The Cream Of The Crop

5th November 2010

We are incredibly lucky in this area to have access not only to stunning countryside, fast routes to the capital and brilliant local facilities but also to a wide variety of culture right on our doorstep. One of the key events of the year has to be Chorleywood LitFest (16–21 November), recently described by Country Life as ‘one of the cream of the crop’ of UK literature festivals.

Jill Glenn previews some of this year’s LitFest highlights.

When the name Howard Jacobson was announced as winner of the 2010 Man Booker prize on 12 October, few people (apart from the publisher and the author himself) can have been more delighted than the organisers of the Chorleywood Literature Festival. Back in the spring, by sheer good fortune – or prize-winning prescience – they’d booked him for the opening event of this year’s Lit Fest. Now they would be one of the first places in the country to hear the winner of one of the most significant literary prizes speak. Yes, it caused a frenzy of bookings, and yes, the event rapidly outgrew the original venue and required rapid relocation to larger premises… but what a coup for a festival in only its fifth year – especially as the organisers had already secured the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, for the programme too.

Jacobson and Duffy are currently, of course, two of the most eminent figures on the UK literary landscape (and certainly two of the best-known; even non-readers tend to register the Booker prize on the periphery of their radar, while Carol Ann Duffy is perhaps the most loved of all the laureates, and affectionately described as a ‘poet of the people’). It would be unfair, though, to suggest that the inclusion of such high profile names is the only reason to relish the approach of Chorleywood LitFest. This is an offering for all tastes and ages, in line with the festival’s aspiration to be ‘friendly, fun and affordable’ – and there’s a real buzz about everything that’s going on.

You don’t even need to be a reader to appreciate the diversity on offer. It’s true that most LitFest fans are keen on the printed word, but organisers are equally keen to stress that they’re including fresh material that everyone can enjoy. If you’d like to be at the Bloomsbury Reading Group event, then advance reading of your chosen book is recommended – you will have the opportunity to talk to the author about it, so it would be a] rude and b] embarrassing not to come prepared – but for everything else you can simply turn up and enjoy the talk on the night. No guarantee that you won’t want to go away and read up on it afterwards, though.

Peter Snow, Ben Macintyre and Simon Scarrow are all coming to share insights and stories related to their current books. They’re all historians, and they’re all very capable of using the past to ignite the present – but there, apart from their individual abilities to hold an audience spellbound, all similarity ends…

Peter Snow uses the letters, memoirs and eyewitness accounts of Wellington’s army to bring alive the horrors, courage, ambitions and jealousies of those fighting the Napoleonic dictatorship. His new book, To War With Wellington, provides a vivid and very accessible picture of what it was like to fight a war two centuries ago.

Simon Scarrow goes further back into the past. His tenth book in the Cato series, action-packed military page-turners set in the Roman Empire, sees his heroes in fresh action in Egypt, where trouble is brewing with rebel gladiators – and time is running out. Scarrow’s energetic plots and earthy characters have won him a loyal following, and this event is much anticipated.

If you think that truth is stranger than fiction, then Ben Macintyre’s account of ‘Operation Mincemeat’ will have you on the edge of your seat. It’s a gripping yarn of nefarious plans and double dealing, that begins when a sardine fisherman spots the corpse of a British soldier floating in the sea off the coast of Spain. It sets in train a sequence of events that changes the course of World War II. And it’s all true.

If reading and listening are all very well, but what you really want to do is write yourself, then you can take inspiration from the New Authors Showcase (where writers such as Rosie Alison talk about their road to publication) and instruction from acclaimed writer and respected tutor Toby Litt.

LitFest 2010 runs from 16 to 21 November. Ticket prices £3-£25.

Programmes & tickets are available from Chorleywood Library
and from Chorleywood Bookshop (01923 283566).

See www.cwlitfest.org for more information.

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