Marlborough LitFest’s 2019 Sunday began with an innovation – a What the Papers Say session.
The panel consisted of Sarah Rose Troughton (Lord-Lieutenant of Wiltshire), Harry Forbes (new graduate & former Town Councillor) and Stephen May (novelist & Yorkshire resident). Sitting on the stage and drawing away throughout, was The Observer’s political cartoonist and children’s author, Chris Riddell.
Keeping control was journalist and broadcaster Rosie Goldsmith who lives in Potterne. Every line and shading of Riddell’s drawings were clearly seen on a big screen behind him – it was mesmerising watching him catch the jokey likeness of panel members, politicians, Mrs May’s kitten heels and the new No 10 dog.
We were taken through the bad language debate and the bad behaviour debate – Stephen May wanted to rename the PM Borisconi – after the infamous Italian president.
Another person featuring was Greta the Climate Warrior – though Harry Forbes thought young people protesting was just “A lot of hot air” that had not achieved anything.
He preferred a news story about actually doing something to solve the climate problem – like transporting tiny snails to a South Sea island. Though no one mentioned the classic Guardian/Observer headline “Precious Escargot….”
Why, it was asked, should the Ukraine have the only comedian to become a nation’s leader? The panel’s ideas for a British version ran from Armando Iannucci (Riddell), Morecombe and Wise (Troughton), Eddie Izzard (May) – but Harry Forbes thought the current incumbent was quite a comedian anyway.
All sections of the papers were covered. Though yet another ‘pull out’ section on another of Kate’s ‘new looks’ was thought to be a supplement too far. And the Sun’s Good Living Guide (aka good sex guide) was judged to be reminiscent of Woman’s Weekly circa 1955.
It was all great fun. Though from time to time to was quite hard not to immerse yourself in Chris Riddell’s deft drawing skills and miss the words. Definitely worth a repeat next year – please.
As we left, on the Town Hall stairs we passed parents and offspring queuing on for the front seats to hear Chris Riddell talk about his latest book Guardians of Magic – the first in his new series The Cloud Horse Chronicles – and to watch him draw.
Then back to the real business of the day: books!
Raynor Winn’s bestseller, The Salt Path, was chosen for LitFest’s seventh ‘Big Town Read’ – and it proved a very popular choice indeed. Raynor Winn’s presence in the Town Hall on Sunday afternoon was just as popular.
The book is a publishing phenomenon – selling, to date, 135,000 copies. In Marlborough there were waiting lists to borrow it from the library and this event was sold out by the end of July.
As it was extra chairs had to be found for the audience – which, without counting, seemed to have many more women than men – and plenty of book groupers.
The LitFest Chair, Genevieve Clarke, set the ball rolling and prompted with some questions and an invitation to read an extract. With her husband Moth in the audience, Raynor chose the book’s very moving Prologue.
The Salt Path saga began when Raynor and Moth lost their home in a court case that ended a long running financial dispute and, simultaneously, Moth was diagnosed with a terminal neurological illness: “We lost our past and our future as well.”
Homeless and without income, they decided – on a whim – to walk the South West Coast Path – all 630 challenging miles of it. What began with bailiffs and angry distress ended as what she termed “A love story…walking the path allowed us to move past anger – allowed us to let go and move forward.”
Apart from all the struggles and determination along the way and the characters they met, one of the most intriguing things about this inspiring story is how Raynor came to write the book.
Two years after their ‘walk’, she realised “All those miles were really not just a journey, but a huge emotional journey.” The notes Moth had pencilled in the guide book’s margins were fading – she wanted to keep them for when his illness got worse: “Before I knew it, I was writing a book…I was writing myself back onto the path”.
She printed it off and gave it to Moth for his birthday – it was their daughter who said it was good enough to be a real book. She got an agent.
The first publisher she visited was, to her delight, Penguin – as a child she had dreamed of writing a book that had Penguin’s iconic penguin on its spine.
She entered their boardroom in some trepidation. “It was like magic – a man said ‘Let’s put you at your ease – we want your book’.”
What came after the book? Moth has finished his degree course and graduated. His condition varies. But, confounding doctors’ advice, it seems walking fends off the worst of his symptoms.
So they have recently been on a trek through southern Iceland – with backpacks. After some miles “Moth was clear as a bell – I couldn’t keep up with him.”
Raynor has developed her interest in rural homelessness, which she says is, compared to urban homelessness, a hidden problem: “They are not statistics, they’re all individuals – we should see them as individuals not as a number.”
She is writing a second book which will be more about the connection with nature: “We’re missing the raw connection with nature”. Also featured will be “A very strange offer that came from someone who’d read The Salt Path….” That’s very tantalising!
Dates for your diaries: Marlborough LitFest 2020 will run from 24 to 27 September.