Settling down to write the 2022 ChipLitFest brochure, I’m drawn up short. As usual, I’ve pulled out the previous programme for reference. There wasn’t a festival last year, of course, and nor was there one in 2020. But there nearly was. And boy, was that one going to be a cracker.
Cancelled with just a month to go, as the world went into lockdown, ChipLitFest 2020 was all set to be our best festival ever: record ticket sales and a fantastic line-up which included Prue Leith, Cath Kidston and Raymond Blanc. Trying to put aside regret for what had never been, I found a wonderful reminder of one of the chief pleasures in gearing up for a literary festival: reading! Latest books, new authors, fresh voices – it’s always a journey of discovery. This was mine, from nearly two years ago:
Maggie O’Farrell, Hamnet. A magical summoning of Shakespeare’s world in plague time, with strangely prescient echoes of our current world. Watching subsequent online lockdown interviews with Maggie, I learned with pleasure and awe about her detailed research, right down to growing the plants in Ann Hathaway’s physic garden. If only that had been here, at Chippy.
Marian Keyes, Grown Ups. How did we fail to have this delightful and charming author enchanting us on the Chippy Theatre stage? The only compensation was listening to her read this tale of the rumbunctious Casey family on audio. I’d still highly recommend Marian as a companion during a long journey by air and bus. (Remember those?)
Tim Pears, the West Country Trilogy. How on earth had these wonderful books passed me by? Horses, the Edwardian twilight, a slow-burning love story, earthy rural England – these tick so many boxes for me. With shades of the Go-Between, this trilogy continues into WWI and beyond. I really enjoyed discovering these gentle books – and so did my nonagenarian father.
Kirsty Wark, The House on the Loch. More talents revealed by this busy and empathetic broadcaster. And she really can write, here digging into the Scottish countryside with the fierceness of actual memory, and a family story sensitively told. My daughter read it recently and didn’t want it to end.
Rachel Clarke, Dear Life. A voyage into the important world of palliative care. Little did this crusading doctor know how significant this, and her own role, would become. Written with passion and some truly heart-breaking case studies, this was nevertheless an uplifting read.
Chris Atkins, A Bit of a Stretch. A great example of what a LitFest can do – expand our world. Prison memoirs are not my go-to, but this account of what happens when a middle-class media guy is convicted of fraud and thrown into Wormwood Scrubs is fascinating, and as lacking in self-pity as it is insightful about the inadequacies of our prison system.
Olga Tocarczuk, Drive your Plow over the Bones of the Dead. OK, we were not about to welcome this Nobel Prize winner in person, but a book club session was going to explore this mischievous wintry crime story set in the bleak Polish countryside. A fantastic introduction to this world-class author and her stubborn, spirited and Blake-obsessed older heroine Janina. Five stars from me.
Marie-Elsa Bragg, Sleeping Letters. A poetic collection of unsent letters, muddled with grief but with full of piercing clarity and wisdom.
And damn, look at all those sessions I didn’t attend, and the books I never got round to. On the Road, Jim Naughtie’s account of American politics, remains unread, though happily Trump has departed into the history books. Nature writers Brigit Strawbridge Howard (Dancing with Bees) and Jack Wallington (Wild about Weeds) still offer their valuable advice on social media. Niki Webster’s Rebel Recipes inspired many a veg-based lockdown meal via Instagram. And surely bird and poetry expert Tim Dee (Greenery) must be ready with his next book by now?
Happily, some of those lined up in the 2020 programme will be joining us in 2022 with their next chapters. Look out for cheese expert Ned Palmer, the latest adventures of Ben Aitken, and we’re delighted that Clover Stroud has written another viscerally personal book, The Red of my Blood. And that’s just for starters…
I still mourn the lost festival of 2020, but I happen to know that 2022 is just as full of delights, all ready to be unpacked. Better get reading!