Saturday, 27 April 2013

Behind the Scenes at ChipLitFest

It hardly seems possible that a week has passed since the Chipping Norton Literary Festival (or ChipLitFest as it is affectionately called) took place.  For four days the small, market town situated on the edge of the Cotswolds hosted eighty of the best authors to be found anywhere - a remarkable feat for a festival still in its infancy.

A quiet back street in the centre of Chipping Norton

For the eleven of us on the committee the past year has been an endless round of meetings, venues to be visited, volunteers to be found and co-ordinated, emails to be sent, publishers and agents to be contacted and authors to be booked.  Fortunately, our meetings have always been enjoyable and any stress negated by copious amounts of food, wine  and strong coffee.  These are an absolute necessity for none of the committee receive any payment whatsoever so meetings have to be fitted around busy work schedules in the evenings.  Perhaps if we had ever worked out how much the meetings cost the individuals hosting them there would have been a mass resignation.

The information point in the market place

The first two days of the festival are focused on children with authors visiting all of the local schools, speaking and reading and encouraging them to become better readers and writers.  The story writing competition was well supported; the winning entries can be read by clicking here.

Mountaineer Nick Bullock and explorer Jason Lewis discuss their exploits with Sue Cook

The authors and patrons were guests of honour at a reception held in the town centre on Friday evening and gave them the chance to network and to meet the committee and sponsors in a relaxed and informal way.  My role in the festival has been  Author Liaison so I was especially keen to speak with as many of them as possible - it was good  to be finally able to meet face to face after many weeks of messages and telephone conversations.  The following evening myself and Merilyn Davies, the children's programme co-ordinator, hosted a dinner for the authors and, as many events had taken place by then, we were all realising just how successful the festival was becoming. 

At the reception our designated charity Storybook Dads gave a short explanation of their amazing work inside some of the UK's toughest jails.  Their film was uplifting and heart-breaking all at the same time and it was wonderful that the festival was able to present a cheque to them for five hundred pounds.  They are now out in Afghanistan too, helping servicemen keep in touch with their children.  A short video montage of their work can be seen here.

Sharon Berry, founder of Storybook Dads, talks to author Clive Aslet about their work

It wasn't just the committee that welcomed our guests for the whole town has taken the festival to its heart: the local window cleaners had put up yards of bunting, shops and cafes were offering special promotions and the farmer's market was held over two days instead of the usual one day. Festival goers were appreciative of this and with warm, spring sunshine finally making an appearance the atmosphere was electric.



One of the drawbacks of being involved in putting on an event - and I wouldn't have changed places for a second - is that there is little time for us to actually see any of the talks or workshops.  However, I did manage to sneak into a few places to take a quick photograph or two.

Julian Fellowes meeting festival goers and signing books after his Downton Abbey talk


Both the local and the national press came to town too.  David Freeman, past presenter of Sky television's The Book Show, was busy interviewing and filming authors.  I, too, was interviewed by him about my forthcoming book Why Can't My Garden Look Like That? published next month.

David Freeman being filmed during an author interview

The festival ended on Sunday evening and we all returned home utterly exhausted.  This state of affairs didn't last long for within twenty-four hours emails from the committee were pouring into the inbox discussing how well it went and how we could make 2014's even better.  Even more gratifying were the huge number from the authors, volunteers and public saying how much they had enjoyed it and asking for the dates of the next one.  So here it is:

Chipping Norton Literary Festival 2014 - April 24-27

If you want to take part or visit follow the information on the links to the websites: ChipLitFest, Facebook or Twitter


The actress, Lalla Ward, caught having a quiet moment at the Chipping Norton Literary Festival



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Thursday, 11 April 2013

Chipping Norton - One Week To Go!



Chipping Norton, one of the gateway towns of the Cotswolds often gets overlooked on the tourist trail.  It is not surprising in some ways for many of the region's towns and villages look as if they have come straight off the lid of a chocolate box - all golden, mellow stone crouched under a heavy hat of deep thatch, devoid of much of twenty-first century life.  Chipping Norton - or Chippy as it is known by the locals - is different: a bustling, working town full of people going about their everyday lives , whether shopping or working.


Look beyond the modern shop fronts and traffic and you find a gem of a town; raise your eyes for every building has a different façade and, yes, they too are built from Cotswold stone.  Explore the side streets and you find almshouses and a magnificent church and both the 16th century Guildhall and the Town Hall are as glorious a building as you will see anywhere.  Bliss Mill,  a former tweed mill now converted to flats, is surrounded by common land that reaches into the heart of the town.



Chippy is a busy place socially too and for a small town with a population of only 6000 there is always something taking place.  Perhaps one of the most ambitious of recent events is the Chipping Norton Literary Festival (ChipLitFest), the first of which was held last year to great acclaim.  This year it is bigger than ever and starts in just seven days time on the 18th April and continuing throughout the weekend.

 


Because the town is so small, the festival is held in numerous venues.  It is fortunate to have an award winning theatre to stage larger events and an award winning bookshop, Jaffe & Neale, that holds workshops - and sells the most delicious coffee and cakes.  It seems everyone is involved in one way or another: the Chequers pub, the Blue Boar Inn, the Crown & Cushion Hotel, the Vintage Sports Car Club, the local churches, the library; even the shoe shop is hosting a children's event.  Incidentally, there are free things going on for youngsters all weekend and the festivals designated charity this year is Storybook Dads, which connects prisoners with their families through books and reading.



So who is coming to the festival? There is an amazing choice of eighty authors so there is bound to be someone to interest everybody.  Sir Julian Fellowes of Downton Abbey fame will be there; Fern Britton will be talking about her latest book - and perhaps her experience in Strictly Come Dancing.  For detective novel buffs, Mark Billingham will be discussing murder with Val McDermid, Stuart MacBride and Martyn Waites.  Did you see the film We Need to Talk About Kevin?  Author Lionel Shriver will be discussing her new book, Big Brother, which tackles the subject of obesity.  For foodies, Xanthe Clay, Henrietta Green and William Sitwell ask "are we a nation of food fashionistas?"


Prue Leith - one of our Festival patrons

Two events that especially appeal to me are Ursula Buchan's talk 'How England's Gardeners Fought the Second World War' and the Extreme Travel team of Nick Bullock and Jason Lewis discuss their adventures with Sue Cook.  Jason, incidentally, has just been recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as the first person to circumnavigate the world using only human power and described by the Daily Mail as “the most remarkable adventurer in the world today.”

Sue Cook, another of our Patrons

One of the especial pleasures of coming to the festival is that because both the town and the venues are small, you are able to be close to the authors, to chat with them and to get them to sign your books.  You can also meet me (!) for, as Facebook followers of this blog know, I am part of the organising committee.  ChipLitFest also has a Facebook page or follow them on Twitter.


Tickets for all of these events are selling fast and for more information about them and the other authors and host of workshops visit the festival's website by clicking here.

I look forward to seeing you at the Chipping Norton Literary Festival, 18th-21st April - do come and say 'hello'.




all photos, apart from Bliss Mill, from the ChipLitFest website

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