As a city with 2,000 years of stories, it was only a matter of time before St Albans hosted a literary festival. Between 6 and 9 November, it will do just that, as more than 60 authors come to the city, including one of the nation’s most-loved broadcasters - Terry Wogan.
Wogan will be talking about his new book ‘The little Book of Common Sense…. OR Pause for Thought with Wogan’, on the evening of the first day of the festival, Thursday 6th, at the historic Town Hall.
The four day festival has attracted authors of every genre, and promises talks, workshops, panel debates and activities focusing on everything from children’s literature, historical books, chick lit and crime fiction to journalism and blogging.
Festival director Claire Walsh says: “The line-up for our first year is amazing and I’m thrilled that our first festival has attracted so many great authors and speakers. There really is something for everyone.”
Story telling is at the heart of St Albans’s history. The City has always been the first coaching stop for travellers out of London – as can be seen by the huge number of old inns and pubs in the area - including the oldest in Britain (Ye Olde Fighting Cocks). From the legendary story of Britain’s first Saint, Alban himself in Roman times, to the present day, the City has thrived on tales of Romans, peasants, heretics, monks, royalty, and highwaymen.
And the literary events are taking place at many well-loved locations across St Albans, including St Michael’s Manor, St Albans School and the Town Hall, as well as at the900 year-old Cathedral with a showcase event there on the evening of 8th November, hosted by BBC presenter Martine Croxall.
Martine will be joined by best-selling historical authors Leanda de Lisle and Conn Iggulden for “An Evening of Tudor literature” in the magnificent setting of the Lady Chapel; just one of the events celebrating historical writing at the festival.
Fans of crime fiction also have much to look forward to, including well known names in the genre such as James Runcie (whose Grantchester Mysteries is a major new TV series), Ben Aaronovitch (author of best-selling crime series 'Rivers of London'), and Leigh Russell (author of the Geraldine Steel series), who are coming together to present a discussion panel on Criminal Masterminds.
There’s also a Murder Mystery Dinner at the Cathedral, at which three top authors will speak about their novels in-between courses, including local author M. J. Arlidge, author of this summer’s Richard and Judy book club read ‘Eeny Meeny’.
For something a little less serious, Angela Clarke, author of Confessions of a Fashionista, will be joined by three women’s fiction novelists for ‘A Girls’ Night Out’, at which Rowan Coleman (The Accidental Mother, The Memory Book), Liz Frazer (Lifeshambles), and Rachael Lucas (Sealed With a Kiss) will discuss their books and life in general, over a glass of bubbly at Westminster Lodge.
More bubby will be served at St Michael's Manor at a very special literary dinner on the final evening of the festival, at which Jessie Burton will talk about her Sunday Times no.1 bestselling novel 'The Miniaturist' and Naomi Wood will discuss her book 'Mrs Hemingway', winner of a Jerwood Fiction Prize.
There is also a packed children’s programme. Festival Children’s Programme Coordinator, Jennifer Blackford, says:
“There is so much to delight the little ones in our first festival, from the chance for youngsters to snuggle up in PJs with hot chocolate and enjoy bedtime stories with local children’s author Tamsyn Murray, to older children learning how to become ghost hunters with the writer Jonathan Stroud.”
Jonathan Stroud is the author of the New York Times bestselling Bartimaeus sequence, as well as several stand-alone novels and the much-anticipated new series,Lockwood & Co. Jonathan is also a festival ambassador, along with fellow best-selling author Kate Griffin.
Kate said: “St Albans is the perfect place for a literary festival. Who could fail to be inspired by its wonderful, winding old streets, magnificent cathedral and atmospheric pubs? Our city has clearly been waiting for a literary festival of its own for a very long time.”
Jonathan added: “A well-run literary festival can offer a city many benefits: attracting tourists, promoting arts venues and, most importantly, encouraging people, young and old, to discover and celebrate the joy of a good book.”
And none of the events will break the bank either, Claire Walsh says: "Some of the events are free, and the rest range between £5 a ticket, to £12.50 for the Terry Wogan event, or the girls' night out event (includes a glass of bubbly) and go up to £55 for the literary dinner at St Michaels Manor, which includes a 3 course dinner with prosecco, wine, and a book - so still great value!