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Lichfield Literature Festival 2015

Hannah Comer details the happenings of Lichfield Literature Festival 2015

Lichfield Literature Festival 2015

Over the last ten days, from the 3rd to 11th October, Lichfield has played host to its annual literature festival. This popular festival, both locally and further afield, promotes contemporary literature from across a variety of genres including young adult fiction, travel, and food, as well as supporting local businesses with the events and talks having been hosted at venues such as Swinfen Hall and The George Hotel.
This year’s festival provided a particular focus on historical fiction and subjects, from Pre-historic Britain to Restoration and Regency England, facilitated in the particularly popular event ‘The History Wardrobe: Jane Austen’s Ladies of A Certain Age’ hosted at Lichfield’s Library to celebrate 200 years since the first publication of Austen’s novel Emma.

The intrigue of Jane Austen’s characters further emerged in Susan Law’s stories on Georgian England in Sex, Scandal & the Secret Life of the Country House, particularly the facts or fictions surrounding Lord Boringdon, who was rumoured to be the influence for the original Mr Darcy. The focus on historical fiction was culminated at a workshop entitled ‘Making up the Past’ which provided an insight into how to start writing historical fiction. The history of the city was further enhanced through an event focused on The Lichfield Book of Days which tells through a day by day account of its social, political, industrial and religious history.  Also featuring as part of the celebrations was Lichfield’s own dictionary-maker, Samuel Johnson, whose impact on English culture and language was re-examined by Lynda Mugglestone, from a talk about her book Samuel Johnson and the Journey into World, at the George Hotel and in close proximity to his birthplace.

The festival also marked the 150th anniversary of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, exploring its enduring appeal for readers of all age groups and the different perspectives and influences of the story within the arts, especially for writers, artists, musicians and performers. The novel was celebrated by artistic activities for children, such as making rabbit masks, and culminated in the ‘In Wonderland’ Children’s Art Exhibition, transforming the top floor of the library into a Wonderland tea party. For adults, the story was observed through a literary dinner with Vanessa Tait, the Great-granddaughter of Alice Liddell (the girl who inspired Carroll’s story), reading from her novel The Looking Glass House.  The programme for this year’s festival featured some new elements such as the Children’s festival YELL, ‘Youth Events at Lichfield Literature’ which started at the beginning of the week with visits to local schools by authors, such as Laura Wood and Ben Davis, providing pupils with opportunities to meet the authors, hear about their work and an insight into starting a career in writing.

The events throughout the week included the commendation of music, sculpture, comedy from Jon Holmes and Rob Auton and an exploration into contemporary travel and experiences, as discussed by Sara Irving and Delva Murphy through their travels in Palestine and reporter Emily Dugan in conversation on her book Finding Home: Real Stories of Migrant Britain. Events in the middle of the week were hosted at the Barton Marina, an ideal setting for Steve Haywood’s talk about his new travel book Narrowboat Nomads, speaking about his experiences living on a canal and how he was first inspired to get into boating. This was then followed by a screening of An American in Paris at the Red Carpet Cinema and bar, which was preceded with a presentation by Sue Harris, exploring the portrayal of Paris in Hollywood films and of the film’s development, particularly the rise of the careers of Vincente Minnelli, Gene Kelly and Leslie Carron. On Wednesday, Peter Walker provided an insight into Lichfield’s art, as the sculptor and artist resident at the cathedral, speaking about his bronze casting technique. His sculptures can be viewed around a trail in the city and include the statue of Erasmus Darwin.

Throughout the week, the city centre held the festival’s ‘Pop-up’ shop which offered for sale, the books by the authors who were a part of the festival and on Saturday, it arranged for the Book Swap hub, as popularly requested throughout the week; in which people could donate an unwanted book in exchange for a new read.  Visitors and residents to Lichfield had the opportunity during the week, via email or form, to vote for their favourite poem which was to be announced in a coffee morning on National Poetry Day and included readings from the top 10 chosen poems.

The festival drew to a close with Kathryn Harkup’s exploration into the use of science in Agatha Christie’s work and featured as part of the 125th anniversary of Christie’s birth. The ending of the festival at Swinfen Hall was accompanied by afternoon tea and Dinah Jefferies’ bestselling novel The Tea Planter’s Wife and then with a discussion by Deborah Pritchard and Anastasia Belina-Johnson on Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novella The Double, the subject of their forthcoming opera and providing an insight into bringing together music and literature. The connection to music was further enhanced through the two events which linked to Lichfield’s other festivals, with writer Janice Galloway, who spoke on words and music, and is known to Lichfield audiences for her new narration of Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute, as performed at the Lichfield Festival 2015 in July and with Deborah Pritchard who is going to be composer in residence at Lichfield’s 2016 festival.

Hannah Comer is a Culture Syndicates CIC associate having just completed her English Literature MA at the University of Nottingham.
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