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The Low House Literary Festival at Laxfield

Rural Suffolk village Laxfield isn’t the first place you’d think of to host a literary festival but I’m guessing once upon a time, Hay-on-Wye wasn’t the most likely candidate either. Now though, The Hay Festival attracts a hundred thousand visitors a year and Laxfield Lit. Fest is becoming a miniature, but no less powerful literary community.

July 2023 saw the third iteration of Laxfield Lit. Fest: a collaboration between Halesworth Bookshop, Laxfield Literary Associates and The Low House Public House. The one-day festival played host to some really remarkable authors from the masterly Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ whose first book Stay With Me won The 9mobile Prize for Literature and Prix Les Afriques and whose latest book A Spell of Good Things has just been longlisted for the Booker Prize, to the unforgettable Patrick Barkham who has recently released The Swimmer, an eloquent biography of local writer and environmentalist Roger Deakin.

The children’s area wasn’t short-changed either with the ingenious Annaliese Avery offering both her storytelling and crafting skills to a younger, but no less enthusiastic audience.

You might think that little old Laxfield wouldn’t be a patch on Hay-on-Wye but returning to the space of local literature festivals reminded me of the many things with which the big names can’t compete. The sense of intimacy, the enlightening conversations with fellow attendees and the informal access to author wisdom before and after their time on stage. The best bit though? Laxfield Lit. Fest was, quite unbelievably, free. That an event of this calibre could be free, at first dumbfounded me but then I remembered who the organisers were and their determination that the wonder of books should reach the widest possible audience. Laxfield Lit. Fest, for me, embodied the same joy and inclusivity that libraries do. It said, ‘come on in, you are so welcome here’ and the result? People did.

I even decamped with my writer's group there for the afternoon. All were keen to miss neither our monthly meet nor the festival. People who loved books talked to other people who loved books and, I realised, there are so few shared spaces in which to do that.

We listened, laughed, quizzed the authors and felt included. The Low House offered mouth-wateringly delicious pizzas, the weather played ball and I came away with far too many books, all of them graciously signed.

I’ll admit that, to date, my experience of local literature festivals has been mixed but this one was, in short, an absolute triumph. The only downside? It’s biennial. How on earth I will wait two years for the next one, I do not know. One thing I do know though …on a sunny day in July 2025, that’s where you’ll find me.

by Katie Flaxman


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