2014 Festival: a reflection

(to be published in Flamstead Church & Village News)

When I first mentioned the idea of a book festival over a glass or two of red wine with Mary Jenkin one day last year neither of us could have expected that within months we had a full programme, never mind a success on our hands.

A few years ago I was invited to a then fledgling Appledore Book Festival as a guest with my author husband Ian Ridley who was signed up for a sports writing session. Residents in the North Devon village were looking to raise funds to save its small library and came up with the festival plan as an alternative to the usual round of jumble sales, car-boot mornings and race nights. That Festival is now well-established on the literary circuit.

So thanks to Mary, her husband Mark Jenkin, along with Ian and all the other authors and personalities who waived fees and expenses to get involved with us and believed in what we were trying to achieve, the seeds were sown for the first-ever Flamstead Book Festival as a way of raising funds for the Friends of St. Leonard’s (FOSL).

Books in the Belfry – in the medieval setting of our beautiful village church of St. Leonard’s on Saturday June 7 – featured best-selling novelist Tony Parsons in conversation about his new venture into crime-writing.

There was also a session on sports writing with former Luton Town striker turned BBC pundit Steve Claridge and ex-Premier League referee Mark Halsey hosted by Ian who ghosted their autobiographies.

The line-up included family events and workshops including top children’s authors Jonathan Stroud while Flamstead’s very own actor-in-residence Clive Hayward kicked off the whole day with a wonderful story-telling session for under-7s.

Fellow Flamstead resident Matt Biggs, a panellist on the long-running BBC Radio 4 show Gardeners’ Question Time, also took part in a session over tea and scones.

Around 400 people attended sessions and were able to meet the authors and get books signed on the day.

Parsons said: “It was the first Flamstead Book Festival but there was good stuff all day long in a beautiful church.”

Clare Mulley, who gave a talk on her book The Spy who Loved about Britain’s first female spy in World War Two, said: “Thanks to Flamstead Book Festival for the best lit fest venue – ancient St.Leonard’s Church. It was a lovely literary festival and in a magnficent building.”

And Berkhamsted children’s author Sue Hampton, who hosted a creative writing workshop, said: “The organisation was fantastic. Everything was thought of and we got a warm welcome.”

The pressure of course is now on to make Books in the Belfry a regular event in the calendar or at the very least stage one-off events by authors over the coming months. Watch this space…..

*Pictures from the day captured by photographer Alex Ridley are now up on the Festival website www.flamsteadbookfestival.com.

Vikki Orvice