Who loves a good book to read?
Books have always been special to me
Books have always been special to me. Even from a very young age, I loved having stories read to me and then, when I could read them for myself, I would immerse myself in Enid Blyton’s Famous Five or Secret Seven.
I will read almost anything – except maybe sci-fi or fantasy – and I often have three books on the go at the same time picking up each in turn depending on what mood I am in. Making the choice on whether I want to read romance, or a thriller or a biography? They are all special to me and a great way to unwind at the end of a working day.
Another great way to de-stress is to quietly browse round a book shop or library poring over the many different genres available to read. When was the last time you visited your local library? Or had the opportunity to meet some of your favourite authors?
Don’t you just love a Literary Festival?
That was why I was particularly thrilled six years ago that Fairford Festival decided to organize a literary event and called upon the skills and expertise of Fairford’s very own top author, Paul Cornell – novelist, comics writer and screen writer – best known for his work in television drama as well as Doctor Who fiction and the creator of one of the Doctor’s spin-off companions, Bernice Summerfield.
After having organised four very successful Fairford Festival of Fiction events (none in 2020 and 2021 because of Covid), Paul decided to step back. That was when I was ‘volunteered’ to take over from a very hard act to follow and organize a literary festival for 2023!
Paul’s help was invaluable, offering advice when necessary and even sharing some of his contacts with me. This enabled me to put together a newly branded Fairford Festival Book Fest with a fabulous (well I think so!) line-up of authors for 2023.
As the event was part of Fairford Festival 2023, the venue was held in a large white marquee in the grounds of Fairford Cricket Club.
I was lucky enough to get some sponsorship from DCO Systems and, thanks to the PBShop book wholesaler in Fairford, the 2023 Book Fest also had its very own book shop in a small marquee right next door to the Literary Marquee where the public could chat to the authors, buy their books and get them personally signed.
It was a lot of hard work and sleepless nights putting the whole event together but, in the end, Fairford Book Fest turned out to be a best-seller with two days of paperback and hard-back indulgence at the beginning of June.
Well known authors with headline achievements
Each of the authors had a headline achievement to entice avid booklovers, who wanted to hear the authors talk about their writing careers, ask their favourite authors questions, buy their books and get them personally inscribed.
So, how did I manage to secure such a fabulous line-up of famous authors? Attracting not one, not two, but nine top authors including:
- Jo Empson
- Steve Antony
- Emma Reeves
- Anne de Courcy
- Sandra Howard
- Michael McCarthy
- Jessica Fellowes
- Paul Martin
- Dom Joly
It helps to know interesting people
The truth is I know some very useful people who know interesting people!! As I mentioned before, Paul Cornell was very helpful and he put me in touch with Steve Antony and Emma Reeves; and, in turn, Steve Antony put me in touch with Jo Empson.
An acquaintance of mine introduced me to Anne de Courcy, Jessica Fellowes and Sandra Howard; whilst one of my journalist friends knew Paul Martin well and asked him to take part. I had previously met Dom Joly when I was Mayor of Fairford and worked alongside him during lockdown in The Cotswold Challenge, so I pinged off an email to him one Sunday afternoon asking if he would be interested in speaking at a book fest I was organising and, within five minutes, he emailed back and said yes! Finally, Michael McCarthy lives locally, and I was introduced to him by his neighbour in Fairford.
I have to admit to having been a little nervous about how my very first Book Fest would turn out. As tickets are sold on a pop-in and pop-out day ticket, I had no idea how many people would want to come to see and hear each author.
My initial guess was that we might have a paltry five people in the audience for the lesser well-known authors and have to offer standing room only for the most popular. How wrong could I be? Every single author was well attended by an audience that sat enthralled by what the authors had to say, hanging on their every word and not a single rustle from a shuffling bottom to be heard anywhere!
Great to have the Book Shop courtesy of PBShop
The PBShop Book Shop proved to be a hit with authors and readers. A place where readers could get up close and personal with their favourite authors; ask them questions; buy their books and then have them personally signed by the author. It was a great opportunity to interact with multiple well-known authors.
The feedback from the event was overwhelming and I felt elated that my first forage into the world of the literary festival was positive and well received.
Introducing literature to the young readers
One of the aims of the Book Fest was to encourage more young people to enjoy reading and spend time engrossed in literature. That was why I was thrilled when the young Fairford Primary School Reading Ambassadors opened the Book Fest talking about their favourite books and reading passages from them.
Older pupils were represented by Isla Beadnell – a 15 year old Year 10 Media Student from Farmor’s School – who confidently, eloquently and expertly interview one of her author idols, Emma Reeves.
Find out more about the illustrious authors who took part in Book Fest 2023
Here is some information about each of the authors (in order of their appearance on stage) that graced the Book Fest with their presence – some information about them personally; something about the books they have written and one or two behind-the-scenes anecdotes about when they featured at Fairford Book Fest 2023.
Jo Empson is also an author/illustrator. Her artwork is inspired by her love of nature and the ever-growing wonder of the natural world. She expresses this through texture and movement with a strong sense of shape, colour and design.
Jo graduated from Cambridge School of Art in 2012 with a Masters in Children’s Book Illustration. Her first published picture book Rabbityness has been nominated for many awards including UKLA Book Awards; Kate Greenaway Medal and the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and published in many different languages around the world. Her latest picture book is called Tiny Blue, I Love You.
Other books include Little Home Bird and The Sea Below My Toes.
Jo’s abiding wish is to create beautiful books with depth and meaning – and also to swim with a Whale Shark. She is never happier than when she is swept away in storytelling – whether writing, illustrating or just reading a favourite picture book (which she still does every night!).
Steve Antony is the best-selling author and illustrator of eight books in the Mr Panda series and four in The Queen’s series.
He has illustrated 22 books including Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and two books based on Tim Minchin’s songs from Matilda The Musical.
He won the Oscar’s Book Prize in 2015 for his book: The Queen’s Hat. It was also shortlisted for the 2015 Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize.
Chatting to Steve at the Book Fest, although I knew that he lived in Swindon, I was surprised to find out that his mother used to work at Fairford Primary School and that we had a mutual female poet friend who lived in nearby Kempsford. What a small world!
Emma Reeves writes drama for screen, audio and stage including My Mum Tracy Beaker; The Beaker Girls; The Worst Witch; Hetty Feather; Little Women; Anne of Green Gables; Cool Hand Luke and Carrie’s War.
Amongst her many awards, Emma has three Writers’ Guild Awards for Best Children’s TV Episode and two British Screenwriter’s Awards for Best Children’s Show. She has been nominated for BAFTA Awards three times.
Emma, who is a personal friend of Paul Cornell, wanted to be interviewed rather than just stand up and talk to an audience and I thought that it might be a good idea to include Farmor’s School in the Book Fest i.e. to interest younger readers.
I was totally gobsmacked by 15 year old Year 10 Media Student, Isla Beadnell, who already knew about Emma’s work and was a big fan. She wasn’t overawed by Emma at all and conducted her half-hour interview with knowledge, confidence and professionalism. Isla even wrote all the interview questions herself! Didn’t need me to hold her hand! A super star in the making!
Sandra Howard was one of the leading fashion models of the 60s and 70s, appearing on the cover of American Vogue for two months in succession.
She moved into freelance journalism, writing for newspapers and magazines including the Daily Mail and Sunday Express. She had a regular column in the Sunday Telegraph’s Stella Magazine, writes on travel for the Mail on Sunday and has written six previous novels.
Her seventh novel – Love at War – is set mainly in Cairo and East Africa during WW2 and is based on a true story. Sandra is married to the former British Conservative Party Leader, Michael Howard and has three adult children.
Sandra and her husband, Michael, stayed over in Fairford the night before the Book Fest and very kindly invited me to dinner at The Bull Hotel. To say that I was a little nervous to not only meet, but have dinner with, such an illustrious couple is an understatement. I had heard many things about Michael Howard’s political career and about the time he served as Leader of the Conservative Party under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. However, I need not have worried, they were both charming, interesting, witty and wonderful hosts.
One thing that Sandra said was that she vividly remembered the excitement of having her first novel in print – the thrill never dies. And this happened just after getting her bus pass!
Anne de Courcy
Anne de Courcy is a biographer and social historian, who has often appeared on television. Two of her books have been made into documentaries. Many have been best-sellers; among them are The Viceroy’s Daughters, The Fishing Fleet, Snowdon: The Biography, The Husband Hunters and Chanel’s Riviera: Life, Love and the Struggle for Survival on the Cote d’Azur, 1930-44.
Several of her books have also been published in America, and a number of the earlier ones have recently been re-published.
Anne has also worked for the Evening Standard and the Daily Mail and currently reviews for the Daily Telegraph and the Spectator.
Anne talked about her latest book: Five Love Affairs and a Friendship: the Paris Life of Nancy Cunard, Icon of the Jazz Age. Anne wrote this book during lockdown at her house in nearby Barnsley (ably assisted by her Burmese cat, Lottie, who travels between London and the Cotswolds with her). Her book was described by the Spectator as ‘riveting’ and tells the story equally of this fascinating woman and Paris in the 20s, where she became a muse to many of the artists and writers of Montparnasse.
Dr Michael McCarthy lectured in Politics before a career in development, consultancy and in rural and heritage regeneration. His books include Campaigning for the Poor; A History of Their Making; and The New Politics of Welfare. Citizen of London was one of the Financial Times’ books of the week giving the book a very contemporary twist – lessons on how to make it in the City.
Citizen of London has also been featured on Times Radio and is the subject of two BBC podcasts on – History Extra and History Revealed.
Michael talked about the extraordinary story of Richard Whittington, born 1358-59 just 35 miles from Fairford in Pauntley, Glos. Despatched as a young third son at the age of 12 to London around 1369-70 to become a Mercer’s apprentice and rising to become one of our most notable medieval entrepreneurs.
Displaying exceptional acumen in the wool and luxury cloth trades and becoming a key influencer at the Court of three English kings – Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V to whom Whittington would become a supplier of luxury goods, a lender and fixer. Four times Lord Mayor of London, a member of Parliament and a Sheriff of London. A success story that would not be out of place in the City today.
Jessica Fellowes is an author, freelance journalist and the niece of Julian Fellowes (creator and writer of Downton Abbey). Jessica was a columnist for the Mail and the London Paper, deputy editor of Country Life magazine, and now writes for the Telegraph, Times and Mail.
The Mitford Murders was her debut series as a novelist. Other books include: Mud and the City; Dos and Don’ts for Townies in the Country; The World of Downton Abbey; A Year in the Life of Downton Abbey: Seasonal Celebrations, Traditions and Recipes and The Devil You Know: Looking Out for the Psycho in Your Life.
Jessica didn’t want to stand up and talk to an audience. She wanted to be interviewed and interact with the audience. So, I took it upon myself to research her thoroughly and interview her about her life as an author and journalist. Although an authority on Downton Abbey, Jessica didn’t want that to dominate the interview, but she did tease everyone about her little tit-bits of insider knowledge and exactly what the true story was behind Kemal Pamuk – the dashing Turkish diplomat – being found dead in Lady Mary Crawley’s bed.
Paul Martin lives in Wiltshire and is a British antiques dealer, professional drummer and TV presenter of various BBC antiques programmes including Flog It!
His books include Paul Martin: My World of Antiques and Paul Martin’s Britain.
Paul was very animated, amusing and alluring talking about his journey through the world of antiques, sharing anecdotes from his television shows and his life as a session musician drummer with the Average White Band, The Quireboys and The Dogs D’Amour.
Paul was definitely one of the great hits of the day! He was also extremely generous with his time, offering to pose for photos with members of the Festival committee and stayed on afterwards to listen to Dom Joly.
Dom Joly is a comedian and author of many travel books. Born in Beirut and formerly a resident of Quenington, he now lives near Cheltenham with his Canadian wife, Stacey.
Famous for television comedy programme: Trigger Happy, Dom is also the author of many travel books including: Such Miserable Weather about holidaying in England; The Dark Tourist; The Downhill Hiking Club and Scary Monsters and Super Creeps (in search of the world’s most hideous beasts!).
Dom said: “As a former Quenington resident, it will be great to return to Fairford, one of my old stomping grounds to talk about my travel writing and my trips to 106 countries and some of the world’s weirdest destinations.”
Dom was interviewed by BBC TV’s Points West reporter, Steve Knibbs.
He talked about The Downhill Hiking Club, which is Dom’s most recent book and is about him hiking across Lebanon with two friends.
The Dark Tourist and his travels to some of the world’s most weird destinations featured in his book – Chernobyl, Lebanon, North Korea, Killing Fields of Cambodia.
He mentioned searching for mythical monsters e.g. Big Foot and the Yeti in Scary Monsters & Super Creeps.
And Such Miserable Weather is about holidaying in England.
He has a new book coming out in November 2023 called The Conspiracy Tourist.