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 2021

clapham book festivallogo2Clapham’s quirky and much-loved literary festival is back for 2021, taking place on 16 October. It will feature events in a variety of formats, including literary walks and livestreaming of events as well as the usual live author discussions. This year will also see a number of online literary events during the summer and autumn in the lead up to the event in October, which will be delivered in partnership with Time & Leisure Magazine.

Paula Johnson (Society of Authors, Associate Director Royal Society of Literature, Royal Literary Fund Trustee) has put the programme together, and will include literary walks, author talks, and will feature highly acclaimed authors including Sir Michael Morpurgo, and a host of new and established local authors.

Says Paula: “Bringing back the Festival after a year of lockdown, our programme kicks off at 2pm with guided walksAnnemarie Neary author pic around the literary sites of Clapham led by local authors, including the novelist and award-winning short story writer Annemarie Neary and crime fiction writer, Julie Anderson. Clapham has a long and illustrious literary history and this is a unique way of exploring it, but ticket numbers are limited so be sure to get yours early. Although we cannot be sure what level of restrictions will apply in October, if any, the walks will take place regardless of all but the strictest of lock-down circumstances.”

At 5:30pm, Sir Michael Morpurgo will be at Omnibus Theatre. The former children’s laureate, multiple award-winning author and creator of the world famous War Horse, will be discussing his new book When Fishes Flew and his life and work. This is a perfect event for all ages. At 7:30pm, Ben Macintyre, historian, biographer and columnist for The Times Ben Macintyre USE - credit Justine Stoddartnewspaper, will be discussing his most recent book Agent Sonya, a biography of Soviet agent, Ursula Kuszinsky and trading stories of legendary spies with local author and broadcaster Simon Berthon.

Come and meet the authors and have your books signed (authors’ works will be on sale at Omnibus thanks to the support of partner, local independent bookshop Clapham Books). There will also be live streaming of both performances, for those who cannot attend in person, with a copy of the author’s book included in the ticket price. Tickets for both types of event will be on sale at the start of September via Eventbrite, as well as for the literary walks.

The Book Festival will also be presenting a series of live author events and discussions online in partnership with TimeElizabeth Buchan author pic & Leisure Magazine. This is a new departure for the Festival. It will bring high quality author interviews, often with local authors or writers connected with Clapham and south London to a wider audience all year round. Panel discussions and conversations are planned. The first of these, with best-selling local author Elizabeth Buchan, whose new book Two Women of Rome was published in June, will be taking place on 28 July.  Elizabeth will be discussing her work, the settings for her books and the importance of history in her books. This is a free event to inaugurate the programme but please register at  Eventbrite here.

All good things…

OracelandPlagueThere are always interesting things happening in the world of books, book festivals and publishing, but right now many are happening as a result, direct or otherwise, of the enforced lockdown and the removal of the usual ways in which books and literature are promoted and supported.  I’ve experienced this myself, with publication of not one, but two books during COVID times. Gone were the signings, the book tours, the attending of literary festivals. My publisher’s idea of handing out the first two chapters of ‘Plague’ in a small, bound leaflet at Westminster Tube station ( the book is set in part in the Palace of Westminster ) was completely stymied by the pandemic. There were few folk emerging for work in Whitehall and even fewer tourists last year and, in any case, who was going to take a leaflet from a stranger which had PLAGUE written across the top?

chatInstead, book promotion has moved even further into the virtual world. I have ‘met’ lots of people online when promoting the books in this way, people who I now think of as friends, even if I’ve never actually met them. I have invitations to Edinburgh, Newcastle and Tamworth and supporters of myself and my books across the globe, not just the book shops of south east England.  I also have a network of friendly fellow authors, with whom I have appeared on panel discussions and other platforms or have coincided online with for other reasons.  And I ‘know’ a host of folk via Facebook, a medium I hadn’t really used at all until very recently, but which, in COVID-times, has provided a host of alternative ‘communities’ for bookish folk – writers and readers.

Plague book tour bannerYes, much of this could have happened anyway, events like blog tours have been going for some time now, though there is a limit on the amount of time available for book promotion and certainly a limit on my publisher’s budget, but the restrictions have been a catalyst, at least for me and, I suspect, many others.  As we become familiar with the technology and comfortable with the zoomed or skyped or livestreamed world new ideas spring up and take root. There are new things afoot in the world of book bloggers with live author chats, discussions between bloggers about books and with book club events – e.g. Mairéad Hearne at Swirl and Thread is hosting launches, Poppy Loves Book Club is hosting a series of online events and the lovely folk at the UK Crime Book Club host regular author chats and discussions and authors reading from their books – to name but three.  These are all offering free events ( as long as you have the internet, of course ).

camera-6209482_1920Some things will never be the same again I suspect. Livestreaming, a lifeline for dark theatres and closed halls, is here to stay for performance generally, reaching wider, more dispersed audiences. Many festivals of all kinds, including Clapham Book Festival, will offer livestreaming alternatives alongside live events. Our partners, Omnibus Theatre certainly plans to do so. All of which is a boon to those who would not be able to attend events like this in the normal course of things, the infirm or elderly, or those living in isolated, or culturally deprived, locations. They can now not just watch but contribute to and take part in events – which would have been unthinkable before. None of the libraries I’ve done sessions for, sometimes structured ‘talks’, sometimes conversations, plan to retreat from these online events, though they will return to providing ‘live’ ones too. Let’s hope that they’re staffed to do so.  Festivals too are going online. And the Clapham Book festival is no exception – more news on that in due course.

The Festival is Back

clapham book festivallogo2And it will probably will never be the same again!

The date for the diary is Saturday 16th October 2021, with a mixed Programme of events, including Literary Walks, lead by local authors, and live author events at Omnibus Theatre, Clapham, which will also be livestreamed for those who do not live close enough, or do not wish, to attend in person.

The two headliners for this year are Sir Michael Morpurgo, multiple award winner and former Children’s Laureate and Ben Macintyre historian, reviewer and columnist of The Times newspaper.

Sir Michael is the winner of the Whitbread Children’s Book Award, the Prix Sorcieres (three times), the Red House Children’s Book Award (four times), the Blue Peter Book of the Year and many others. He was knighted in the 2018 Honours List for services to literature and charity. He and his wife set up Farms forMichaelMorpurgo City Children in 1976 and the charity now owns three farms in Wales, Devon and Gloucestershire. His most famous work is probably War Horse, which was adapted for the stage and became the most successful National Theatre production ever, being seen by over ten million people worldwide. It was made into a cinema film, directed by Stephen Spielberg, in 2011. He recently presented the Radio 4 series ‘Folk Journeys’ in which he considered some of the greatest songs ever composed.  Sir Michael’s latest book is When Fishes Flew, illustrated by George Butler, to be published this Autumn.

AgentSonyaCoverBen Macintyre is an author, historian, reviewer and columnist for The Times newspaper. His most recent book, Agent Sonya, is a biography of Soviet agent Ursula Kuczinsky, has been acclaimed as a thriller as well as a piece of history.  Both events will be livestreamed and live stream ticket holders will receive a copy of the respective author’s book.  If we are in another lockdown or under other restrictions in force the event will go ahead as a livestream only, or, potentially as a zoom event.

Earlier in the day the Festival goes al fresco, out and about in Clapham. For centuries the home and haunt of writers of all kinds, Clapham has a long and illustrious ( and sometimes less than respectable ) literary history. Join local authors Elizabeth Buchan and, later, Annemarie Neary, on a Literary Walk round the manor.  Elizabeth’s latest novel Two Women of Rome  is published in June ( though her earlier book, The New Mrs Clifton was set in Clapham ) and Annemarie’s The Orphans, is set on Clapham Common itself. The walk takes approximately two hours (although that depends on how muchT&L Media logo Box NEW.eps discussion there is in each group). Ticket numbers will be limited so it’ll be important to book early. We hope the walks can take place in any circumstances but a strict lockdown.

More exciting news is that CBF is now partnered with Time & Leisure magazine and the Book Festival is planning, with the magazine, to offer a selection of bookish author events available online year round. Watch this space for developments. Tickets for all events, online, livestreamed and in person, either in the Theatre or out and about, will be available on Eventbrite.