Return of the Boutique Litfest

Festival organiser Isabel Picornell, Jason Monaghan and Paul McCormick of Gower Financial Services who sponsored Jason’s talk (Lucie Stribrska)

It’s back! Alderney’s small but perfectly formed Literary Festival returned after a two year absence due to covid. What makes the event special is that it concentrates on historical fiction and non-fiction, achieving a satisfying coherence. The authors mix freely with the attendees and often have shared or overlapping interests which spices up debate.

Festival Chair Anthony Riches, Alex von Tunzelmann and Jonathan F. Putnam opened the event with a debate on how the past and present speak to each other. Conversation moved to consider how stopping the past speaking was an attempt to control the future. Alex gave a fascinating and thought-provoking talk on the removal of statues and the debate that swirls around the issue. Her research is set out in her excellent book Fallen Idols which has been my bedside reading this last week.

Photo: Lucie Stribrska, who also took the cover image

I had the pleasure of sharing background research into the short-lived British fascist movement of the 1930s, and how this was woven into my new thriller, Blackshirt Masquerade . It functioned as my book launch too (see previous post on launch week).

Following straight on in chronology and theme I had the pleasure of introducing Andrew Lownie who presented evidence of how deeply Edward VIII and his later wife Wallis Simpson were connected to the Nazis. His book Traitor King was the basis for a Channel 4 documentary shown on 27th March and widely covered in the press.

 Alderney-based crime writer Rachel Abbot was in conversation with Lucy Jago over her novel, A Net for Small Fishes, a deep historical dive into the court of James I, which took Lucy eight years to complete. Rachel also interviewed debut author Julia Parry, who discussed her biography/memoir, The Shadowy Third. One comment that stuck with me was Julia’s assertion that a non-fiction writer had a ‘duty to the material’. Family relationships also formed the basis for Stacey Halls’ third novel, Mrs England. She talked in particular of how settings such as brooding houses in the hills of West Yorkshire influenced her writing.

Jonathan F Putnam explained how he de-mythicized and recreated the young Abraham Lincoln for his series in which Lincoln and his real-life best friend Joshua Speed solved mysteries on the American frontier of the 1830s. His new novel A House Divided is the fourth in his Lincoln & Speed series. In advance of introducing Jonathan, his book became the first I have ever downloaded to read on Kindle.

As always, there was much unknown and forgotten history uncovered at the Festival. Yorkshire author Sharon Wright shed light on the life of the often-overlooked mother of the famous sisters based on her book Mother of the Brontës. Sharon also gave an entertaining talk on the women pioneers of ballooning and their hair-raising escapades as featured in her The Lost History of the Lady Aeronauts.

It was great to be back on the island, and I’m looking forward to the festival in 2023. If you’re interested in attending, check the Alderney Literary Trust website and be quick off the mark in arranging tickets when they go on sale next year as the intimate venue sells out quickly. Each author was supported by a sponsor, so if you or your company would like to get behind this perfect boutique festival, the Trust would be keen to hear from you.

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