Each year the festival brochure lands on my doormat and I sit with a cup of coffee and flick through the pages full of expectation and I am never disappointed. This year was no exception. With 135,000 tickets sold this year it has been hailed as the most successful festival so far.
I have to set myself a budget at the outset because it is so tempting to make more than a meal of this event. It can quickly become more of a banquet. My budget is quite small and this year I restricted myself to three events. Two were Locally Sourced and one was of personal interest to me and connected to my latest book, Blood Libel.
The Locally Sourced events support local Gloucestershire authors and so I chose to attend Inspirational Houses (L169), chaired by my friend Caroline Sanderson and featuring another author friend of mine Caroline Sandon who has written the superb novel Burnt Norton. Joining them was the writer Sofka Zinovieff who has written a beautiful book about her grandfather and Lord Berners with the title The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother and Me. Before the event Caroline took me into The Green Room where I partook of a complimentary drink and mingled with the writer Sarah Waters (Tipping the Velvet). The event itself was a great success and it was lovely to listen to these two women talk about the famous houses they lived in and had made them their homes. Sofka, it turns out, is descended from Catherine the Great. In the case of Caroline it was Burnt Norton where T S Eliot was inspired to write the Four Quartets and in the case of Sofka it was Faringdon House where Lord Berners entertained a host of eclectic bohemians.
The second Locally Sourced event was Telling Truths (L218). This again was chaired by the very talented Caroline Sanderson and featured local author and friend Jo Kurlbaum who has written a novel, soon to be published, called Not Little Stones about the true story of two teenage Olympic athletes in the 1990s during the Yugoslav conflict. The other local author was the talented Dinah Jefferies who has written The Separation, a novel set in Malaya. Both authors shared their passion for history and historical research and how they weave fact into fiction. Prior to this event I was again invited into The Green Room where I was not a little surprised to find myself sitting by Charles Spencer or Charlie as he seems to like to be called now. His event was on the opposite side of the corridor where he was talking about his new book, Killers of the King.
My final treat was to hear Simon Schama speak again. His second instalment of The Story of the Jews takes the reader from the 15th century up to the present day, including the holocaust. His writing has been described as “packed with evocative detail: rich fruit cakes crammed with raisins, currants, nuts and glacé cherries all mulled in brandy sauce” and I have to agree. Sadly, on this occasion there was no time for questions but, as ever, Simon spoke passionately about his view of the Palestine/Israeli conflict.
The only disappointment for me this year was the absence of The Society of Author’s Luncheon. This is a great opportunity for members to get together at such a prestigious event. I do hope the organisers will take note and revive this event.
If you have not visited the festival before I encourage you to do so. Despite the mad rush to get tickets – resulting in the website crashing – there are plenty of tickets, particularly for local authors. So next year look out for the Locally Sourced events and support your local author.
The 2015 Times and Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival takes place between 2-11 October 2015.