Jenni Murray, who comes to the Festival on Saturday 18 November, to talk about her memoir My Boy Butch.

Love, Sex, Betrayal and Books

4th November 2011

Jill Glenn previews the highlights of this year’s Chorleywood LitFest

From the week’s opening event – Love, Sex and Betrayal – to the closing one – Painting and Passion – the 2011 Chorleywood LitFest covers the full gamut of emotions. It encompasses most genres too, although there’s something of a bias towards history in all its forms, including memoir, family history, military history and biography. Even Downton Abbey gets a look in. There’s also a full day creative writing workshop, with author Ciaran Murtagh, editor Lisa Highton and publisher David Headley. Sign up now, and you could be on the guest list next year…

The festival opens on Friday 18 November with an evening bringing together three authors published by Penguin, who will weave an extraordinary story of love, sex and betrayal throughout the ages – from AD242, the setting for Harry Sidebottom’s The Caspian Gate, a thrilling account of Ballista, Warrior of Rome, defending his earthquake ravaged city from a brutal and destructive tribe of Goths, via 1210, when Karen Maitland’s The Gallows Curse shows how the harsh reign of King John makes enemies of brothers, murderers of virgins and sinners of all, to 1640 when the pall of war hangs over France, and AL Berridge’s In the Name of the King an epic swashbuckling page-turner sweeps its reader from the political intrigues of Cardinal Richelieu to the great battlefields of the Thirty Years War. For ‘fans of action adventure, intrigue and history, or personal heroism’, says the LitFest programme, and a great way to get the week going.

The following day, Saturday 19 November, is the busiest day of the festival, with five different events to appeal to a wide audience. Although the week is predominantly designed for adults, younger members of the family are not forgotten, and the morning begins with Magical Stories, an invitation to 3-7 year olds to come and enter an imaginary world with professional storyteller Danya Miller.

The afternoon brings one of the festival’s coups: Dame Jenni Murray, of Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. Her entertaining memoir My Boy Butch is a tribute to her love affair with a Chihuahua, and an acknowedgment of his role in her recovery from breast cancer. It’s warm, and funny, and very entertaining; chances are that Dame Jenni will prove the same.

Fans of ITV’s Sunday night period drama Downton Abbey won’t see Lady Fiona Carnavon’s name on the show’s extensive cast list – but they’re likely to want to queue up for her talk on Saturday evening nevertheless. As the chatelaine of Berkshire’s Highclere Castle, where the exterior and some interior shots are filmed, Lady Carnavon is closer than most to the heritage that underpins the series. Her book, Lady Almina & the Real Downton Abbey, concentrates on the opening years of the First World War, when the feisty Almina (illegitimate daughter of banking tycoon, Baron Alfred de Rothschild) turned the castle into a hospital and convalescent home, and was forced to draw on her deepest reserves of courage in order to ensure that her family, the staff and the castle survived. This evening’s event is an opportunity for Downton fans to learn the truth behind the fiction.

Sunday has a largely military theme, including Sir Max Hastings’ assessment of the impact of WW2 upon millions of people around the world, from soldiers, sailors and airmen to farm workers, housewives and children. In the evening The Shadow of the Nazi event pairs Giles Milton and Martin Davidson, each the author of a family story, one telling of a resistant Jew, the other confronting the ultimate horror: an unrepentant Nazi in the family. The occasion promises to be both fascinating and moving.
The festival concludes on the following Sunday with Painting and Passion, when author and lecturer Angela Thirlwell will present her new and sumptuously illustrated Into the Frame, a vivid account of the life of Ford Madox Brown (possibly the finest and certainly the least understood of the artists in the Pre-Raphaelite circle) and the four central women in his life: his two wives and models and his two secret loves: and evening (and a book) for art lovers, history buffs and romantics…

The whole LitFest, it seems, turns on intrigue, deception, heartbreak, desire and fury…

LitFest 2011 runs from 18 to 27 November. Most adult events are priced at £6.
The full day Help! I want to write a book! workshop is £35.
Programmes & tickets are available from Chorleywood Bookshop (01923 283566).
See www.cwlitfest.org for more information.

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