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Hogarth and Europe

One of Tate Britain’s big shows this winter, Hogarth and Europe looks at the ever popular eighteenth century artist in the context of the changing society of the time and the similarities with artists across Europe. I went to take a look last week.

This isn’t a small show and it includes ceramics as well as prints and paintings. It includes the well known standalone paintings, like The March to Finchley and The Gate of Calais ( aka O The Roast Beef of Old England ) as well as the series paintings (and prints) so there’s A Harlot’s Progress, A Rake’s Progress and Marriage a la Mode. There is the famous 1745 self-portrait of Hogarth himself, with Pug, and a selection, less widely seen, of his portrait paintings which would have been what brought in the money during his lifetime, like that of the Cholmondely family, right. There wasn’t a lot of his work which I hadn’t seen before, although the portraits of his two sisters were striking, the family resemblance between then and with their brother very evident.  That said, there is always more to be found in his very full frames and this exhibition draws attention to particular aspects not focused on before.

The eighteenth century was a time of huge change. Peace and stability in Europe brought economic prosperity, expanding trade with other parts of the world and significant scientific and social innovation. Cities were growing exponentially and, while there were massive disparities between the lives of the rich and the poor, there was also opportunity. Artists no longer depended on their traditional sponsors, church, state and aristocracy, but painted for the new, rising middle class ( something Simon Shama’s Embarrassment of Riches documented so enjoyably in regard to Holland ). Hogarth was one of them and he campaigned vigorously for the Engravers Copyright Act of 1735, otherwise known as ‘Hogarth’s Act’, which gave artists the rights to their own work.

The exhibition prompts you to look at the familiar scenes with a social historian’s eye, picking out that fine, oriental china cluttering the Squanderfield’s mantlepiece, noticing the French furnishings, the French and Dutch old masters on the wall in The Marriage Settlement, the exotics – the black slaves, the Italian castrato singer, the French dancing master – in later Marriage paintings. Whilst seeing his black characters, usually unfree, I hadn’t noticed before the way that Hogarth often positions them (not just household slaves, but in street scenes too) as a counter to white immorality. 

I confess that I’ve always found Hogarth’s social commentary ‘satire’ somewhat heavy handed andWilliam_HogarthGinLane unfunny, though chock-full of detail, but I acknowledge its originality and influence. He was very famous during his lifetime mainly because so many of his ‘morality’ works were turned into prints (he studied, originally as an engraver). He has also been a major influence on later artists and the word ‘Hogarthian’ has come to represent many a teeming, rambunctious and satiric scene. This exhibition shows that, while his European contemporaries were painting scenes of the city, like him, they were far less assured in their social commentary and much less irreverent and satirical.  Some, like Canaletto, were content to capture (very beautifully, it must be said) what was before them.

William_Hogarth_-_A_Rake's_Progress_-_Plate_8_-_In_The_MadhouseI appreciated the charitable work he did, with other artists and musicians, notably Handel, in supporting the Foundlings Hospital but I hadn’t understood that his preoccupation with the materialism and moral decline of ‘modern’ society was also fueled by his own history. His father got into debt and was imprisoned for a time, leaving the young Hogarth and his mother to provide for the family. The Madhouse final scene from Rake was only a metaphorical step away from the debtor’s prison where Hogarth senior had been incarcerated.

So, an exhibition worth going to if you want to learn more about William Hogarth and a chance to see him in a European context.  It runs until 20th March 2022 and costs £18 to enter (full price).

Reading

OperaTheEndLast Friday the revised manuscript of Opera was sent to Claret Press, so please allow me a merry little dance (or a maniacal jig, more like) of pleasure and relief. I’d worked hard on it while in Spain, completing a whole rewrite, including a restructuring – I thought it was too flabby – and this won’t be the end of the story, there will be more edits still to do. I may have missed infelicities caused by the structural changes as well as potential for improvement (there is always potential for improvement, groan). The final proof reading edit is still a long way off yet, but the manuscript has gone. Yippee!

I have also been given a date for publication, the beginning of September next year. I’d hoped that itOpera_Cover_HiRes might be out in Spring, but the delay is unavoidable, to give Claret’s new distributors time to get it into book shops. I’m already discussing back cover blurb and tag-lines (we have arrived at the former but not the latter) and the cover design is almost done. The New Year will see us formulating a promotion and marketing strategy for events in the run up to and following launch.

Maybe next year, with the third Cassandra Fortune book, I’ll finally get to have a real life, physical book launch? Also, Omicron COVID strain permitting, I might get to do physical book tours (I’ve already got some events lined up). It’s strange to think that with this, my third traditionally published novel, I might get to experience what is normal for a new book.

dfw-ja-r-cover-midOn that note, a quick look back at Plague (published September 2020) and Oracle (published May 2021), was prompted by my receiving my Public Lending Rights statement recently. Despite libraries being closed for much of the year ended June 2021, Plague has been borrowed many times (Oracle wouldn’t have made it into libraries by then) but I was surprised to see that Reconquista, my earlier novel set in 13th century Al Andalus was second most frequently borrowed. That book and its sequel, The Silver Rings, are also selling again. When I began working with Claret Press I was told that there’s nothing that sells one’s first book like the publication of one’s fourth (or fifth, or sixth) and these sales, though small, seem to bear that out, even though they aren’t crime fiction.

But the real up-side of getting the manuscript off is that I am, for a short time at least, at leisure to read.

I have a pile of books waiting for me which is already toppling, it is reaching such heights, (see right) but I’ve been adding more to it recently and some are still on their way. All to be read before the next edit. Participation in a recent UK Crime Book Club Quiz on Scottish crime fiction showed me just how much of that I haven’t read, smething I’ll try to remedy with some of William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw books and Quintin Jardine’s Skinner series, plus some JD Kirk.  Then there are the historical crime books, like Stuart Turton’s The Devil and the Dark Water and one or two non-crime books which I missed first time round which made the best seller lists like Natalie Haynes’ A Thousand Ships. My favourite, recently consumed, is The Manningtree Witches by A.K.Blakemore. You can read what I thought of that, together with some other book recommendations for the Christmas break in Time & Leisure magazine.

I am looking forward to reading them all!

Black Friday and other stories

OracleCassiequoteVBGreyAll the published writers I know (except one) accept the need to promote their books, whether they are contractually obliged to do so, as a traditionally published author, or understand that they must get themselves and their book out there as a self-published author. Only those established enough to command a hefty advertising and promotion budget within their publishing house can sit back and even they can’t relax. Sir Michael Morpurgo, who is as established as they get, was on the road promoting his latest book at the Clapham Book Festival in October.

There are a plethora of ‘Black Friday’ deals being unleashed upon the general public this week and it’s no99pposter exception, with Christmas around the corner, in the book world. The ebook of Plague has been reduced to 99p online across stores (and on the Claret Press website) and I am publicising that at the same time as organising ‘giveaway’ competitions for free copies of Oracle within online book groups, like The Motherload.  It happens also to be six months since Oracle came out, so there is a bona fide reason to do the giveaway, aside from Black Friday.

TheMotherloadBookGroupFor a small publisher like Claret this is a neat way to get free advertising. For example in this ‘giveaway’ via Facebook of three books ( at cost and with postage of approximately £3 per book ) Oracle’s cover and blurb, as well as some quoted reviews, has reached 174,000 people in the last twenty four hours. Mostly these are via Twitter but the Club itself has 12,000 members.  At time of writing over eighty people have ‘entered’.

When the three winners’ names have been drawn out of the hat I will send each of them a signed copy,OraclePostcardimage complete with Oracle postcard and  message congratulating them, hoping that they enjoy reading the book and asking, if they do enjoy it, if they would pass the word on, by way of a review or a post in the Facebook Book Group and/or on Goodreads. If they do so this will generate more publicity. Oracle is, of course, readable as a standalone novel, but it may also encourage some folk to buy Plague, especially given its reduced price.

To that end I am appearing as a writer guest tomorrow night in the UK Crime Book Club’s Pub Quiz (Only not in a Pub). I don’t know what sort of audience there’ll be – the Club has over twenty thousand members – though I know there’s a Noir at the Bar tomorrow night so there’s quite a lot of competition.  It’s the ‘Thank Andrew’ edition, because November includes both Thanksgiving and St Andrew’s Day, with the focus on U.S. and Scottish crime fiction. I have been madly mugging up on both and realising just how much good crime fiction there is out there that I know nothing about. Wish me luck with the Quiz, I hope I don’t make a complete fool of myself ( preparing for a Select Committee hearing was never as nerve-wracking ).

Once I get the latest version of the manuscript of Opera off to Claret ( which is imminent ) I will be taking advantage of some Black Friday deals myself. 

Sherry Week

InernationalSherryWeek21The word ‘sherry’ is derived from the name of the the town of Jerez in Andalucia, southern Spain, formerly spelled Xeres and pronounced ‘sheres’. This year International Sherry Week, a celebration of the town’s most famous product, ran from 8th to the 14th November and I happened to be there for much of it.

And, this year, the biennial Copa de Jerez 2021 coincided. An industry conference, promoting sherry but also hosting discussions about the latest in the world of sherry production, marketing and the rules governing it, it includes a competition for chefs and sommeliers from across the world, the winners being the most successful at pairing sherry and food. This competition has been going for six years and is getting a very good reputation. The entrants come from the best restaurants in Europe. This year the UK’s entry was a team from The River Cafe – Mattia Mazzi was the sommelier and Vincente Raffone the chef.

It’s a high pressure competition, with national heats, before the grand final in the Teatro Villamarta in Jerez and it’s all done against the clock. This year’s judges include Josep Roca, the sommelier and co-owner of the triple-Michelin-starred El Cellar de Can Roca, London restaurateur José Pizarro, Quique Dacosta, owner and chef at his eponymous three-starred restaurant, Andreas Larsson, named the World’s Best Sommelier in 2007, Peer Holm, President of the German Association of Sommeliers and leading Spanish food critic, José Carlos Capel. Not an easy bunch to impress.

The winners were the Belgian team of sommelier Paul-Henri Cuvelier and chef Fabian Bell of Paul de Pierre in Maarkedal, who also won the awards for best sommelier and best chef. Their menu began with mackerel, dashi, chorizo, artichoke, pak choi and lovage oil, paired with Fino Viña Corrales from Bodegas San Francisco. For the main course, lamb, hazelnut, celeriac and sesame purée, zucchini flower stuffed with Manchego, shiitake mushrooms and rosemary-infused potato confit was matched with an Oloroso from Bodegas Gutierrez Colosia. The pud, of pear in tobacco and spice syrup, lemon cream and goat’s cheese ice cream, accompanied by Medium Old Harvest from Bodegas Ximénez-Spinola sounds amazing. Actually, the whole meal sounds amazing.

Please note, I wasn’t invited to any of this – the photos are from the PR. Yet this didn’t stop me from tasting, though not the super dry finos and manzanillas, for me the Autumn is a time for amontillado or, my current favourite, oloroso. (N.B. readers should note that my favourite changes from day to day.) So, meeting friends before going to lunch – a cafe solo and an oloroso goes down very nicely thank you. Some ice cream and a coffee after lunch, what better to accompany both than an oloroso ( though Pedro Jimenez poured over good vanilla ice cream is a delight ).

I was also pleased to discover that the ‘international’ element of Sherry Week was going strong with over 1,750 tastings world wide, including in Vancouver, Sydney, Colombia, Greece and in the UK.  So here’s a shout for The Tapas Room in Peckham, Ambiente Tapas, York, Bar44bristol, Bar Estaban, Crouch End, Rincon Bar Espanol, Richmond, Curado Bar, Cardiff, to name but a few. Now where did I put that bottle of Palo Cortado?

Clapham Book Festival 2021 – farewell

PosterA4CLAPHAM BOOK FESTIVAL 2021Back in February, when the whole of the UK was in full lockdown, the death rate was still high  and who knew what the future was going to bring, the CBF management team met via zoom to decide what, if any, kind of Festival would be possible in 2021. The 2020 Festival, planning for which had already begun last year, had had to be shelved and no one knew if the same fate would befall any attempt at a Festival for 2021. Nonetheless, with a vaccine roll-out already underway and the promise of better things to come we decided, tentatively, to go ahead. 

We hedged our bets – there would be only two live ‘in person’ events at Omnibus Theatre and those would be livestreamed too, there would be two literary walks taking place outside on Clapham Common and two events online via zoom, hosted by new media partners, Time & Leisure magazine. Everything was uncertain. Omnibus was planning to be open again in Summer, probably with social distancing, but couldn’t be sure they would be. Even if they were, would people be willing to sit in a room with lots of others for an hour or more? We also didn’t know if there would be an audienceCBF2021MacintyrePosterV2 for zoomed author interviews, people might have had enough of zooming during lockdown. And would people be interested in walking round Clapham Common?

On Tuesday last the final event of the Clapham Book Festival 2021 took place. A fair-sized zoom audience watched and took part in a fascinating discussion about spying and espionage between Ben Macintyre, whose new book Agent Sonya is a biography of an amazingly successful Soviet spy based in the twentieth century Cotswolds and Simon Berthon, second world war historian and modern thriller writer. Ben was erudite, knowledgeable and witty and was asked insightful questions by his interlocutor and by members of the audience. It was a tremendously enjoyable hour, appreciated by all who attended and it ended the Festival on a high. 

The showcase day on Saturday 16th October was also a success, even with necessarily reduced audience numbers. The literary walks were a sell-out and, after rain in the early morning, the weather was benign. I enjoyed doing mine and was only annoyed that I couldn’t also go on the one led by Annemarie Neary ( the times overlapped ). We have already received requests to repeat CBF2021NearyWalkPosterV2these and may do so at, say, Easter 2022 as a way of maintaining the Festival’s profile across the year.  Sir Michael Morpurgo was a delight for children and adults alike and Ed Stourton spoke authoritatively and amusingly about broadcasting and journalism from world war two to the present day. Feedback was uniformly positive at 100%, which is astonishing. In retrospect I think there was a real desire, not to say craving, for a return to good quality, local bookish events and the Book Festival met that need.  The livestream option wasn’t called upon.

The first zoom event, with Brixton author Rosanna Amaka, drew a relatively small but committed audience for an interesting discussion about her much praised debut novel The Book of Echoes and her approach to writing it. Both zoom events were successful in their own way, as was the ‘dry run’ in July with local, best-selling author Elizabeth Buchan. We will be doing more of these in 2022 and hope to continue with the £5 a ticket approach and to build up a regular audience.

For now, we’re doing sums and making payments and, it seems, we’ve covered our costs. Lots of books were sold ( I know I’ve acquired some new readers ) and enjoyment was had. Onwards to next year!

The Ben Macintyre discussion is now available and you can watch it here. Donate the ticket price if you can, via the Donate button on the Clapham Book Festival website

The Great Picture Book of Everything

In 2017 The British Museum staged an excellent exhibition of Hokusai paintings and drawings ( I wrote about it here ). Earlier thisHokusai Book week I returned there for a second exhibition of Hokusai work, this time focusing on his drawings for The Great Picture Book of Everything.

These small drawings, one hundred and three of them, have only survived because the Book, which would have been produced by wood block printing, was never published. The technique, which is illustrated within the exhibition, involves a original drawing being placed over a block of wood which is then prepared by removing all the wood which does not correspond to the lines of the drawing. The block is covered with ink and paper pressed onto it, thus transferring the drawing onto the paper, a process which can be repeated many times. Woodcarvers were apprenticed for ten years before they were qualified and it looks to me like an art in itself.

Hokusai The-Great-WaveAs an example of the production process there is a section on the print known as The Great Wave, for which Hokusai is probably most famous. There are many thousands of versions of this picture, called Under the Wave off Kanagawa ( first published 1831 ). Woodblock prints were inexpensive in nineteenth century Japan, costing approximately the same as two dishes of noodles and the blocks would be used to produce thousands of images. They frequently wore down, creating different versions of the same image and when new blocks were created, these too could differ from the original.

The Book drawings are remarkable for their intricacy and fine detail, as well as the energy of them and distinct characterisation ofHokusai India_China_Korea their subjects. They are also remarkable for their subject matter. Between 1639 and 1859 Japan was ruled by the Tokugawa shoguns who forbade the Japanese people from travelling abroad. Yet in producing the drawings, between 1820 and 1860, Hokusai depicted peoples from foreign lands as well as characters from Indian and Chinese mythology ( see right, figures of India, China and Korea ).

Some of them are absolutely stunning. There was a wonderful picture of an elephant,  ( which begs the question, how did he know what an elephant looked like? ) some exquisite renderings of Japanese and Indian myths (including dragons and the demon known as the Nine-Tailed Fox ) and more prosaic but perfect scenes of everyday life. One I particularly enjoyed was that of four men, type-setting, publishing and printing (left, below ).

Hokusai PublishingThat said, I realised early in my visit that I would have to buy the catalogue, because it simply isn’t possible to stand for long enough in front of these small pictures to really enjoy all their detail and subtlety – too many other people are trying to do the same. Besides, it’s a book and I can’t resist book buying. The exhibition is in Room 90, one of the rooms used for small exhibitions of prints and drawings at the rear of the Museum ( beyond Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt and up the stairs ). Entry is only £9 for adults and, even with timed tickets, it was getting crowded when I visited.

More than one of the drawings left me marvelling at their modernity. The drawing of Virudhaka Destroyed by Lightening couldHokusaiVirudhaka_killed_lightening have come from the pages of a modern comic/graphic novel or a Roy Lichtenstein work ( Kerpow! ). All they would need would be primary colours. Others depict interior scenes or verandas in a way which reminded me of Degas, with an asymmetrical picture construction. I look forward to many happy hours with my catalogue, really appreciating these drawings in full detail, but, as an enticing taster, this exhibition was wonderful. It runs until 30th January 2022 and the book costs £20.

Zooming

RosannaAmakaimageSo to the last two events of the 2021 Clapham Book Festival.

Last Tuesday I had the pleasure of speaking with Rosanna Amaka about her stunning debut novel ‘The Book of Echoes‘ (Doubleday, 2020). The session was hosted by Lucy Kane of Time & Leisure Magazine, media sponsors of the Festival. Rosanna is a long-time resident of Clapham and Brixton and much of ‘Echoes‘ is set in Brixton in the 1970s. It was fascinating to learn about how she began to write the book, beginning with the character of Michael, the young man growing up then, expanding to include Ngosi, the young Nigerian woman, finding her way from her village to the United States and, eventually, Britain. Only after having developed these two characters did she light upon her narrator, an ancestor of both of them who opens the book. Rosanna read from the very start of the book, written in the words of the narrator, a pregnant slave woman. It is a very powerful opening.

Rosanna began writing the book twenty years ago, in an attempt to capture the Brixton community which she knew and had grownBookofEchoes 9781784164836 PBB.indd up with. It was, she saw, gradually disappearing as the area became ‘gentrified’ and property was priced out of reach of the ordinary person. The older generation was leaving for the Caribbean, from whence they, or their parents, had arrived in the 1950s. Thus ‘Echoes’ was born. She tried submitting to agents and those publishers who accepted unrepresented submissions, but to no avail, so the book was put aside ( taken out and considered every so often ) while she got on with life.

Twenty years later she took it out dusted it off and submitted again, this time with success.  The book was short listed for the Royal Society of Literature Christopher Bland Prize 2020, the People’s Choice Award and the Historical Writers Association Debut Crown, prizes, she told us, she hadn’t even known it was entered for ( it was only when the RSL contacted her to ask her to confirm her age that she knew she was up for that one ). It has not, she assured us, turned her head. Her latest manuscript is currently with her agent, Rosanna didn’t want to say too much about it, but we can look forward to another book soon.

CBF2021MacintyrePosterV2Ben Macintyre is rather more prolific than Rosanna, but then he has been writing for many years and with much success as the author of a series of histories and biographies about the world of espionage. I much enjoyed reading his last but one book, ‘The Spy and the Traitor‘ a biography of Soviet spy and double agent Oleg Gordievski. It read like a thriller, with the tension rising as Gordievski was extricated from the U.S.S.R in an operation reminiscent of James Bond. John Le Carre called it ‘the best true spy story I have ever read.’ I haven’t yet read ‘Agent Sonya‘, his latest, a biography of Ursula Kuczynski Burton, the Soviet spy, but I’m looking forward to hearing him talk about that and his other, award-winning books on Tuesday 2nd November in the last event of the 2021 Clapham Book Festival.

Short listed for the Baillie Gifford Prize, the Costa Biography Award and the Galaxy British Book Award Macintyre regularly hits the No. 1 Bestseller spot and his ‘SAS Rogue Heroes‘ is the book behind the BBC series ‘SAS Rogue Warriors‘. He should be fascinating to listen to in conversation with Clapham author Simon Berthon.  At under £6 a ticket this is a snip at the price, one would normally pay a lot more to see and hear him, so get your ticket now from Eventbrite.

The Clapham Book Festival will then be over for 2021, but we plan to continue with the zoom events throughout the year, with the help of Time & Leisure Magazine. I’ll be posting about future events here and on the Clapham Writers site. Here’s a little video made by SW Londoner Magazine about this year’s Festival. https://www.swlondoner.co.uk/entertainment/28102021-video-clapham-book-festival-returned-this-month-with-sir-michael-morpurgo/

Not Quite Done Yet

Saturday’s Festival day is over. The vibe wasn’t quite as energy-filled and buzzing as usual (numbers were restricted because of COVID) but our audiences made up with enthusiasm what was lacking in terms of numbers.  The children who came for Sir Michael Morpurgo were a delight and it’s probably not overdoing it to say that their attitude towards books and reading may have been changed for life by that encounter. In the evening Ed Stourton was intelligent and entertaining, taking lots of, sometimes difficult, questions about broadcasting from the audience.

I had awoken despondent. It was pouring with rain. By one o’clock, however, the rain had gone, even if the sun hadn’t replaced it, at least it was dry.  My little group of intrepid walkers gathered outside Omnibus ( both the walk were completely sold out ) and we started off with a few quotes about Clapham from Daniel Defoe and William Makepeace Thackeray and our first Clapham writer, one Edward Winslow, who sailed on the Mayflower.  My fellow guide, Irish-born award-winning writer Annemarie Neary accompanied us, at least part of the way around the Common. Her walk and mine covered some of the same ground, though she diverged to do a deep dive into the writers who lived near the Northside of the Common, while I continued with a part circumference, taking in the Southside too.

We walked from the Great Fire through the Georgian era, Shelley’s ‘Age of Elegance’, to the nineteenth century and the ‘man on the Clapham Omnibus’, right up to the end of the twentieth century when Clapham achieved another golden age, playing host to Angela Carter, Kazuo Ishiguro, Salman Rushdie, J.G. Ballard and Ian McEwan.  Then there is Roald Dahl and a certain Ms Rowing who acknowledges that the ‘first brick of Hogwarts’ was laid in Clapham.

Then back to Omnibus Theatre and the wonderful Sir Michael Morpurgo ( unfortunately I didn’t see his set, I was selling books ), everyone said how excellent he was. But I did see Edward Stourton later that evening and very good he was too, ranging from his book on the BBC during World War Two through his long career in broadcasting to modern journalistic ethics.

The feedback we received was uniformly excellent.  But we still have two events to come, both via zoom and costing only £5.  The first is tonight.  I am speaking with Brixton resident Rosanna Amaka about her amazing debut novel ‘The Book of Echoes’ set in East London, Nigeria, the USA and Brixton’ You can buy tickets at https://tinyurl.com/nkthz2zm

Then in two weeks time Sunday Times best seller Ben Macintyre is talking about his latest ‘Agent Sonya’ the biography of ‘the greatest spy of the twentieth century’.  Clapham Book Festival 2021 isn’t over yet!  Why not join us at seven o’clock tonight?

As an aside, this is the nub of a conversation witnessed outside the Cafe between a group of children and Sir Michael –

Small Boy, pointing to girl beside him: ‘It’s her birthday and she’s got a present.’

Sir Michael: ‘Really! Happy Birthday. How old are you, may I ask?’

Small Girl:  ‘Nine.’

Sir Michael: ‘And what is your present?’

Small Girl: ‘You. My present is to come and see you.’

Multi-awarding winning, former Children’s Laureate tries hard not to crack up, sits down and talks with children, regardless of waiting adults.

The countdown begins…

The research is done, the cards of notes are written and the hand-out prepared, now it’s all about the weather. My Literary Walk kicks off this year’s Festival at two o’clock on Saturday and, fingers crossed, it looks like it’s going to be dry and ( relatively ) sunny! My supplications to the weather gods are working so far. It’ll be so much better a festival if that is the case, encouraging people out onto the Common and to participate in things. Omnibus Theatre, our venue, has a pleasant terrace to its Bar/Cafe which overlooks the Common and that is a good place to sit in the sunshine. But the real impact will be on the walks, which would be so much more difficult in the rain.

Award-winning Irish-born novelist and short story writer ( and fellow Clapham resident ) Annemarie Neary leads the second walk starting at three thirty. Our walks aren’t the same, though we do cover some of the same ground; we both start from outside Omnibus Theatre on Clapham Common Northside. Annemarie is focusing on the north and west of the Common, whereas I am doing the full circuit, though I don’t deviate from it, whereas Annemarie does.

There is so much to talk about, in terms of writers who lived in Clapham and works set in Clapham, from the seventeenth century to the present day; including one Nobel Laureate (and some nominees), some of the most famous books and characters in English literature and some modern mega-best-sellers. I’ve unearthed some Clapham-based detective/crime fiction too (I’m not sharing them today, if you want to find out about them you’ll have to come on the walk or wait for the blog which will, inevitably, follow).

As I write this there are some tickets still available for all of the ‘in person’ events at this year’s Clapham Book Festival, mainly because we have been moved into the bigger of the two auditoria at Omnibus Theatre. Social distancing necessarily reduces audience numbers ( one of the reasons the ticket price is higher this year ) but we should now have a good sized audience. Experience suggests that the majority of tickets are sold within the last week, with many people choosing to attend only on the day itself. So we will be selling tickets at the front desk too.

It’s clear from the ticket sales that Sir Michael Morpurgo is a real draw, with people coming from across, and even outside, London to see him.   Ed Stourton is more of a local – he had used to live in Clapham – and I fully expect that Clapham will turn out to see him. We also have two zoom events which take place on the evenings of 19th October and 2nd November (postponed from 7th October because of illness ). I’m already preparing to interview the much praised debut novelist from Brixton, Rosanna Amaka, whose The Book of Echoes was short listed for a range of prizes, including the Royal Society of Literature’s Christopher Bland Award.

But that will take place next Tuesday and, between now and then there’s a Festival Day to take part in.

P.S. I’ve just learned that my walk is Sold Out!

A Different Kind of Book Fest

Clapham Book Festival 2021 is almost upon us! This year we have a variety of excellent sessions, all involving authors, sometimes ‘in person’ live, sometimes live on zoom and sometimes leading groups of walkers around Clapham Common. There are local authors involved, including myself, as well as some big names – Sir Michael Morpurgo being the biggest. We have everything from children’s books, to crime, history, biography and a ‘searing, rhapsodic‘ debut. Fingers crossed for good weather on the day. Autumn in Clapham is often beautiful and, as a leader of one of the walks, some blue sky would be nice. The Cafe/Bar at Omnibus Theatre is light and airy, with doors which open on to a gaily lit terrace and we will be selling, and the authors signing, books there throughout the afternoon of 16th October.

Clapham Book Festival is a small festival run entirely by volunteers and with only small local sponsors. It’s been running since 2016, gradually getting a reputation and a regular following in the immediate locale and some minor recognition in the industry (we were mentioned in The Times in 2019 and had the BBC filming a short piece). 2019 was also the year in which the Festival began to be financially self-sustaining. The future looked bright, but COVID derailed all that. There was no Festival in 2020. We took the decision that the Fest would go ahead in 2021 back in February, while England, the UK and much of the world, was in lockdown. Nobody really knew what circumstances would be like in the Autumn, so we had to be flexible and offer something rather different to normal.

So, this year, in a new and exciting partnership with media partners Time & Leisure Magazine we are presenting a series of zoom interviews and discussions with authors. We have Ben Macintyre, associated editor of The Times and best selling historian and biographer, speaking with Simon Berthon, local writer and BAFTA-winning broadcaster about his latest book Agent Sonya and all things espionage. Time & Leisure hosted the first, successful, online author interview back in July, when I spoke with best-selling local novelist, Elizabeth Buchan to an online audience. We’re staying local to end the Festival on Tuesday 19th October with Brixtonian Rosanna Amaka discussing her wonderful debut novel The Book of Echoes in an interview with me.

The live ‘in person’ events at Omnibus Theatre on the Showcase day will also be livestreamed. In collaboration with Clapham Books, our local independent book shop, the Fest is offering tickets to the livestream to include a copy of a book, plus postage.  Tickets this year are, it has been pointed out, more expensive. Yes, they are, but we are a charity and we can’t project running an event to make a loss. Given that audience numbers are restricted ( though not as much as we originally feared ) we had to reflect that in prices. It will, I have no doubt, put some people off, but the zooms are all at £5.

So why not join us, online or in person. If you live in south London come along to one of the literary walks and learn more about Clapham and its writers.