December 13 2013 Latest news:
by Bridget Galton
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
The annual Hampstead and Highgate Literary Festival turns Ivy House in Golders Green into a vibrant hub of laughter, discussion and big ideas.
Book lovers rub shoulders on the stairs, one ascending to hear talks on adultery, or Sylvia Plath’s early life, the other heading downwards to spend an hour with the Countess of Carnarvon – whose palatial home is the setting for TV’s Downton Abbey.
In the green room, author and psychotherapist Susie Orbach is changing her shoes after blackberrying on the Heath and wondering whether she should apply some make-up before her talk on Fifty Shades of Feminism.
While TV presenter Henry Kelly has strolled over from his home nearby to host the talk about Plath, Marriage Material author Sathnam Sanghera is being interviewed by year six pupils from a Wembley Primary school as part of their day-long project to produce a Lit-Fest magazine.
For the team at the London Jewish Cultural Centre, it’s the culmination of a year’s hard work meticulously putting together the three-day festival in partnership with the Ham&High.
My own contribution was to host Kate Figes’ talk on why lovers cheat and offer the pupils advice on how to become journalists.
This year’s innovations included a children’s festival on Sunday with brilliant value ‘kid for a quid’ tickets. More than a hundred youngsters enjoyed tea and jam sandwiches with nonegarian author Judith Kerr – and the titular big cat from her much loved The Tiger Who Came To Tea.
Charlie and Lola creator Lauren Child, who lives in Belsize Park, was also a big draw, as were events that ranged from putting on a play in an hour, to meeting the producer and performers behind the hugely popular Horrible Histories.
Sadly blustery weather dampened the inaugural Poetry in the Park event in the bandstand in Golders Hill Park.
But there were gales of laughter emanating from comedian Miles Jupp’s talk on how he blagged his way onto an English cricket tour as a fictional BBC correspondent.
The (real) BBC correspondent Mark Easton threw up some fascinating comments on contemporary Britain after touring the country to discover our passions and prejudices.
Back in the green room on Monday, the countess was worrying how the sale of the Downton TV series to China would affect already high demand for tours of Highclere Castle, revealing that avid American fans had emailed her with cash offers to see the ‘real Downton’.
Andrew Wilson, whose book on Plath’s life before meeting husband Ted Hughes has proved a hit, revealed his next tome will feature fashion designer Alexander McQueen. And at the end of her session, Orbach offered a feminist wish that our daughters would be taught “not just to care but to dare,” while fellow speaker Lisa Appignanesi revealed her feminist superpower would involve curbing the sheer volume of violent porn.
The final day boasted north London writers Tracy Chevalier and Mark Billingham talking about their latest novels, and a sell-out final session with comedian turned mental health campaigner Ruby Wax. Five years in, the lit-fest is going strong. I’ll undoubtedly be there next year.