry and Edie’s search of Francis. She moves back and forth through time giving us a deeper insight into what happened to Francis and the unknown fate of many others who went to fight for their country and never came back. In my own lifetime I have seen countless images of people placing photographs of those missing in terrorist attacks and natural disasters. The people that never came home and are unaccounted for. I never knew that this is what people did a hundred years ago. Pictures of the missing and pictures of the family that are missing them – all placed insight so that they might reunite them together in real life. It invokes a very powerful image indeed.
Caroline has created a beautiful novel of love and loss. Her writing is incredibly moving and her vast historical knowledge of this time evident throughout. She brilliantly brings to life worn-torn France and these characters that are completely unforgettable. Early on we see the beginning of their love ignite as Edie and Francis come together in a chance meeting at their local library and from that moment I was completely invested in their journey.
He was just a white-toothed grin, disembodied like the Cheshire Cat, and words with a scent of boiled sweets. But then he was eyes that watched her through the Romantics and the Classics; a flicker of long lashes and clear bright blue-green eyes that creased at the corners, so that she knew he was smiling on the other side. He existed only in fragments and glimpses and elements, and a voice that linked them all. But then he was a flash of profile, and finally a face that had looked directly down into her own as she had stepped out at the end of the row, as if he had always been there waiting for her.
This except is taken from the proof copy but I wanted to share it as an example of both the quality and beauty of Caroline’s writing. The Photographer of the Lost is a novel that will stay with me for a long time and one that I thoroughly recommend. When is comes to love we are not so different to how we were then. Suffering comes in many packages and I feel that stories such as this are important for reminding us what was lost by so many.
The Photographer of the Lostis published by Simon & Schuster in October but you can pre-order it now. Check out their website for further details.
Many thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in this blog tour and the lovely people at Simon & Schuster for my beautiful proof copy.
About the author
Caroline Scott is a freelance writer and historian specializing in WWI and women’s history. The Photographer of the Lost is partially inspired by her family history.
Today I’m so delighted to be hosting the blog tour for The Space Between Time by Charlie Laidlaw.
There are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on Earth…
Emma Maria Rossini’s perfect life begins to splinter when her celebrity father becomes more distant, and her mother dies suspiciously during a lightning storm. This death has a massive effect on Emma, but after stumbling through university, she settles into work as a journalist in Edinburgh. Her past, however, cannot be escaped. Her mental health becomes unstable. But while recovering in a mental institution, Emma begins to write a memoir to help come to terms with the unravelling of her life. She finds ultimate solace in her once-derided grandfather’s Theorem on the universe – which offers the metaphor that we are all connected, even to those we have loved and not quite lost.
I’ve been so lucky to have been able to review some wonderful books of late and this has certainly continued with The Space Between Time by Charlie Laidlaw. It is a beautifully poignant tale and one that I was swept away with from the start. Told through the eyes of Emma, we join her in childhood and embark on her journey suffering loses and heartbreaks along the way. As a narrator she is an incredibly interesting character. Her world is actually quite small. The daughter of a famous actor, she is hidden away with her reclusive mother, secluded from the bright lights of the Hollywood lifestyle. Her father visits, seemingly rarely, and although adored by millions, is simply Dad to her.
What’s also interesting is the way that memory is explored within the story. The villains in Emma’s own story are darkened by her own beliefs and disappointments. An ‘ordinary’ childhood she did not have. Her mother is beautiful, swears and drinks a lot and seems to suffer from her own neurosis. Her father a famous actor who is absent more often than not and who also seems to send her mother into a constant rage. The characters that surround Emma are given to us how she wants them to be presented but there is much provided between the lines by Charlie that enable us to question and come to our own conclusions.
This wonderful novel touches on so many different themes but the subject of mental health, dysfunctional families and of course the fascinating question of memory were prominent for me. How things are expressed considering whose view point we see it through and the reliability of the narrator are key to interpretation. I often find a first person narration can be pretty unreliable, especially when our protagonist is remembering traumatic events and what led to them. Yet first person can be incredibly powerful as we get to feel through their words and, I think, one of my favourite viewpoints. Charlie is very good at it and he brought Emma to life beautifully.
This is an engrossing read and I really liked Emma and I liked how the echoes of her family history fed into her life and personality. Families give so much history behind us and there is often so much we don’t know about what went before us, yet we can still feel the aftershock rumbling through our own lives, thoughts and feelings. This is hit on wonderfully in The Space Between Time.
One of the things that drew me to this novel was the theme of the universe. How we are all connected. The talk of stars, dark matter and black holes. Of course this isn’t just a story about science and mathematics but Charlie does use it to bring a wonderful extra dimension that I found absolutely fascinating. I loved how each chapter title was an equation – compared to many I know very little about it all but their presence made me feel that a message was being conveyed throughout this tale… and it was. One of life, love, family and the universe, and what an absolute pleasure it was to read too.
Thanks so much to Anne Cater for inviting me to be a part of this blog tour and to Charlie for writing such an engaging enjoyable novel. I’m now very intrigued to go back and read his earlier novel, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead.
The Space Between Time is published by Accent Press on the 20th June and will be available in both eBook and paperback.
About the author
Charlie Laidlaw was born in Paisley and is a graduate of the University of Edinburgh. He has been a national newspaper journalist and worked in defence intelligence. He now runs his own marketing consultancy in East Lothian. He is married with two grown-up
Today I am thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for The Seventh Train by Jackie Carreira. This is a wonderfully touching and unique novel that I heartily recommend. It will forever change the way I look at trains and their passengers. Jackie proves that they are the perfect stage to find the fascinating, raw stories being carried out both around and within us.
Moving from stage to page, The Seventh Train has taken the scenic route from Jackie Carreira’s award-winning play to a second novel that promises to be as well-received as the first (Sleeping Through War, 9781788038539) The Seventh Train is a ride – a ‘road movie’ on the railways. It’s a journey that Elizabeth invented; the only original thought she has ever had in her previously uneventful life. Unbeknown to her, she is not travelling alone. If only she’d pretended that the spare seat was taken.
Although, by turns, hilarious and life-affirming, part of the story tackles serious issues of suicide andmental health, specifically the alarmingly high incidents on public transport. As Jackie says: “This is something that’s been in the news a lot recently, especially as suicide rates on the UK rail system increased by 9.1% last year. It’s a hugely important issue. Having said that, it’s not a gloomy novel at all, but actually full of hope and a good dose of wit!”
It’s a project that has been part of Jackie’s life for years. Originally conceived as a stage play, it was her theatrical debut and went on to become one of the winners of The Kenneth Branagh 10th Anniversary Award for New Drama at the Windsor Fringe Festival. From there, it just kept chugging along until it became the novel Jackie is releasing now.
With a wonderfully eclectic cast of characters, The Seventh Train takes its passengers on a journey from the tragic to the strange, arriving finally at hope.
By turns heart-breaking, thought-provoking and hilarious, this tale is a life-affirming exploration of the human spirit via the British railway timetable!
I was intrigued by the idea of this novel. Not only has it been on quite a journey of it’s own but the premise of a ‘road movie on the railways’, a woman travelling alone and the eclectic mix of characters she meets along the way was enticing. There is an undercurrent of depression constantly beneath the surface. That sense that we are completely and utterly alone in our despair (or numbness) touched upon in a unique way as our protagonist Elizabeth believes that she is the only traveler on this particular journey.
This isn’t a dark novel though, far from it. There is a wonderful lightness of touch with the writing. Suicide and depression are heavy subjects to convey and yet in a way The Seventh Train not about these things but surviving them. We meet Elizabeth at a low point in her life, she feels numb and doesn’t really know what she wants or where she wants to be. She just knows she wants to be anywhere but here. So begins a journey of ‘the seventh train’. In her own strange way this journey is her escape. She is in control but also not having to decide where to go. As I said, she doesn’t know where to go but simply wants to be anywhere but ‘here’. There is something about Elizabeth that I found vaguely familiar. That sense of disappointment in life, of wanting to disappear and yet also wanting to be found. She is compelling company.
The Seventh Train began it’s journey as a short stage play with only two characters. It quickly travelled on eventually becoming a novel and, as Jackie states in the introduction, ‘picking up new passengers along the way’. The passengers of course are the story. Her characterisation is wonderful and she brings each one of this strange mix of individuals to life through their own voices and stories. Elizabeth craves solitude but no matter how hard she tries to camouflage herself, to disappear amongst the generally detached commuters, someone begins to take notice.
This is an incredibly uplifting, well written novel. I absolutely adored being part of the journey. Suicide is a very difficult subject but Jackie’s skill as a writer gives an edge of hope rather than despair. The story did make me think. Not only about my own life but of those around me. People today generally walk in a bubble most of the time, plugged in to some device and as far removed from each other as is possible. The Seventh Train reminds us that we’re not alone. That each and every one of us is travelling on their own journey but there are always other travellers alongside us, even if we don’t see them at first. Some with eager eyes and hope and others with heads lowered barely caring where they end up. The important thing is that we don’t have to make that journey alone. There is always someone out there to share our story with. We just need to look up long enough to see them.
I do hope the stage version pops up on my own journey before too long. I’d absolutely love to see it. Perhaps even a television adaptation???
Many, many thanks to the fabulous Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in this blog tour. This is a wonderful novel that I thoroughly enjoyed and I’m so pleased I can now tell people about it and send it further on it’s way.
About the author
Jackie Carreira is a writer, musician, designer, co-founder of Quirkhouse Theatre Company, and award-winning playwright. Born in Leicester, she moved to London as a baby and went to school in Hackney, but also spent part of her early childhood in Lisbon’s Old Quarter. Destiny thereby dictated that her formative years were heavily influenced by her working-class upbringing and cities beginning with the letter ‘L’, for some cosmic reason that she has not yet figured out.
Jackie now lives in the English county of Suffolk with her actor husband A J Deane, two cats and too many books. One of her favourite places to write is in railway cafes. The Seventh Train was originally born over several cappuccinos at Paddington station.
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.
‘Our adult events take place on Saturday, Sundayand Monday with the Festival’s most ambitious programme yet – spilling over with riches and diversity. On Saturday we will also hold our Festival Drinks Party at Stonewall Park, kindly hosted bythe Fleming family. Come and celebrate our opening day with a glass of wine from Squerryes, delicious canapés, meet some of our authors and enjoy a stroll through the glorious bluebells and rhododendrons.
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.
Cornwall has always been a place that I have loved to visit. There is an energy about it that refreshes and invigorates. For our holiday this year we craved an escape to the coast, a chance to recharge batteries and share some family time together. Cornwall was the perfect choice.
After searching the internet a few months ago we came upon a holiday let that looked cosy, was big enough for our small family of three, and was close to Fowey, a place that I have often been drawn to. The name of our home for the week was Jenny Wren which was located in a small village called Tywardreath about three miles from Fowey and within walking distance to Par beach. It was perfect and just right for our break. Comfortable, very clean, with stunning views across the village and continuing countryside, I felt very much at home from the moment we arrived. We were tired from a long, slow journey and happy to make the most of our accommodation after an exploratory stroll down to Par beach.
Upon the bookshelves in Jenny Wren were a wide selection of novels, biographies and non fiction titles including a short book entitled The Cornish World of Daphne du Maurier, which had been published by Bossiney Books, a small publishing house based in North Cornwall specialising in books about the West Country. I knew that Daphne had lived for some time in Fowey at Ferryside and also at her much love home Menabilly, which was close by but I didn’t realise just how soaked in her history the local area of Fowey, Par and Tywardreath is. The book was fascinating and perfectly placed upon the bookshelf of our summer home. Reading it during my visit bought me a little closer to this author who has fascinated me for so long. Over the years I have been discovering her work, beginning with one of my all time favourites Rebecca and most recently The House On The Strand. It seemed utterly right that I should begin the latter whilst staying in the very village in which the novel is set.
Tywardreath has a wonderful village shop
St Andrews Church
Enjoying a Cornish Beer at The New Inn in Tywardreath
For the first few days of our holiday we were treated to glorious blue skies and warm temperatures. Ideal beach weather in fact and as I sat on Par beach enjoying the stunning coastline I felt a little closer to her still. I can understand why she felt such undying love for Cornwall. There is a sense of calm yet also an unrest, a peace yet a thousand stories waiting to be told. It feels rather exciting and inspiring and I felt very at home there.
We discovered Par beach on the night we arrived and returned many times over our stay. Only a mile from our home for the week, it was a pleasant 20 minute meander away. The bay itself was unspoilt and enjoyed a lovely view. Although busy it never felt crowded and indeed we did feel rather put upon when new arrivals plumped to set up towels right behind us when there was so much space to choose from. I took with me books and notepads but my attention was stolen by my surroundings and the sea, and I felt content to simply soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the moment. A natural mindfulness perhaps, with very little effort required. The sand cold and damp beneath my feet. The salty freshness of the sea air. The chatter of people. The holler of others. The cry of the seagull chasing the breeze and the rumble of the waves gently coming closer or moving farther away.
There is something rather wonderful about mornings in Cornwall, even on a cloudy day. There is a fine mist in the air or ‘mizzle’ as I’ve heard it referred to. The birds are louder, their cries cutting through the air, shattering the silence. At home they are gentler in their song, more like the softer side of the percussion section in an orchestra. Yet here in Cornwall they boom, dramatic and clear across the Cornish skies. There are of course many gulls but also other birds each with a unique voice which when combined creates quite the orchestra to awaken me from my dream filled sleep.
The weather can be moody and incredibly atmospheric as captured so perfectly in any of du Mauriers tales. Glorious blue skies and sunshine or clouds tumbling dark and sinister filled with menace, or light and whispy, like the breathe of an angel. Our holiday home rose high up on a residential area which enabled us a view far across the countryside. From the kitchen we could sit and watch the weather roll in, distant clouds carrying rain which we could see falling on the hills, whilst we sat emersed in the warmth of the sunshine until the clouds would finally reach us before disappearing as quickly as they had arrived.
I love this place, it soothes my soul and I can see why Daphne du Maurier and so many writers and artists have been inspired by it. The history, the atmosphere and the dramatic coastline all hold such magic.
She was never anything but perfectly suited to the place in which she lived. Without that stability, I very much doubt if those novels would ever have been so immensely enjoyable. For that, we can thank the Cornish landscape that she so loved. Above all, of course, she was the supreme story-teller. A master craftswoman in the fine art of narration.
An excerpt from The Cornish World of Daphne du Maurier
It does make me question if the Cornwall we see today would have existed if not for Daphne du Maurier, or even would the Daphne du Maurier we know and love have existed without Cornwall? So intrinsic each was to the other.
Towards the end of her life Daphne wrote Vanishing Cornwall, a fascinating insight into the Cornwall she knew and loved. I have since purchased a copy and look forward to returning via the pages of her book over the coming winter months.
We spent only a week in Cornwall this summer, but on that visit we travelled in time, back to where knights protected our shores from enemies across the seas, to the future and a visit to Mars via a speedy tour of our wonderful solar system. It filled me with such wonder and we returned home with so many fantastic memories.
Walking through history at Tintagel
and Restormel Castles
And river adventures with Fowey River Hire
Kayaking with Fowey River Hire
Messing about on Fowey River
Visiting the Lifeboat on Fowey River
A visit to The Eden Project took us to Mars
Waiting for take off at The Eden project
Looking at the Earth from afar
So close to the Moon
Life on Mars
Family fun on the Lanhydrock bike trails
Daphne first moved to rented accommodation in Readymoney Cove in 1942. She’d discovered and fell in love with Menabilly many years before but it wasn’t until 1943 that her perseverance paid off and she convinced the owners to lease it to her. Menabilly was then her home for over 20 years but when the lease ended she was forced to move on to her final home, Kilmarth. Sadly her husband of many years died just before they moved and so the house that they had chosen together would be hers alone. Yet she found contentment there and made it her home for the last twenty years of her life.
This grand old house, overlooking the majestic sweep of the bay beyond began to spur Daphne’s curiosity and imagination and the result was The House on the Strand, first published in 1969.
An excerpt from The Cornish World of Daphne du Maurier
Cornwall is steeped in history, mythology and legend. There are stories in every corner and for me it is somewhere I feel at home. I love the sense of space, the fresh air, the feeling of becoming whole again – if only for a brief time. I feel I can stretch and breath deeply. Indeed a holiday should give you a sense of freedom, freedom to relax, to take in the world around you. To just be. Yet this Cornish landscape also feeds the soul from the moors to the coastline, it fires the imagination and for me, provides a sense of balance. I wish I could stay but I know that it will always be a part of me and I’ll be back.
When I made the booking I had no idea that I would be spending quite so much time with Daphne du Maurier. Yet I could feel her there with me, in the smells on the air, the sea breeze, the summer rain, and the birds as they flew through the air, sending their message out to the world. Perhaps that is why it feels so familiar and so much like coming home. I have visited many times before both in person and through her novels. Cornwall is ever-changing and yet its ghosts surround you as you wonder. Their stories permeate through sand, stone, grass and skyline, and there still so many yet to be told.
You can find out more about our fabulous holiday let, Jenny Wren here. It was absolutely perfect for the three of us and had everything we needed. The owners, Dave and Dianne were incredibly friendly and welcoming. The location was very peaceful but close to the village centre. We slept well throughout the week and were very sad to leave.