Marlborough LitFest 2016 sets a new standard - with sell-outs and colours to remember

Written by Tony Millett on .

Children's authors Sarah McIntyre & Philip Reeve (All photos copyright Ben Phillips Photgraphy) Children's authors Sarah McIntyre & Philip Reeve (All photos copyright Ben Phillips Photgraphy) "2016", LitFest's Chair Jan Williamson tells Marlborough.News, "has been our best LitFest so far.  We’ve had bigger audiences and several complete sell-outs.  For the first time, we’ve had events for every age group from Under 5s to over 90s!"

"We started on Thursday with Sally Nicholls and a packed audience for the Big School Read at St John’s, and ended at the College on Sunday evening with the wonderful poetry of Sarah Howe, winner of the TS Eliot Prize."

Ella Berthoud - BibliotherapyElla Berthoud - BibliotherapyHowever, this year brought some other and surprising superlatives: "It’s been our most colourful LitFest!  Marlborough was brightened by the fabulous clothes of children’s authors Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve, and by bibliotherapist Ella Berthoud."

Many people we have spoken to have commented on the greater variety of events.  Some had direct local relevance, like Simon Cooper's Life of a Chalkstream.  Others like food and travel writer Elizabeth Luard took the audience far away, though probably by the end left them quite hungry - if not for her Squirrel Pie.

Over its six years, Marlborough's LitFest has become much more than the sum of its parts: "Perhaps best of all has been the feeling of support from the town, the buzz around the LitFest cafe, book groups chatting together before the Big Town Read, discussing King Atlelstan's morals, crowds of children excitedly queuing to buy Abi Elphinstone’s books after her talk to local primary schools, people crowding round tables of books set up by the White Horse Bookshop and a general air of people engaged, interested, excited by books."

"The heart of LitFest is always fiction. This year we’ve had a feast of great writing especially from debut authors: Alex Christofi, Barney Norris, Claire Fuller and Harry Parker, all names to look out for in the future."  

Simon Russell Beale Simon Russell Beale LitFest Director Jan Williamson LitFest Director Jan Williamson We ask about the highlights - always a tricky question: "The highlights have been a feisty opening with Lionel Shriver talking about her new book The Mandibles with literary journalist Alex Clark - a super-charged session almost worthy of question time in the House of Commons when James Naughtie interviewed Tom Bower, author of Tony Blair’s biography - and a tantalising taster of Simon Russell Beale’s Prospero for the RSC’s new production of The Tempest."

And here's the pitch: "Many people were disappointed not to get tickets for Simon Russell Beale and for some other events, including Michael Morpurgo’s talk, Rare Books at the College and the Libanus Press." 

"Anyone interested can sign up on our website for our e-newsletter at which keeps you up-to-date with the programme and booking details."  And allows you get to those tickets in good time.

Next year’s dates are 29 September to 1 October

And, Jan Williamson reminds us, the LitFest would not survive without its supporters and sponsors - lead sponsor Brewin Dolphin, and other sponsors Hiscox, Duncan Morris, Carter Jonas, William Golding Ltd, The Welton Foundation, Fingal Rock.

Also the collaboration with local schools Marlborough College, St Francis and St John’s - and, of course, Marlborough's own independent bookshop - the White Horse Bookshop.

[Marlborough.News thanks Ben Phillips Photography for the comprehensive photographic coverage of LitFest.]