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Milo gets the 17th Century Experience at Marlborough Literature Festival

 

Milo with Jacob at the Merchant's HouseMilo with Jacob at the Merchant's HouseWe sent our eight-year-old roving reporter to the Merchant's House in Marlborough, to find out more about life in the 1600s.

Yesterday I went to the Merchant’s House. We climbed up the dusty stairs and got to the third floor where we saw Jacob (top servant).

First while we were waiting for other people to come he asked us what’s so different about this room and our living room at home? I looked around and saw big paintings and secret doors. He went past us one by one, until he reached me and I said “the huge paintings”.

A few minutes later the house maid came in introduced herself to us and they both told us what their jobs were in Mr Bailey’s house then we went to Mr Bailey’s study and there were sea animals from all over the world.

After that we went up the stairs to the housemaid’s bedroom there was a big duvet cover with sheets under it and then there were tightened up ropes underneath: that’s why it’s night night sleep tight.

Next we went into Jacob’s room. He had the fire but the housemaid didn't have a fire.

Next we went to Mr Bailey’s and Mrs Bailey’s bedroom. They had curtains on the bed. It was called a four poster bed.

After that we went down to the kitchen and looked around it. There was a huge table and it had lots of nice food on it.

And we saw something called a dough cupboard with a dough knife. A dough knife looks like a cake knife.

Then we went out in the garden and tested out a pistol, a really long gun and a sword. He said they were used in the great fight of Marlborough.

After that we wrote poems or drew pictures. Next we went back home and that was my fabulous day at the Merchant’s House.

 

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LitFest’s Golding Speaker: Louis de Bernières introduces a full house to his poetry - and his sense of humour

 

(Courtesy Ben Phillips Photography)(Courtesy Ben Phillips Photography)With the Marlborough Literature Festival now in its fifth year and with a series of inspiring speakers and events under its belt, this year witnessed a rapid increase in its popularity - as Friday night’s Golding Speaker Louis de Bernières clearly showed.

Marlborough’s Town Hall was packed with audience members eager to hear the Commonwealth Writers’ prizewinner give a talk on his latest endeavour - a collection of poetry entitled ‘Imagining Alexandria’.

With a voice as clear as a bell, and a generous helping of blithe humour, de Bernières gave an enthralling hour-long talk, provoking equal measures of laughter, gasps of wonder, and sighs of appreciation from all corners of the crowded hall.

Although de Bernières is best known for his novel Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, the evening’s talk took a slightly different turn with the writer treating the audience to a selection of his poetry, both published and unpublished, and a short story.

(Courtesy Ben Phillips Photography)(Courtesy Ben Phillips Photography)De Bernières explained that he’d been writing poetry since his early teens, that his father was a poet, and that his ambition had always been to become a poet, causing himself some surprise when he later found himself first and foremost a novelist. Yet it became clear within minutes of the event that he fits the cap of a poet perfectly, reading poetry he described as inspired by - and poetry that would have been liked by - the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy.

Indeed, Greece - in particular philosophy, the Mediterranean and eroticism - permeated the readings, and one could almost sense the Alexandrian poet at his side throughout.

His love of Greece began, he explained, the second time he visited Corfu after a less than ideal first experience with an ex-girlfriend. He described falling in love with music by contemporary Greek composers who had set poems to music, calling these artists ‘heroes of music and literature’.

One poem, Parvulus, sketches the story of a Greek slave-boy as if raised from the grave (‘They changed my name to Parvulus,/ I don’t recall my given name’). When musing upon the life of a slave, de Bernières gave some insight into the inspiration behind the poem, remarking, ‘nothing makes up for losing your family’.

As well as Greece, de Bernières read poems with subjects as diverse as his six year old daughter, the poet Nossis of Locris, and the Troubles in Northern Ireland, each striking and vividly imagined.

Questions from the audience provided an opening for humour, with de Bernières answering a question about how deliberate the difficulty of the first 100 pages of Captain Corelli was by saying “It’s deliberate. I don’t want readers who can’t concentrate.” And adding: “it’s a bit like a marriage: you’ve got to work at it.”   

More laughter followed  after a questioner asked for advice on writing a first novel. The writer quipped, “Louis de Bernières does not want any competition… Next!”

Overall, the talk was a lively and upbeat affair, revealing Louis de Bernières to be both an excellent speaker, with the audience in the palm of his hand, as well as a sympathetic and colourful poet with a refreshingly modest outlook.

For more about the Golding family's connection with Marlborough and the LitFest see Judy Golding’s article for Marlborough News Online.

 

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On the eve of Marlborough’s LitFest, William Golding’s daughter writes about her family’s past connection with the town – and now with its LitFest

 

Judy Golding Judy Golding A Marlborough of the mind – by Judy Golding

Marlborough goes very deep in our family.  We all felt its pull – for different reasons perhaps, but in all cases powerfully and emotionally.  Some of us simply loved it.  My brother and I adored the old houses, the covered ways on the north side of the High Street, the rosy hung tiles on the sides of the buildings, the sense of mysterious age.  

We loved the bus journey from our home in Salisbury, and even now I look at the bus stop and feel the sharpness of loss: where is my grandfather?  Where is that familiar, calm figure, waiting for me as the red double-decker number 9 from Salisbury swings round the end of the High Street and comes to a halt?

The blue plaque at 29 The GreenThe blue plaque at 29 The GreenAlec Golding, my grandfather, moved to Marlborough 109 years ago, in 1905, as science master at the grammar school.  He worked there for the next forty years, and lived in the centre of the town till his death in 1958.  At 29 The Green he and his wife brought up their two sons, both pupils at the grammar school.  

The younger, my father the novelist William Golding, longed as an adolescent to escape Marlborough: its smallness, its – to him – steely boundaries of class (he learnt later that this was a feature of England, not just Marlborough).  

Unlike the rest of us, who adored it, he was not fond of the extraordinary house where his family lived – for him it was too near the graveyard, too overshadowed and too haunted.  In response, perhaps revenge, it stayed embedded in his dreams for the rest of his life, sometimes in images of poignant beauty, sometimes as a gateway to surreal landscapes, sometimes as a disturbing location for his recurrent nightmare of being executed.

William Golding William Golding In his novels, the town is transformed many times to serve an imaginary landscape.  Savernake Forest becomes the last home of the Neanderthals in The Inheritors, the old house on the Green is the source of childhood nightmares in Pincher Martin, the memories of school (and of his father as the teacher Nick Shales) underpin Free Fall.  

And I am certain that his childhood walks among the towering trees of Savernake Forest provided the timber that Dean Jocelin obtains for the building of his cathedral spire.  In The Pyramid, my father draws a picture of his home town, and of his own early life, distorted by his desire to arraign what he saw as the English pyramid of class – and above all his own guilty involvement in its resultant cruelties.

Did he ever acknowledge his debt to the town?  The grammar school paved his way to Oxford.  The local bookshop (pre-dating the White Horse Bookshop, later enthusiastically used by all our family) faithfully obtained for him volumes that might have been considered a minority taste.  He recalls as a very young man collecting a volume of poetry by Edith Sitwell from the shop and – showing off his literary enthusiasm – sitting to read it on the pavement, as if he could not bear to wait till he got home.  

Above all, the town and surrounding landscape were a resource for him, for his memories and his imagination, even if his use of it might sometimes be thought unappreciative.  His Marlborough of the mind was very different from the actual one we all know and enjoy – but he could not have had the imaginary landscape without the real one.

So that is what lies behind our family’s small involvement in the Marlborough Literary Festival: a desire to give something back to the beautiful Wiltshire town that filled our heads with memories, and, in my father’s case, with stories.

Copyright © Judy Golding 2014.  All rights reserved.


William Golding Limited provide sponsorship each year to bring a notable writer of fiction to the Marlborough Literature Festival – ‘The Golding Speaker’.  
On Friday (September 26) The Golding Speaker will be Louis de Bernières - the author of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.  At 7.30pm in the Town Hall. Admission by ticket from The White Horse Bookshop.

This year’s Marlborough LitFest coincides with the sixtieth anniversary of the publication of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies you can find out more here.
 

 

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The upside of corruption: Renaissance writer Sarah Dunant at Marlborough Literature Festival

 

Sarah Dunant at Marlborough Literature FestivalSarah Dunant at Marlborough Literature FestivalAll the events I've been to at Marlborough Literature Festival this year have sparkled, and yesterday Sarah Dunant, Renaissance fiction writer, was no exception.

With enthusiastic continental-style gesticulating, Sarah imbued her talk with as many interesting metaphors as in her books.

And to give AC Grayling from Saturday a run for his money, she did it all without a seeming reference to any notes.

Sarah's foray into Renaissance fiction came after a midlife crisis in Florence. "If you are going to have a psychological breakdown," she said, "do it in a good city."

Academic study of history and the importance of accuracy warned her off writing about her favourite subject and instead she forged a career in crime thrillers. Her moment of crisis came in the Italian city when she realised: "I grew tired of writing novels with an answer at the end...The faster I wrote novels, the faster people read them."

She decided to show her two young daughters the cultural wonders of Florence but knew she had a 'hard sell on my hands.' All the Renaissance heroes seemed to be men. Were there no women architects, painters, philosophers at that time?

She decided there was a story to tell of Renaissance women, several as it turned out - courtesans, nuns, a merchant's daughter. Luckily for her, feminism has led to much academic research into women of this era: "Scholars had mined the deep veins to find the nuggets of gold for me to use," she said. "My books couldn't have been written thirty years ago."

Historical accuracy remains important to Sarah, "I like to put my feet down in fact." She faced a dilemma when composing conversations between characters, but, steeling herself, found it was a place where her imagination could fly.

Sarah's latest books are about the infamous family Borgia. She doesn't believe them to be any better or worse than the other Papal families at that time, just better at the political game - and Spanish. And there wouldn't have been a Renaissance without the corruption - the developments in architecture, art, etc, the beautiful buildings, were funded by the money brought in by a corrupt church.

Sarah left us with two thoughts. A member of the audience asked if she was startled by anything in her research. They probably weren't expecting her to say syphilis. The sexually transmitted decease came out of nowhere and had ravaged Europe in three years. It was a real indication of the difference between how people said they behaved and how they actually did; even the Pope contracted it. And then - historical parallels - the same thing happened across the world in the 1980s with AIDS.

And more parallels? Given current issues with the Middle East, she believes: "We are living in an age where religion is again governing world politics."

 

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What happened to the cat? Lynne Truss at the Marlborough Festival of Literature

Lynne Truss at Marlborough Literature FestivalLynne Truss at Marlborough Literature Festival"A thing of mine is to fall in love with one of my characters," Lynne Truss divulges. "In Eats, Shoots and Leaves it was a colon."

I'm hoping my grammar is all present and correct in this piece. I am a student of the eighties, after all, when sentence structure and spelling weren't paid any attention.

But the book of grammar pedantry that made her a best seller wasn't the main topic of conversation. Lynne loves writing for actors: "It's my favourite thing." She finds it hard to describe her latest novel (and the first one in fifteen years) so instead reads us a monologue, The Wife, she wrote for Radio Four, broadcast back in 2007.

It's the kind of drama that works on the BBC - downtrodden wife, overly concerned about life's trivial, very middle class. But I really like it because it has got a great sense of humour, absurdity in the mundane, and it has poignancy both for Henny, the eponymous Wife, and Steve, the husband. Henny has been held back, bullied if you like by Steve, but Steve is equally a prisoner of his own neurosis. And it helps that Lynne reads very well.

In the Q & A session I find out she was a sports writer, a very unlikely one by her own admission. She stuck out football reporting for four years until the blokiness finally got to her.

And of her newish book, Cat Out of Hell? I can't tell you if the cat survives, she says, but you should worry about Watson the dog.

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Can our life be defined through our friends? So asks AC Grayling at Marlborough Literature Festival

AC Grayling at Marlborough Literature FestivalAC Grayling at Marlborough Literature Festival"Having friends is a sign of a life worthwhile," said celebrity philosopher Anthony Grayling, whose latest deep musings are on friendship.

Anthony took us through a journey - the scenic way - from the obligatory Ancient Greeks past Saint Augustine, via sixteenth century French philosopher Montaigne and finishing somewhere around Facebook.

As you'd expect, those Ancient Greeks took friendship very seriously, often sharing homes and joining bodies. "A friend is another self," said philosopher Aristotle. They felt a duty both of loyalty and to keep their chums on the right track or, as Oscar Wilde said much more recently: "A friend is someone who stabs you from the front."

Fifth century theologian Saint Augustine had a much harder time with friendship when converting to Christianity. Christian doctrine said everyone must be loved equally, but 'friendship privileges one over another.' Not sure what his problem was - nothing wrong with more love, only less - surely? Perhaps he was worried about one love being in competition with the other.

But did today's modern method of communication change the nature of friendship? "I don't think so," was Anthony's slightly non-committal answer. "It's just a faster, cheaper way of getting and staying in touch."

I felt quite envious of Anthony's university students - he combined down to earth language with complex ideas which made them easier to grasp in yesterday's hour long talk at Marlborough Literature Festival. (Not that my own philosophy lecturers weren't as good. The problems arose when I read the set texts...)

And the sign of a good talk? I left thinking of my own friendships - how I once lived with my best friend when I needed a place to live. She - in a roundabout way - expressed reservations, worried that I'd fall out with her husband. But it was great; full of mutual respect and we both, I think, were sad when I moved out.

And email, Facebook, etc has been invaluable in staying in contact and renewing friendships that just wouldn't (and didn't happen) through landlines and post.

My best friends are people I can share anything with, people I would die for and know those sentiments are reciprocal. And we're not afraid to be honest, either.

And perhaps in these days of female equality, instead of having friends and spouses separate, we expect our romantic longterm partners to also be our best friends. But perhaps there is something special about same sex friendships, buddies, a bromance or sistahood? Maybe those Greeks were right and homosexual relationships have the best of both worlds.

Either way, I agree: life without friends would be very bleak and empty indeed.

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