The Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival 2012 – Part 1: Caroline Lawrence and Simon Callow

Christ ChurchLiterary Festival OverviewBlackwells tentOxford basked in warm sunshine this weekend. Not only was there a chocolate festival to tempt, but writers and readers gathered from across the land for the opening of The Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival. Christ Church dressed itself in white tents, filled with many, many books as well as gin, tea, wine and Jamie Oliver treats. Another formed an enormous auditorium. A tented passageway twisted its way through the secret Christ Church gardens to the beautiful and quiet Corpus Christi college and another theatre.

The Festival lasts until Sunday 1 April and I will be back but today’s visit gave me the chance to have a good snoop around and buy some books from the most extraordinary book tent I have ever seen. An employee from Blackwells (Oxford’s famous bookstore) told me that it took three days to erect and to fill. Its organisation is outstanding and proved to be quite the tribute to the range and stature of the authors presenting over the next week or so. Book buying was aided somewhat by the Hendricks Gin sampling that commandeered one end of the tent, with the servers dressed in period costume. If you wrote a story you would be rewarded with a bigger sample.

Caroline Lawrence 1One of the authors that I was most keen to see at the Festival was Caroline Lawrence. Caroline is an inspiring communicator and a wonderful teller of detective stories. She is the perfect guide to young children just beginning to appreciate the goodies that books have in store for them. Caroline is best known for her Roman Mysteries, in which Flavia and her young friends investigate all sort of dirty deeds in Ostia and further afield in the Roman Empire [You can read my review of The Secrets of Vesuvius here].

Caroline Lawrence 2Having written 17 books in the series, Caroline has now turned her attention closer to her place of birth San Francisco and has created a new hero, 12 year old P.K. Pinkerton who lives in the Wild West. The first in the series, The Case of the Deadly Desperados, is now published and I was very happy to get my copy signed. It’s a very attractive book, full of little drawings, and the signature looks good in it. Review to come.

Corpus ChristiIt was a pleasure to listen to Caroline speak about her influences, how she puts a story together and how she learned to do it. It was like a masterclass but so much fun for the many kids in the audience. Lots of questions (and prizes) and pictures of modern day cinematic heroes, villains, mentors, side kicks, comic relief characters and the like, as well as tales of Caroline’s roadtrip research for P.K. Pinkerton across the desert states of America. Then there’s the sponge on a stick. This is why kids (and adults) love Caroline’s books. She brings the details and nitty gritty of past fascinating times to life. She knows what kids what to know about the past, she knows what’s fun about them, and there is no better guide to another place – or time – than a detective. I’m looking forward to meeting Caroline’s new detective P.K. Pinkerton, although Flavia is a hard act to follow. The picture on the right is of Corpus Christi where Caroline’s talk took place.

Simon CallowLater in the day I joined many other people in the main Christ Church Garden Tent to listen to the fine actor Simon Callow talk about his latest biography of Dickens: Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World. Simon talked at length and with enormous humour about how Dickens, the most famous man in Britain in the 1850s, was the greatest literary performer ever. Dickens lived to present on the stage even though it ironically cost him his life. Having seen Simon on stage several times over the years, it was a pleasure to listen to him talk (with such warmth and affection for his subject) for an hour. He was given an extremely happy welcome and many people queued up for a signature.

Nest week I’ll be back to listen to Jeremy Paxman on Friday and on Sunday I’ll be seeing Simon Scarrow and Alex Scarrow. Only a cursory glance at this blog will tell you how much I love the work of Alex Scarrow. His Time Riders series is quite possibly my favourite of all series and so it was good to see the tables piled high. The photo below that is of Alistair Darling signing for a very long line of people. By all accounts, this was a very interesting and witty talk on the New Labour years. All in all, a wonderful day that the sun saw fit to shine upon.

Scarrow displayAlistair Darling

And then there was that Choc Fest…

Choc Fest

Photos (c) Kate Atherton 2012

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