Category Archives: On Writing

YALC 2017

I feel very honoured (to put it mildly) because I have been invited to talk about Tree Magic at the Young Adult Literature Convention (YALC) at the Olympia, London, in July.

Yes, that’s right: The Olympia! London!

This 3-day festival brings together the finest current YA fiction, with talks from best-selling authors such as Patrick Ness, Joanne Harris, Sara Barnard, Holly Bourne, Emily Barr and many others.

Check out this link to see the full list of authors attending.

I’m going to have such fun meeting these authors, as well as the book bloggers and readers I’ve only met virtually on Twitter chat shows and blogs. When  the schedule is published, I will let you know so that you can come and meet them too.

YALC is part of the London Film and Comic Convention, and the dates are 28, 29 and 30 July 2017. You’ll find more details on Twitter at @yalc_uk and on the website here.

Thanks very much to Sarah, my publicist at Impress Books, for organising this. She must have been very persuasive!

Will it Get my Goat?

Oh no, here I am, back with more puns in my blog post titles. Today I’d like to share some exciting news that doesn’t get my goat at all – though I’m hoping it will allow me to get to know goats better.

I have been invited to be the writer-in-residence for a week at an arts centre in the heart of the Pyrenees.

In case your French geography is rusty, the Pyrenees are the pointy mountains in the south west of France, between France and Spain. They are also my favourite part of the country, which may be one reason why my novel-in-progress is partly set there.

Back in the 1990s, when I was studying French at Pau university, I used to walk along the Boulevard des Pyrénées every day and gaze at the mysterious peaks. Nowadays, I spend some time there every year (and cry when I have to leave).

Houses in the Val d’Azun

One misty day last summer, while my intrepid family were out potholing, I went to the Val d’Azun to research my novel setting. I stopped at the village of Arras-en-Lavedan, a few kilometres from Argelès-Gazost (and 25km from Lourdes), which is renowned as being a village of artists.

There, I discovered the Maison des Arts and met the curator, Françoise Gourvès, who is also a stained glass artist. She told me all about the association Abbadiale, which organises the cultural events and art exhibitions in the centre.

There was a wonderful display of paintings, ceramics and sculptures, as well as a permanent outdoor circuit around the village’s works of art. I was blown away by a video of a contemporary dance group who spent a week in residence there and created a dance on a peak above Arras-en-Lavedan.

I stayed in contact with friendly Françoise and, when she heard I needed to come back to the Pyrenees to research goats and ewes, she invited me to be their writer-in-residence for a week. This corresponded with the opening of the village’s new bistro-bookshop: Le Kairn.

Of course, I accepted!

So I’ll be staying in Arras-en-Lavedan from Saturday 3rd to Friday 9th June. During the week I’ll be researching and writing my novel (which is not only about goats). I’m particularly looking forward to the ‘transhumance’ event on Saturday 3rd June at Estaing. This is when the local shepherds, accompanied by the public, move their flocks from the valley to the mountain tops for the summer ‘estivales’ period.

I’ll also be reading from my novel Tree Magic and giving a talk about the journey to publication. This will be held on Sunday 4th June at 3pm at Le Kairn. As I’m there for a week, I can also make myself available one evening for readings and writerly discussions – so let me know if you’re interested.

Why not come and meet me and get your copy of Tree Magic signed? I’ll have some copies to sell, and we can share our experiences of writing, reading (and goats).

While you’re in the Val d’Azun, why not make a day of it (or even a weekend if you fancy the transhumance festival on the Saturday)?

Yes, I know they’re not goats – but they are Pyrenean sheep.

In the morning you could visit the Pyrenean trekking and traditions festival ‘Eldorando’ in the nearby village of Arrens-Marsous. You could have a lunch of local products there – or come to Le Kairn bistro for a meal – and then visit the permanent and temporary exhibitions at the Maison des Arts. As well as the permanent exhibition, Roxane Lasserre will have her ceramics on display and Raphäel Paya is exhibiting his photos until 5th June.

Then, if you’re not too tired, you could come and meet me at Le Kairn. It won’t get my goat if, after all that activity, you fall asleep during my talk!

Please let me know if you’d like to come, via my Facebook author page or blog contact tab, in case the arrangements change. I hope to see you soon.

Here are some practical details:

La Maison des Arts (next to the church at the bottom of the village): open Thursday, Friday, Sunday and Monday from 3-6pm.

Le Kairn (route du Val d’Azun): open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 7pm (open every day in the holidays).

Eldorando: 2nd-5th June. Nepal is the country of honour this year. Entry 2€ / day.

Tourist Office Val d’Azun (Place du Val d’Azun, Arrens-Marsous) Tel: 05 62 97 49 49

Casting Aside your Morals

When I tell the French people I meet that I’m a writer, they often ask if I write in French.

‘No way,’ I say.

‘Why not?’ they ask. ‘You’re pretty much bilingual.’

That ‘pretty much’ is what has always stopped me. How can I possibly nuance my language, weave a subtext, hook the exact word I’m fishing for from the little pond of French I possess? Come on: it’s difficult enough to do this in my native English.


Me (copyright Christine West)

I have tried. A few years ago a literary friend invited me to her French creative writing workshop. When I eventually summed up my courage and went along, I discovered that it was a surprisingly stimulating experience.

Knowing I couldn’t expect any elegance from the French corner of my mind, I felt more liberated than in English workshops. My creations were basic but the ideas, associations and images flowed easily and naturally. By letting go of my language expectations I was able to focus more fully on the narrative.

Much as I enjoyed the other participants’ poetic prose, though, I was unable to write a satisfactory piece in French.

So I was intrigued to see the title ‘Why Write in a Different Language?’ featuring as one of the discussions at the European Literature festival in Cognac last November. I hurried along to listen to the panel of authors, who all write in non-native languages.

Vladimir Vertlib & interpreter Valérie Terrasson

Vladimir Vertlib & interpreter Valérie Terrasson

There were two Slovak authors, Jana Benova (has written in Czech) and Irena Brezna (writes in German); a Czech writer, Lenka Hornakova-Civade (French); and the Russian writer Vladimir Vertlib (German). It turned out to be one of the most thought-provoking themes of the festival, and one that remains with me three months later.

Lenka Hornakova-Civade (coline-sentenac)

Lenka Hornakova-Civade (photo Coline Sentenac)

Lenka argued that your native language is one of emotion. In your mother tongue, the emotion surges out and grips you as you write. Writing in a different language, however, gives you the distance you need for the surgical precision of the job.

Jana Beňová (Tomáš Benedikovič)

Jana Beňová (photo Tomáš Benedikovič)

Jana agreed that when writing, you’re searching for the clearest way of communicating, and suggested that this distance can also be achieved in terms of letting time pass or writing in a different location.

Vladimir talked about dogs: when he says his native Russian word for ‘dog’, he can smell and feel the animal. But when he says the word in German, there is a space between the word and the feeling. This made me think how feeble the French swear words sound to me, compared to the strength of English ones. Now I know why.

Irena Brezna & Lenka

Irena Brezna & Lenka

There’s also a freedom in writing in a different language, according to Irena. She’s sometimes horrified when she reads her German work once it’s translated into her native Slovak: not because of bad translation, but because she’s shocked to think she could have written those things. The distance she felt when writing in German is lacking when she reads her translated words in her native language.

Jana confirmed this and quoted the results of an interesting study. Apparently, when you use your mother tongue you respect your morals, whereas you morally let go of yourself in a foreign language.

You have been warned, Ex-pats. No casting aside of your morals here, please.

The panel also explored the difference between translating into a different language and writing in that language.

At the time of the Cognac festival, Lenka was in the process of translating a French work into her native Czech. She pointed out that when translating you must respect what is written rather than interpreting the author’s intention. The result of her translation, both in terms of sonority and meaning, didn’t resemble what she would have written in Czech.

Vladimir Vertlib

Vladimir Vertlib

Vladimir put himself firmly on the writer side of the fence for this very reason, admitting that he would be tempted to rewrite rather than translate.

He brought the discussion back to the freedom of a non-native language, saying that you actually re-invent a language when you adopt it: you create your own nuances that enrich your use of it.

Lenka suggested this is because you don’t have the codes you learn from growing up in a language. And Irena added that German readers have told her that her use of German is more beautiful than native German.

Jana Benova & interpreter Diana Jamborova-Lemay

Jana Benova & interpreter Diana Jamborova-Lemay

I particularly liked Jana’s reference to Samuel Beckett – an Irish writer who lived in France and wrote in French. He apparently said that he knew English too well to write in this language.

Who knows? Perhaps, one day, I will know English so well that I’ll be able to write in French! Though with over a quarter of a million distinct words in the English language, there’s still a way to go.

And, to be honest, I like writing in English. I like the way it keeps me in touch with my origins.

If you’d like to read more about other writers who write in non-native languages, there’s an article on the Telegraph website here

(Photos courtesy of Littératures Européennes and Lycée Jean Monnet’s photography club)


The thing about cats is that, well… they’re furry, aren’t they? Which is a good and a bad thing.

Good: because there’s nothing like stroking the smooth fur of an arching back for a taste of tactile pleasure. I’m talking about cats’ backs, here. And if they purr while I’m doing it… that’s my day made.

cats-for-dinnerAnd bad: because my partner is allergic to fur. So when we got together I had to choose between my cats and the new man in my life. Or dishing up the cats for dinner. Look, they’re all ready!

Several years after I gave my cats away, the fluffy devil came to tempt us again. This time it was the children who pleaded for a kitten of their very own (“promise we’ll take care of it, Mummy”). I explained they would have to choose between a furry pet and their Papa. After suggestions of sleeping in the garage (their Papa, not the desired kitten), they agreed that life was hard and full of difficult decisions to make. And they waited a whole week before asking again.

So, being catless, I found the most obvious solution. No, not borrowing the neighbour’s cat for secret stroking. And not giving up my job to work in a cat shelter. I wrote about them. Subconsciously.

There was a cat in my Novel Zero. There’s a cat in my short story Quark Soup. And there’s a cat – called Acrobat – in Tree Magic. The lovely literary agent who read Tree Magic many years ago said she loved the parts about Acrobat best (but didn’t represent YA authors). I find there’s something about a cat that completes a mental picture of a person or a place.

tini-with-montyWhen I wrote Tree Magic, there was a special cat in my mind. Here he is, Monty, in the early 1980s with my little sister (sorry about the quality – it was my first ever camera). In Tree Magic, this is what Acrobat does when Rainbow first meets him, which is why she calls him Acrobat (soon shortened to Batty or Bats). Acrobat is actually ginger.

It was only when I entered Curtis Bausse‘s Book a Break competition, however, that cats became the protagonists in a story. In his novel One Green Bottle, Curtis had written that two tabby cats deserted his protagonist. The cats’ story was never told. So, for the competition, Curtis gave us the paragraph and asked us to tell him about the two tabbies. It didn’t need to have any link to One Green Bottle – which was just as well, as I hadn’t read it at that point. (Having now read it, I’d thoroughly recommend this crime story set in France).

Here’s Curtis’s paragraph:

A long time ago, when life was tolerable, almost good, he had two cats that kept him company. How old was he? Seven? Eight? Before his father began to question the worth of his existence. Back then, presumably, he was cute, almost as cute as the tabbies. He never knew what happened to them but they disappeared, both of them, all of a sudden, and he was left only with an inconsolable sadness.

My story, Three Goddesses, is about the way cats make a place feel like home and how they can bring people together. Or not.

Atthys J. Gage, author of Flight of the Wren, Spark and Whisper Blue, judged the competition, after which Curtis spent loads of time compiling his favourite 21 stories into an anthology.

51irj8ydbpl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Like T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (on which the musical Cats was based) the anthology contains cats – and stories – of very different types. From spooky to cultural to historic, there’s something to suit every feline taste. Curtis himself has also contributed, via the cat ‘Smith, Terror of Taunton’, who writes the preface. I’d like to meet Smith. He seems to have a great sense of humour.

So here we are, at the objective of this furry, purry blog post: the illustrated ebook and paperback versions of Cat Tales will be on sale tomorrow, 15th December 2016, here on Amazon. The proceeds go to two charities: Against Malaria Foundation and Cats Protection. There’s also a facebook page where you can leave your comments and follow news of the contributing authors.

Many thanks to Curtis for organising the competition and the anthology. It’s been fun to work with the other writers.

Breaking news: next year’s Book A Break competition to win a weekend in Provence is now open. The deadline is 19th February 2017, the length 2000 words and the theme is The Journey (prompt: “They had a long journey ahead of them.”). 2016 winner, Ingrid Jendrzejewski, will judge the competition and winners will be announced on 19th March. There are more details on Curtis Bausse’s website here.

What Killed the Radio Star?

profiteroles-recadreAccording to the song playing in the restaurant in Angoulême on Friday lunchtime, it was Video. A strange coincidence, I thought, to hear that song today of all days. Radio killed the Tree Magic star, more like.

Luckily, I had profiteroles to cheer me up.

You know when someone makes a witty remark or asks you a difficult question, and you come up with some brilliant repartee – five minutes too late? Or how you leave an exam and forget everything except the questions you couldn’t answer?

helen-millarThat was exactly how I felt after my first ever radio interview. Helen Millar, the host of RCF Charente’s weekly English programme, AngloFile, had invited me to come and talk about my novel Tree Magic. Here’s a picture of her. She was a lovely host: friendly, reassuring and interesting. And there were no difficult questions. As she’d assured me beforehand, it was just a chat.

The thing is, on radio you have to keep talking. And talking is much more difficult than it sounds: talking coherently, in any case. As Barry Gornell recently said at the Cognac European literary festival, writers don’t talk: they listen and watch (though he actually spoke very well). I would include ‘think’ in his list of things writers do. I’d also add that if writers were good speakers, we wouldn’t go to all the bother of writing in order to communicate.

Helen talks admirably, which I guess is just as well for a radio host. But she is also a writer, which completely disproves the point I just made. Damn. I thought it was a good point, too.

Helen is known as Rosemary Mason for her professional writing. As Rosemary, she was a founder writer on East Enders. She has written stage and television plays, was a production assistant at the BBC and a screenwriter in residence for Thamesdown Borough Council. She launched a media writing degree, taught screenwriting and became Head of School at Southampton Solent University.

I should have been interviewing her!

Instead, a friendly technician, Fabrice François, set us up and we galloped through 26 minutes of air time, including me reading from Chapter One of Tree Magic. It passed so quickly that I forgot to thank my publisher (sorry, Impress Books). I forgot to say what Tree Magic is about, and that there is a prologue before the first chapter. I forgot to talk about the legend of Amrita Devi, on which the novel is based. But I did manage to refer to my writing groups and the Charroux and St.Clémentin literary festivals (well, OK: I did forget to say they are bilingual).

Not only is Helen a writer, she also runs an informal writing group near Marthon, to the east of Angoulême. This meant we were able to discuss a whole range of writerly issues, from inspiration to deadlines to short story competitions and writer’s block. We talked about how training as an engineer – which I did – can affect your language skills. And we chatted about the effect of nature on writing.

But each time I began to answer a question, we seemed to bifurcate right and left into fascinating themes such as what happens to hippies and punks when they grow up. Was it just an impression, or did I never actually answer a question she asked? Perhaps that’s just me being engineery…

In any case, it was wonderful to meet another local writer. The RCF (Radio Chrétienne Francophone) studio was a cosy, informal series of offices staffed with smiles. I was even offered a piece of cake. Once the red button stopped glaring at us (well, at me), we continued chatting about writing and Helen told me more about the family history on which she’s currently working. Writing certainly hasn’t killed this radio star.

logoYou can listen to AngloFile every Tuesday from 6:30-7pm and on Saturdays at 11:30am. My interview was first broadcast on Tuesday 29th November and will be repeated on Saturday 3rd December, as well as on Tuesday and Saturday during the Christmas break.

If this post hasn’t put you off, you can even click on the RCF web page here and listen to it now.

And if you’d like to pre-order Tree Magic, you can do so on Amazon and other online bookseller websites. Many thanks!

When Danube meets Charente

dscn0720Last night I met a river. A deep, contemplative river of a person, just like the River Charente as it idles through Cognac.

She is, of course, a writer – and not just any old writer: she’s the 2012 EU Literature prizewinner, Jana Beňová.

Qualifying letters normally tack onto a name, but Jana’s tag, the one which open doors for her, is a prefix. It heralds, in a triumph of trumpets, the Slovakian name that follows; a name few English-language readers would recognise. It introduces her. It stamps value on her work. It instructs us to take her career seriously. And it advises residency hosts that by inviting her to write in their community, they will be rendering a service to Culture (yes, with a capital C).

Cognac’s Littératures Européennes association has taken heed of that advice. During October and November Jana is breathing in the balmy Cognac air and breathing out poetry onto paper. She’s the first guest in the new, annual Jean Monnet residency, which coincides with the literary festival from 17th to 20th November.

Foto N - Tomáš Benedikovič

Foto N – Tomáš Benedikovič

Jana is a 42-year-old poet and novelist with a degree in dramaturgy. She was a journalist for a Slovakian daily newspaper for 7 years and has published poetry, short story collections and novels since 1993. Her novel Seeing People Off, subtitled Café Hyena, won the EU prize.

Café Hyène, as it is called in French, is a distinctive work of art. It follows the activities of a group of literary friends in the run-down Petržalka district of Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. Not only is the language captivating, the storyline is original: it shows the lives of Petržalka citizens in poetic, philosophical bursts, like fireworks.

You won’t have seen this novel in English (why not, for goodness sake?). It will only be available in May 2017, published by indie American publisher Two Dollar Radio. I’d definitely recommend the slim volume: it’s the kind of book you can read several times and still discover something new and thought-provoking each time you open it.

I was lucky enough to be Jana’s interpreter when she arrived in Cognac and addressed the general public. She speaks great English, though little French (just enough to order what she likes to eat and drink). It was my first experience of interpreting and, apart from telling the audience that her favourite activity was working – instead of walking (oops!) – I found it to be an interesting, though intense, challenge.

Jana loves the town of Cognac, which, she says, should be perfect for ageing her work into a VSOP or an XO. When I met her in a wine bar for a chat, she told me how the river brings a sense of raison d’être to a place – much like the Danube in Bratislava. She regularly walks along the River Charente, admiring the golden autumnal light and continuing her writing process in her head. She’s not a writer who sits at a desk and churns out words. She needs time to contemplate things, to let her mind create as she wanders. This is why swimming is one of her favourite activities.

dscn0716She can’t note the ideas she has while swimming, but is confident that she’ll remember them. When she walks, she always takes notes. I told her how I record my ideas on my telephone when I’m running – even though it can be difficult to hear my recorded words through my puffing. But recording speech doesn’t work for Jana. There’s something in writing that pushes you forward, she says. This doesn’t happen when you speak.

It’s this need to continue being ‘in’ her fiction even when she’s not at her desk that led Jana to stop her work as a journalist: she says you need to be fully present as a journalist, which you can’t do if you’re writing fiction or poetry.

Winning the EU Prize for Literature hasn’t changed Jana’s career path, although it helped financially and has been especially useful in attracting translations. Jana has read books from all over the world, and as a writer she longed to be part of the world literature scene. For a Slovakian writer using a language read by only 5 million people, getting translated is as important as getting published. Of course, EU Literature prizewinner also sounds good!

The prizewinning Café Hyena has a deliberately disjointed style. It isn’t necessarily Jana’s only style – indeed, she didn’t decide to write it in this way. When she starts writing a piece, she’s not fully sure of what it is. She constantly asks herself where it’s going in terms of style, structure and narrator. Then, after some time, it opens and shows her the way. She says the style comes from the body of the piece, so her new work will be different to Café Hyena because she feels she has finished her journey into this style.

dscn0712The Jean Monnet residency is the moment for Jana to bring together the ideas for her next oeuvre and set them down on paper. Yes, on paper. She finds the physical act of combining pen and paper important in the writing process, and regrets that screens have replaced typewriters.

Residencies are useful because they allow her time to live alone and write; time during which she doesn’t have to do any other work. Writers need to be alone. The best way to be alone without being lonely, according to Jana, is to sit in a café.

Of course, writers need to see people too, and Jana’s schedule includes visits to local towns each week to meet the Charente public. This brings the balance that is key to Jana’s lifestyle – another being the city / country balance. Big cities are great for a short time, but then she needs to come to a country town for the serenity. Even her choice of home is a balance, as she alternates between Spain and Hungary. The building in which Jana writes is important to her too. Luckily, she feels at home in the 200-year-old residency house in Cognac, and likes the sense of other people having lived there.

Writing isn’t just the act of writing, she says: it’s all about living. And when you want to write, you will do anything to combine the two. She owns nothing and has no money saved for retirement – but as long as she’s writing, she is free and open and unafraid.

dscn0732Thanks to the Jean Monnet residency, Jana is gathering her Cognac thoughts, ageing them and writing. We will all benefit from what I’m sure will be a complex, mellow XO blend.

Come and meet her at the Salamandre conference centre in Cognac on Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th November at 10am.

Did you say Paradise?

What have a tiny French village and the UK’s most successful literary agent got in common?

No, not a brand of wine. Not a signed author either. The answer is Festilitt, the Parisot bilingual literary festival, in the Tarn-et-Garonne. And, in case you’re wondering, the agent is Andrew Lownie.

The annual Festilitt’s 4th edition, from 21-23 October 2016, was the first for me. I’d heard whispers of ‘Parisot’ among British writers in France for a couple of years, always accompanied by nostalgic sighs, as if the word were ‘Paradise’. So when I had to decide between spending a weekend doing housework, or meeting readers and writers, it wasn’t difficult to choose.

Lac de Parisot

Lac de Parisot

However, it was difficult breaking the news to my bike and tent that the village campsite was closed and that, unlike the Charroux and St.Clémentin lit fests, I would have to leave them behind.

Instead, I opted for a mobile home with a view, and a run around the lake in the misty mornings. Not bad, eh? I almost bypassed the festival in favour of writing on my terrace. After the cows and donkeys in Charroux and the Red Indian in St.Clémentin, the only scary noises were the plopping of acorns onto the roof in the dead of night.

ParisotSunny Parisot was full of people – I think all 500 of them were out in the streets – I mean, street – when I climbed out of my car on Friday afternoon. This buzz of activity convinced me that I must have chosen the right Parisot (there’s another Parisot further south). Strangely, everyone was dressed in dark colours, and I wondered whether I’d missed a dress code page on the Festilitt website. It wasn’t until my exploration took me to the hilltop church that I realised a funeral was taking place. Once everyone was inside, the streets were deserted.

It’s not always easy to arrive, alone, in an unknown place. The friendly welcome I received from the French and British organisers set the tone for the whole event. And the good news was that although I was only on the waiting list for the talk by Andrew Lownie on Finding an Agent, I was encouraged to come in and make myself at home.

His talk was enlightening: given that his agency receives 100 novel submissions a day and only takes on 12 new clients a year, I understood why agent rejections proliferate. Best of all, Andrew, like all the speakers, was present all weekend. His easy smile and generous interest in people’s projects meant that he was easily accessible, giving everyone ample time to ask him their own questions. What a lovely man. What a shame he doesn’t represent YA fiction authors.

Lektor Studio readings

Lektor Studio readings

The official opening was on Friday evening, at aperitif time, of course. I was amazed to see a packed village hall, and even more surprised to see French and British, old and young, mingling and chatting.

Yes, there were official speeches. But there were also copious quantities of buffet food and drink – all prepared by village volunteers and completely free. Members of the Parisot writing group invited me to join them, and I spent a wonderful evening meeting people and forgetting names. Some, like the fascinating Bob Fell – here in the photo listening to a private reading from Lektor Studio – were unforgettable.

Manu Causse & Emmanuelle Urien

Manu Causse & Emmanuelle Urien

There was also entertainment from talented French authors and translators Emmanuelle Urien and Manu Causse. Their humorous mix of French and English musical poetry – including improvised translations of Beatles hits – ended with a touching song in Occitan. The whole village sang along (at least, all those who speak Occitan).

I understood that the event wasn’t just a literary festival. It was a village celebration. What makes Festilitt so special is the way the French villagers have integrated the British into their lives, and how both nationalities work side by side to bring pleasure to the festival participants.

This intimacy was also obvious the following day, when the audience raised hands to ask questions after each talk, and were acknowledged by their first names. I felt privileged to be part of the group.

The organisation was simple: there was one English and one French session each morning and two of each in the afternoon. Between the afternoon sessions, tea and cakes were provided, and you could eat at the village restaurant at lunchtimes. Although the events and refreshments are free at Festilitt, donations are welcomed through the ‘Friends of Parisot’ scheme.

On the British side was Jim Powell, author of The Breaking of Eggs and Trading Futures. He talked about his work, including the BBC Radio adaptation, and I learnt that after receiving 80 rejections for his first novel and 30 for Eggs, he was considered as one of the 12 best new novelists in 2011. There is hope yet!

A captivating talk about Guy Burgess followed, given by Andrew Lownie (who is the author of Stalin’s Englishman). What a knowledgeable man – have I said that already? Fiona Barton, author of The Widow, talked about the relationship between journalism and fiction. Her insights about crime reporters meeting people at moments of crisis in their lives, and how they must sympathise without showing too much emotion, was thought-provoking.

Carys Bray

Carys Bray

The lovely Carys Bray, with her natural smile and eyes full of joy, talked about grief and her life as a Mormon, which were both key to writing her prizewinning novel A Song for Issy Bradley. Her excellent readings brought the already excellent novel to life. She was followed by Laura Barnett, who explained her approach to the complexities in writing a novel which tells three versions of a couple’s life: The Versions of Us.

Meanwhile, French authors Hugues de Jubécourt, Luc Corlouër, Frédérique Martin, Georges-Patrick Gleize and Pascal Dessaint gave presentations in the library.

One session was truly bilingual: Susan Elderkin gave a slideshow presentation about her compendium of literary remedies, The Novel Cure, co-written by Ella Berthoud. Susan advocates reading a book to help overcome personal ailments – a therapy known as bibliotherapy. I loved the way the authors present at the festival were asked to seek remedies from Susan in the form of questions about their own literary ailments. When Jim Powell requested a remedy to soothe post-Brexit Britain, along to laughs from the audience, Susan prescribed Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses to raise political awareness among the young.

As Susan’s French translator couldn’t come, one of the festival’s organising team, Liz Stanley, translated everything into French. I can’t continue without telling you what a remarkable job of organisation, translation and interviewing Liz did during the weekend. Yet she was always accessible to calmly answer any queries. She told me the whole French/British team made this possible, with Kath Humphries and Debra Okitikpi on the British side. And no festival would exist without the founder, Gina Connolly, who has just stepped down from the association.

Susan Elderkin signing

Susan Elderkin signing ‘The Novel Cure’

Because village families hosted the speakers, they were accessible all weekend. So it was as easy to have a cup of tea and chat with international literary figures as it was to talk with villagers and other festival-goers. Equally, the Saturday evening meal, in which 80 people participated, was an ideal occasion to discuss literature, to listen and learn. A speaker or two were placed on each table, and you could choose to sit with a particular one.

If you’ve managed to read right down to here, congratulations! The post is long, because it was such a fantastic event. I could go on for pages in my enthusiasm… But I should get on with the housework I didn’t do last weekend.

Many thanks to the Festilitt organisers, to the speakers, to the fellow writers I managed to catch up with, and to all the extraordinary people I met, ate with, had coffee with, and who bought me much-needed beer (thanks Rob). I look forward to seeing you all next year.

Photos courtesy of Festilitt and Paul Bray