I have been having a lovely bookish couple of weeks. Last week should have been the Bath Children’s Book Festival. Of course they couldn’t hold it in person but they teamed up with several other festivals to put on the Reading is Magic Festival online instead. All of the events were free and I had a great week picking talks to watch.
This week it is the turn of Cheltenham Literature Festival. They do have a very small number of people in actual physical audiences but they are also broadcasting the events online so every evening I am settling down for some wonderful booky content. It is great to feel so literary!
Of course I am sad all these festivals can’t go ahead as normal. Watching at home is great but it is not the same as being there in person. On the other hand, there is no way I would have been able to get to nearly as many events as I have watched this year so I have seen a small benefit of covid restrictions.
On top of all that, we had solid rain for about four days. It wasn’t particularly pleasant outside but it was perfect weather for curling up with a book indoors. Life is pretty great.
This week it was time for the Appledore Book Festival which is always a highlight of my year. Of course, this year the festival had to look a bit different. There was no antiquarian book fair and we certainly couldn’t gather a couple of hundred people into a hall many times a day.
I was convinced the whole thing would be cancelled or at least broadcast online only. The organisers though were determined to rescue something and came up with the brilliant idea of holding the UK’s first drive-in book festival. It was a stroke of genius and they couldn’t have had a better location – just look at the view!
As I was working at the festival, I got to hear most of the talks and I had such a great time listening to some fascinating people. We were incredibly lucky with the weather and I honestly can’t think of many things better than sitting in a field listening to people talk about books. Naturally I was well supplied with snacks too!
The whole festival was a delight but there were some highlights for me. Richard Osman was as brilliant (I’ve read the book – more on that another time but it is good!) as I expected and I also loved listening to Adele Parks and Viv Groskop. I could have listened to all of them for hours.
Of course, I couldn’t go to a book festival without bringing home a few books. Ths is quite a small haul but I am very much looking forward to reading them.
I loved this festival and in a way I will be sad to go back to normal next year. Naturally we hope that next time the audience will be able to sit together and actually meet the authors but it was so wonderful to have the whole event contained in one area. It would be lovely if the next event could still be outside or in a series of marquees – maybe there could also be a tea tent with a view of the sea!
Last weekend should have seen the AGM of the Jane Austen Society UK at Chawton House. This year is the 80th birthday of the society and so it would have been quite a special occasion. Of course, for obvious reasons, this couldn’t happen.
Instead, Chawton House hosted an online event which included a tour of the house and a talk about the history of the society which was very interesting. 1940 seems like an odd time to be creating such a society and I can understand why people thought there were more important things going in in the world. It is however an excellent example of keeping calm and carrying on.
The highlight of the day for me though was the selection of birthday wishes from Jane Austen societies around the world. It was very moving and even humbling to see how much people love Jane Austen and her world.
The lockdown is certainly creating a great deal of creativity when it comes to meeting up. I have recorded music with my choir and have regular orchestra and ballet rehearsals over Zoom. It has been fun to see everyone and to have a bit of structure in the week.
My favourite discovery so far though has been the rise of online literary festivals. I love book festivals but I can’t usually get to many of them so the idea of having them come to me is just wonderful. Obviously it’s not the same as getting to go to them but it is far better than nothing.
The online Hay Festival is coming up at the end of this week and I have booked my place at a whole load of the talks. I am going to be in front of a screen for an awful lot of time next week!
First though, Chawton House had their own lockdown festival this past weekend. Apparently they’ve been wanting to do a festival for a while and the lockdown pushed them into putting something together. I have to say that if they do manage to have an actual in person festival I will be doing my very best to get there. Even if they don’t, I have realised that I need to visit – the only time I’ve been to the house was for the AGM of the Jane Austen Society so I didn’t get to see very much of it (I have made a proper visit to Jane Austen’s House Museum but I would love to see that again as well).
I have had a lovely weekend watching the talks and feeling very intellectual for doing so. It was so interesting to see a bit of behind the scenes of the house and to learn more not just about the people who lived there but also about some related books – like The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner which is out next week and sounds great. I also had a brilliant time playing with some found poetry using lines from poems in the house.
I have come away with a renewed enthusiasm for 18th and 19th century writers and a list of new to me authors to try. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard of George Sand but not Jane West or Jane Porter and I certainly haven’t read any of them. They are firmly on my list now though and I am very keen to read them soon. It is such a great feeling!
The festival is obviously over now but some of the talks are still available on the Chawton House youtube channel. If you can I would highly recommend you have a watch!