Doyen biographer Sir Michael Holroyd (pictured) revealed that he suffers from a state of grief when he comes to the end of his books as he has to relate the funeral of his subject.
“I feel I am a comic writer who has been fated to write tragedies because in the end they die,” he told a packed Marlborough Literary Festival audience at the town hall on Friday night.
“I am a slow writer and my books take a long time to write. I have a longing to finish them. Can I do it? I ask. Can I do it? Then I do finish it – and there’s a sense of grief.”
“And my occupation’s gone. These are people whose deaths I have to present. I have to be there at the end. It’s a strange feeling.”
But 76-year-old Sir Michael added: “I think you should feel some grief if a book is to be a living thing. So it’s an odd situation. I long for something – the end of the book – and when I get there it’s not quite what you want.”
Sir Michael, award-winning author of acclaimed biographies of Bernard Shaw, Augustus John and Lytton Strachey, was in conversation at the festival with Observer journalist Robert McCrum, who described Sir Michael as “the head of our profession”.
And McCrum told the audience: “The good thing about Marlborough is that it’s about literature, not celebrity. A couple of the major festivals that used to be good have been ruined by celebrity and the media. It’s good to see a festival that puts books first.”
Sir Michael, whose latest biography is called A Book of Secrets, detailed some of his own, in particular how close a biographer becomes to his subject.
“You’ve got their letters in your hand, you have their journals, you can see what’s been crossed out,” he said. “You’re there. And you also know something that’s going to happen in the future which they don’t know yet.”
He referred to Lytton Strachey’s extraordinary love affair with Carrington, a subject which became a film. “I held her books in my hand and her letters, and I was taken over by them for a time,” he confessed.
“I was closer to dead people than alive ones, which is a dangerous place to be.”
Research for his biographies have taken him round the world and he always faces the dilemma of preferring the research to the writing aspect when he finds he has reached the moment of decision.
One problem is that all of us have incomplete memories. “There is a layer of what you might call fiction in our factual lives,” he explained. “Everybody has it. People do remember things incorrectly.”
While novelists had taught him how to tell a story, he suffered from the problem of not being able to invent.
“I can speculate but I can’t invent,” he said. “But what you do is use short quotations from letters or journals in inverted commas, just as a novelist would use dialogue to bring a story immediately to life.”
Nevertheless, the task of a biographer in recreating someone was a much longer process.
“A good day's writing is when you’ve actually discovered something from the act of writing,” Sir Michael revealed. “There are many bad days. I still do all my first drafts with a pen – and I have a wastepaper basket, a very big one, beside me.”
“There are a lot of times when you have a problem, when you can’t connect or interpret something. Then I go off to bed. And in the morning there I some idea of a solution, some clue.”
“It’s what Stephen King calls the boys in the basement. I always rely on them to sort out my problems. It’s very true that you go to bed with a puzzle, then you wake up in the morning and the puzzle is gone.”
With some events almost sold out, now is the time to book your seats for Marlborough’s second literary festival, which kicks off today (Friday) with award-winning author Sir Michael Holroyd as the star turn at the town hall.
Sir Michael, who has written acclaimed biographies of George Bernard Shaw, Augustus John, Lytton Strachey and PG Wodehouse, intriguingly calls his latest work A Book of Secrets – Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers.
And his appearance sets the tone for a festival deliberately created by the novelist Mavis Cheek (pictured) as an event where the quality of the writing, not the notoriety of the celebrity author comes first.
“Marlborough is the town that hosts the festival, literature from everywhere is its guest,” Mavis insists. “It's such a delight to be able to invite wonderful writers to the town. We may be provincial in setting, but we are never provincial in outlook.
Sir Michael Holroyd
”The importance of this event is that -- thanks to both its national and local sponsors -- it is not bound by any commercial considerations. The best literature never is -- and this is wonderfully reflected in the programme. “As G K Chesterton put it - 'While thought exists, words are alive and literature becomes an escape, not from, but into living'. Our tag, when we began, was that this would be a Festival 'Where Literature Comes Alive' and it has honourably lived up to that maxim.”
And Mavis adds the surprise announcement: “Apart from opening the second year's Literature Festival this weekend, which is set to build on last year's success in offering a wide range of excellent authors and very varied events, there will also be an announcement of one new and very special addition to the programme in 2012.
“It will become an annual event, and which will perfectly fulfil our brief to bring fine literature to the town of Marlborough with its many literary connections.”
Festival-goers should definitely reserve their places now, especially if they want to see some of the bigger names such as Judy Golding, daughter of the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Sir William, who grew up in Marlborough, and the locally-raised talent of children’s author Lauren Child, who has created fun for thousands of children.
Deborah Moggach, author of 16 novels, is acclaimed too for for dramatised versions of her own books as well as those of others, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate among them, is another main attraction.
Judi Dench and Maggie Smith starring in a movie version of her novel These Foolish Things, which is due for release next year.
Anne Sebba, the first woman to delve into the life of That Woman – namely the Duchess of Windsor who captured the heart of a King – is another who offers exciting tales from surprising places, along with historian Helen Castor.
Playright David Edgar will be talking on the state of the British theatre while there will be fun to be had in the Poetry Café and the special Poetry Slam organised by experts Marcus Moore and Sara-Jane Arbury.
“The creative writing courses with Chris Wakling are also selling well, though there may still be some tickets if people book them now,” says spokesman Ben Budd.
“Also, bear in mind that some of the venues are quite small and can't accommodate many people, so if people want to see, for example, Peter Davison on Orwell, Kerry Young introduced by Bidisha of The Guardian or Edward Hogan/Evie Wyld, they should snap up tickets now as these events are all held in The Merchant's House.
“For some of the other events you may be able to turn up on the day and get a ticket. With such a variety of writers, styles and subjects, including novels, poetry, biography, children's writing, drama, history, religion and gothic horror, there's bound to be something of interest.
“There will also be books for sale and signing and the LitFest Cafe to relax or have a drink and snack.”
Ticket prices range from £3 to £10. Box office is at 01249 701628 or White Horse Bookshop or marlboroughlitfest.org.
If a ruling on the way Wiltshire NHS – the primary care trust – manages the money it provides for elective surgery (such as hip replacements) is upheld by the health secretary, Andrew Lansley, the trust’s budget could take a multi-million pound hit.
The trust’s AGM and board meeting at its Devizes headquarters (left) on Wednesday, September 21, was told that soon, for this sort of surgery, the “Flow of funds could be driven entirely by patients’ choice” and there would be no controls to even treatment out over the year.
The ruling came after a complaint to the Cooperation and Competition Panel (CCP) by Circle Health Limited which runs a new non-urgent hospital near Bath. Circle complained that Wiltshire PCT and Bath & North East Somerset PCT were ‘managing the market’ by setting minimum waiting times and a cap on the money it spent at CircleBath.
The panel ruled in Circle’s favour – a ruling that could affect seventy other PCTs which use similar management techniques. And the panel took the opportunity to issue some national rules in favour of the private sector which also have to be signed off by Andrew Lansley.
Depending on how many of the panel’s remedies are accepted and when they have to be implemented, Wiltshire NHS’s 2011-2012 budget could be hit by anything between £8m and £4m in consequential expenditure. This comes as the director of finance forecast that on present forecasts there could be a £6m underspend which could help pay off the large debt the PCT inherited and still carries on its books.
In the worst case for which the PCT’s experts have made calculations, these extra costs would wipe out the government’s much-trumpeted ‘real terms’ increase to this year’s NHS budget for Wiltshire.
The CCP was set up by the Labour government. However, as the King’s Fund has pointed out, it is no longer just advisory, but will be a statutory decision-making body and will “place a lot more emphasis on competition than cooperation.” The CCP has suggested to Lansley that the new local Clinical Commissioning Groups that take over from the PCTs, should only be approved if they abide by CCP principles.
It will be interesting to see whether in announcing his decision, Mr Lansley will make it clear that two of Circle Health’s main financial backers have been significant donors to the Conservative Party. And that, just before the election, he himself accepted £21,000 to fund his private office from the chairman of another private health care firm, John Nash of Care UK. The CCP is now chaired by Lord Carter who made his fortune in the private healthcare industry.
NHS Wiltshire’s board was told that the response time of the area’s ambulance service (Great Western Ambulance Service) for immediately life threatening emergencies in Wiltshire was met in July for 70.98 per cent of such call outs. Under the target set for these cases, they should be reached within eight minutes. In August the figure was up almost a point at 71.92 per cent of such call outs.
GWAS, which covers Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, North and North East Somerset, Bristol, Bath and Swindon, will eventually be overseen by the new clinical commissioning groups. This will involve these groups in some complex co-operation and coordination beyond their own borders and beyond county boundaries.
All the environmental danger signals were there to be seen in abundance, plus the top experts spouting the solutions that are urgently needed.
Even the people miles away who don’t realise that rare and fragile chalk rivers like the Kennet that flows through Marlborough are being drained just to flush their loos.
But what became dramatically exposed by Monday’s Panorama programme on BBC1 was the fact that in these tough times there isn’t either the funding or the urgent political will to carry out the vital rescue operation needed.
And even the programme itself had been waylaid from being originally shown in August after being filmed on the Kennet with the co-operation of ARK, which has been fighting for almost 20 years to save the river.
“Yes indeed, a good summary of our problems which I prophetically mentioned last week,” Marlborough MP Claire Perry (pictured), one of the Kennet campaigners, told Marlborough News Online, who saw the programme.
She has been badgering neighbouring Newbury MP Richard Benyon, the junior Environment, Food and Rural Affairs minister now working on a Water White Paper aimed at protecting England’s rivers but still a long way from creating new legislation.
"I am continuing to monitor the problems over abstraction and the Kennet water flow closely,” said Mrs Perry. “I will be meeting Richard Benyon along with the World Wildlife Fund and ARK on the Kennet, probably in Hungerford, next Friday to review flow levels.”
“We must have a more realistic licensing and abstraction charging scheme in place as soon as possible".
That has been the message ARK has been promulgating since Thames Water began to increase its extraction of water from Axford – albeit legally – to feed the households of Swindon.
Yet despite all the sympathetic noises the fact remains that the Environment Agency doesn’t have the £10 million needed to build a pipeline link to Swindon that would ease the problem of providing more and more water for urban areas.
So it was that Panorama viewers saw how the fish and wildlife are disappearing from the Kennet and other rivers while householders have no clues how to reduce their water consumption and unashamedly allow the precious Kennet to end up pouring out of their showers and down their drains.
Charlotte Hitchmaugh (pictured), ARK’s determined director, based in Manton, who was seen in the programme detailing the dangers, put the Panorama show into context for Marlborough News Online.
Charlotte Hitchmaugh, Director of ARK
“We filmed Panorama in July/August this summer, after speaking to them on and off for a couple of years,” she revealed. “But then the programme was delayed because of the city riots and we were told only a few days beforehand that it was to be broadcast on Monday.”
“The problem is that too much water is taken from the underground aquifers which feed our rivers to supply homes and businesses. The abstraction at Axford takes water from aquifer which feeds the River Kennet and exports it to Swindon -- and the water never returns to the Kennet.”
“The abstraction damages the river's ecology, leading to a gradual decline in river life. The animals living along the Kennet include brown trout, kingfishers, water vole and otters.”
“ARK has reached agreement with the Environment Agency (EA) and Thames Water that a reduced licence at Axford is needed, but nothing has yet been done on the ground. In fact, earlier this year the EA renewed Thames Water's abstraction license despite clear and critical issues of over abstraction.”
“In addition Thames Water are, this week, putting more pipework in the ground in Aldbourne and Ramsbury which will enable them to abstract even more water from the borehole at Ramsbury.”
“Thames Water has made a public commitment to reduce abstraction from the Kennet aquifer, which is great news, but ARK want to see a clear time-table for action.”
“We are waiting for Thames Water and the Environment Agency to reach agreement on how the work is funded.”
However, Thames Water is currently taking advantage of the existing law which allows them to be compensated by the taxpayer for work they do to protect the environment.
Meanwhile, ARK are working with Claire Perry, government minister Richard Benyon and WWF-UK to make sure that new legislation protects rivers.
“And we will keep up the pressure on Thames Water and the Environment Agency to reduce abstraction at Axford,” declared Charlotte.
“The example of the Kennet highlights a bigger issue, which is that current legislation permits water companies to abstract too much water from the aquifers which feed our fragile chalk streams.
“We are destroying our rivers, and the problem will only get worse as demand for water grows.”
The second Bishop’s Debate organised by Pewsey Deanery and with Marlborough Deanery took place at St John’s Theatre on the Hill on Wednesday evening (September 14) with politician Lord Owen and the former Chaplain General of the army, the Venerable Stephen Robbins, opposing the motion “Military intervention in the affairs of other nations is wrong.”
L to R: The Revd Alan Deboo, Dr Colin Heber-Percy, Lord David Owen, Simon Denis, and chair Rosemary Cook
Supporting the motion were Dr Colin Heber Percy, a philosopher and author, and Simon Denis, a historian, teacher and former pupil at St John’s. Before the debate most of the audience showed whether they were in favour or against the motion – producing a 110-51 split in favour of intervention.
Dr Heber Percy argued strongly that as a major seller of arms Britain was not an impartial force with the moral authority to intervene: “Intervention is a sales pitch and they want you to buy into it.”
Lord Owen, foreign secretary from 1977 to 1979 and closely involved in bringing peace to former-Yugoslavia, did not argue that every intervention was right. But he was a fierce believer in the United Nations, the legitimacy of its charter and of interventions authorised by the Security Council.
Click here to visit a view of the debate from Rhiana Mills, IB student at St Johns
In backing the motion, Simon Denis thought intervention was too often a cover for regime change and tended to leave things as bad or even worse than they were. He thought intervention by the western, democratic powers was a thing of the past: “We’re not living, alas, in a westernised world.”
Simon Denis The Venerable Stephen Robbins Dr Colin Heber-Percy
Stephen Robbins, who was senior army chaplain for the invasion of Iraq, admitted that not all interventions went as well as they should. But gave impassioned support for the moral duty to deal “with the worst of humanity” and said the failure to stop the genocide in Rwanda had been “an absolute disgrace.”
After the debate the audience of over 200 levelled some pointed questions at the panellists. Then the vote was taken again – those against military intervention increased their vote by just six votes.
Coming soon in this space: reports on the debate by two St John’s sixth formers.
Marlborough’s literary festival, which kicked off at the town hall last night (Friday) with a reception hosted by its creative founder, the novelist Mavis Cheek, has been given the Golding touch.
The mantle of Marlborough’s greatest writer, the Nobel Laureate William Golding, fell on its shoulders with the applauded announcement that the Golding family’s Trust is to sponsor an annual Golding event.
The festival’s unexpected accolade has come thanks to Judy Carver, the daughter of the author of The Lord of the Flies, the superb novel that was rescued from a publisher’s reject pile to achieve world-wide acclaim.
Golding, who grew up on The Green, just behind the town hall, became a schoolmaster, just like his father, who taught at Marlborough’s old grammar school, before his novels took command, earning him a knighthood from the Queen.
Judy has written her own memoirs of her early days in Marlborough and will be recalling them at the literary festival tomorrow (Sunday).
And although she couldn’t be present at the reception, Judy told Marlborough News Online: “William Golding thought of himself as a storyteller. He valued and enjoyed his own capacity to imagine.
Robert Hiscox, High Sheriff of Wiltshire at the Literary Festival launch
“His family wish to encourage those two aspects of writing, especially in the town which gave his work so many powerful and resonant images.”
Her family’s legacy will do much to boost the fledgling literary festival, now in only its second year, but already a major attraction in its aim to avoid the celebrity culture that has shamed other festivals.
“This festival has begun in the spirit of fine literature in all its many forms,” Mavis Cheek told her guests, among them the distinguished biographer Sir Michael Holroyd, the first star attraction of this year’s festival.
“Marlborough has a connection with many fine writers, none more so than William Golding, who was both educated and lived here in Marlborough.
“He won the Booker Prize in 1980 and was Nobel Laureate of Literature in 1983. His daughter, Judy Carver, will be speaking here on Sunday.
“She and I could not be more pleased to announce that the Golding family’s Trust wishes to sponsor an annual Golding Author for our festival. This will always be a writer of fine fiction and our first Golding Reader will appear in 2012.”
And she added: “Judy can’t be with us tonight, but her message is that she and the trust are truly delighted. It’s a great fillip for the town, and an even greater one for our festival.
“And we thank the Golding family for their generosity.”
She warmly thanked too the festival’s main sponsors, ALCS, which protects author’s rights, Brewin Dolphin, one of Marlborough’s biggest companies, and Hiscox, the international insurance company, whose founder and chairman, Robert Hiscox, High Sheriff of Wiltshire, was among last night’s guests.
Others present included Marlborough’s mayor, Alexander Kirk Wilson, deputy mayor Edwina Fogg and her husband, Nick Fogg, twice mayor of Marlborough and one of this year’s festival performers, along with Sir John Sykes, chair of the literary festival committee.
And Mavis Cheek ended her reception speech by toasting the success of the literary festival -- with all those present raising their glasses in salute.
Wiltshire Council has delayed making a final decision whether to scrap the post of its chief executive, Andrew Kerr, until Thursday October 6.
That’s when the council’s cabinet will consider a proposal to reduce the council’s senior management costs by a further £500,000, the austerity cuts to include the proposed deletion of the chief executive post as well as one of its corporate director posts.
This would reduce the number of the council’s corporate directors to just three and leave it without a figurehead.
Wednesday this week was the deadline for the consultation process on the controversial proposals. Now all the feedback and views received will be considered as part of the report to cabinet next month.
Jane Scott, leader of the Tory-controlled council, told Marlborough News Online: “The date of the special cabinet meeting allows time for all the feedback and any alternative proposals to be given full consideration to assist me and my cabinet to make a decision on the future senior management structure for Wiltshire Council.”
"We are very keen to consider the proposal as soon as possible but recognise that there is a process to follow and time had to be allocated to consider the responses as part of the consultation on this.”
Was William Shakespeare whipped for poaching deer and rabbits from the estate of Protestant activist Sir Thomas Lucy?
Was that because Shakespeare was a covert Catholic in dangerous times when his religion could have led to his demise?
And is that why he escaped from his native Stratford upon Avon to make a name for himself on the crowded London stage?
Nobody really knows the answers to so many questions about England’s dramatic and poetic genius whose legacy remains so potent still today. But they have always fascinated Nick Fogg – and that’s because he too was born and brought up in Stratford.
He has spent years delving into the legends that have grown up over the centuries since Shakespeare died in 1616 and has now drawn them together in a book called Hidden Shakespeare, due to be published in the spring.
But he will be revealing his thoughts and ideas when he speaks on Sunday at a Marlborough Literary Festival event at the town hall, his natural home as twice Mayor of Marlborough, the founder of its Jazz Festival and a town and Wiltshire councillor too.
“Yes, I think Shakespeare speaks to me,” Nick, now 68 and still smiling at life, told me. “And in the end I decided I must get all I know written down. Otherwise my individual view of him will get lost.”
“It’s estimated that we know more about Shakespeare than any other Elizabethan except Queen Elizabeth herself. The problem is that much of it is out of playbills, what he wrote, where he wrote it, where he may have been at the time. Shakespeare the man is quite elusive.”
“I hope my views are moderate and reasonable, neither eccentric nor extreme. My feeling is that some of the stories about him may be distorted and exaggerated, but they come from an aural tradition we’ve now lost. But within that aural tradition there is a possible grain of truth.”
“Those tribal records have passed through generation after generation. And my question is, What is that grain of truth that we might trust?”
Nick’s love of the Bard stems, of course, from his early years when his mother ran a theatrical club in Stratford and also worked as a cashier in the restaurant at the Royal Shakespeare Memorial Theatre.
He dashes off quotes galore and muses that when the Victorian music publisher Vincent Novello came to the town he declared that in most places the Almighty spreads genius throughout the population “but in his inscrutable wisdom in Stratford upon Avon he decided to pour it into one man, which has left the population bereft of wit for generations”.
He has traced the records of Shakespeare’s godson, William Walker, later Mayor of Stratford, who knew the playwright as a boy and is his last known descendent.
“But nobody has left a family tree and so we have no way of tracing the descendents of Shakespeare now wandering around today,” he protests.
More importantly, has Nick, a confessed child of the sixties, been politically influenced by Shakespeare?
He edges the question but explains: “There was a moral precept of what is good and what is evil behind the Elizabethan theatre that comes from medieval morality plays. “Shakespeare inherited that, though being a literary genius he believes life is more subtle and sophisticated than that.”
“If the Elizabethans had been alive today they would be appalled by the idea that we live in a morally neutral universe.”
For details of this weekend’s festival see the Marlborough Festival website and for tickets phone 01249 701628.
Plans are going ahead for Marlborough to light its own beacon – and enjoy a party - to celebrate the Queen’s diamond jubilee on Monday June 4 next year.
Queen Elizabeth is due to become only the second monarch in British history to spend 60 years on the throne, the last to achieve such a formidable long reign being Queen Victoria.
And the Marlborough beacon – on the Downs at Hackpen Hill is the suggested site – will be one of more than 2,000 beacons being lit across the country and round the globe, including sites as far flung as parts of Africa, India, Australia and Antarctica.
Dr Nick Maurice, president of Marlborough’s Brandt Group, wrote to the Mayor, Councillor Alexander Kirk Wilson, in July detailing the plans being co-ordinated by Buckingham Palace, the government and Kamalesh Sharma, secretary general of the Commonwealth, for the Queen’s diamond jubilee.
“The Queen has reigned through some of the most profound and breathtaking changes ever to have taken place in our history,” Dr Maurice pointed out. “So it is absolutely right that the Queen’s achievements – her hard work and dedication across this extraordinary time – be celebrated by all of us.”
And the town council’s Amenities and Open Spaces Committee last night (Monday) gave its approval of the project, which will now probably be organised by a special committee being set up at the town hall with Dr Maurice and other individuals requested to serve on it.
“We are all very happy with the prospect of having our own Marlborough beacon,” committee chairman Councillor Richard Pitts told Marlborough News Online.
“It will follow the highly successful celebrations the town council organised for the royal wedding in April, which created such tremendous goodwill in the town.”
One of the aims of the event is to invite as many representatives of the Commonwealth living in and around Marlborough to be present when the beacon is fired.
“I can immediately think of people from Ghana, Malaysia, The Gambia, Australia, India, South Africa we can invite,” says Dr Maurice. “And I am sure we could find many more people originally from Commonwealth countries.”
So many people are queuing for allotments in Marlborough that the town council has decided to survey them to ask whether they will accept smaller plots.
Land on the north side of the Stonebridge Meadow is the next available spot for allotments and with 55 people waiting the council’s Amenities and Open Spaces Committee is unsure how to parcel them up.
“The standard allotment, which goes back to the World War II, was 30 metres by six and was there to feed a family of four for a year,” explained committee chairman Councillor Richard Pitts.
“But we could redraw the size of the allotments to give space to more people and are considering compact plots of six metres by six instead. So we are going to ask those on the waiting list what they think.”
Given the rise in transport costs and food inflation generally, the committee is not surprised by the rush for grow-your-own allotments in the town. And it is expected that the demand will grow, the more so if Marlborough becomes a transition town with policies aimed at reducing climate change by reducing heating and transport costs in particular.
“It will probably take about five weeks before we can come to a decision on what size allotments people want,” added Councillor Pitts.