The phenomenal Marlborough LitFest 2017: books, writers, a lively café & happy audiences

Written by Tony Millett on .

LitFest volunteers in their appropriately frank T-shirts (Photo copyright Ben Phillips) LitFest volunteers in their appropriately frank T-shirts (Photo copyright Ben Phillips) Marlborough LitFest is a phenomenon - one of Marlborough's phenomena - this year's was certainly phenomenal.  It caters for so many different interests, is especially keen to support younger readers - and it runs a café.


Where else in Wiltshire can you find an introduction to the short story with two masters of the craft revealing their differing techniques - and all within a couple of hours of each other?  

Sarah Hall (Photo copyright Ben Phillips) Sarah Hall (Photo copyright Ben Phillips) David Mitchell in full flow (Photo copyright Ben Phillips) David Mitchell in full flow (Photo copyright Ben Phillips) Sarah Hall read from her story Mrs Fox that won the BBC short story competition and now opens her new book of short stories Madame Zero.  (Along the way she gave us some insights into the life of a Man Booker Prize judge - but, of course, gave us no hints as to the likely winner.)

She was followed by David Mitchell, who read us three simply riveting and surprising short stories that had never been seen or heard before.  (Along the way he gave us insights into the world of autism.)  He also teased the large cohort of Marlborough College students - promising his talk would be over in good time for them to get to their disco.

LitFest chair Jan Williamson:  "We’ve come to the end of another Litfest – our eighth so far.  Those of us on the organising committee feel a mixture of elation and exhaustion." 

"The overwhelming impression I’m left with is the sheer buzz that I felt every time I stepped into the Litfest café immediately after an author talk: people pouring down the stairs, crowds milling round the book stall, queuing up to talk to the author and everyone talking to everyone else - the sheer excitement of hearing a great writer read their work and talk about it."

"We started with a mesmeric performance of Kayo Chingonyi’s poetry combined with dance, followed by the shock of Will Self’s provocative Golding talk on his latest novel Phone.  We ended with satirist and humourist Craig Brown’s innovative biography, 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret." 

"Along the way we listened to some outstanding fiction from Gwendoline Riley, Kamila Shamsi, Sarah Hall, David Mitchell and John Boyne.  We heard new voices from debut authors, we welcomed our first Chinese writer with Xiaolu Guo (see below), we celebrated the centenary of the Russian Revolution and the bi-centenary of Jane Austen’s death." 

"We had a translation duel, murder with Graeme Macrae Burnet, music with Fiona Maddox, politics with John O’Farrell and heard from local authors Vanessa Lafaye and JS Munroe."

All that & Marlborough buns too (Photo copyright Ben Phillips) All that & Marlborough buns too (Photo copyright Ben Phillips) "The most nerve wracking moment was waiting for Frank Gardner to arrive.  The half-hour before he was due on stage with no sign of him and no direct phone link had us visualising a riot.  We imagined the sell-out audience rising in angry protest to demand their money back.  Like a true professional, he drove up with 10 minutes to spare."

"Many have told us they think this the best Litfest so far.  Every year we ask ourselves, how can we follow this?  We’ll keep trying." cannot end its coverage of LitFest 2017 without mentioning the dates for the next LitFest - 28-30 September 2018 - thanking Ben Phillips for his photogrtaphs - and without marking properly LitFest's first Chinese writer: Xiaolu Guo.  Here is a brief review by Oscar Nowak of her talk:

Xiaolu Guo's new book Once Upon a time in the East: a story of growing up is a rollercoaster ride of an autobiography.  I loved it, partly because it is not for the faint hearted, but also for its warts and all frankness.

Xiaolu Guo (Photo copyright Ben Phlilips) Xiaolu Guo (Photo copyright Ben Phlilips) Xiaolu is still the right side of 45, yet having recently lost her mother (their relationship was far from a bed of roses) felt it was time to tell the world something of her upbringing.

It is a childhood spiced with bravery, courage, persistence and at times sadness.  She spoke last Saturday (September 30) to an audience captivated by her experiences owhile being raised by her grandparents in the fishing village of Shitang near Shanghai, through to her time at the Beijing Film Academy and recently settling in London's East End.

Having been in England for the best part of two decades, she has a very keen eye for what makes the Chinese different to Westerners, and taps into the vast abundance of humour there often is in 'Chinglish'.

Xiaolu fielded a wide range of questions - from film rights to the complexities of Chinese written characters.  It was a wonderfully insightful hour and she urged us to go and buy some of her earlier works.  Her latest book is a great read.

Making her another 'great read'-author revealed to LitFest's 2017 audiences. 

FOOTNOTE:  Sarah Hall's Mrs Fox can be read here.