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Notes from Felixstowe Book Festival

Saturday 25th June to Sunday 26th June 2022

The Felixstowe Book Festival is almost ten years old. Quite an amazing success due to Meg Reid, the Director. As I remember the Festival was originally held at the Orwell Hotel but for the last two years the Harvest House has provided an alternative, excellent venue. The large main hall has gold chandeliers and opulent décor with excellent acoustics. The dining room is also a large area providing for book sales and author signings. Such is the ambience, the authors are relaxed and always seem to be enjoying their time in Felixstowe.

As a volunteer I can attend talks when helping to host an author talk otherwise I pay. I paid to see Justin Webb and Stella Rimington but Patrick Gale’s talk was free as part of my duties. I was also allocated to be at the entrance and on the ticket desks. We volunteers are generally happy with whatever we are asked to do. If you are interested in volunteering next year do contact the Festival organisers.

Justin Webb, journalist on the Today programme, Radio 4, was interesting. A very likeable man and effective but seemingly mild.

Stella Rimington was very impressive. She looked and sounded like a personable lady demonstrating a recipe for plum jam and not an 87 year-old ex-spymaster. Actually she could easily have been 20 years younger. So difficult to imagine her running spies and the spy controllers too. Apparently she was surprised to be appointed Director General of MI5 in 1993. The first time a DG had ever been identified. This exposure led The Sun newspaper to publish her personal details including a photograph of her house which led to serious concerns for the safety of her two teenage daughters. She left the service in 1996. Since retirement she has written eleven novels and an autobiography. Now I must read her latest.

I was able to take notes at the Patrick Gale event. His latest novel, Mother’s Boy, is based on the life of the poet Charles Causley. The author said he wrote a novel, and not a biography, because he could take liberties, enabling him to get inside the heads of the main characters, Charles and his mother. He explained the mother/ son relationship was close to incestuous. The mother being the muse, but also the protector and carer.

Charles was a closet homosexual disgusted by his sexual orientation which was illegal during his lifetime. He probably remained celibate, although may have had an affair in the Navy. Gale makes much of this fact as influencing Causley’s writing and lifestyle. In World War II he enlisted in the Navy as a code breaker and later wrote of his wartime experiences in his poetry. After the war he became a school teacher in Launceston, Cornwall, published poems, broadcast on the BBC and became a close friend of Ted Hughes. Despite his public success he remained a very private man, living with his mother.

Personally, I see these local events offering an opportunity to hear and meet well known writers in a welcoming relaxed setting with tickets affordable at £10. Felixstowe Festival is similar to the Suffolk Book League but quite different from other literary festivals for example, Ways with Words at Southwold. I clearly speak as an enthusiast for the League and the opportunity it gives to hear writers talk about writing throughout the year. This is a treat for me.

Isla Clough


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