Felixstowe Book Festival 2022 Lineup

What if…? This must surely be one of the most powerful and creative phrases in the English language. It is the starting point for all kinds of inspired and challenging programs that have helped shape our cultural and economic landscape over the centuries.

It was certainly the most important question on Meg Reid’s mind as she returned home to Felixstowe after attending the Cambridge Literary Festival.

“I was driving home with a friend and we had both just moved to Felixstowe and we had such a good time that we wondered why Felixstowe didn’t have a book festival? And it really started from there.

This year celebrates its 10th anniversary, centered around the atmospheric Harvest House – formerly the Victorian Felix Hotel – where the festival moved last year as part of its pandemic precautions.

As part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, the event holds a festival within a festival – a series of literary events celebrating Suffolk and Sea Day. An impressive list of authors includes Esther Freud, Nicci French, Patrick Gale, actor Stephen McGann, broadcaster Justin Webb, playwright Shamser Sinha, Dame Stella Rimington and actress-turned-author Carol Drinkwater.


Esther Freud is a long-time supporter of the Felixstowe Book Festival
– Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

There will also be entertainment from Martin Newell and Blake Morrison, both playing with The Hosepipe.

While the 10th anniversary is marked by an explosion of book star names, the first festival in 2012 was understandably smaller…but it had ambition from the start.

“The festival works because it’s a community event,” says Meg. “It wouldn’t work – couldn’t work – without all the supporters, all the volunteers, the pitchers who help prepare for the festival each year and who organize the conferences and events during the festival weekend. It’s a real Felixstowe event. We love to welcome visitors and it’s great to see them, but the Felixstowe Book Festival is first and foremost an event for the people of Felixstowe. It is an important part of the city’s cultural life.

“If I’m honest, I was surprised it was such a hit from the start. Because I had only recently moved to Felixstowe, I wasn’t sure what to expect, so I went out and I I attended various town meetings and community events to test the waters and find out if people wanted a book festival in town, and it soon became clear that they did.

“I thought at first we might just have a few writers talking in cafes or something, but there’s been such an enthusiastic response to the idea, from people and the city ​​council, that we decided to hit the ground running and stage a real weekend in year one and it grows from there.

“That first year, I was absolutely terrified. I sat there thinking, ‘What if no one shows up? What am I going to do? What am I going to tell the authors? But I didn’t have to worry about because it was an incredible success from the start.


Nicci Gerard and Sean French who write together as Nicci French

Nicci Gerard and Sean French who write together as Nicci French
– Credit: Johnny Ring

“Each year I recognize a lot of very familiar faces who not only come out to support us each year, but they are on the front lines at many events and always have very insightful questions for our authors, which leads to questions and engaging responses sessions after the talks.

“To me, that’s what the festival is for – allowing writers and their readers to come together and have a conversation. Where else can this happen than at a book festival? »

Although Meg has always been an avid reader and loves books, she has no background in publishing. So, in the beginning, she relied on friends in the industry to find the right agents and the most elusive guest speakers.

“I have a background in acting, so you could say I’ve long been associated with words, but they tended to come in the form of scripts rather than books. I was a theater director, so I m I was handling the logistics of a tour. I ran my own theater company for a while and for me the devil is in the details. It’s planning, booking venues, making sure that the actors are where they need to be, that the set is set on time – exactly the same skills you need to organize a book festival.

“You always take care of something. Before the start of this current festival, you are already worrying about next year and thinking of ideas, of possible authors to approach, for the year after. It’s a year-round project.


Carol Drinkwater

Carol Drinkwater
– Credit: Brandon Bishop

This year, Meg realizes a long-standing ambition to organize several events in different places of the city. “I always wanted the festival to have that ‘Edinburgh’ feel where you have to rush through the city to get to the next thing you want to see.

“It gives the festival a more lively atmosphere and creates a bit of movement, but it’s also a planning nightmare because you have to allow time for the audience to get from place A to place B or C. But I’m glad that we have events taking place not only at Harvest House but also at Two Sisters in Trimley and at the Conservatory in another part of Harvest House.

“The public will have to choose what they want to see this year because they won’t be able to see everything. There are too many and some events will overlap. They will have to study their programs and develop their own personal itinerary, which will be fun. This will give the festival a little more buzz this year.

The Suffolk and the Sea strand is also providing some buzz, giving festival-goers the chance to take a look at the yachts of Arthur Ransome, The Nancy Blackett and Peter Duck, which were built at Pin Mill and are now owned by the curator. of Suffolk and the Sea. Julia Jones.

There will be opportunities to get closer to Duet, now run by the Cirdan Trust, which is the oldest sailing training vessel in the UK. Duet is a keen competitor in the annual Tall Ships Race and has been a previous winner and a chance to see Tinfish II – a busy cruising yacht.


Harvest House in Felixstowe

Harvest House in Felixstowe
– Credit: Rachel Sloane

These close nautical encounters will take place at Levington Yacht Harbor throughout the weekend of June 25-26, as long as their owners or volunteers are on board.

Meg said of the Suffolk and the Sea mini-festival: “It started off as an afternoon but quickly turned into a full day affair because we found so many things we wanted include.”

She said she was not a navigator herself and so recruited experienced navigator Julia Jones to suggest certain events. “When we arranged to use Two Sisters as a venue I was intrigued by the fact that the river is right above the fields and thought that sailing and the sea are such a part of life in Felixstowe that we should do something special for this tenth year anniversary and Julia has really pulled out all the stops.

“We have a lecture series on Saturday about Suffolk’s links and relationship to the sea…the healing power of the sea. Julia will tell stories of yachtsmen who risked their lives off the coast of Suffolk during World War II .

Additional stories will be told at the Felixstowe Museum. “There will be a special celebration for the publication of writer and conservationist Jules Pretty Sea’s latest book, Sagas of the North: Travels and Tales of Warming Waters. The day begins at the Felixstowe Museum, then embarks via the foot and cycle ferry from Felixstowe to Harwich Quay – packed with salty stories from award-winning storyteller Glenys Newton – before ending at The Redoubt Fort. The public will then be led back across the estuary to Landguard Fort.

Meg said she always wears two hats while programming the festival. As a curator, she strives for a wide range of authors covering a wide range of topics, different genres, a good mix of fiction and non-fiction as well as supporting local writers.

As a festival goer herself, she loves well-written mystery novels and has enjoyed working with Cambridge authors Nicola Upson and Mandy Morton, who have been huge supporters of the Felixstowe event from its first year and continue to do so. alternate between interviewers and interviewees.

So, what are his highlights this year? “As a festival goer I think my highlight will be the Margery Allingham Celebration Talk hosted by Nicola and Julia Jones. And I won’t miss Sean and Nicci French, who will present their latest psychological thriller – The Unheard.

“We also have Carol Drinkwater joining us from her home in France, which has been delayed twice due to lockdown restrictions, and I can’t wait to meet her.”

Elsewhere, Meg is delighted that festival patron Esther Freud is back to talk to Tessa Hadley about Free Love, her latest novel about a young woman’s sexual and intellectual awakening in 1960s London.

“Also, we’re thrilled to welcome back Stephen McGann, who will take us behind the scenes of popular Sunday night drama Call The Midwife with a look at a new cast-compiled book called Call The Midwife: A Labor of Love. And we welcome back another festival favourite, Patrick Gale, to talk about his latest book Mother’s Boy – a wonderful historical romance set in Cornwell between the wars.

The Felixstowe Book Festival takes place on June 25 and 26. A launch weekend takes place at the Two Sisters Arts Center on June 11 and 12 with Martin Newell and The Hosepipe Band, and with actor Michael Pennington performing excerpts from his autobiography In My Own Footsteps.

Booking information and a detailed program breakdown can be found on the festival website at felixstowebookfestival.co.uk

Angela C. Hale