Discover Our Literary Island

The Isle of Wight has one of the largest music festivals in the UK, it's own Pride event, fringe festival (Ventnor Fringe) and the world famous Round the Island Race and Cowes Week regatta, but in recent years the Island has also been celebrating its amazing cultural heritage with its own Literary Festival. Now in its 7th year, the Isle of Wight Literary Festival takes place at Northwood House in Cowes from 11th-14th October 2018.

A bit of literary history...

When looking back through the Island’s literary history you’ll understand why this celebration was needed.

Let’s take a little stroll back in time to 1819, imagine a sunny day in Bonchurch, a 22-year-old bachelor strolls the streets clutching a tattered old note book, this man is John Keats. He visited Bonchurch while staying in Shanklin and fell in love with a local woman, he recounted desires for this young lady in a letter to his sister. No one quite knows what prose Keats wrote on the Island but for a romantic poet to have fallen in love on our shingled shore, we can only assume that the memory had some influence on his later writing.

Some 28 years later our Island was visited by Alfred Lord Tennyson. He was attracted to the Island as a great fan of Keats’ work. After much deliberation, the Tennyson family did in fact buy property in Freshwater and live there. The Island were so taken with Tennyson that he was declared a Baron and had a down named after him, he was said to have spent many hours walking these hills for writing inspiration.

Our literary heritage is vast with countless literary genius’ having dipped their toes in the salty water of our southern shore; Thomas Bobington Macaulay, Maxwell Gray, Mimi Khalvati, Thomas Letts, Alfred Noyes, Charles Dickens, Karl Marx, Winston Churchill, to name but a few.

IW Literary Festival top picks...

So who will the Isle of Wight Literary Festival be adding to the extensive list of word experts this October? With talks, workshops, performances and masterclasses for children, teens and adults alike, here's our top picks for this year’s literary festival.

Thursday 11th October

Terry Waite is effectively opening the Literary Festival, as he is the very first speaker from 3pm to 4pm on Thursday October 11th at Northwood House. Terry will be speaking about his books ‘Out of the Silence’- a collection of poems and narrative - and ‘Solitude’ - an account of solitary people and places that he has met and visited.

Famous for being held captive in Beirut for five years between 1987 and 1991, whilst he was envoy to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Terry Waite began many of his poems during his time in captivity. The people he has visited for ‘Solitude’ include Svetlana Stalin, Myra Hindley and George Blake.

Later that day, from 5.30 to 6.30pm local resident Desiree Trattles, will talk about her book ‘A Harrowing Journey’, recounting her sailing voyage through Somali pirate-infested waters, from New Zealand to the Isle of Wight.

Also on Thursday Brough Scott MBE will be talking about Churchill’s horses in Churchill at the Gallop; Josh Barry will talk on his struggle with identity as a result of cerebral palsy in Adapted; Felicity Fair Johnson will talk on her novel The Kid on Slapton Beach; Tim Wander will talk on his book Culver Cliff and the Isle of Wight at War and John Hannam will recall many of his 5,000 plus interviews in The Wight Connections.

Then at 6.45pm Tchaikovsky fans are in for a treat when newsreader John Suchet reveals the man behind the 1812 Overture, Swan Lake and The Nutcracker. 

Friday 12th October

On Friday 12th October there are eleven more authors to hear, including Alan Titchmarsh, who will be reading from his new novel ‘Scarlett Nightingale’, set in wartime London and occupied France from 10.30 to 11.30am.

Famous jockey Bob Champion will be talking on his book ‘I’m Champion, Call me Bob’, which promises to be entertaining. And if you want an adventure ‘Finding Eden: A Journey into the Heart of Borneo’ with Robin Hanbury-Tenison will take you to the pristine, virgin rainforest to meet uncontacted indigenous tribes. Later the Sunday Times Foreign Correspondent, Angus Roxborough will talk on his 45 years in Russia in ‘Moscow Calling’, and the day culminates with the famous Literary Festival Fizz Quiz at Northwood House.

Saturday 13th October

On Saturday October 13th you have 30 different options and top on our list (as we’re Islanders) will probably be Dominic Minghella, writer of the popular Doc Martin TV series starring Martin Clunes, who hails from Ryde and is the brother of the late Oscar-winning film director Anthony Minghella. Dominic is now a very well respected script writer and producer and will lead us on a journey from the initial concept to the final production of a successful TV series with amusing anecdotes from behind the scenes.

In ‘Too Many Pills’ at 12.30 James Le Fanu will talk about the fact that the number of prescriptions issued by family doctors has soared threefold in just fifteen years with millions now committed to taking a cocktail of half a dozen (or more) different pills to lower the blood pressure and sugar levels, statins, bone strengthening and cardio protective drugs.

Royal watchers may be interested in Angela Levin’s ‘Harry: Conversations with the Prince’. Angela followed Prince Harry on his royal duties for a whole year and had private and exclusive conversations with him at the end of that year, which she reveals in her book.

And at the same time (5.30 – 6.30pm), Anne De Courcy will be talking on the American heiresses who married into the British upper classes in The Husband Hunters: Social Climbing in London and New York.

Imagine you asked your father if he’d ever loved anyone apart from your mother, and then you wished you’d never asked. That was the dilemma of Vanessa Nicolson, daughter of Ben Nicolson and she speaks about it in ‘The Truth Game’ between 18.45 and 19.45pm.

Or at this time slot you could be listening to James Bloodworth’s ‘Hired: Six Months Undercover in Low Wage Britain’ – an eye opener into demeaning, poorly paid, and tedious jobs that people have to do to survive.

And if you’ve ever thought of becoming a writer, The Publishing Panel with leading literary agent Caroline Sheldon and top social media publicist Emma Oulton is a must, between 11.15 am and 12.15 pm.

Sunday 14th October

Rounding off the four day festival are thirteen more writers on Sunday that include Sally Magnusson, daughter of Magnus, who will be talking about her new book The Sealwoman’s Gift at 10.15am. Based on the true story of the abduction of Icelanders by pirates in the early 1600s, her book follows the fate of a particular family who end up in Algiers as slaves.

Caroline Slocock will talk on being Margaret Thatcher’s private secretary in People Like Us: Margaret Thatcher and Me at 11.45am and Anne Cleeves, writer of BBC’s Shetland series and ITV’s Vera, will talk about ‘Wild Fire’, the last in her Jimmy Perez series, at 12.45pm. Robert Hardiman will speak about Elizabeth II in Queen of the World at 1.15pm and Lucy Fisher will be speaking about the suffragette who threw herself under the King’s horse in Emily Wilding Davidson: The Martyr Suffragette at 2.45.

The festival rounds off with a Political Panel: Any Questions between 4pm and 5pm with Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP, Austin Mitchell, Bob Seely and Julian Critchley.

For Kids

Don’t forget that on the following weekend there is a whole Literary Festival dedicated to young people. On Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st Northwood House is being transformed into a series of magical spaces inhabited by inspiring people such as Helen Oxenbury, illustrator of ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’, and fabulous activities such as puppet making with Ventnor Exchange.

Jo Macaulay

2 October 2018

By Jo Macaulay in Articles