Four Speakers at Felixstowe Book Festival

Felixstowe Book Festival

This annual event takes place on the last weekend of June each year. Well, I say each year but last year was the first and this year the second time that the event has been held. In 2013 I was in Switzerland but it sounded good from the reports so this year I combined a visit with family in Norwich with a weekend  of books at Felixstowe in Suffolk.

“A weekend by the sea for all who love to read”. I’m afraid the weather in Felixstowe on both days was appalling – constant rain almost throughout – but at least I wasn’t regretting being inside – although picnic lunch outside in the hotel garden and walk to see the sea might have been nice!

Last year a couple of book group friends attended and this year a couple more: me and Diney Costeloe. Elaine (Random Jottings), who lives at nearby Colchester has been one of the volunteer helpers each year.

Diney Costeloe is a member of our group and a published author. It’s hard to write about a talk given by someone you know and like and whose books you believe deserve much more attention than they have been given. This was her first book festival talk although she has done author signings and book group discussions. Diney chose to talk about her ‘writing story’ with humour and anecdotes but also adding some of the frustrating struggles authors face trying to get published these days. I’ve read all her books and they are gripping stories each one brings to our attention an often neglected aspect of the First or Second World War.

The Ashgrove


Eight ash trees were planted in 1921 as a memorial to the men from the village of Charlton Ambrose who were killed in World War One. Now the Ashgrove is under threat from developers, and the village is torn between the need for more housing and the wish to preserve the memorial. Rachel Elliott, a local journalist, is reporting the story and uncovers a mystery… eight men and nine trees – in whose memory is the ninth tree and who planted it? As she researches the memorial a diary and letters are given to her and as the story they tell unfolds Rachel discovers her own links with the past and with the Ashgrove itself and this makes her determined to save the Ashgrove as a memorial to all the men who lost their lives.

A fictional telling of the shooting for desertion in WW1.

Death’s Dark Vale

Death's Dark Vale

“When Adelaide Anson-Gravetty discovers she is not who she thought she was, her search for her true family leads her to the convent of Our Lady of Mercy in St Croix in northern France.

The defeat of France brings German occupation to the village, the nuns are caught up in a war that threatens both their beliefs and their lives. Involved with the resistance and British agents, Adelaide and the sisters truly walk in the shadow of death as they try to protect the innocent from the evil menace of the Nazi war machine.” [source]

Fiction on the theme of the wartime resistance movement in France and involvement of British agents.

Death’s Dark Vale has links to some of the characters in The Ashgrove but both books can be read independently. In fact I read them in the opposite ‘order’.

Evil on the Wind

Evil on the wind

“It is Germany 1937. Fear and betrayal stalk the streets. People disappear. Persecution of the Jews is a national pastime. Her home destroyed, her husband arrested by the SS after an anti-Jewish riot, Ruth Friedman is left to fend for herself and her four children. Homeless, she is forced to live on her wits to protect her family. She alone stands as their shield against the Nazis. Where should she go? What must she do? Is Kurt alive? Wherever she turns, Ruth is faced with indifference, hatred, cruelty. Living with the rising tyranny of the Nazis and their determination to make their Reich Jew Free, Ruth and her family run a desperate race to escape the Nazi terror as it marches inexorably to its ‘final solution’ of the Jewish Problem.”

About the Kindertransport mission before war was declared on Germany.

One of the Festival themes was The First World War so I was interested to hear Jeff Taylor talk about The First World War in East Anglian Fiction. Like Jeff I’m interested in place in fiction. Here is what the Festival Guide says about Jeff and his theme:

“The First World War had a presence in East Anglian fiction almost as soon as the war began and this continues into the present day. From the work of H.G.Wells through to that of children’s author Michael Foreman, Jeff will summon a roll-call of imagined characters who reflect the reality of the time. Jeff wrote a long-running column on East Anglia’s rich literary heritage in the Eastern daily Press.”

Jeff told us that when first approached he only wanted to speak about R H Mottram’s ‘The Spanish Farm Trilogy’ but the festival had suggested he broaden the talk to include all East Anglian literature so towards the end, after his piece on “What if … ?” books, he rather rushed through more recent books with a 1st WW theme but managed to include Diney’s The Ashgrove which was partly inspired by Colchester’s Avenue of Remembrance.

Although I made a few notes of books to follow up Jeff offered to send a booklist to anyone who cared to leave there email address with him.

Alex Munroe is a jewellery designer and maker. I’d never heard of him but booked the talk on the strength of the enthusiastic blog piece that arrived from the festival a few weeks ago. He’s written ‘Two Turtle Doves: a memoir of making things’.

Two Turtle Doves

It’s out soon in paperback but I’ll be requesting the library buy it. He told us that he thought if his friend Edmund de Waal can write a book … then so could he (tongue in cheek). He was very self-effacing but also very funny.

Alex Munro signing

Alex Munroe meeting members of the audience and signing his book

 Elaine’s daughter Helen McCarthy spoke about her new book on women diplomats.


“Helen’s book, Women of the world: The Rise of the Female Diplomat, is the first serious attempt to explore the place of women in British diplomatic life since the 19th century. The two World Wars cast women as new players on the international stage. In this fascinating talk Helen traces their influence and experiences as wives, patrons, experts and eventually as diplomats in their own right. Helen is Senior Lecturer in History at Queen Mary, University of London and previously was a Research Fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge. Her first book was The British People and the League of Nations.” [Festival Notes]

All the events I attended were held in the Orwell Hotel and a couple of rooms were available for tea drinking and a local bookshop set a stall.

I stayed at a lovely old rectory B&B in the Suffolk countryside just beyond Sutton Hoo (NT) near Woodbridge.

The Old Rectory


A Sussex Tea Garden, a Long Man and a Landmark Priory : Litlington and Wilmington

Last year Simon over at Stuck-in-a-Book lent me his copy of  ‘Tea is so Intoxicating’ by Mary Essex which is one of several pen names of romantic novelist (and my brother-in-law’s Godmother!) Ursula Bloom.

One thing I especially loved about the book was the choice of chapter headings. Shall I quote them all here?

1. Tea for Two,and Two for Tea

2. I do like a Nice Cup of Tea

3. For all the Tea in China

4. The Cups that Cheer but not Inebriate

5. Everything Stops for Tea

6. Cold Tea may be Endured, but not Cold Looks (Japanese Proverb)

7. Tea and Scandal

Written in 1950 it is basically the story of a London couple who set up a Tea Garden in the South of England but the marriage is not a success.


Anyway, when Fran told me that Tea Gardens were a particular feature of the East Sussex countryside around Laughton I knew, should the weather remain sympathetic, that I would have to take my Swiss friends to one of these minor Sussex institutions. So, after the walk on Sunday at Firle Beacon and the visit to Firle village we headed for Litlington Tea Garden.

Litlington tea garden

In the Tea Garden – there are a few sheltered places should the weather turn inclement

We were in luck – the day remained warm and dry. We ordered cucumber sandwiches to be followed by scones and jam and accompanied by plenty of tea.

cucumber sandwiches

From Litlington it was just a short drive to Wilmington. Here is the famous Long Man carved into the chalk hillside many centuries ago. Here also is Wilmington Priory another Landmark Trust property.

The Long Man Info

Wilmington Long Man

After tea and scones and jam we were ready for a little exercise so parked up in the small car park on the edge of Wilmington and walked about the half mile or so to the bottom of the hillside upon which he is marked out. The nearer you get to him the less of him there is to see. Still, it was a nice walk.

Approaching the Long Man

Approaching the Long Man

Close up

We Reach The Long Man

The enigmatic Long Man of Wilmington attracts many theories but provides little evidence to back them up. Now outlined in stone, he was formerly carved in the chalk of the hill. His first definite mention was as late as 1710, but the monument was old then. A picture drawn by bored monks, commemoration of the Saxon conquest of Pevensey, a Roman soldier or Neolithic god opening the gates of dawn. The ‘Long Man asking the traveller – like the Sphinx – to solve the dark mystery of its own origins’.” [Wealden Walks]

Wilmington Priory

Wilmington Priory

“The remains of a once highly regarded Benedictine Priory Wilmington Priory was a cell of the Benedictine Abbey at Grestain in Normandy. It was never a conventional priory with cloister and chapter, the monks prayed in the adjoining parish church where the thousand-year-old yews are testimony to the age of the site. The Priory has been added to and altered in every age and some of it has been lost to ruin and decay, but what is left shows how highly it was once regarded.” [Landmark Trust website]

Rear of Wilmington Priory

Rear of Wilmington Priory

Ruined Priory

The Ruined Priory

WP garden

Wilmington Priory Gardens

1000 year old yew

The 1,000 Year Old Yew Tree in the Churchyard

A Room of One’s Own at Monk’s House, Rodmell

A Room of one's own

‘A Room of One’s Own’ by Virginia Woolf in the Library at Laughton Place

The moment my Swiss friends stepped off the London train at Lewes Station the sun came out and this set the scene for the next few days. We stuffed the cases in the boot and I whisked them straight off down shady narrow lanes to the quiet village of Rodmell just a few miles from the town centre of Lewes. We parked up in the Monk’s House (NT) car park and ambled back up the lane past wisteria covered cottages and pretty gardens to the Abergavenny Arms for lunch where, wonder of wonders, we were able to sit outside in the garden.

MH Quote VW Diaries

Description of Monk’s House by Virginia Woolf

Monk’s House is the former 17th century summer cottage home of Virginia and Leonard Woolf. They lived here together from 1919 until Virginia’s death in 1941 and Leonard continued to live here permanently with his companion, Trekkie Parsons, until his death in 1969. The house was left to Trekkie but before she died in 1995 she had sold the house in 1972 to The University of Sussex. Visiting lecturers and researchers stayed here until 1980 when the National Trust took on the property.

Monk's House

Leonard Woolf had the Conservatory added when he was too frail to walk to the Greenhouses

VW Writing Garden House

The Writing Lodge

Here Virginia Woolf wrote in the small wooden lodge at the bottom of the garden. Jacob’s Room was published in 1922, Mrs Dalloway in 1925, To The Lighthouse in 1927, Orlando in 1928, The Waves in 1931, The Years in 1937 and Between The Acts, published posthumously, in 1941. This latter is, apparently, steeped in references to Rodmell and the traditions and values of its villagers.

VW burial

Both Virginia and Leonard’s ashes are buried beneath the magnolia tree in the garden.

LW Burial


Beneath the tree

The tree beneath which the ashes are buried

It’s a wonderful house. You can wander around as your fancy takes you and the garden is very pretty. Photography is not restricted and friendly local volunteers are on hand to answer questions as best they can.

Garden and church

Garden and Rodmell Parish Church

Leonard was the gardener, despite the recently published ‘Virginia Woolf’s Garden‘ by Jacqui Zoob who for ten years from 2000 lived at the house as a tenant of the National Trust. However, we were able to visit Virginia’s bedroom which is very much a garden room in an extension which they had added to the house.

VW Garden room

Virginia Woolf’s Garden Bedroom Exterior

VW Garden Room Interior

Virginia Woolf’s Garden Bedroom Interior

Originally proposed as the sitting room it was given over to VW when they realised that the view from the room above would be more suited to a sitting room. This room, which we didn’t see, is now let by the Trust as holiday accommodation.

Stay at MH

Room to Let

On leaving the house we walked the same route to the River Ouse that Virginia took on that fateful day 28 March 1941.

River Ouse

R Ouse

The River Ouse near Rodmell

More pictures inside Monk’s House :

Woolf sitting room

Sitting Room MH

Garden from sitting room MH

 Bloomsbury style

Tea and Books in Oxford

When I meet with my online book group chums there is not much chance of sightseeing. Rather we seem to stagger from book shop to tea shop with our bags getting heavier and our purses lighter (although every purchase is always a bargain) and tummies fuller.

Saturday was no exception. Back in December Simon, over at Stuck-in-a-book, had invited us to join him for a day in Oxford. Although it is possible to get there and back in a day from Leeds for easier travel I opted to go via two nights in London. This meant a not so early start from Paddington in the company of another group member on Saturday morning.

St John's Oxford

St John’s College, Oxford, on St Giles

The Jam Factory is just across the road (more or less) from Oxford Railway Station. (I should just add that from the station there is no indication that one is in the city of dreaming spires and all that; but we did eventually pass hurriedly by one or two colleges and churches so the joys of Oxford await me on a future visit.) The JF is a lovely light and airy venue and the food looked excellent although I only shared a pot of Oxford Blend Tea before we set off on our books and teas trail. Whilst we all assembled at this venue Simon told us more about the new project that he’s a founder member of Shiny New Books an online book review magazine. I urge you to pop over now and have a look.

In Beatnik Books

At Albion Beatnik Books

From the Jam Factory we headed to The Albion Beatnik Bookstore at 34 Walton Street. “Opened in 2009, this bookworm’s paradise is the coolest and most maverick of Oxford’s many bookstores. It offers an eclectic selection of new and secondhand books with a particular focus on jazz and blues … , American pulp fiction, graphic novels, beatnik poetry, Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group and neglected 20th century novels.”  Says my 2011 LV City Guide to Edinburgh, London and Oxford. On the table were flowers made of printed paper and our purchases were wrapped in more printed paper with a quotation sticker to seal.

Beatnik books


Beatnik book

Our next stop was the Oxfam Bookshop on St Giles but I also spotted the pub The Eagle and Child which has associations with the Inklings writers’ group which included J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis.

Eagle and Child


“A fascinating past :
The Eagle and Child lays claim to a number of interesting literary connections. J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and fellow writers met here and dubbed themselves ‘The Inklings’. They nicknamed the pub ‘The Bird and Baby’. A public house since 1650, our hostelry takes its name from the crest of the Earls of Derby. During the Civil War, our building was used as the playhouse for Royalist soldiers.” [From the pub website]

St Michael's St

St Michael’s Street

Time for lunch and the recommended venue was The Nosebag on St Michael’s St. I immediately recognised the address and building of The Oxford Union for it is the location of a Landmark Trust apartment : The Steward’s House. Even though it was after 2pm The Nosebag was packed so rather than miss out we had to split into two groups of 3 and 4. After the meal we dragged together enough chairs round one table in order to discuss the next steps in the campaign.

Oxford Union from The Nosebag

The Steward’s House and Oxfrod Union (red brick building) from the Nosebag

Pretty Arcadia is next door. It’s doesn’t just sell books but has a few displays and boxes outside and lots of vintage cards and accessories inside.

Before the end of our day we reached The Last Bookshop. This is also known as the £2 bookshop. It’s a great source of, presumably remaindered, new paper and hard back books. All priced (as it says on the tin) at £2. If I wasn’t such a devoted library user I would have bought loads here.

Last Bookshop

Actually, not The Last Book Shop for us

Our final two shops were – sellers of brushes not books – Objects of Use on Market Street – and a further Oxfam Bookshop on Turl Street. At least I thought OoU was more or less a kitchen wares shop as my companion and I only hovered near the entrance at a table full of brushes for different uses but I see from the website that it sells so much more. Apart from at The Home at Salts Mill this is the only other place that I have seen my Book Brush!

Book Brush

The very handy Book Brush

Book Brush Label

Instructions for Use

With trains and buses to catch around 5.30 time was pressing so we had a final tea and cake at ‘news’ and discussed plans for a Tenth Birthday Celebration in the autumn. All too soon it was time to hurry to station and rest our weary legs and heavy bags on the journey back to London.








I’m Invited! – A Shopping Evening at The London Review Book Shop

You’re invited!

At the London Review Bookshop, we have some upcoming events that are too good to keep to ourselves. Tickets are limited, so book early to avoid disappointment :

April Customer Evening

Wednesday 2 April, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Browse our shelves with a glass of wine and an Eccles cake from the London Review Cake Shop, and get 10% off any books, DVDs, cards and stationery purchased on the evening. We are also offering a FREE gift wrapping service on the night.

Tonight’s menu: According to The Bloomsbury Cookbook, Virginia and Leonard Woolf considered Eccles cakes suitable sustenance for type-setting and printing at the Hogarth Press. We think they make suitable sustenance for book browsing too! We’re pairing them with nutty Lancashire cheese and plenty of Russian tea.

Caravan tea

Eccles Cake pieces, Lancashire cheese crumbs and slurps of Russian Caravan Tea

As well as the usual treats – wine and nibbles and 10% off books – you’ll have the chance to win a copy of the beautiful Bloomsbury Cookbook, courtesy of Thames & Hudson. Just print a copy of your confirmation email and hand it in to one of our booksellers at the Customer Evening for the chance to win.

Good luck!

Bloomsbury cook book

The Bloomsbury Cookbook Window Display

This message arrived in my email Inbox a few weeks ago and I worked out that my next visit to London would coincide with this customer evening. The London Review Bookshop is another of my favourite London shops. On many occasions I have visited the Cake Shop with friends, family and to meet members of the online book group. It’s one of our favourite venues.

Shopping evening

Shopping Evening at London Review Bookshop

However, on many visits, time in the Cake Shop takes priority and I find I have little time to browse the bookshelves. So I was looking forward to spending time in the actual bookshop for a change.

The Bloomsbury Cookbook looked very tempting … but I was expecting to win a copy! I haven’t received the ‘winners email’ yet though :-( . I think I will reserve a copy from the Library as it may be useful to contribute to creating the atmosphere when I visit Sussex and the Bloomsbury connections later next month.

Charleston breakfast

 Breakfast at Charleston

I spotted some other books to add to my list for the future :

History of Armchair travel

A History of Armchair Travel : I do a bit of this. What’s not to like?

Quiet New York

Quiet New York : I have no plans to visit but I do have companion Quiet volumes – London and Paris

(I could be tempted to buy this just to read, anyway)


I’m a big fan of the late W.G.Sebald – new books keep being published!

I found the staff were very patient and helpful. They found each of the titles I wanted to buy, recommended a further title and hunted high and low for a book which should have been in stock but being a very slim volume had probably been mis-shelved.

Books bought

The four books I bought last evening

LRB Window

The Cake Shop Window Display – I’m Looking Forward to My Next Visit!


Wodehousian Connections



Many of you know that the origins of the name Miladys Boudoir and the strapline that accompanies it (“There is no surer foundation for a beautiful friendship than a mutual taste in literature”) both have P G Wodehouse connections. You can read about this here.

A while ago, with the help of a friend (who shares a mutual taste in literature with me), I tracked down the context of the strapline. You can read the short story ‘Strychnine in the soup’ we found here.

Or watch the BBC Wodehouse Playhouse dramatisation from the 1970s here :

It was never my intention that Miladys Boudoir should be a book reviewing blog but many of my friends do just that. Now, on my recommendation, my friend Lyn at I Prefer Reading has read, enjoyed and reviewed Sebastian Faulks’s ‘Jeeves and the Wedding Bells’ and I get a mention! Read her post about it here.


Slightly Foxed on Gloucester Road

When the quarterly reader’s magazine Slightly Foxed: the real reader’s quarterly started ten years ago I took out a subscription but this year now that I can borrow issues from The Leeds Library I have cancelled my subscription. The result is that I actually read the magazine instead of flicking through it and putting it in a pile “to read later”. However, I am still a great fan of all things ‘Slightly Foxed’ which includes the lovely bookshop on Gloucester Road, Kensington.


Due to predictions of inclement weather yesterday I left home in Leeds extra early to drive down to London. The journey presented no problems and I arrived in good time; leaving the afternoon free.


Letters and messages to the Sly Fox

So I took the Underground Train to Gloucester Road Tube Station and revisited this lovely bookshop. Stocks include new books as well as secondhand, plus cards and bags and mugs. The friendly bookseller [Tony] found me the titles I was interested in from the Winter Catalogue.

In addition to publishing the Quarterly SF also reprint some lovely out-of-print classic memoirs in their Slightly Foxed Editions and Paperbacks.


Preparations for stocktaking at Slightly Foxed Bookshop

Browsing wasn’t easy in the downstairs secondhand department as staff are preparing to stock-take on the 2nd January. The shop was about to close for the Christmas and New Year holiday at 5pm today and is due to re-open on 3rd January 2014.

If you are wondering where the name/term ‘slightly foxed‘ comes from here is one definition:

FoxingIn a nutshell, a foxed book’s pages have some spotting, ranging from sort of a beige color to a rusty brown (like a fox’s footprints, or maybe its reddish coat). Sometime foxed spots are referred to as “age spots.” The causes of foxing include temperature & humidity changes (don’t store your books in damp or unheated places!), and impurities within the paper (high acidity – most common in modern books with cheap paper, or iron or copper, commonly found in 19th century & older books). There may be other causes as well, such as fungus or other microorganisms. The reason for foxing in a particular book is often difficult to discern.

Foxing is very common in antique books (due to the paper used) and can certainly be found in contemporary books as well.
A book conservator / archivist can sometimes remove foxing, but it’s a very difficult & expensive process.
As far as how it effects value, well, it just depends on how easy it is to find an unfoxed copy. Some very old books may be difficult to find in unfoxed condition; in that case value will not be greatly affected. Modern books are devalued by foxing to a greater degree, because they are more readily available in fine condition.”

Of course, there’s another meaning to fox – sly, clever, crafty. So the sly fox can cleverly suggest all sorts of books for all sorts of reading problems.


Gibside : “The Chapell, Greenhouse, Banquiting House, Bath, Gardens, and Walks, [and] pleasure grounds are all gone to Ruin.”

Last week I finished reading ‘Wedlock’ by Wendy Moore, subtitled on the cover ‘How Georgian Britain’s Worst Husband met his Match’. And what a tale it tells. It’s been recommended to me from several sources not least from Nilly Hall‘s wittily titled ‘Bowes and Cupid’s Arrows‘ published last February.


The book is the story of Mary Eleanor Bowes (1749-1800) daughter of the coal baron creator of “Gibside, a Georgian ‘grand design’ on a spectacular scale. The vision of coal baron George Bowes, the Palladian chapel is an architectural masterpiece, the stable block is a vibrant learning and discovery centre, and the once grand hall is now a dramatic shell. Gibside is also a haven for wildlife with red kites often circling in the skies above.” [NT]

Stable Block 2

The Stable Block

Gibside just a few miles from Newcastle is now the property of the National Trust. I have visited Gibside twice. The most recent time was just last December on my way to a course at Sage plc.

The Chapell

The Chapell


The Greenhouse or Orangery

Banqueting House

The Banquiting House

The water feature below the Banqueting House was an elegant octagonal pond built in the Greek style to add to the stately vistas. A fountain cooled he air and statues stood on the terraces above. The Banqueting House was restored by The Landmark Trust after many years of neglect. That same neglect has had some happy consequences for the pond. It is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its population of great crested newts. There are no plans to restore the Octagon Pond as any such work could destroy the habitat of these shy and rare creatures, as well as upsetting the many other types of bird and aquatic life that thrive here. [Extracted from the Information Board at the Pond]

A highly educated woman for her time Mary Eleanor’s father, George Bowes, died when she was 11 leaving her a vast fortune and prey to future gold-diggers. She married her first husband, John Lyon, the 9th Earl of Strathmore, in 1767, gave birth to five children in six years and was left a widow when Lyon died of tuberculosis in 1776.

Her second marriage to Andrew Robinson Stoney, an Anglo-Irish adventurer, was a total disaster. Self-styled ‘Captain’ Stoney duped Mary into marriage in 1777. From then on she was brutally treated and virtually held captive by him. Finally, she did manage to escape his clutches and even to divorce him – highly unusual at the time. He is the origin of the term “stony broke” – he died in a debtor’s prison – and he was the inspiration to William Makepeace Thackeray who learned of Stoney Bowes’ life story from the Countess’s grandson John Bowes and used it in his novel “The Luck of Barry Lyndon.” 

Stoney’s or Bowes’, as he is called in the book (in compliance with Mary’s father’s will, Stoney changed his name to Bowes his marriage to Mary Eleanor), greed was responsible for the ruin of Gibside and the destruction of thousands of trees on the estate .

It is ironic that Mary’s father constructed the Column of Liberty in the grounds of the estate when for several years during her marriage to Bowes she was very far from being at liberty.

Column of Liberty

The Column of Liberty at Gibside

My Life in Books : Series 4 : Day 2 : Milady’s Day!

One of the annual features of my friend Simon’s blog is the week where he invites other bloggers to more or less take over and re-enacts a BBC TV series My Life in Books. A couple of months ago I was flattered to be invited to participate in this year’s pairing. If you are interested you can read the result here :

Simon and I are both members of the same online book discussion group and meet up occasionally often with many other members during December or in the summer when fewer members are prepared to leave the safety of the big city!

At Great Malvern

Simon and I (left and right) at Great Malvern, summer 2013

Virginia Woolf, Horace and Rectories : The Ilkley Literature Festival 2013

October is the month of The Ilkley Literature Festival. I remember when ‘all’ the events took place in one venue – a children’s weekend of ‘literary’ entertainment- poetry, puppets, that sort of thing – and a weekend of talks for adults. But that is going back nearly 30 years and I noticed that this year celebrates the 40th anniversary with 17 days of talks, walks, visits and entertainment with even free Fringe events.


I usually pick a couple of talks or events to attend each year and this year was no different. On the first Saturday I chose to hear Alexandra Harris talk about her book “Virginia Woolf“.

Liverpool University cultural historian Alexandra Harris’s hugely acclaimed Romantic Moderns (Guardian First Book and Somerset Maugham Awards) overturned our picture of modernist culture. Now Harris discusses the life and work of Virginia Woolf, revealing a passionate, determined woman full of wit, vivacity and fun, whose life was shaped by her defiant refusal to submit to literary convention, social constraints and mental illness.” [ILF Programme]

The Sitting Room at Monk's House, East Sussex

The Sitting Room at Monk’s House. The armchair was one of Virginia Woolf’s favourite reading chairs. It is upholstered in a fabric designed by her sister, Vanessa Bell. ©NTPL/Eric Crichton [As seen here]

I’m expecting to get to Monk’s House next year (and felt the need to learn more about VW) with a friend and bought the book and had Ms Harris sign it for her. She hopes we will also have a chance to walk on The Downs whilst we are there … and I hope so too!

Later that afternoon I went to a Question and Answer format event featuring the FT ‘Slow Lane’ journalist and poet Harry Eyres who has recently published a book ‘Horace and me‘ a fascinating subject about whom I knew very little.


Harry Eyres, theatre critic, wine writer, poet and ‘Slow Lane’ columnist for the Financial Times, journeys into the work of the Roman poet Horace, exploring his lessons for our time. The humble son of a freed slave, Horace championed modest pleasures in the face of imperial Rome’s wealth and expansion. A celebrity in his own time, Horace influenced writers from Voltaire to Hardy – and Boris Johnson!” [ILF Programme]

And finally last Saturday it was Deborah Alun-Jones who gave a short talk, then took questions from the presenter and then from the audience on the subject of her book (which I had read earlier this year) ‘The Wry Romance of the Literary Rectory‘.


Author Deborah Alun-Jones strips away the idyllic exterior of the village rectory to reveal the lives of writers like Tennyson and Betjeman who lived and worked in them. She investigates hidden desire, domestic drama, bitterness and isolation – and the secrets of the highly creative environments from which some of the greatest English poetry and literature has emerged.

Ms Alun-Jones had travelled the country visiting rectories (and vicarages, parsonages and the like) and although she mentions Jane Austen and the Brontes they are not included in this book. A future book will look at women in the rectory. The only woman to feature in this publication is Dorothy L. Sayers. The male authors are Sydney Smith (at Foston in Yorkshire); Alfred Tennyson (at Somersby in Lincolnshire); Rupert Brooke (at Granchester – also now home to Lord Archer); John Betjeman (at Farnborough); R.S.Thomas (at Manafon); George Herbert and Vikram Seth (at Bemerton) and The Benson and de Waal families (at Lincoln). I haven’t visited any of these places and I don’t think any are open to the public. Such a lively speaker and interesting topic it was a pity that the room was only half full. But those of us that were there were very appreciative of the talk.

Shandy Hall

Here is Shandy Hall in North Yorkshire and former home of Lawrence Sterne vicar of Coxwold – also not included in The Wry Romance

I wonder if Simon at Stuck-in-a-book has a comment to make about the wry romance of being brought up in vicarage?