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Alan Johnson: Very humbling, very moving, and very entertaining. The very best of Marlborough Lit Fest

 

To sit in front of Alan Johnson at Marlborough Lit Fest in 2018 and hear him so gleefully describe his joy at discovering music was an absolute privilege.  The charisma of this man - slum inhabitant, orphan, postman, union rep, MP then Secretary of State - shone from the Town Hall stage as he enthralled us all with his tales of playing his first ever discs to being a band on the run.  

Such is the magic of the Lit Fest. Not only do you get up close and personal with enigmatic authors, you also become enveloped in their thoughts, views and stories.  You get to ask them questions directly, laugh with them and chastise them.  The interviewers are always thoughtful, respectful and extraordinarily well informed.  Everyone is interested, so you’re in the company of like minds, and there’s a proper sense of bonhomie.  Against this background, Alan Johnson became, for me, the best guest author so far.  He was eloquent, funny, self-effacing, persuasive and - most important of all - he was clearly delighted to be in Marlborough and thrilled to have the opportunity to talk to his audience.  

There was no sense of ‘just another book tour’ or ‘market town Lit Fest’.  Alan Johnson had around an hour but I suspect he would have gone on and on, regaling tales of fifties London and bringing to life his family members and mates, and the formation of his band.  His descriptions were so evocative it was as though the people he told us about were all on stage together with him, playing out his memories - initially trying to make the best of life in the squalor of a Notting Hill boarding house, to the excitement of receiving knock-off guitars, to the auditioning of band members – all against a background set list of rock ‘n roll, rockabilly and skiffle music.

 

So my favourite visiting author was Alan Johnson.   Very humbling, very moving, and very entertaining.  The very best of Marlborough Lit Fest.

 

Sarah MacLennan

 

 

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The prize-winning book 'Wilding' tells the uplifting story of how nature can restore itself

Isabella Tree (Photo: Francesco Guidicini)Isabella Tree (Photo: Francesco Guidicini)The latest winner of the Richard Jefferies Society/White Horse Bookshop Literary Prize for Nature Writing is Isabella Tree for her book Wilding - subtitled The return of nature to a British farm.  The prize - which includes a cheque for £1,000 - will be presented when the author comes to Marlborough in July to talk about her book - details here.

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Simon Russell Beale - LitFest 2016 by Tony Smith

 

In the late 80s or very early 90s, it was a warm morning in Avebury that I came across a young man, mug of tea in one hand and sheaf of paper in the other, leaning on the front fence of his parents’ house, learning his lines.  He was still in his pyjamas and dressing gown.

I didn’t take a lot of notice.  I was new to the area and supposed Avebury people might be a bit odd.

Over the next 25 or 30 years, I saw that same young man many more times, principally at Stratford or the National.  Each performance was more arresting than the last.  Simon Russell Beale was becoming a very great actor.

At the 2016 Marlborough Lit Fest, in the Town Hall, the finest actor of his generation chatted to us in what must have been for him a tiny auditorium with a tiny audience.

But that voice was still the same.  The voice that brought to life many of the greatest characters in English drama chatted to us. And he let us in on the secret of the RSC’s upcoming production of ‘The Tempest’.  Ariel was to be given a high tech makeover – digital wizardry!

And then, would we like to hear him give a speech from the current rehearsals?  Yes, please, we said.  And we were, as they say, blown away.

My wife and I saw that “Tempest” at Stratford.  Blown away. Not by digital magic.  By Simon Russell Beales’ Prospero – real magic.

 

 

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Photographs by local wildlife photographer David White to be exhibited in a London gallery

Barn owls [Photo © David White] Barn owls [Photo © David White] A fourth generation farmer, now a highly respected photographer, David White is dedicated to capturing the essence of the Marlborough Downs, the surrounding area and especially its wildlife.   Now his photographs are to be exhibited in a London gallery - the Osborne Studio Gallery - in the autumn (details below). 

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She won the world's toughest, longest horse race - and has written a compelling account of her extraordinary victory

Lara, wild-eyed pony & Mongolian grass (Photo © Richard Dunwoody)Lara, wild-eyed pony & Mongolian grass (Photo © Richard Dunwoody)In 2013, on a bit of a whim, she travelled to Mongolia and became the first woman - and the youngest competitor - to win 'the world’s longest, toughest horse race'.  Six years later Lara Prior-Palmer has written an astonishing book about the race: Rough Magic.

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