Festival Highlights: Day 3

by Charlotte Sabin

Photo credit: Dan Hall


As the bright morning sun rose high in a cloudless sky over St. Endellion, some adventurous authors set out to explore the Cornish coast down at Polzeath. Luckily, we managed to tempt them back to the festival for the mornings events, which kicked off with Alison Mercer’s Handling Romance workshop and Ella Berthoud’s Bibliotherapy sessions.

Alison’s workshop covered the hero’s journey in fiction and examined in detail DAY31what it is that we expect from a love story. Our reporter Lizzie went along to the workshop to test her own skills at writing romance – find out how she got on here. Over in the marquee, Miranda Seymour captivated her audience with details from her book Noble Endeavours, which explores the complex relationship between England and Germany, condensing 300 years of history into one richly detailed hour. Katie offers a great review of Miranda’s talk here.

Philip Marsden took to the floor at 12.30, in conversation with John Lanchester. Philip, who recently announced his next book, The Summer Isles, to be published by Granta, lead his audience on a journey by foot through the landscape of the West. Our reporter Matt sat down for a chat with Philip after his talk to discuss the relationship he has with the landscapes of his work, take a look here.

Meg Lamond entertained an excited group of young readers in the Rectory Sitting Room with her creative workshop on animals crafts, the results of which were very impressive. One very satisfied customer sat in the marquee later in the day with her clay model in open palm, looking very pleased with herself. Christopher William Hill followed, with his final event of the weekend, sharing stories from his Tales From Schwartzgarten series.

Neel Mukherjee discussed his second novel, The Lives of Others, which was shortlisted for both Booker and Costa prizes, with Patricia Duncker in the marquee after lunch.

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Emily and Katie both had the chance to have their own bespoke bibliotherapy sessions with Ella Berthoud, both returning to the green room with detailed prescriptions in the form of fantastic reading lists. Over in the marquee, John Lanchester and Philip Marsden swapped seats and roles and money became the main topic of conversation. John’s How to Speak Money, published earlier this year, details the language of finance and economics. Illuminating and entertaining and infuriating in equal measure, this discussion about bankers and the bizarre world of the financial elite had its audience captivated from start to finish.

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Julia Copus’ poetry session was a wonderful way to round off the weekend’s workshops in the Stone Barn, following her fascinating series of events, and Victoria Lamond’s Landybooks took pride of place in the Sitting Room. Our marvellous host and festival founder Patrick Gale was interviewed by Alison Mercer in the finale of the marquee events. Patrick explored the extensive research and writing process that was involved in his latest novel A Place Called Winter, entertaining the crowd with stories of partly true, partly fictitious protagonist Harry – inspired by a true family mystery.

As the sun set, the weekend’s festivities drew to a close. Satisfied festival-goers took a last look at the silhouette St. Endellion church, backlit by moonlight and the heavy set clouds of the October night sky, before retreating to their warm homes. What a wonderful weekend for authors and audience alike.

Many thanks to everyone who has made this another unforgettable North Cornwall Book Festival.

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Saturday 24th – Day 2

A fantastic day over at North Cornwall Book Fest!

We started off with a bit of rain – true Cornish weather in which to welcome all our brilliant authors from across the country, but it didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits! We pulled on our wellies and grabbed the front row for the first talks of the day.

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First up, we had Jenny Balfour Paul, who told stories of Thomas Machell’s journey through India, the Middle East, China and the Pacific Islands – the inspiration for Deeper than Indigo. On to Alison Mercer’s fantastic talk on writing Romantic Fiction in which she reinvented the genre – preferring the idea of love stories, narratives for everyone. Patricia Duncker’s workshop on fiction writing in the Stone Barn inspired some great ideas, and the drawing class with Caroline Cleave attracted an excited young crowd in the Rectory Sitting Room.

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After lunch, the rain made way for bright October sunshine and a crowd gathered in the Betjeman Marquee for M J Carter – who disclosed some household writing styles – slogging it out at a laptop for hours on end, or for others (a husband, perhaps) getting your word quota done early in the morning, then enjoying the afternoon watching the cricket..! Miranda spoke about her childhood literary influences, and playing with history.

After a delicious Barnecutt’s pasty and a good cup of coffee, we settled back into the afternoons festivities. Julia Copus took to one of the comfy armchairs centre stage in the marquee and delivered an emotional live performance of  Ghost Lines following its broadcast on BBC Radio 3. The World’s Two Smallest Humans is her most recent collection and is available in the festival bookshop. Julia will be leading a Poetry workshop tomorrow from 2pm – one not to be missed.

Meanwhile, Christopher William Hill followed his hilarious talk from yesterday with a workshop on writing for children, 3 hours of exercises and invaluable lessons in creating plot-twists and equally entertaining and bizarre storylines to keep your readers turning the page.

Patricia Duncker was in conversation with Patrick Gale in the final event of the day in the marquee, and Jill Murphy met excited readers in the cosy sitting room of the Rectory, just opposite the beautiful St. Endellion Church.

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The evening is now drawing to a close at North Cornwall Book Festival, where we’re enjoying music from Wild Willy Barrett’s French Connection and relaxing after the days excitement with a glass of wine.

We hope you’ve had a fabulous day – see you bright and early tomorrow for Philip Marsden, Miranda Seymour,  Neel Mukhurjee and Meg Lamond, to catch up with our Bibliotherapy expert Ella Berthoud and many, many more!

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Falmouth students blogging from North Cornwall Book Festival

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Image: Martin Bodman / Creative Commons

On the weekend of 23-25 October, one of the UK’s most intimate and idiosyncratic literary festivals is taking place at St Endellion, a village set just back from Cornwall’s beautiful, unspoilt north coast: the North Cornwall Book Festival. And a lucky group of students from Falmouth University’s School of Writing and Journalism will be there to talk to some of the brilliant novelists, poets and non-fiction authors at the festival and report on a fabulous array of readings, workshops, discussions and musical events.

We’ll be posting author interviews and all sorts of other coverage over the festival weekend, and you can follow us as @falwriting on Twitter, too.

And if you haven’t yet got your own tickets for the festival, don’t leave it too late!

Patrick Gale and his Festival of Literary Celebration

by Charlotte Sabin


Wonderful host, festival founder and critically-acclaimed novelist, it’s apparent that Patrick Gale is a man of many talents.

As a range of festival-goers began to fill the marquee for the final event of the North Cornwall Book Festival 2015, I begin to realise this great writer’s ability to galvanise excitement.Locals, Londoners, writers, artists; the diversity of festival-goers is a hopeful sign of the South West’s commitment to literature and appreciation of the arts.

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Patrick’s talk is captivating, as he leads us through his in-depth research process for his latest work of fiction A Place Called Winter. The book, inspired in parts by the author’s own family mystery, leads the reader from England to Canada, where the fictional Harry Cane explores his new relationships in order to finally connect with his own experiences. Patrick discusses his process, reading excerpts from the book and allowing the audience a glimpse into his collection of family photographs and letters that hugely inspired this story.

The author is interviewed by romantic fiction writer Alison Mercer. Both sit comfortably in armchairs on the stage, surrounded by flowers. Darkness falls PGoutside, but the warm light inside the marquee makes for a cosy atmosphere, as if the audience have been invited into an intimate conversation between old friends, full of reminiscence and a genuine admiration for each other’s work.

In the audience sit other acclaimed writers, including Neel Mukherjee and Patricia Dunckner. Behind the scenes, a network of individuals enabling the festival to reach a huge fan base of readers, authors, agents and publishers who were not able to drag themselves from the city to the Cornish coast. Booksellers, bloggers, tweeters, photographers, stewards, cake-bakers, tea-makers; each playing a valuable role in the success of the weekend.

The North Cornwall Book Festival is an excellent example of the potential for small festivals to bridge the gap between events and workshops, both at the festival site and in the wider world. The online coverage of the festival, from social media and blogging to photographs and interviews has been exceptionally good, with authors, agents and publishers commending the high quality of content. The standalone blog received almost 500 views over the weekend – for a three year old festival held in a hamlet in North Cornwall, that’s very exciting.

Close links with primary schools in Cornwall and Falmouth University have allowed the educational merit of the festival to shine, with a diverse range of PG2authors speaking on the Friday to a packed marquee of schoolchildren aged 7-15. These readers are a publisher’s dream; the YA fanatics, the Booktubers, the writers of the future. Seeing young people so engaged in literature is a clear demonstration that, of course, print has a long and lustrous future ahead. It is refreshing to be involved in a festival that is not threatened by digital, but welcome it is part of publishing, realising its value as an optimistic platform, with a focus on storytelling through innovative means.

This is a festival with firm roots in the countryside, with its primary concerns being fantastic literature and inspiring writers. This won’t change, and will only get better thanks to its connectivity with online platforms for coverage increasing its accessibility, keeping one eye on new digital technologies in literature and publishing.

Patrick is looking to the future, and with his list of outstanding authors taking shape for next year’s festival lineup, we’re already looking forward to it.


Photos: Dan Hall

Fiction, Tea and Cake: A Literary Feast

by Karen Barry   @Karenoverseas


The North Cornwall Book Festival is over for 2015. As the last visitors leave, right on cue, coastal horizontal rain – which North Cornwall is very good at has set in coastsat St. Endellion after weeks of an Indian summer, sunshine, a tranquil and blue Atlantic, and a hedgerow abundance of blackberries and sloes.

The festival is a small and intimate affair, and completely enchanting. In this, its third year, it took up new residence in the grounds and associated buildings of St. Endellion Church, one of the largest of the ancient mediaeval churches in North Cornwall.

Acknowledging its established place at the start of school half-term week, children are celebrated, and both seen and heard, with workshops and lively talks from chruchhhartists and authors encouraging creativity to blossom and stories to be shared. The beauty of this is that while the children are enthusiastically engaged, their parents and other festival goers can attend adult workshops, the many author talks in the main Betjemen marquee, (it’s bijou, as marquees go, with elegant little chairs, and desperately pretty) and engage with writers in between events.

Because you really can do this here. As Patrick Gale, seasoned novelist and Festival Chairman says, the event is small enough for guest authors to stay for its entirety.

And the line up is unfailingly inspiring, usefully engaging authors to interview other authors. In one memorable day I listened to Philip Marsden and John day35Lanchester, Neel Mukherjee and Patricia Duncker, and Patrick Gale and Alison Mercer.

Lunches and teas are impressive. Not just because you can be at a table drinking tea from a bone china cup, sitting next to one of the authors you’ve just seen interviewed, but also for the W.I. quality of the soup and cake.

Pencil it in for next year.

Drawing with Caroline Cleave

by Elisabeth Strasser


Unfortunately the North Cornwall Book Festival is coming to an end but I get to enjoy the atmosphere in St. Endellion one last time. I make my way to Caroline Cleave’s drawing workshop for children.

Based in Port Isaac, the artist puts her creative energy to good use in many different projects. When she’s not doing a workshop, she is off to Scilly for an Arts project, creates designs for companies, makes fish shaped jewellery or the most beautiful bee cards. Caroline is all about sustainable fishing and explores details of fish and other creatures of the sea in her work. Her love for Cornwall and nature is also visible in her illustrations in books like Claude gets his Claws and The Secret Tunnels of Padstow.

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Clearly she wants to pass this passion for nature on as she shows the children how to draw leaves. She also likes to recycle things for art and today she has brought with her sponges for make-up and gold foil for picture frames that would have been thrown away because of minimal errors in production. Making use of these upcycled items, Caroline shows the kids how to make their own Cornish leaf on fabric by using the resist method. First the kids draw their leaves on the fabric that the artist prepared for them on the floor. They all watch closely when she shows them how to use masking tape to cover lines of their leaves. Completely immersed in painting the children then apply autumn colours with sponges, blending yellow, orange, red and brown just as Caroline showed them. After that she provides them with paintbrushes and the children apply glue on top of the colours. Adding the last brilliant touch to their leaves, they get to stick gold foil on it.

Caroline gets very excited about their beautiful Cornish leaves and tells the kids to let them dry overnight and pull the foil and the masking tape of in the morning. DSC06756She recommends putting it in a frame and the children leave with a proud smile and their leaves tucked safely under their arms. Caroline loves working with children. She always tries to make her workshops a bit more adventurous and give the kids an experience they can’t have in school.

After showing me her incredible work Caroline gives me one of her beautiful cards and that is the perfect ending to this brilliant festival full of friendly and welcoming people. Thank you very much for an amazing time and the opportunity to blog about all of you!

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The Lives of Others: Neel Mukherjee in conversation with Patricia Duncker

by Katie Smith @katie_smith20


Patricia Duncker introduced Neel Mukherjee’s Booker-shortlisted novel The Lives of Others as ‘a huge book for a huge country’. Mukherjee’s and Duncker’s personalities seemed to fill the Betjeman Marquee and, as audience members, we were completely immersed in their hour-long conversation that spanned themes including family, the changing face of India, forms of narrative in fiction-writing and women writers.

Duncker was a lively host, opening the event with a discussion about the novel’s depiction of class and economic inequality in India. Mukherjee gave a rousing anecdote about learning to use a sickle to cut wheat on a farm in India much to the disbelief of the farmworkers who asked him ‘why are you doing this?’. Mukherjee examined this question further, exploring the 1960’s trend for middle-class ‘Bourgeois revolutionaries’ to leave the cities and pursue manual work with the working-classes. He read a passage from his book that powerfully depicts the toil of working in the fields, likening humans to engines: ‘the machine was dead, or just a stopped machine.’

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Mukherjee went on to name George Eliot, Penelope Fitzgerald and Murial Spark as literary influences and Duncker pointed out how refreshing it was for a male writer to use women writers as his points of reference.

Family sits at the heart of the sprawling, epic The Lives of Others, a family, Mukherjee noted, that is built on ‘secrets, tensions and power struggles’. The idea of family was aptly described by an audience member at the end of the event, who summed up; ‘we’re cast as characters in a play with a plot we cannot change – we can, however, edit the outcome’.

The Lives of Others is published by Chatto & Windus.

John Lanchester on Austerity, Orwell and the Language of Economics

by Charlotte Sabin  @charlottemsabin                                 Photo credit: Dan Hall


In the crowded Betjeman Marquee, John Lanchester took centre stage for a discussion with travel writer Philip Marsden in the penultimate event of the North Cornwall Book Festival. Lanchester’s connections to Cornwall are through his grandmother. After living most of her life in Hong Kong, she retired to Looe, the small coastal town she would describe as “sub-tropical”. This went down well in the busy tent.

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Marsden began his questions by asking about Lanchester’s previous work. His diverse accomplishments in writing both fiction and non-fiction are clear; his most recent novel, the critically-acclaimed Capital is currently in production for a BBC series, adapted for television by Peter Bowker. He likens the process of writing to solving a mathematical equation, and discusses his ode to the anti-hero in his 1997 novel The Debt to Pleasure. Tarquin is a protagonist obsessed, his narrative told in part through recipes, “Cookbooks are an interesting form,” John remarks, “they’re full of stories and information”. He describes that he wanted to explore what would happen to a cookbook if you let the story take over. The result of which earned him the 1996 Whitbread Book Award in the First Novel category and the 1997 Hawthornden Prize.

This algorithm in Lanchester’s fiction writing is reflective of his wealth of expertise in finance and economics, as he goes on to introduce the captivated audience to his new book, How to Speak Money. This new work, part polemic, part guide, day35 discusses the language of money. Understanding this language allows us a much better position from which to identify the structures designed to enable banks to avoid accountability. As Lanchester explains, “there are no fingerprints on the murder weapon by design.” It was at this point I made a mental note to revisit the banknotes-sock-mattress savings scheme. Money has perhaps become what life is all about, he explains, rather than its former role as an aspect of a life, “It is the new determinant that is shaping the world”. We are on the verge of becoming a society in which we are unequal, hugely lacking in opportunity. It is a frightening situation that when a child is born, in that first breath it might also be drawing in a life expectancy, an educational level and a pattern of health and earnings, pre-imposed by the society we are establishing.

Lanchester describes how the book came about as a result of his being continuously asked to comment and to explain trends in economics. “The common thread was always explanation”, he says. We are each entitled to an understanding of these terms which are affecting our financial lives; as soon as we have access to the language, we are able to have a conversation and it is in this exchange that we are able to at least raise questions on the subject.

Lanchester discusses that with hindsight, we are able to recognise the “funny smells” that preceded the 2008 financial crisis, but as he quotes Warren Buffett, “It’s only when the tide goes out that you can see who’s been swimming naked.”

Conversation moves naturally on to the language of politics, “I wish Orwell was JL2alive to write about the word “austerity”. Again it comes back to meaning, perhaps this is why Lanchester chooses words as his craft. The meaning lies in an equation, a structure. Each of his novels follows a pattern or fits into a framework. For Capital, the story is set over a year, with each character allotted their section, their part in the bigger equation. In How to Speak Money, the algebra is in the narrative of greed, the space between calculation and explanation is filled with language, demystifying the complex world of finance.

How to Speak Money is published by Faber & Faber and is available through all good book shops and online.

A Bibliotherapy Session & Interview with Ella Berthoud

by Emily Ronan @ejronan


The sun is shining over St. Endellion for the last day of the wonderful North Cornwall Book Festival. I have just returned from the Rectory Study, where I had the privilege of attending a bibliotherapy session with The Novel Cure’s Ella Berthoud.

Ella is a painter and bibliotherapist; the latter of which she explores in her book, The Novel Cure, and in her column in The Independent. Bibliotherapy aims to cure common ailments with literature, and is an idea that dates back to Ancient ella1Greece, where ‘healing place of the soul’ was found inscribed on the floors of libraries. Today, Ella is utilising bibliotherapy to help heal twenty-first century worries, such as stress, self-doubt, homesickness and broken hearts. On top of her best-selling published work, and her presentations at London’s School of Life, Ella conducts sessions at a variety of book festivals, which is where I was lucky enough to catch her.

I enter the Rectory Sitting Room and find Ella with a mug of soup in hand, sat opposite a roaring fire; a scene pleasantly fitting for an autumnal day in the Cornwall countryside. She begins the session with a series of questions, such as my reading habits and tastes, my current and past circumstances, and my encounters with any issues along the way. Almost immediately, Ella’s extensive knowledge of literature is made clear, as well as her wonderful enthusiasm for their uses in comfort and healing. I mention to her that I have lived in Tokyo and enjoy books on Japan, and at once she recommends the book, A Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell, a novel set in Japan featuring strong imagery and a real sense of place. She adds, with a smile, that Mitchell’s book also features in The Novel Cure under the ailment, ‘Sex, too little’, as the storyline features fruity nuns and monks, but she insists that the recommendation for me was purely due to the Japanese imagery.

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At this point, I hope our conversation about my busy schedule due to my Masters course has nothing to do with the prescription! Ella advises me, with warmth and ease, that I should read books about discovering ambition, getting ahead, pushing yourself and overcoming obstacles, in regards to my studies, after three years out of education. She recommends Breath, by Tim Winton, a boys coming of age novel, and The Crimson Petal and The White, by Michel Faber. The characters in both novels are reaching for something out of their grasp, and we follow their journeys of bettering their circumstances. All these recommendations are noted down by Ella on a lovely personalised Prescription Card that I can take away with me. Every now and again, she picks up her copy of The Novel Cure, and flicks through the alphabet of ailments, and it’s hard not to notice the beautiful minimalist cover and orange pages of the book.

On a final note, she advises me, as she does with other clients, to find some time to read aloud to myself, or with a partner, as it’s easier to absorb and internalise the message.

Afterwards, Ella is kind enough to answer a couple of questions that I have for her:

When did you first discover the idea for The Novel Cure?

It came about during my time at Cambridge University. My friend, Susan, and I, studied English and we used to give each other books to cheer the other one up. If one of us had a broken heart or were experiencing a crisis of ‘what am I going to do when I leave’, we’d give each other a book to encourage the other person. Gradually we realised that this was something of genuine practical benefit and we wanted to take it the world, and here we are.

What bibliotherapy advice would you give to your younger self?

I’d say to my younger self, read everything you possibly can and don’t feel like you have to read books that are too grown up – which I probably did more than I needed to. But on the other hand, I’m really glad of the books I did read at 14, like Jane Eyre, Daphne du Maurier and Thomas Hardy, because now I can re-read them and revisit my younger self. On the flip side, I wish I’d read Catcher in the Rye earlier on. I didn’t read that young enough. So I think a combination of those bits of advice.

Do you think audiobooks are just as effective with curing ailments as having the book in your hand?

Very much so. I prescribe audiobooks to many people and I listen to them all the time; I love them. It’s a different kind of healing because you’re being read to, and in itself that’s therapeutic. Two things: if you can get a real person to read to you then that is even better, so I always tell my clients to read aloud with someone else if possible as it’s free and its a way of giving to each other and sharing something together, which is really lovely.

The second recommendation is just read aloud to yourself because when you do, the book becomes part of your internal memory, in a way that possibly isn’t quite the same as with an audiobook.  With an audiobook, its more like something you’ve experienced, whereas a book that you read to yourself is more like something that is a part of you, something you internalise completely. I think an audiobook is always going to be something slightly outside of you. In my life nowadays, I read more through audio than I read as a book because I have children and I’m always doing things, washing up or hoovering. I’ve always got an audiobook on. So that is how I manage to read lots. Overall, I think they’re equally therapeutic but in different ways.

Finally, can you prescribe a book that’ll help us get through the approaching cold, dark months of winter?

Absolutely, and as with all of my bibliotherapy prescriptions, it’s good to take a few angles and recommend more than one novel. With this ailment, you can take a couple of approaches. One is to revel in sunshine and read something that’s really summery and hot, like The Go Between by L.P. Hartley. It’s an amazing book and it’s all set in a heatwave in the 1900s, so that would be the opposite extreme, reading about enjoying the heat and sunshine. On the other hand, you could read about the joys of autumn – the season just past – in a book such as Harvest by Jim Crace, which follows a story about people bringing in the harvest in 17th century England, but its got sinister things going on like witch hunts. It’s really good but quite dark.

Finally, a third way to attack it is to read a very wintery book, and enjoy the extreme possibilities of the season. A good example of this is Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey; it’s a fantastic book about a couple who want a child so they build a child out of snow. It’s based on a fairytale, and the child seems to come to life, or does it? The story is set in Alaska, and has really beautiful imagery of snow, so it makes you appreciate winter for it’s beauties.

I’d like to thank Ella Berthoud for her time today and for her prescriptions. I best get down to the bookshop!

Ella’s A-Z of literary cures is available in all good bookshops and online at The Novel Cure. Book a session with a bibliotherapy expert at The School of Life.