Following its inaugural success last year the Chiddingstone Literary Festival returns this weekend. Eileen Leahy finds out which authors, poets and playwrights will be appearing at the prestigious event and why it’s so important to have a local literary festival for readers of all ages

THE stunning historic 16th-century Chiddingstone Castle will once again play host to a wealth of inspiring writers, historians, playwrights and political experts this May Bank Holiday weekend.

They will all be descending upon this picturesque corner of Kentish countryside in order to speak, recite and discuss their latest work at the Chiddingstone Literary Festival.

The event, now in its second year, was the clever idea of local resident Victoria Henderson, who, it’s fair to say, knows a thing or two about literature having been publicity manager at the Century and Michael Joseph publishing houses, as well as a contributor to the Lovereading website.

Victoria came up with the notion of a local literary festival after realising that despite the fact there are over 350 similar events up and down the country, her corner of West Kent had absolutely nothing.

AUTHOR Anne Sebba

“I was struck by the plethora of literary festivals nationwide, but astonished to find none on my home ground. I thought perhaps this was something I could address,” she says.

Her idea became a successful reality last year when the festival welcomed the likes of Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell, actor Robert Bathurst and The Pericles Theatre Company, who return to appear alongside the Atelier Community Theatre in a production of The Ugly Duckling on Monday.

“We are absolutely delighted with our impressive line-up of authors, performers and storytellers,” says Victoria, who is the festival’s Artistic Director.

“Our highlights this year have to be appearances from Terry Waite, the Reverend Richard Coles and Nicholas Crane, but we are also hosting some fascinating talks on subjects ranging from Brexit to Trump, and from grief and bereavement to good mood food and how nutrition affects our happiness.”

Like last year, there will be plenty of action for little literature lovers to get involved in, too.

“We have some terrific events for children, including award-winning children’s author Piers Torday, an exhibition by local children’s books illustrator Pete Williamson, storytelling shows from Mr Dilly’s World of Wonder and performances by the Really Big Pants Theatre Company and Sock Puppet Theatre.”

In addition to all of this, there will be another Schools Programme taking place a day after the main festival, on Tuesday May 2.

This offers local pupils the chance to hear some top children’s authors speak about their work in order to inspire and fire the imagination.

SPEAKER Julia Samuel

Taking part this year is Christopher Lloyd, who has penned tomes such as What On Earth? and Timeline. Also, Lauren St John, writer of The White Giraffe and the Laura Marlin series of adventure books.

There will additionally be exclusive reveals of new work by some authors speaking at the festival, which is sponsored by Brooks Macdonald.

“We are lucky enough to have two pre-publication exclusives from bestselling historical writers Conn Iggulden, who co-wrote The Dangerous Book for Boys, and from Six Tudor Queens author Alison Weir. Both will be previewing their new books at the festival,” adds Victoria.

As well as the event’s chief sponsor coming on board, Victoria says there have been many ‘generous donations’ enabling the castle to buy a second marquee to house the children’s events.

“This has allowed us to expand what we have on offer with a parallel programme of adult and children’s events on Bank Holiday Monday,” explains Victoria. “This year’s Schools Day has grown, too, with eight events taking place on Tuesday; almost all are sold out with over 1,600 pupils from 18 local schools attending.”

There will also be pop-up cocktail bars and cafés to keep you refreshed and entertained over the three-day event.

“Finding authors for this year’s programme was certainly made easier as word spread in the publishing world about our beautiful location, enthusiastic audiences, and the care we took to ensure the authors had a great time, too,” says Victoria. “We just hope the weather holds, but even if not, we’ll make sure we provide something for everyone and a happy gathering of book lovers.”

Adult tickets to the event cost £12 per person, per day and £5 for children. You can also buy family tickets and festival passes for the three days. To book, visit www.chiddingstonecastle.org.uk/literary-festival

Speaker: Terry Waite

SURVIVOR Terry Waite

Terry Waite, CBE, will be one of the speakers at the festival. Here, the former envoy to the Bishop of Canterbury, who was captured by Hezbollah in Beirut in 1987 and held hostage for five years, explains why he agreed to speak.

“During the long years I spent in solitary confinement, more than anything else (apart from family, friends and freedom), I missed books. For almost four years I was without books of any kind and resorted to writing in my head as I had no pencil or paper.

“My first book, Taken on Trust, was written in this way, and my latest book, Out of the Silence – a collection of poems linked together by narrative – had its origins in those lonely years.

“I am looking forward to speaking about how one survives in difficult situations, and how such situations can be turned to creative end. I will also speak about some of the positive developments that have taken place in my life since I was released 25 years ago. I am also looking forward to answering questions about hostage taking both then and now.”