Chiddingstone Castle in Kent hosted it’s inaugural Literary Festival in 2016 and was a huge success. A celebration of books and reading for both adults and children, the 2017 festival sponsored by Brooks MacDonald starts on Sunday 30th April. This year, I’ll be at the festival working alongside Beanstalk for Kent in the Reading Zone, a special area for children and parents to give them lots of reading ideas. I’m also one of the judges for the fantastic Short Story competition for children aged 7-13 (entry now closed) and have had a wonderful time reading the brilliant entries! I’m delighted to welcome Victoria Henderson, Festival Director to the blog today to talk to us about this year’s event which is just under two weeks away. Thanks for joining us Victoria!
The Festival is now in its second year; how did the idea for the festival come about? I was working for the book review website Lovereading as their Literary Festivals Coordinator arranging marketing and sponsorship of festivals all over the country and it suddenly occurred to me that there wasn’t a literary festival where I lived in West Kent. Given we live between Tunbridge Wells, Sevenoaks, Tonbridge and East Grinstead it struck me that Chiddingstone Castle would be the perfect place to hold such an event. I approached the Castle’s Director and Chairman of the Trustees with the idea, and as they say ‘the rest is history’!
Tell us a bit about what visitors can expect this year. This year’s line-up is a wonderful mix of events for adults and children. We’ve tried to find something for everyone, so story-lovers of all ages will be able to enjoy a choice of historical fiction, biography and memoirs, good mood food, education and the Great War, coping with bereavement, the latest on Brexit and Trump and stories of great lives well lived. For children we have a number of theatre performances and storytelling shows including a musical version of The Ugly Duckling, Sock Puppet Theatre performing Shakespeare and a Comic Strip Masterclass. There’s a guided tour of Chiddingstone, delicious food from our tearooms and vintage food vans, reading advice from your good self and Beanstalk for Kent and some surprises too. Our highlights include appearances from Terry Waite, Rev. Richard Coles, Artemis Cooper, Nicholas Crane, Anthony Seldon, Conn Iggulden, Alison Weir and children’s authors Piers Torday, Lauren St John and A F Harrold.
It’s a big operation coordinating an event on this scale. Do you have help?! We are a small team of 4 (myself – former Publicity Manager at various publishing companies, Mark Streatfeild – retired International Sales Director at Orion, Ali Ditzel – Director of the Castle, and Lisa Prifti – Sponsorship) but we have a wonderful number of smiley volunteers who help out over the 3 days of the festival – manning the box office, checking tickets, parking cars, meeting and greeting our authors, performers and members of our lovely audience.
The festival has a fantastic line-up of authors; do you follow a particular theme or idea when putting the programme together? We don’t have a particular theme as we’re keen to give a really good spread of events and interests. Both Mark and I previously worked in publishing so we still have contacts we can call on for advanced information on up-coming books. Some authors are suggested to us, some we have spotted and chased up and some approach us.
The festival includes a day especially for schools; which is brilliant! Why did you decide to have this? I felt it was really important that we provide an opportunity for local schools and pupils to have access to some exciting children’s authors who they may not otherwise have seen or heard. We’ve chosen authors who are great performers and who will enthuse young people with their love of writing and storytelling.
Is there anything you’re particularly excited about for this year? On the adults’ side, I’m particularly thrilled to have grief therapist Julia Samuel in conversation with Guardian journalist Decca Aitkenhead whose husband tragically drowned saving one of their children. I think their event will be poignant but inspirational, and encourage people to talk about their grief. We are honoured to have two pre-publication exclusives from two bestselling writers of historical fiction; Alison Weir’s new book on Anne Boleyn and Conn Iggulden’s latest novel Dunstan. We are thrilled to have award-winning children’s author Piers Torday talking about his Last Wild trilogy on our Family Day and about his new novel There May Be A Castle on our Schools Day.
Why do you think it’s important to hold literary events such as these? There’s so much to learn from hearing authors speak about their writing, their influences and their experiences. There’s also something very special about bringing the community together, united by a love of books and good writing in a beautiful location in a historic house in the glorious Kent countryside.
And finally, what would your top three tips be for anyone hoping to organise an event like this?
- Location, location, location!
- Persevere when seeking out your authors, you’ll get turned down and passed over but follow up every lead
- Enthusiasm and hard work…and a belief that it’ll be alright on the night (day)!
Thank you so much for talking to us about the festival; it’s going to be brilliant!