Marlborough LitFest returned for its 12th festival at the weekend in a hybrid live and online format, with a packed programme of nearly 30 events for all ages, including fiction, non-fiction and poetry events, workshops, debut novelists, award-winning established names, children’s authors, primary school author talks, LitFest’s 10th Golding Speaker and the annual Big Town Read.
The 2021 line-up included: Elif Shafak, Colm Tóibín, Sathnam Sanghera, Jonathon Porritt and Gill Hornby, culminating in an online festival finale from LitFest patron, Sir Simon Russell Beale. LitFest will return in 2022 from 29 September – 2 October.
LitFest offered over 13 online events at this year’s festival, to allow audiences who couldn’t get to Marlborough in person to enjoy author talks from their own homes. These are now available to watch until 15 October; tickets for each online session can still be bought for £5 here.
Once you have received your booking confirmation, please email email@example.com to advise which online event you’d like to view.
The LitFest Committee was delighted with how the 2021 festival went. Ticket sales were steady, with more interest in live events than online possibly reflecting the public mood of wanting to return to normality after the pandemic. The LitFest buzz returned to Marlborough Town Hall during the festival weekend, with people of all ages visiting the White Horse Bookshop’s pop-up festival bookshop, queuing for authors to sign their books, and enjoying a cup of tea, locally-made cakes and Marlborough Buns between author events in the LitFest café.
Genevieve Clarke, Festival Chair, said: “So many people commented that it was fabulous to be back. But we couldn’t have done it without wonderful local support – from sponsors, nearly 100 volunteers including our committee and, of course, our audience. It was also very exciting to take so many of our authors to a wider audience online and we’ve had some very positive feedback about this. Roll on next year!”
LitFest’s annual poetry slot was taken on Thursday evening at Memorial Hall in Marlborough College by award-winning poet and playwright, Inua Ellams who transfixed the audience with his reactive and spontaneous poetry performance.
The 10th annual LitFest Golding Speaker on Friday evening was the Turkish-British novelist, academic and women’s rights activist, Elif Shafak. Saturday’s festival line-up saw local author and wife of Robert Harris, Gill Hornby, detailing the lives of Jane and Cassandra Austen from her latest novel, Miss Austen, fiction from authors Sarah Winman and the Hiscox Debut Authors slot with newcomers Hafsa Zayyan and Natasha Brown as well as an online talk with the legendary Irish writer, Colm Tóibín.
These were interspersed with non-fiction talks on the geopolitics of Russia from Guardian journalist Luke Harding and a discussion on the climate change emergency between renowned veteran campaigner Jonathon Porritt and young novelist Jessie Greengrass – trying to activate change through both fact and fiction.
Espionage fans were treated to a masterclass in writing the perfect thriller by Mick Herrron, whose infamous protagonist, Jackson Lamb, will be played by Gary Oldman in a forthcoming six-part Apple TV show. And for the first time LitFest featured a graphic novel with writer and illustrator Matthew Dooley talking about his award-winning Flake.
Children’s authors Emma Carroll and Eileen Browne kept older and younger children entertained using song and dance and dressing up to inspire the little ones. Bookish treats during the festival included workshops for Bookbinding and ‘Getting Published’ and the popular annual Collectable Book Roadshow with Chris Gange at the Katharine House Gallery which this year uncovered some rare signed editions of Rudyard Kipling.
Sunday’s weather was glorious for two sold out Birdsong Walks with Charlie Corbett around Martinsell Hill which uncovered a plethora of birdlife including larks, goldfinches, yellowhammers, kestrels and departing swallows for the bird enthusiasts, to celebrate Charlie’s recent book on reconnecting with nature through birds.
Ian Ridley brought poignant recollections of grief (and cricket) through his memoir; Lucy Jago fully immersed her audience into a 17th-century true-life scandal with her latest novel; and this year’s Big Town Read author, Rosamund Lupton, fielded intense questioning from the Town Hall audience, mostly made up of book groups.
Returning to Marlborough after being a Big Town Read author in 2014, author, journalist and broadcaster, Sathnam Sanghera, spoke to a sold out audience at the Town Hall on Sunday afternoon about his new book, Empireland, which aims to redress the balance in our understanding of the British Empire and its effects, provoking a lively Q&A.
Following an in-depth interview with award-winning novelist Jon McGregor, the festival was brought to a close on Sunday evening with a series of pre-recorded readings by LitFest Patron, Sir Simon Russell Beale. These celebrated the near centenary of an infamous 1920s Parisian dinner party which included the composer Stravinsky, the impresario Diaghilev, Picasso, James Joyce and Marcel Proust. Interspersed with music and clips from 20’s Parisian life, it proved the perfect finale to a packed literary festival weekend in Marlborough.