top of page

From the Archives #7: Larger than life characters at Suffolk Book League

Considering the number of authors who have spoken at Suffolk Book League and the fame of some of them, I can remember surprisingly few who came across as ‘larger than life’. Maybe author events don’t generally attract significantly outrageous behaviour.

There is the odd exception, an obvious example being Iestyn Edwards, who performed rather than spoke in November 2018, using the intriguing title ‘My tutu’s gone AWOL’. He wore the tutu in question, as he expanded on his memoir of life as ‘Madam Galina’ (his stage name), with anecdotes of East Anglia, and his time touring with troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I can recall one or two famous authors doing surprising things. Alan Sillitoe in September 1996 rapped out a greeting in Morse code. But he was a wireless operator in Malaya in the late 1940s so perhaps that isn’t so odd (2). There is also a memory of Maggie Hambling appearing at the New Angle Prize shortlist event of 2011 for her book The Aldeburgh Scallop. She wore a remarkably loud striped blazer, complete with celery stick buttonhole; but the only comment in BookTalk for that meeting is, ‘if you’ve never heard her speak it’s worth a trip of several hundred miles’ (3).

One of the most memorable characters was our sometime President, James MacGibbon, whom I recall as a lovely, charming man, epitomising the word ‘debonair’. He was publisher to a number of very distinguished authors, including Alexander Solzhenitsyn and (more prosaically) Catherine Cookson. He was openly a Communist in earlier life and, after his death, his son Hamish revealed that he had spied for the Soviet Union during World War II. Truly, this was a man of many parts, ‘writ large’ in a way that is not possible today, when even smoking seems something of an eccentricity.

  1. Blything-Smith, S. Iestyn Edwards, BookTalk, 2019, February, (171): 7.

  2. Parry, A. Programme, Thursday September 12th, Alan Sillitoe on ‘The writer’s life’, BookTalk, 1996 August/September/October, (82): 1. 

  3. Kelly, J. New Angle Prize Showcase, July 5, BookTalk, 2011, September, (144): 5.

  4. MacGibbon, H. ‘My Father the Spy’, London Review of Books, 2011, 16 June, 33(12).

Janet Bayliss



bottom of page