The Alderney Literary Festival was the first on my calendar this year and lived up to its usual high standards. It has special attractions, not the least in that it is organised by some lovely people on the very special island of Alderney. It also has a unique focus on historical novels, biography and historical non-fiction which means that discussion sessions can mesh ideas raised across the weekend.
Many festivals adopt the panel format, where three to five authors writing in a similar genre follow prompts to talk about their books and common themes. In Alderney, most visiting writers have the audience to themselves, sometimes with an interviewer. For an hour they talk around the background to their writing, perhaps their latest book but often ranging deeper into the research that went into it and issues raised. Questions from the well-read festival-goers can be both entertaining and illuminating.
It can be intense and at times even highbrow, but the audience are game. Although the room can just take fifty ticketholders plus sponsors and supporters, barely a seat is empty. Festival regulars come every year, which makes for pleasant reunions in the café, the book hall or over a hotel breakfast.
Programming is a juggling act, balancing subjects and historic periods so as to maintain variety but also coherence. This year the running theme was considering how much truth lay behind historical narratives. Over three days we heard about Joan of Arc, witch-hunting, communist hunting, life under the Nazis, Soviet repression, exploring ancient Egypt, the Great Fire of London and the little-known Levant Company. It was an intimate event where prize-winning authors and public mingled throughout the weekend.
Authors themselves love flying out to Alderney and its generous hospitality, although island weather can make travel plans as nail-biting as their plots. Away from the programme they set off exploring the island, and I even had the pleasure of guiding a few around the Roman fort at the Nunnery, mixing several of my interests at once. Local media were well in evidence and the event received generous sponsorship. Perhaps the most exciting part of the weekend was listening to the authors interact, discovering how their areas of interest overlap and exploring the way the themes of the weekend knitted together.
It was a great way to kick off the literary year; mark your diaries for the last weekend in March, 2024.
For more information on the festival and the authors who took part follow this link to the Alderney Literary Trust.