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.

Conservation and conversation

London is a wonderful city in which to live, a trove of treasures to be discovered. I’ve lived here for over thirty years, yet I’m still finding interesting places new to me, sometimes close to home. Ten days ago I found myself in Stockwell.

Stockwell is a place I usually pass through, on the number 88 bus or on the Northern or Victoria lines going into town. I almost never stop there. Yet there I was, consulting my map and clutching my trusty notepad (plus a jar of homemade plum jam). I was there to interview the broadcaster and journalist Ed Stourton of Radio 4  for Time & Leisure Magazine. It was somewhat daunting, to be interviewing the man who had interviewed so many famous, and infamous, people and whose voice had formed part of the backdrop to my mornings for so many years. Stourton was a main presenter on Radio 4’s Today Programme for a decade – as well as The World at One and The World This Weekend, both of which he still does on occasion.

He had, very kindly, invited me to interview him in his home and, determined not to be late, I was ridiculously early. So I wandered towards the address I had been given and discovered, for the first time, Stockwell Park or the Stockwell Conservation Area.  It received that designation in 1973 and covers the old Stockwell Green (the 15th century manor house which formerly stood there has links with Thomas Cromwell) and the later 19th century developments of Stockwell Crescent and the roads running from it. Built primarily in the 1830s the surviving buildings are elegant early Victorian villas with gardens. They were built to different designs, which distinguishes them from the smaller, ‘pattern built’ south London Victoriana elsewhere (like some of my beloved Clapham).

I wandered, happy, around curving crescents and through quiet, tree-lined streets and found St Michael’s Church of England church (consecrated 1841) and a blue plaque marking the home of Lillian Bayliss, Director of the Old Vic and Sadlers Wells theatres and founder of the forerunners of the English National Opera, the National Theatre and the Royal Ballet. The whole enclave was a delight and so very near to the busy Stockwell Road which runs directly into the City. I never knew it existed.

When I arrived (on time) Ed and I had coffee in his beautiful garden and talked about his life in broadcasting – from the Cambridge ‘Milk Round’ and an ITN traineeship, to Channel 4 News at the very beginning (Stourton was a co-founder), Washington and Paris for C4 and the BBC respectively, his love of radio, admiration for George Orwell and enjoyment of la france profonde, specifically the foothills of the Pyrenees. His views on current standards of journalism were more optimistic than I thought they might be, taking the view that the ‘no truth’ culture would pass, reality being very hard to avoid. He cited the initial success of Nazi propaganda, something he’d researched for Auntie’s War; The BBC During World War Two (Doubleday 2017) which ultimately failed.

He was an amusing and engaging companion with a fund of stories, how he got into the besieged city of Sarajevo, for example, or being in Soweto when Nelson Mandela was released. I came away with a wealth of material and the interview will appear in Time & Leisure October edition ( plus a longer version in their on-line version ) I’ll share a link when it’s published. Why not come along to hear him speaking with Simon Berthon, fellow broadcaster, at the Clapham Book Festival on 16th October or, if you’re unable to get to Clapham, buy a ticket for the livestream of that event. Tickets are available at Eventbrite.

Clapham Book Festival 2019

Calling all lovers of books and reading!  The countdown to the annual south London celebration of both has begun.  Clapham Book Festival takes place on 5th October 2019 at Omnibus Theatre.

The preparations are now well under way.  The CBF stall at the recent Clapham Summer Fete attracted a lot of interest from locals and visitors alike. It’s taken us almost four years but folk now expect the Book Festival to take place, it has become part of the Clapham scene.  Our stall this year had books donated by Clapham writers, especially those who had been prize judges. So they were, by and large, pristine copies at knock-down prices and some of them signed by the authors as well. One woman was delighted to find the signature in the book she had just purchased. We had a superb hand-made chocolate cake to raffle off as well (congratulations John, I hope it tasted as good as it looked).

Ably assisted by the ladies from The Reading Den another Clapham-based not-for-profit organisation which acts as an on-line central hub of advice and guidance for book clubs, we managed to raise £130 for the Festival, as well as doing a lot of promoting of the events ( and having fun talking about books and writers ).  Clapham Writers has at least three new members, who we hope to see at the Meet & Greet event after this year’s Fest.

We have also been out and about leafleting around Clapham. We were at Venn Street market on Saturday and our small battalion of volunteers is posting flyers through letterboxes all over Clapham. One may be coming through your door soon.

The Windmill on the Common has again supported the Festival by donating a voucher for an overnight stay for two in that boutique hotel as a prize in our Festival day raffle.  Last year’s winner was a Clapham resident who, as the occupant of a one-bedroom flat, was able to have his parents to stay by using the voucher.  Thank you The Windmill and Young’s Brewery.

As regards publicity, you will find us mentioned by the Royal Society of Literature, the Society of Authors, in the Sunday Times On-line and in a veritable cornucopia of local media of various kinds.  There’s also a podcast coming out on 1st October.  Henry Hemming – Our Man in New York – had a double page spread in the Sunday Mail and Elizabeth Buchan – The Museum of Broken Promises – an excellent review in The Times.  Aida Edemariam and Ursula Buchan won the plaudits when their books, The Wife’s Tale and Beyond the Thirty-Nine Steps, respectively, were first published. That’s not forgetting our opener – Professor Kate Williams on the relationship between the Rival Queens, Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots – and Frank Gardner OBE, BBC Security Correspondent to close the Festival.

Tickets can be had at Omnibus £16/£13 concessions or £10/£8.  A snip at the price.  Buy soon, the events are filling up fast!

For more on Clapham’s own Book Festival try       On The Day….           Books and Walking – A Literary Trail 

Introducing….and reading

As part of 2019’s amazing line-up of authors at the Clapham Book Festival  on 5th October, we introduce a new type of session this year, of an author introducing his or her new book and then reading from that book.

Local historian, biographer and travel writer, Henry Hemming takes the inaugural slot talking about, then reading from, his latest book Our Man in New York.

After the hugely successful M, a biography of Maxwell Knight, MI5’s greatest spymaster, Hemming has moved on to tell the story of the covert British operation to manipulate public opinion in the US, using, amongst other things,  fake news and spin, to prepare the way for America to enter World War II. Our Man in New York has been described by William Boyd as “A revelatory and wholly fascinating work of history. Superbly researched and written with gripping fluency, this lost secret of World War II espionage finally has its expert chronicler.”  

As Nicholas Shakespeare has said, it is Gripping and intoxicating, it unfolds like the best screenplay.’ There are rumours that Hollywood is interested. So come along and listen to its author read an extract at five o’clock on Saturday 5th October.

For more on this year’s Clapham Book Festival take a look at the Programme on the web-site. Or buy your tickets at Omnibus Theatre.