Welcome to the Books By The Beach blog
Box Office open now!
By Heather French, Festival Director
12th Feb, 2019
Books by the Beach box office has had an exciting start with a queue of people waiting for it to open its doors on Saturday 9 February. Scarborough appears ‘hot for history’… Whilst crime writing and conservation are causing a stir; science, sport and screenwriting are all proving popular too.
Literary lunches are tingling tastebuds and the lighthouse is shining a light on a love of mysteries and music for our eager audiences. Something for everyone!
Box Office is open weekdays 10am -6pm, tel 01723 370541
2019 Programme Out Now!
By Heather French, Festival Director
7th Feb, 2019
The programme is complete and brochures gone to print. So it’s time to share our box of delights ….
We’re launching the festival in Ancient Egypt- where writing began.
The Ravenmaster of The Tower enlightens us on animal behaviour
and we’ll pick up tips from the royal park gardener.
There’s murder and mayhem with top forensic scientist,
acclaimed biographer and crime writers.
Sport is celebrated by an Ashes winning captain and try a feast of flavours at
our literary lunches. History shines through stained glass
windows and there’s music for everyone’s taste.
Novelists rubs shoulders with dramatists and romance blows a
kiss to a real life mender of hearts. We’re riding waves
of discovery on a tale of polar exploration, under deep
oceans and around sea-shaken lighthouses – it’s the perfect
bookshelf brought to life.
View the full lineup by clicking here. Tickets are available this Saturday at The Stephen Joseph Theatre, Tel 01723 370541 or online. Hurry! Roll on April …
Happy New Year from Books by the Beach!
By Heather French, Festival Director
17th Jan, 2019
Happy New Year! 2019 has arrived and our April programme is almost complete.
We’re thrilled that Sir Michael Palin’s event has sold out early and tickets are selling fast too for Lynne Truss’ event at The Stephen Joseph Theatre.
Lynne is a writer and broadcaster. She has written for Woman’s Journal, The Times and the Sunday Times. In 1996 she was named Columnist of the Year and the following year was shortlisted for Sportswriter of the Year. She is the author of three novels and she also writes scripts and comedy series for BBC Radio 4. Lynne’s first book, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, was an international bestseller and won the British Book Awards Book of the Year.
On Friday 12 April, 10am she will be talking about her new comic crime novel – the hilarious Constable Twitten mystery, ‘A Shot in the Dark’. As it centres around the death of a theatre critic, the Stephen Joseph Theatre seemed the perfect setting …. This event will be hosted by top UK crime critic Barry Forshaw. Barry is a journalist, broadcaster and author of the ‘Noir’ series. A must see event!
Full Books by the Beach programme available and tickets for sale early February.
BIG 2019 announcement – SIR MICHAEL PALIN heads to Books by the Beach next April
by Heather French, festival director
4th December, 2018
Television globetrotter SIR MICHAEL PALIN will be a headliner event at Books by the Beach 2019, next April. Former Monty Python star and travel documentary maker will be appearing on Sunday 14 April at 7pm in The Spa Theatre, Scarborough.
Michael will be giving an illustrated talk about his new book, ‘EREBUS, The Story of a Ship’.
In September 2014 the wreck of HMS Erebus was discovered at the bottom of the sea in the frozen wastes of the Canadian Arctic. It’s whereabouts had been a mystery for over a century and a half. From its launch in 1826 to its ultimate catastrophe in the Arctic, Michael’s account brings this extraordinary ship back to life. He explores the careers of the ship’s explorers and the courage of British sailors and officers on their voyages to the ends of the earth.
To help tell this story Michael travelled to various locations around the world to search for local information and to experience at first hand the terrain and conditions that would have confronted the Erebus and her crew. His account combines a chilling adventure and a golden age polar exploration.
Michael has written and starred in many TV programmes and films. He has also made travel documentaries taking him from the Poles to the Sahara Desert. His books include accounts of his journeys, two novels and several volumes of diaries. From 2009 -2012 he was president of the Royal Geographic Society and in 2013 made a BAFTA fellow.
I am VERY excited to welcome Michael to Books by the Beach next year and am sure he’ll be a huge hit, attracting visitors from far afield.
Tickets for Michael’s event are on sale this Friday 7 December at the Scarborough Spa box office and the Stephen Joseph Theatre box office. Ticket price – just £12.
What an amazing festival!
By Heather French, festival director
22nd April 2018
This year’s Books by the Beach has been a blast. We’ve had fantastic feedback from authors and audiences alike. The sun took a while to come out for us but the atmosphere was always warm and welcoming wherever events took place. Whether you enjoyed a themed suffragette lunch at The Crescent Hotel or a candlelit dinner at Wykeham Abbey Old Kitchen there was plenty to make the tastebuds tingle.
Art secrets from Catherine Hewitt and tales of espionage from Dame Stella Rimington were shared with eager audiences and the crowd loved the brave honesty of Ben Smith, Marathon Man Extraordinaire.
Classics pulled big audiences in search of Mary Shelley and Anne Bronte – the latter giving the perfect opportunity to show off the wonderful St. Mary’s Church, next to Anne’s final resting place.
Humour shone at many events and Julian Norton shared some hilarious animal anecdotes. Ben Aaronovitch’s quirky pie and mash event at the Stephen Joseph Bistro was another successful partnership with EAT ME CAFE and the site specific drama production at the town hall was a triumph for Libby Pearson and ME & THEE THEATRE.
Crime and thriller writers are always an integral part of Books by the Beach. Tony Parsons, Denise Mina, Saul David and Robert Goddard all gave different slants to their genres. Orange Prize winner Lionel Shriver showed her dry wit and humour and delighted the audience with a wonderful reading from her new novella ‘ The Standing Chandelier’ .
Katie Nicholl brought a royal flavour to the proceedings and the papers once again proved a popular slot with photos Rosie Millard and new host Gerry Foley. Take Three Actors panel was off the wall and the audience loved every minute.
Joanne Harris and her #Storytime Band raised the library rafters with music, song and imagery and Lucy Mangan took us back to our childhood favourites with her new memoir ‘Bookworm’.
Radio 2 star Jeremy Vine played his event to a sell out crowd. He was charming, professional and very funny. He had the audience in the palm of his hands. Ruth Jones was the perfect finale. Her fans hung on her every word as she told her career story and introduced her debut novel ‘Never Greener’. The perfect close to a fun filled festival. So many top events and not enough space to mention each one individually but the whole thing was brilliant.
I’d like to take this opportunity to say a HUGE THANK YOU to ALL our wonderful visiting authors and hosts, sponsors, partners and my wonderful merry band of volunteers, without whom I couldn’t deliver the festival.
I’d also like to thank my fab patron, Helen Boaden, former Head of BBC Radio, and the local press and radio, particularly The Scarborough News, for the brilliant coverage up to and during the festival. Finally the wonderful audiences. Thanks for helping us keep Scarborough on the cultural map.
Time for a short break now but please keep an eye on the website for 2019 dates and see you all next year! Thank you! Heather French, festival director
Three days to go…
By Heather French, festival director
7th April 2018
With just 3 days to go we’re flying the flag in Scarborough. VERY excited to welcome such an esteemed lineup this year and the town’s buzzing in anticipation.
I’d like to take this opportunity to say a BIG THANK YOU to all our wonderful authors, hosts, sponsors, partners, and audiences for the continued support.
Special mention to Kate Balchin and the wonderful Mellor family at Wold Top Brewery for the gifting of their award winning beer. Books and beer – the perfect combination!
Also to top journalist Sue Wilkinson of The Scarborough News for her wonderful press coverage.
Thanks too to the support in kind from North Yorkshire County Council & Scarborough Borough Council. Use of their venues is crucial to the festival.
I can’t forget my fabulous band of volunteers who give their time over the five days to ensure the smoothest and most welcoming festival we can offer. You are amazing friends. I’m also grateful to our very special patron, former Head of BBC Radio, Helen Boaden – for her enthusiasm and listening ear.
Finally a special ‘high five’ to Alex and the wonderful SJT Box Office staff who work so hard and have eternal patience..! You all help me keep Scarborough on the map! Thank you everyone!
Books and Beer!
By Heather French, festival director
1st April 2018
Books by the Beach and Wold Top Brewery have joined forces for the fifth year to create that perfect combination – books and beer! This year’s festival beer naming competition was themed around Mary’s Shelley’s MONSTER creation – which is celebrating its 200th birthday. The simple but clever winning name is FRANKIE’S STEIN and each visiting author at the book festival will receive a special bottled beer in their goodie bag.
Winner GARY JOHNSON (pictured below with festival director HEATHER FRENCH) will receive a Wold Top box set and a number of complimentary tickets for the festival. Cheers!
Never work with children and animals ….
By Heather French, festival director
24th March 2018
Whoever said “Never work with children and animals” was right. And here’s the film to prove it!
This is the average day of festival director Heather French. It’s not all glitz and glam …!
Follow the link and please share :-
What a thrill!
By Heather French, festival director
18th March 2018
What a thrill the last few weeks have been! Local media support for this year’s BOOKS BY THE BEACH has been amazing – with frequent articles in The Scarborough News, & riding the air waves with Coast & County Radio & Radio Scarborough. Anna Wallace has also been hosting interviews on her BBC Radio York show and there’s more to come so be sure to stay tuned ..!
With Easter fast approaching why not give family and friends a festival gift voucher – calorie free!
Available from The new look Stephen Joseph Theatre Box Office, tel 01723 370541
Don’t forget to check out our full programme as there’s a wealth of fab happenings. There’s sellouts already but tickets available for lots of events. Don’t miss out! Click below to purchase :-
The Box Office Opens!
By Heather French, festival director
8th February 2018
The Stephen Joseph Theatre opens its box office doors tomorrow at 10am and excitement is building. Fronting the entertainment guide in this week’s press and holding local TV interviews have made this week particularly hectic and exciting.
There’s still time to browse the programme online before making your ticket choices and don’t forget that gift vouchers are on sale at the SJT box office leading up to the festival. A great alternative gift for Easter and less calories than a chocolate egg! Plus a perfect way to introduce family and friends to Books by the Beach. Thanks for your support!
The Programme has arrived!
By Heather French, festival director
2nd February 2018
So after months of planning the programme is now complete. Hooray! The brochure has gone to print and we’re literally waiting for the ink to dry ….
Brochures will be spread far and wide next week. So pop into your local library, the Stephen Joseph Theatre Box Office or bookshop to grab a copy. But of course if you can’t wait another moment, the full programme is now up on the website.
So what’s on offer..? 2018 is a year of commemorations – 100 years of Votes for Women and the bicentenary of Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN. We’re joining in the celebrations and inviting you to the party!
We’ve themed lunches at The Crescent Hotel and Stephen Joseph Theatre. Wykeham Abbey is the setting for a candlelit dinner featuring DAVID HEWSON’S retelling of ROMEO AND JULIET in historical fiction format. Saturday has a fruity start with ROSIE MILLARD’S Brazilian Breakfast at Palm Court Hotel…
Crime authors TONY PARSONS, DENISE MINA and SAUL DAVID join thriller writers ROBERT GODDARD and STELLA RIMINGTON. Orange Prize winner LIONEL SHRIVER introduces her first collection of short stories and ANNE BRONTE’S life is explored at St.Mary’s Church.
MARTY JOPSON from THE ONE SHOW explains the science of food and everyone’s favourite vet JULIAN NORTON tells tales of creatures great and small.
There’s an exclusive piece of drama from ME AND THEE THEATRE in the town hall on Friday night and on Sunday popular actors GEORGE COSTIGAN, ROBERT DAWS and HUGH FRASER take to the stage. JOANNE HARRIS entertains with her #STORYTIME BAND setting stories to music and there’s hot news from the Sunday papers panel.
Royal correspondent KATIE NICHOLL launches her new biography about PRINCE HARRY and novelist NICHOLAS SHAKESPEARE brings Churchill’s story to Scarborough.
We’ve a fresh look at Greek myths, Renoir’s Dancer in the gallery and there’s even a Marathon Man! Classical music is on the programme along with Amnesty International.
Radio 2 broadcaster JEREMY VINE and award winning comedy actor and writer RUTH JONES appear at The Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round.
Something for everyone this April!
BOOKS BY THE BEACH 2018 takes place 11-15 April and tickets are on sale 10am 9th Feb at The Stephen Joseph Theatre Box Office. Join the queue early!
Christmas is Coming!
By Heather French, festival director
18th December 2017
Christmas is coming and with festive cheer, it’s time to announce more exciting names attending BOOKS BY THE BEACH next April.
Crime always proves popular and 2018 will be no exception as bestselling writers head to the coast.
We’re excited to welcome TONY PARSONS, award winning journalist and top novelist. Tony is creator of D C Max Wolfe. The Murder Bag, the first novel in the series, went to number one on first UK publication and all Max Wolfe novels have been Sunday Times top five bestsellers. On Saturday 14 April Tony will be sharing the library stage with crime critic and festival friend Barry Forshaw.
Turning true crime into fiction is a fast developing trend and on Friday 13 April Scarborough audiences will have chance to meet multi-prize winning crime writer DENISE MINA.
Denise’s recent work, The Long Drop is a beautifully written suspense novel based on the extraordinary story of a 1950s Glasgow murder. In addition to her novels, Denise has written plays and graphic novels including an adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
Joining Denise on stage will be historian turned crime writer SAUL DAVID.
Saul has presented and appeared in history programmes for all major TV channels and is a regular contributor to Radio 4. Saul will be talking about his latest George ‘Zulu’ Hart novel, The Prince and the Whitechapel Murders – a thrilling new twist on the Jack the Ripper story. This event is a must for all fans of true-life crime and perfect for Friday 13th …
As always, we like to add a different flavour to the festival. So let your tastebuds tingle in anticipation for we’ll be dining by candlelight at Wykeham Abbey Old Kitchen! Bestselling DAVID HEWSON will be retelling Shakespeare as he discusses his new thriller Juliet and Romeo. With a delicious 3 course dinner included in the ticket, it’s an unmissable evening!
And who said ‘Never work with animals ..?’ We’re delighted to welcome YORKSHIRE TV VET, JULIAN NORTON. Julian is taking time out from his surgery to share tales of creatures great and small. Highly popular vet, writer and Yorkshire Post columnist will be appearing at Scarborough Library on Sunday 15 April. A festival highlight!
There’s lots more to come when the full programme is announced in the New Year …
In the meantime don’t forget BOOKS BY THE BEACH gift vouchers are available at The Stephen Joseph Theatre box office. The perfect Christmas gift for that person who has ‘almost’ everything – and ideal for every pocket at just £5 and £10.
A great way to introduce someone new to BOOKS BY THE BEACH!
MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE and thanks for your support!
WELCOME BACK and RUTH JONES heads to Books by the Beach 2018!
By Heather French, festival director
20th November 2017
WELCOME BACK everyone! We’ve had our wind down but now it’s time to crank things up again as we look ahead to April 2018. BOOKS BY THE BEACH 2018 programming is underway. I’m VERY excited to announce from the world of Theatre and TV, an appearance from the fabulous RUTH JONES!
Ruth is best known for her award-winning television writing, and portrayal of some of the UK’s best-loved lead comedy characters. She starred in and co-wrote massive hit GAVIN AND STACEY and STELLA – the Sky1 series. She also appeared in Jimmy McGovern’s THE STREET.
But her talents don’t only lie in comedy… She won acclaim for her performances in BBC dramas ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’, ‘Little Dorrit’ and as lead role in HATTIE.
At her festival appearance Ruth will be chatting about her careers in writing and acting and introducing her debut novel – NEVER GREENER. It’ll be hot from the press, published April.
NEVER GREENER is a witty and wise story of life’s second chances and the dangers of taking them… Ruth’s trademark warmth, humanity and heart is sure to make it a bestseller!
Ruth will be on stage at The Stephen Joseph Theatre on SUNDAY 15 APRIL at 7PM.
Tickets on sale this week at The Stephen Joseph Box Office, tel – 01723 370541 – so hurry!
Don’t forget BOOKS BY THE BEACH gift vouchers are on sale at The Stephen Joseph Theatre. They’re a brilliant Christmas gift for family and friends and at just £5 and £10 perfect for every pocket! Why not introduce someone new to the festival… so much to enjoy.
Thanks everyone for your continuing support and roll on April!
BOOKS BY THE BEACH 2018 runs from Wednesday 11-Sunday 15 April
(Ruth Jones photo – copyright Maxine Jones)
The sun sets on the festival but it ain’t over yet ….
By Heather French, Festival Director
15h May 2017
The sun has set on this year’s festival and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all our fabulous visiting authors, sponsors, supporters, volunteers and loyal audiences for helping make BOOKS BY THE BEACH 2017 such a big success.
People are already asking for next year’s dates so I’d like to announce that the 2018 festival will run 11 – 15 April! So, make it a date in your diaries!
Our April festival may be over but we’re not letting the dust settle.We’re wanting to keep the brand alive and bring top authors to Scarborough throughout the year. I’m delighted that our JUNE BONUS EVENT features queen of crime drama MARTINA COLE!
MARTINA will be appearing at Scarborough Library on Tuesday 27 June at 6pm. She’s a phenomenon and has sold over 14 million copies of her work.
Many of her hard-hitting novels including ‘The Take’ have been successfully adapted for the screen and a number have become theatre productions including ‘Dangerous Lady’ – her debut novel.
This extraordinary first thriller introduced Maura Ryan and a totally original genre of gangland crime, paving the way for Martina’s writing career. This year is the 25th anniversary of it’s publication. On 27 June, Martina will also be discussing her latest work ‘Betrayal’, a gritty and powerful tale of family survival.
I’m so excited that Martina is visiting Scarborough. I met her years ago, have been inviting her to our festival every year since and now it’s paid off! I’m also honoured that she’s launching her 25 year anniversary tour at Scarborough Library, helping libraries remain centres of culture. I know she’ll open up the festival to a new audience and she’s such a fascinating and colourful personality.
There’s only one Martina! Don’t miss this unique opportunity to meet her on 27 June at 6pm.
Tickets on sale now at The Stephen Joseph Theatre and online at www.booksbythebeach.co.uk
See you there and thanks for spreading the word! Heather
Festival beer naming competition – winner announced!
By Heather French, 5th April 2017
And the winner is …. Jodie Peckitt of Ebberston, near Scarborough!
It was my pleasure to meet Jodie at The Crescent Hotel earlier this week to congratulate her!
As this year’s festival coincides with The Tour de Yorkshire we decided to theme our annual beer naming competition on bikes and beer! We received some imaginative ideas and had great fun putting heads together with Wold Top Brewery directors. After careful consideration this year’s winning beer is SADDLER’S REST !
Congratulations Jodie – pictured here with festival director Heather French.
Part of Jodie’s fabulous prize is a set of four complimentary festival tickets. Firstly to see miracle jockey Declan Murphy & Ami Rao on 28 April at 5.30pm at Scarborough Library Concert Hall. Later that evening she’ll be racing to The Spa Theatre to see champion rowers ‘Four Mums in a Boat’ at 7.30pm. Two festival highlights on this special sporty evening!
Jodie will also received a special presentation pack of Wold Top beer. A bottle of her winning beer SADDLER’S REST will be given to all visiting authors at this years’s BOOKS BY THE BEACH!
Thanks to everyone who entered the competition and a BIG thank you to the Mellor family at Wold Top Brewery for their kind sponsorship of mouthwatering beer! Cheers!
A special mention to Sue Wilkinson for organising the contest through The Scarborough News.
Festival beer naming competition links to TOUR DE YORKSHIRE!
By Heather French, 13th March 2017
WOLD TOP BREWERY director Gill Mellor and myself have been putting heads together to decide the theme for this year’s festival beer naming contest. It’s now an established part of the festival activities, proving increasingly popular and great fun!
Previous themes have included literary heavyweights Shakespeare and Bronte. But this year we’ve gone off on a tangent or should that be tandem …… as the 2017 book festival coincides with THE TOUR DE YORKSHIRE which will be completing the first stage in Scarborough on 28 April. It didn’t take long for Gill and I to agree that cycling should definitely feature in this year’s competition. Another Gill -Gill Partridge, Watermark cafe owner & in centre of photo, is particularly interested in our beer naming competition. Stage 1 of The Tour de Yorkshire will end at The North Bay so there’ll be lots of refreshing Wold Top beer served from her beachside restaurant on 28 April to cool down both cyclists and crowds of visitors!
So here’s the theme for the 2017 Beer naming competition:- BEER & BIKES! And if you’re really clever you could try and include BOOKS in it too! Thinking caps on everyone-can’t wait to see your ideas! I’d also like to add A BIG THANK YOU to Gill and Tom Mellor for their strong support of the festival with WOLD TOP BEER!
The prize for the winning entry is a presentation box of your own award winning ale.
A bottle of the winning beer will also be gifted to each author attending the festival.
As it’s a sporty themed competition the lucky winner will win 2 tickets to see miracle survivor jockey Declan Murphy on 28 April at Scarborough Library Concert Hall at 5.30pm plus 2 tickets to see champion rowers ‘Four Mums in a Boat’ at The Spa Theatre at 7.30pm, later that day.
A fantastic sport themed evening for two!
Send your entry by email to Sue Wilkinson at:- email@example.com
Please remember to include your name and contact telephone number in your email entry.
This competition is open to anyone 18 years and over.
Closing date is Friday 24 March. Good luck everyone and CHEERS!
Pictured below from left to right are Gill Mellor, Gill Partridge & Heather French
Special thank you – photo kindly supplied by Richard Ponter & Scarborough News.
By Peter Guttridge, 4th March 2017
Way back in the Sixties I collected Marvel comics, bought new and second hand on the covered market in Burnley, just across the Yorkshire/Lancashire border.
In the Nineties I sold them to a Soho shop owned by Jonathan Ross for enough money to put a deposit down on a flat. I was pretty pleased with myself.
Until, that is, all these Marvel films came along and the nice guy who runs that great comic shop in Scarborough told me a couple of years ago that another copy of one of the comics I sold to Ross (the first or second Spiderman, I think) had just sold at auction in New York for a million dollars.
But I’m burying my lead (whilst sobbing uncontrollably). In the back of these Marvel comics were a bizarre range of adverts selling everything from plastic shrunken heads to muscle-building secrets (courtesy of Charles Atlas). And a lot of ads selling various aids to hypnotise people. You’ll see from the adverts pictured here that they were aimed at men and pubescent boys who might possibly have nefarious intentions on (usually buxom) women.
I didn’t buy the hypno-coin or the hypnotic glasses but I did develop an interest in hypnosis. (Not for nefarious reasons – no, honestly.) Which is when I first heard about Herr Mesmer, the wealthy German doctor who lived from 1734 to 1815, mostly in Vienna and Paris, and gave his name to ‘mesmerism’, which we know today as ‘hypnotism’ or ‘auto-suggestion’.
I don’t think he entirely understood how he was achieving his effects in his crude explorations in the human psyche. For instance, he gave his early patients a drink containing iron then put magnets on various parts of their bodies, thinking the effect was physical.
He came up with the term ‘animal magnetism’, which meant something different to the way we use the term today. But his ‘mesmerism’ – in which he treated people both individually and in groups, often at society gatherings – evolved into what essentially we know as ‘hypnotism’.
A Scottish doctor, James Braid, came up with the term ‘hypnotism’ in 1843. By then, John Elliotson, the idiosyncratic doctor who is the subject of Wendy Moore’s brilliant book, The Mesmerist, was already experimenting with mesmerism not as a society party game but mostly for subduing pain. (He also believed in phrenology – measuring the skull as an indication of intelligence – but nobody’s perfect.)
Wendy will be telling the fascinating and illuminating story of this extraordinary man on Thursday 27 April. It will be spellbinding. I’m now going to count from ten to one and when I reach one…
Sprucing up the station
By Heather French, 20th February 2017
This week we’ve been giving Scarborough railway station a facelift! Always keen to wish our authors the WARMEST welcome we want our sign to be the first thing they see as they alight from the train at the end of the line. Hopefully it will attract bigger festival audiences too as visitors discover Books by the Beach and hop over the road to buy tickets from the SJT…
Thanks to Transpennine Express for letting us loose with their station and Don French signs for their expertise! Finally a BIG thank you to graphic designer Charlotte Middleton who makes the sun shine through our logo!
SPORT STARS RACE TO THE FESTIVAL!
By Heather French, 15th February 2017
And we’re off…!
The Books by the Beach programme is complete, tickets are on sale at The Stephen Joseph Theatre and there’s been queues round the block. The race is on to bag tickets as inspiring sport stars feature at this year’s festival.
On Friday 28 April there’s two tales of amazing determination and self belief.
At 5.30pm in Scarborough Library Concert Hall ex-jockey Declan Murphy tells his story of miracle recovery from the edge of death. A natural on a horse since he was able to walk, Declan became one of the most brilliant jockeys of his generation. He rode a host of winners in top races including The Champion Chase and Gold Cup. But his world came crashing down in 1994 when he fell at the final hurdle at Haydock Park.
His skull shattered in 12 places he was believed to be dead, the last rites were read and The Racing Post printed his obituary. Miraculously he survived and 18 months later he saddled up to race at Chepstow. He guided Jibereen to the finishing post in winning position! An incredible feat!
For 23 years Declan was unable to tell his tale of living on the frontier of life and death and the incredible bond between man and horse.
Ami Rao is a British- American writer who recently worked in the financial markets. She is horse mad and often spends time riding herself. Ami is the person who helped Declan find the right words and together they penned ‘Centaur’, a story which reads more like a thriller than real life.
Later that evening at 7.30pm on Friday 28 April four champion rowers visit Books by the Beach. They will be appearing at The Spa Theatre to talk about their new book ‘Four Mums in a Boat’. These four Yorkshire lasses made history by crossing the Atlantic in 67 days and picking up a record along the way as the oldest women to row any ocean!
The champion team comprises Janette Benaddi – clinical researcher, Helen Butters – a communications expert in the NHS, Frances Davies – a solicitor and Niki Doeg – a business owner.
Over three months they lost power, water, their rudder and two stone in weight!
A tale of heroism, humour and true Yorkshire grit! Two festival highlights!
So much to see and do, so watch this space for more news in the countdown to the festival!
A Slice of Shetland & other headliners…
By Heather French, 30th November 2016
Hello everyone and welcome back to the festival blog!
April 2017 may seem a long time away but we’re excited to offer a taster to our fourth festival. Today we’re announcing early release of tickets for a couple of headlining 2017 events.
We’re constantly looking for ways to broaden our programme and widen our audience and I’m hoping our 2017 events will do just that.
We’re thrilled to offer a pre-festival event as ‘a flavour’ of what’s on offer next April – quite literally!
Ann Cleeves, creator of two high profile TV series, ‘VERA’ and ‘SHETLAND’ is visiting us on Friday 10 February. At 6pm she’ll be talk about her new book, ‘COLD EARTH’ at Scarborough library concert hall. COLD EARTH is Ann’s 30th novel, and features enigmatic Jimmy Perez as he struggles to uncover a dark secret buried on Shetland.
After book signing Ann will be whisked away to EAT ME CAFE to share a ‘Slice of Shetland’ with 32 lucky diners.Tickets for this one off event include a 3 course dinner of specially imported food from the Shetland Islands (even down to the butter!) and a talk from this highly popular award-winning author. Tickets for this unique evening are available directly from EAT ME CAFE”.
Tickets for the early evening library event are available at The Stephen Joseph Theatre.
Making a splash in our 2017 line-up are ‘Four Mums in a Boat’!
This is the incredible story of four working mums from Yorkshire who made history earlier this year by crossing the Atlantic in 67 days and picking up a record along the way as the oldest women to row any ocean. The champion team comprises of :-
Janette Benaddi – 51, mum and a clinical researcher
Helen Butters – 45, mum and a communications expert in the NHS
Frances Davies — 47, mum and solicitor
Niki Doeg – 45, mum and business owner
Their story of crossing 3,000 miles of treacherous ocean is a true tale of heroism, humour, determination and Yorkshire grit! The four rowers will be sharing the stage at The Scarborough Spa on Friday 28 April at 7.30pm. Tickets on sale at The Spa and the Stephen Joseph Theatre.
2017 brings more news. Helen Boaden, Outgoing Director of BBC Radio, is the festival’s new patron. Helen appeared at our festival in 2015 and has strong ties to Scarborough. Helen is keen to help us keep Scarborough on the literary map and we’re excited she’s joining our team.
Bestselling fiction writer and festival favourite Joanna Trollope will be opening the festival at 10am on Wednesday 26 April when she speaks about her new novel, ‘City of Friends’. A fabulous start!
But let’s not forget the men..! Popular Labour politician Alan Johnson makes a welcome return on Sunday 30 April with his keenly awaited third memoir, ‘The Long and Winding Road’. Alan will also be taking part in the Sunday papers panel earlier that day – a topical treat!
Tickets for Joanna’s and Alan’s events available soon at the launch of the full programme.
We’re working hard on the 2017 line-up to bring the best variety of fact and fiction to Scarborough and all will be revealed early next year…. Keep an eye on the website, Twitter, Facebook and in The Scarborough News for updates.
In the meantime why not get into the festive spirit by purchasing our special gift vouchers as that special present for family and friends..? Priced at just £5 and £10, they’re perfect for all pockets! Gift vouchers are redeemable against 2017 Festival tickets and are available NOW from The Stephen Joseph Theatre and Scarborough Spa box office.
Merry Christmas everyone!
Books by the Beach 2016
We’re on a countdown and there’s just 2 days to go to Books by the Beach 2016!
But there’s always time for that extra publicity push and we’re keen to thank FAB Sue Wilkinson at The Scarborough News for fantastic coverage as always. Thanks too to ace photographers Richard Ponter of the News and Dave Barry of Scarborough Review.
We’ve been lucky to get pieces also in Yorkshire Life and Yorkshire Post this year.
Over the last few days I’ve been chatting on air to John at the Yorkshire Coast Radio news team and Jerry at Radio Scarborough. Our visiting authors have also been given air time over the last few weeks on the Anna Wallace show on BBC Radio York. Yesterday during our family festival fun day we took part in Finders Keepers – a Radio York treasure trail. Roving reporters Jeremy and Jericho had just seconds to spare to find the final clue which we had waiting for them at Scarborough Library. Great fun taking part!
HUGE THANKS to all those kindly giving us page space and air time to share news about this year’s festival. Don’t forget tickets on sale still for most events at The Stephen Joseph Theatre or simply follow the 2016 authors tab to book online.
See you all at the festival!
And the winner is…
So the 2016 festival beer winner is HEATHCLIFF HOP- Bronte themed of course!
Thanks to everyone who entered our competition and Wold Top Brewery for sponsorship of their mouthwatering beer!
Heather and Peter
Poetry on the Platform
By Heather French, 13th March 2016
Friday 11th March was a VERY exciting day for 300 children at Gladstone Road primary school. They were about to create a Scarborough record for the most children performing poetry on a railway bench. Of course Scarborough has the longest platform bench in the world at 139 metres!
The school has been taking part in a DIG READING project in partnership with Books by the Beach during March. The project is co-ordinated by Lesley Dodd, teacher at the school and Heather French. The idea was to inspire children through reading and story telling in gardens and outside spaces. The children have been based in the old parcel office during the last two weeks and it’s been fantastic fun. Gladstone Road is the largest primary school in North Yorkshire and every single child in the school ( over 800 !) has taken part in some way – either through drama, storytelling, poetry, music or writing creative reviews.
The poetry on the platform was the highlight of the week with Yorkshire poet Craig Bradley leading the children in their record breaking rhyme time. The weather was kind and the day opened to beautiful sunshine. Craig worked with individual classes during the morning to get them into the poetry swing and then 300 children made their way ‘crocodile style’ to the railway station. The atmosphere was fantastic and Craig did a fabulous job of engaging everyone as he ran up and down the platform to ‘rhyme it, rhyme it!’
We’re delighted Paddy Billington from Yorkshire Coast Radio hot footed it from Pickering to be there and the event was broadcast later that afternoon. Thank you Paddy!
Thanks also to First Transpennine Express for their kind co-operation.
Check out the video below!
More children’s event on 9th April – fun for everyone!
View full details on our 2016 programme tab.
Tickets for all events on sale at Stephen Joseph Theatre.
Photos by Dave Barry, video by Cup of Tea Productions
By Heather French, 24th Feb 2016
Two weeks ago I visited Haworth Parsonage for the launch of ‘Charlotte Great and Small’ – a bicentenary exhibition curated by Tracy Chevalier which showcases the brilliant work of creative artists. I had to hurry away after the launch but was so impressed was determined to return.
In the meantime I’d met Gill Mellor, Director of Wold Top Brewery, our local beer sponsor. We’d put our heads together about the naming of this year’s festival ale competition.
” It has to be Bronte linked on this special year” we agreed ” For not only is it Charlotte’s 200th birthday but also not forgetting Anne’s strong Scarborough connection”.
The seed was sown ( that’s Barley and Wheat of course …) and so we’re declaring the 2016 Books by the Beach beer naming competition open!
This weekend provided me with perfect opportunity to return to Bronte Country. Donning walking boots and waterproofs I explored the moors to take a few photos to help inspire you all. The wind and rain made it a tough trail but once the Bronte Waterfall opened up in front of me it was all worthwhile. Even battling the elements its wild beauty is undeniable. I also found a famous name engraved on a stone – Bronte graffiti …? She wouldn’t, would she …?
Returning to the competition, the prize for the winning beer is a Wold Top presentation pack of your own named bottles, two complimentary tickets to The World of Charlotte Bronte event on Sat 16 April and two tickets to see Melvyn Bragg at the Spa on Friday 15 April at 7.30pm. The icing on the cake (or the froth on the beer…) is that your winning beer will be this year’s special brew presented to all visiting authors as a souvenir of the festival. So thinking caps and Bronte bonnets on everyone!
Send your entry to Sue Wilkinson at the Scarborough News or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Just one entry per person permitted and the closing date for this competition is Friday 11 March.
Books and Beer – a perfect combination! Cheers everybody and good luck!
Your entry could be the next festival beer!
Tracy Chevalier and Claire Harman
By Heather French, 8th Feb 2016
Last Friday I was delighted to be invited to the launch of ‘Charlotte Great & Small’ – a celebration of Charlotte Bronte’s 200th birthday. Naturally the exhibition is set in Haworth Parsonage and the weather could’ve been drawn from a Bronte novel- wet, windy and wild!
New installations were on display and Scarborough’s own mixed media artist Serena Partridge had a hand in the work – a very small hand! Serena had made tiny gloves, shoes and a variety of small scale accessories inspired by Charlotte’s life. The exhibition is open till January 2017.
Tracy Chevalier, highly acclaimed author, quilter and curator of the exhibition also had work on display. We’re excited that Tracy will be coming to this year’s festival to talk all things Charlotte with renowned biographer Claire Harman on Saturday 16 April.
The event is kindly sponsored by The Royal Literary Fund, which was set up in 1790 to help professional authors. Past beneficiaries have included Coleridge, Joseph Conrad, D H Lawrence and Dylan Thomas. Last year it helped 200 writers, though not all of them are quite so famous yet… This year the fund has moved towards sponsoring festival events and we’re delighted that Books by the Beach has been chosen to benefit from this scheme.
Tracy will also be talking about and reading from her latest book, ‘ At The Edge Of The Orchard’ later that day – a fabulous double bill! Tickets for all events now at The Stephen Joseph Theatre.
THE WAITING’S OVER …!
By Heather French, 3rd Feb 2016
BOOKS BY THE BEACH are delighted to be celebrating their third festival this April (full festival dates, 13 – 17 April) Scarborough is famous for literary connections and this year the festival celebrates the bicentenary of Charlotte Bronte’s birth. Best selling novelist Tracy Chevalier shares the stage on 16 April with renowned biographer Claire Harman to talk ‘all things Charlotte’. This event will be sponsored by The Royal Literary Fund. Co-director Heather French comments, “ The Royal Literary Fund is keen to raise awareness for writers and education projects around the country. Over the past year they’ve sponsored talks at a number of literary festivals. We’re delighted they approached us for Scarborough!” Tracy Chevalier will also have a solo spot when she’ll be talking about and reading from her new book, ‘At The Edge Of The Orchard’.
Tracy isn’t the only historical writer appearing this year. Alison Weir, top selling female historian in the UK will be sharing her latest biography over an authentic Tudor style lunch in a new festival venue- Wykeham Abbey old kitchen on 13 April. “ I’m very excited to be offered this unique setting” said Heather, “ I’m always on the lookout for quirky places and with just 35 place settings I’m sure this will be the first event to sell out!”
But of course there’s a variety of foodie events. The town hall plays it’s part hosting a theatrical Sherlock Holmes dinner with David Stuart Davies – top authority on all things Sherlockian.
It’s a big welcome back to Crime King Peter James and this year’s CWA Diamond Dagger recipient! Peter is a warm and amusing speaker and bound to cause a stir at the Palm Court Hotel on 14 April…
Wold Top Brewery are offering 5 different beers to taste with accompanying nibbles in the relaxed setting of Greensmith and Thackwray coffee shop on 16 April – another new venue! A perfect chillout before Saturday’s exciting headline event with Sir Vince Cable at Scarborough Library Concert Hall. Vince Cable’s role as Business Secretary placed him at the heart of the Coalition Government and he’ll be providing a unique perspective on global financial markets and how British economy has fared since 2008.
In our opening event, personal development trainer, Paul Hannam, presents the quirky notion that happiness can be discovered by looking at the life lessons to be found in the Bill Murray comedy, Groundhog Day, in which the same day is endlessly repeated until Murray’s character learns to move forward. Scarborough Film Society present a special screening of Groundhog Day later that evening so you can see exactly what Paul means.
On 14 April former Army officer Harry Parker will be introducing his first novel which is already being talked about as a potential book of the year. Harry served in Iraq and then in 2009 whilst on foot patrol in Afghanistan he stepped on a bomb. He turned to writing after his accident and not wanting to write a war memoir decided instead on a novel told uniquely through 45 objects. A powerful event and hopeful event!
The Classical Concert features again on 14 April with top soprano Michelle Rothey followed by prolific ‘cosy’ crime writer M.C. Beaton. “But don’t be fooled!” says co-director Peter Guttridge, “She may be the Queen of the village mystery, but I’ve hosted events with Marion before and she’s razor sharp and full of fun!”
“TV historians are unearthing facts for us all to share and I’m certain audiences will flock to see Joann Fletcher (14 April) and Alice Roberts (15 April). We’re grateful to Scarborough Archaeological and Historical Society for sponsorship of Alice’s event” comments Heather.
There’ll be an extended Sherlock Holmes dramatic production at the prison for those who miss it at the town hall and a tombstone trail to discover Wartime Lies in Dean Road cemetery…if you dare!
Follow the scent of perfume on 16 April to hear about a history of fragrances from Lizzie Ostrom (aka Odette Toilette!) – free samples on offer included in the ticket price!
Poetry in various guises features. There’s award winning Simon Armitage who recalls his travels on foot and reads from Walking Away, Amnesty International guest Philip Gross and children’s poet Craig Bradley.
Debut author Janet Ellis (Formerly of Blue Peter and mother of singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor) chats to prize winning journalist Fiona Barton whose first book, The Widow is already tipped to be the next Girl on the Train !
Remember the classic book and film KES ..? On Saturday 16 there’s the chance to meet the real life character behind the tale – Richard Hines. Richard discovered his love for falconry at a young age and after becoming a BBC documentary maker has written a memoir about how his love for his kestrel changed his life. A must see for all bird lovers!
Theatre director and biographer Franny Moyle will be talking all things Turner on Sunday 17 April. Turner was one of our most admired yet misunderstood landscape artists. Join her for an astonishing portrait of the public painter and private man at Scarborough art gallery. Franny will also be discussing what’s ‘hot off the press’ with Vince Cable at the Sunday papers event.
Espionage secrets are shared with Le Carre expert Adam Sisman and Guy Burgess biographer Andrew Downie on Sunday 17 April at 1pm. Stay in your seats as this is followed by an hour of psychological thrills and peculiar crimes as bestseller Joanne Harris shares stage with her fellow author and friend Christopher Fowler. Festival favourite Barry Forshaw is back to host!
Actor Hugh Fraser is probably best known for his role as Captain Hastings opposite David Suchet in Poirot and it’s sure to feature in his event but on 17 April he’ll be talking about his novel Harm and the making of an assassin ….
Two top broadcasters headline the 2016 festival. Baroness Joan Bakewell and Baron Melvyn Bragg both appear on Friday 15 April. A fabulous treat!
Joan will be at Scarborough Library concert hall at 1pm and Melvyn will be at The Spa Theatre at 7.30pm that evening. Get that Friday feeling!
‘Books by the Beach for Nippers’ is the new children’s festival day sponsored by Friends of Scarborough Library on 9th April. There’s an Enid Blyton trail in partnership with Scarborough Library and Scarborough Museums Trust. Gladstone Road Primary School have also been working on a community project with Books by the Beach. The project is DIG READING! – sponsored by the school and co-ordinated by Lesley Dodd and Heather French.
This year’s Books by the Beach feels fresher and livelier than ever and Heather and Peter would like to thank all the partners, sponsors, helpers and volunteers for their continuing support. A final mention to North Yorkshire County Council for their kind support by usage of the library concert hall and Scarborough Borough Council for opening up the town’s amazing venues.
Keep an eye on the website for news and blogs at www.booksbythebeach.co.uk
Tickets for all events available this weekend (6th February) at The Stephen Joseph Theatre.
“A special thank you to The Scarborough News for their fantastic coverage!”
NEXT YEAR’S FESTIVAL ANNOUNCED!
By Peter Guttridge and Heather French, 14th May 2015
Make a note in your diaries as we’re definitely returning for a third year in 2016. Co directors Heather French and Peter Guttridge announce next year’s dates will be 13-17 April.
‘We actually chose the dates the morning after the main part of the programme ended on 19 April,’ Peter says. ‘But we wanted to wait until this year’s festival had properly concluded – with our Alexander McCall Smith literary lunch – before announcing it.’
Judging by the response from those who attended, that lunch was a great success. ‘Yes it was a winner,’ Heather says. ‘Peter had met Alexander before so knew what a nice man he is but I was selfishly pleased to be able to have lunch with him before he did his talk. He’s such fun to be with. His talk was so entertaining and he has a delicious chuckle!’
A video excerpt from that lunch, as well as videos of other highlights from the festival, is available to watch from the home page.
‘We’re delighted with the way the festival went,’ Heather says, ‘but we’re learning all the time – especially as we want to keep trying new things. For that reason, feedback from our audiences is really important. If any audience members didn’t have a chance to fill in an evaluation form we’d love to hear from them on the website email. So just drop us a line!’
So that’s it for the two co-directors for another year?
‘Not quite,’ Peter says. ‘For one thing, we’ve already made a start programming a few things for next year. I’m intrigued that 2016 is 1050 years after the Battle of Hastings – but, even more important for this area,it’s the same anniversary for the Battle of Stamford Bridge.’
‘For another thing,’ Heather says. ‘We might have a couple of surprises up our sleeves between now and next year’s festival. So keep an eye on the website for updates. Finally A BIG THANK YOU to all our 2015 authors, hosts, volunteers and audiences. We really can’t do it without you!’
The Wonders of Alice
By Heather French, 14th April 2015
It can’t have escaped your notice that it’s 150 years since the first publication of Lewis Carroll’s classic, ‘Alice in Wonderland’. It’s everywhere! On the TV, radio and in the press. So we decided to join in the celebrations and share the story with book groups in and around Scarborough. We offered 500 complimentary copies on a first come first served basis and created a community BIG READ project for young and older readers.
We had a tremendous response and we shared reviews with the Scarborough News. The interesting conclusion seems to be it’s timeless appeal. Many groups held Mad Hatter’s tea parties and year 5 of Gladstone Road primary school created their own Wonderland characters.
These are on display in Scarborough Library during the festival and well worth a look.
The climax of our celebration is of course ‘The Story of Alice’ which takes place at Books by the Beach this Saturday 18 April at 12.30pm. Robert Douglas-Fairhurst is the author of this fascinating biography and speaker at the library.
The event is hosted by festival friend Barry Forshaw. Barry is a film and crime critic and has recently published Sex and Film: The Erotic in British, American and World Cinema. He is pictured here sipping champagne with Robert at The Dorchester!
No tea and bread and butter for them!
Our Biggest Supporter
By Peter Guttridge & Heather French, 6th April 2015
One of our guest authors, David Hewson, began his writing career as a cub reporter on the late Scarborough Evening News. (Do cub reporters still exist or have they metamorphosed into work experience reporters?) The best selling crime author joined the newspaper straight from school, age 17, in 1960. The newspaper had been founded in 1882 as a rival to the Scarborough Daily Post (founded 1876). In 1921 the Evening News gobbled up the Daily Post and remained the only newspaper in town (within a core 12 mile radius) until 2006, when the press in Scarborough was closed.
Why the history lesson? Well, it’s by way of an introduction to the Scarborough News, the weekly newspaper that rose from the ashes of the Evening News in May 2012 and has proved crucial to the success of our book festival.
In fact, as far as we’re concerned, the News came back into existence for the sole purpose of supporting Books By The Beach. That redoubtable journalist, Sue Wilkinson (no mean creative writer herself in what little spare time she has), has been unwavering in providing coverage before, during and between festivals. The generous space the newspaper allocates to her stories about our authors makes it so much easier to spread the word about (and sell the tickets for) our events.
Actually Sue and the Scarborough News were in some ways responsible for the creation of Books By The Beach back in 2013.
Peter Guttridge recalls: ‘When the county council library service unwillingly called a halt to its own Literature Festival, Sue emailed me for my comments. I’d been hosting events for that festival for some years, working very closely with Heather French, who programmed it for the library service.’
It took very little discussion for Heather and Peter to decide to continue a book festival in Scarborough under the new name, Books By The Beach. (With the support of the library service, the town council and other local organisations and businesses.)
Heather French says: ‘Obviously we have to use other news outlets but the Scarborough News is always our first port of call with our stories and it has never let us down.’
Peter’s one regret is that the newspaper’s Thursday publication dates have not coincided with the last two April Fool Days.
‘It was fun coming up with an April Fool in 2014 linking Bram Stoker with a vampire Bronte sister and, this year, linking Scarborough-born Lord Leighton to Jack the Ripper [see blog below]. Both stories were well covered regionally but they were perfect for our local paper but its publication date fell on the wrong day. However, if I’ve done my maths right, in 2016 April 1 falls on a Thursday, the newspaper’s publication day. So here’s hoping we can come up with something foolishly plausible and fit to print next year…’
A Day in the life of Bestseller Allan Mallinson
By Heather French, 3rd April 2015
Congratulations to Allan Mallinson, historian and host who recently entered The Times Top 10 Best Seller fiction list at number 7 with ‘Words of Command’! Allan’s latest novel is number 12 in the Matthew Hervey series.
I asked him if he’d mind taking a few minutes out of his busy schedule to chat about his launch date. Many readers may think that a writer’s life is a quiet and relaxed affair but the following ‘day in the life of’ may prompt a rethink …
Here’s how it went:-
An early start was essential as Allan took the 08.00 train from Pewsey (Wiltshire) to London; or rather, a bus replacement service to Swindon (one hour) because the train had broken down somewhere in Devon….
So at the first stage, unfortunately behind schedule, the train approached Paddington at 10.30 rather than the expected 09.17.
With military precision he dashed in for a haircut at the Cavalry Club. For even though Allan left the army ten years ago, apparently people still expect him to look the part. Which of course he does – never a hair out of place and quite the smartest man I know.
Allan then made his way to Heywood Hill Bookshop in Curzon Street where he signed a hundred books. The shop is owned by the Duke of Devonshire, and where Nancy Mitford used to work.
Hatchard’s in Piccadilly was his next port of call where Allan signed a few more hundred copies (see photo).
Several more hundred ‘Words of Command’ were stacked high at Goldsboro Books in Cecil Court waiting for Allan’s signature. Goldsboro Books are the leading sellers of signed, first editions of modern fiction and signed copies were soon flying off the shelf.
With writer’s cramp about to set in Allan had a short break to meet up with his editor and agent at the National Gallery Cafe for a very late lunch ( but only a cup of coffee – no time for anything more). After gulping down his hot beverage he took the train back to Pewsey.
Was his promotional day over? No way! He then drove to Devizes to sign at the independent Devizes Books (Handel House). His final destination that day was Bath to Topping and Company, another independent booksellers where he met Robert Topping who had come down from his newest shop, in St Andrews (Fife) for the occasion. Here Allan gave a talk and public signing.
The tired and hungry author then made his way home to the middle of Salisbury Plain, arriving after midnight. Did he lay down his weary head..? No – he then turned on his computer and wrote an article on ‘The Battle of Waterloo’ for The Field.
Wasn’t life easier in the army, Allan? A bottle of Wold Top Best Seller Beer is on ice waiting for you at Scarborough…
Jack The Ripper Identified as Scarborough artist Lord Leighton
By Peter Guttridge, 1 April 2015
For a long time now some Ripperologists – including, most famously crime writer Patricia Cornwell – have been trying to pin the Jack the Ripper murders on the artist Walter Sickert. The English Impressionist openly admitted his obsession with the Jack the Ripper crimes, which took place in 1888, and in 1904 painted a murky interior entitled Jack The Ripper’s Bedroom.
He claimed this painting, which hangs in Manchester City Art Gallery, was of a room he had lodged in that his landlady told him had once been the room used by Jack the Ripper. But a letter uncovered in the cellars of Scarborough’s abandoned Victorian prison reveals that it is actually a painting of a bedroom in a house on Vernon Road, Scarborough.
That house, almost opposite Scarborough library, was pulled down to make way for the Brunswick shopping centre but it is remembered with a blue plaque as the birthplace of the Victorian artist, Lord Frederick Leighton. Incredibly, the letter implies that Lord Leighton was Jack the Ripper.
Whilst preparing for our ghost story event last year in Scarborough prison I found a cache of letters in the basement. Some concerned Bram Stoker and the Brontes. I put the others aside and have been working my way slowly through them over the past months. I came upon the undated letter – from Walter Sickert to his mentor, the artist James Whistler – a few weeks ago.
In it Sickert states: ‘You know, of course, my story that I had once lodged in the very room once occupied by Jack the Ripper. Marie Belloc Lowndes used it as the basis for her novel, The Lodger. So much is true. What is untrue is that my painting of Jack the Ripper’s bedroom is that room. You and I both recognise that the room I have depicted is Freddie’s childhood room in Scarborough.’
I didn’t know what to make of this. In London I used to live not far from Lord Leighton’s home in Holland Park, now a terrific museum and art gallery, so I knew a bit about him. A champion of the Pre-Raphaelites, President of the Royal Academy for many years and also, oddly, Commanding Officer of the Territorial Regiment, The Artists Rifles. He was a very public figure. Whistler, a close friend, jokingly said of him: ‘Colonel of the Royal Academy and the President of the Artists Rifles – aye, and he paints a little.’ At his funeral in 1896, his coffin was carried into St Paul’s Cathedral past a guard of honour formed by the Artists Rifles.
But – and here’s the thing – little is known about his private life. In fact it is shrouded in mystery. His letters reveal nothing personal about him and he destroyed his diaries. There were rumours he had fathered a child with one of his models and another that he was gay. Certainly he gathered around himself young male artists – including Walter Sickert.
Who knows what Sickert meant in this letter? As I said there have long been rumours that Sickert – or at least an artist – was the Ripper. Is it a case of right profession; wrong artist?
‘On the air waves at Radio Scarborough’
By Heather French, 29th March 2015
Every Tuesday lunchtime in the run up to the festival Heather and Sarah French are live on air at Radio Scarborough chatting with Jerry Scott. We dash over to the new radio station location – the reception area at ‘The Street’ and the ‘French Ladies’ as he calls us, are LOVING IT!
The show is broadcast live from 12noon till 1pm and Jerry has kindly given us an eight week lead in, taking us up to 14th April, two days before the festival begins. It’s Internet radio at it’s best and soon to be DAB.
Every week we try and theme the show, ranging from festival foodie events to the creepy happenings at the prison. Last week we talked about the brilliant names our literary beer competition had inspired, with the winner finally declared as WILLIAM SHAKES BEER.
This week we’ll be chatting about historic anniversary events and definitely mention that one of our top historians has hit number 7 in this week’s ‘Times’ Top Ten! To find out who just listen in!
Whatever we start talking about we always end up having a good old chat with Jerry who’s the expert. He’ s worked on radio for a LONG time and we do occasionally let him get a word in …
Sarah is the website designer and filmmaker who is now keen to learn all about the art of radio.
In fact we girls are quite fancying the idea of a mother and daughter chat show – when the festival’s over of course!
So while you’re munching on your lunch why not tune in? Let’s all support fabulous Radio Scarborough!
Naming of a new festival beer at Books by the Beach
By Heather French, 23rd March 2015
Books by the Beach is delighted to pair up again with sponsors Wold Top Brewery whose mouthwatering beer will be served during the festival.
Set in the beautiful Yorkshire Wolds the brewery is busy making this year’s festival beer. It’s an ale with a difference as in April a new name replaces Best Seller.
The competition to name a new literary beer has had a brilliant response with lots of imaginative entries. Would it be ‘Count Draculale’..? How about ‘Mary Queen of Hops’..? ‘Fifty Shades of Ale’ was of course on the list alongside ‘Lager With Rosie’. It was a difficult one to judge…
In the end ‘Brew Dunnit’ was a very close runner up but overall winner was declared as ‘WILLIAM SHAKES BEER’.
The two lucky winners are Alison Olley who is a local resident and Barrie Little Gill who lives near Boston in the USA!
Barrie used to live in the UK and his friends Pauline and Alan Bedford live in West Ayton, just outside Scarborough. They all entered the competition as staunch festival fans and Barrie and his wife come over to England every April to visit. They time their stay with festival dates so they can attend several events at Books by the Beach. Pauline says, “Barrie loves his Yorkshire Beer and always looks forward to his pint when he comes over to England”.
Both Alison and Barrie will receive a pack of their own special labelled beers and a set of complimentary tickets to see Omid Djalili at the Spa Theatre, Scarborough on Friday 17 April. Festival authors will also enjoy a taste of William Shakes Beer as a thank you for coming to Scarborough.
Books and Beer – a perfect combination.
Cheers and congratulations to Alison and Barrie!
Lichen and Bees and Natural Navigation
By Peter Guttridge, 13th March 2015
Tristan Gooley, who will be appearing at BBTB on 16 April, has a fascinating website (naturalnavigator.com). On it you can learn such things as how bees can help you predict what the weather is going to be like and how you can use lichen to figure out what direction you’re taking in the wild.
There are loads more such tips in his ‘The Walker’s Guide to Outdoor Clues’ which a few days ago picked up the Country Book of the Year Award from BBC Countryfile magazine.
One of the photos here is lichen and moss on top of a ‘staddle stone’. Such stone posts were used underneath barns to keep them off the ground so that rodents and water couldn’t get in. The golden lichen is Xanthoria, which loves the sun, and the moss needs moisture. So the lichen is growing on the south side of the post to get the most of the sun whilst the moss prefers the north side, partly out of the sun.
But as Tristan points out: ‘The split between the two isn’t perfect. Xanthoria can survive in partial-sun and mosses can survive in direct sun as long as it’s damp. But the brightest colour is on the south – the bottom end – of the post.’
Hear more from him on 16 April.
The Race is On!
By Heather French, 2nd March 2015
The race is on and it looks like Alan Johnson will be first to the finishing line, but he’s closely chased by Mary Portas and Ann Widdecombe…
Discerning diners are eating up tickets for foodie events with Alexander McCall Smith, Rosie Millard and Sophie Hannah…
Ghostly trails in the cemeteries are causing a stir and celebrity papers are hitting the headlines.
Historic anniversaries of Magna Carta and Waterloo are pulling in the crowds and excited explorers are following the stars to meet the natural navigator.
Comedy fans are in hot pursuit of Omid Djalili at the Scarborough Spa Theatre and Wildlife lovers are rushing to hear more about sex in the library….
Film and fiction fans will be first off the starting blocks to greet Barry and Samantha Norman at the opening event.
So pull on your running shoes and join the queue at the Stephen Joseph Theatre Box Office!
Sex In The Library
By Peter Guttridge, 26th Feb 2015
Zoologist Jules Howard is a kind of Bill Bryson of the natural world. But where Bryson is a witty cataloguer of small town eccentricities, Howard prefers to focus on sex among a wide range of animals. He’s the Go-To Guy if you want to know how, say, frogs, flamingos, hedgehogs or stick insects do it – or how some extinct species clearly didn’t do it very well.
His book, Sex On Earth, is a humorous guide to what one reviewer called ‘nature’s red-light district’ – with chapter headings including ‘Yan Guang, Thank You, Ma’am’, ‘Mite of the Living Dead’ and ‘Jurassic Pork’. Although it’s science not smut, if you please.
‘One thousand million years ago, sex happened for the first time,’ he says. ‘And from that moment the world became ever more colourful and bizarre as the desires of males and females collided, generation after generation.’
In his talk at Books By The Beach he’ll be covering the how and why of sex on Earth, taking us on a voyage of discovery of the ins and outs of animal reproduction – with a sideways looks at those most elusive of traits: monogamy and true love.
Books By The Beach Is Already A Bestseller With First Weekend Ticket Sales
By Peter Guttridge, 22nd Feb 2015
The brochures are out, the posters are plastered around town and the tickets for this year’s festival went on sale at the Stephen Joseph Theatre on Saturday 21 February. And the speed with which they sold this weekend eclipsed last year’s impressive opening days.
We know it’s down to the programme – we’re thrilled to the point of being downright conceited with every aspect of it. But it’s even more down to the appetite we know exists among Scarborough’s enthusiastic, book-loving folk for intelligent, entertaining live literature events.
We’ve got so many great crime writers it’s almost an embarrassment of riches for a general book festival but that’s just the way it falls out sometimes. (And, just between us, we had a couple more big names lined up but agreed with them to defer a year to make the most of them.)
So our crime list is a nice who’s who of what’s what in crime fiction at the moment. S J Watson is the hottest psychological thriller writer around since his debut, Before I Go To Sleep, became a worldwide bestseller last year. Sophie Hannah has temporarily moved away from her own psychological thrillers into ‘cosy’ territory – nothing cosier than Monsieur Hercule Poirot … well, except perhaps the much loved novels and stories of Alexander McCall Smith. (But don’t expect blood and gore in Ann Widdecombe’s debut crime novel, Strictly Murder, either.)
Historical crime fiction is covered by Samantha Norman, who has completed her late mother, Ariana Franklin’s unfinished novel, Winter Siege. Then there’s David Hewson and Erin ‘Broadchurch’ Kelly; mega-bestseller Peter James and, in a world class of her own, the great Val McDermid.
And, finally, crimewriters aren’t jealous souls (no, honestly) but they may be excused a certain peevishness when a novelist hitherto unknown for her interest in the genre swans in with one of the best crime novels of last (or any other year). Damn your eyes, Louise Doughty! (And congratulations on the brilliance of Apple Tree Yard.)
Now ordinarily I wouldn’t let any other host near any of these great writers as I’d want to quiz them myself but I recognise even Scarborough audiences can have too much of a good thing (that would be moi – and I am, of course, joking) plus my co-directing duties will be keeping me pretty busy.
So my co-director, Heather French, has insisted we bring in a Big Gun for some of these – in the fine person of our festival friend, Barry Forshaw.
Actors, Politicians and the Queen of Shops
By Peter Guttridge, 2nd Feb 2015
As I’m a movie buff I was aware of Omid Djalili first as a cameo actor in a range of movies – most comically in Gladiator as the Arab trader who is assaulted in a particularly painful way by Oliver Reed because he sold Reed’s character ‘queer giraffes’. (Omid is actually Persian, not Arabic.]
Then I saw his stand-up routine with his interesting perspective on life. And then I interviewed him on stage last August in Edinburgh about his just released autobiography, Hopeful. When I invited him to Scarborough it turned out he loves the town plus was looking forward to a bit of relaxation after months of a stand-up tour.
Meanwhile, my co-director Heather French was in pursuit of Mary Portas, fashion expert and feisty broadcaster, and she heard she’d agreed to come on the same day Alan Johnson MP also confirmed his attendance. The postman who became Chancellor of the Exchequer under Labour – and who was once called ‘the best leader Labour never had’ – will be discussing the second of his autobiographies, Please Mr Postman.
Johnson is, of course, MP for Hull, which is due to be UK’s City of Culture in 2017. We were pleased that Rosie Millard, journalist and broadcaster, who is chairwoman of the organisation running the activities for that year, is also one of our guests.
Military historian Allan Mallinson so enjoyed himself last year, when he made several appearances, he was keen to come back to do some interviewing for us. (Aside from his appearance at Coastival.) He’ll be handling our history events: Magna Carta, the Battle of Waterloo – and The Victorians, an event at which he’ll be interviewing his friend Simon Heffer, the outspoken political commentator.
Is that everybody now? Not even the half of it.
BBTB Is Back – Big Time!
By Peter Guttridge, 15th Jan 2015
Heather French and I are putting the finishing touches to this year’s Books By The Beach and we’ve released a few names and an indication of some events to our great supporter Sue Wilkinson at the Scarborough News today.
We’ll be commemorating the anniversaries of Magna Carta and the Battle of Waterloo. There will be chills in Scarborough Prison again and an Hercule Poirot Dinner in the Town Hall. There’ll be Sex in the Library – sort of – and we’ll be looking at murder on Strictly Come Dancing. (Fictional, that is.)
Crime writers form a strong part of the programme: multi-million selling crime novelist Peter James will be discussing the stage versions of several of his Roy Grace novels; psychological thriller writer Sophie Hannah will be hosting that Poirot Dinner in the Town Hall to link with her new Hercules Poirot novel, The Monogram Murders; and S J Watson will be discussing Second Life, his follow-up to worldwide bestseller Before I Go To Sleep, with novelist Louise Doughty, whose own foray into crime fiction, Apple Tree Yard, was a major success last year. (Am I the only one who thought Nicole Kidman horribly miscast in the film of Before I Go To Sleep?)
As for murderous moves on the dance floor, that’s courtesy of Ann Widdecombe, former MP best know these days for her appearance on Strictly Come Dancing. She will be discussing her debut crime novel, Dancing Detective.
2015 marks the anniversary of two major events in British history – the signing of Magna Carta by King John in 1215 and the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 – and Books By The Beach will be remembering both. King John visited Scarborough on at least four occasions and put in motion various refurbishments to the castle. It has always intrigued me that Richard the Lionheart, who was a pretty lousy king, has a good reputation, and King John, on the whole an able administrator, has a bad one. The Robin Hood stories have a lot to answer for.
One of the coups of the festival is an event with Helen Boaden, Director of BBC, Radio, focussing on radio and storytelling. The award-winning broadcaster has strong local links.
We’re thrilled our local sponsors are back with us for a second year. They include Boyes and Wold Top Brewery. Bestseller Beer will return. But there’s also a competition in the pipeline linked to a “literary beer” that Heather and I will be announcing soon.
Once again the festival wouldn’t be possible without the support in kind of the town council and the county council library service. The majority of events will take place in the library’s magnificent concert hall but we’ll be revisiting the Town Hall and the Prison – plus another unlikely but very exciting venue we’ll be talking about soon.
There are more big names and events to be announced in due course and tickets will be on sale in a few weeks but further details will become available here, on the festival Facebook Page and on Twitter (@scarboroughbook).
As for Sex in the Library – all will be revealed – so to speak!
February Event – Allan Mallinson
Allan Mallinson, best selling historian.
Literary Lunch at The Crescent Hotel, Scarborough.
Saturday 14th February, 1-3pm
Tickets Available at The Crescent Hotel or online from Coastival.com
Event hosted by Heather French
We are delighted to be working with partner festival ‘Coastival’ on 14th February. Their theme is ‘Back In Time’ and we’re organising a Literary Lunch with special guest ALLAN MALLINSON. Allan is one of Britain’s foremost military historians and defence commentators. He served for thirty-five years in the army worldwide, and in key policy branches of the MoD.
He began writing while still serving, first a history of the regiment he commanded, and then the Matthew Hervey series chronicling the life of a fictitious officer in the cavalry before and after Waterloo. Very topical as 2015 is of course 200th anniversary of Waterloo…
Allan left the army in 2004 as a brigadier to write full time. He contributes to the BBC’s Today programme and regularly reviews for The Times, The Spectator and The Literary Review. Currently he writes a monthly chronicle of the First World War in The Times.
His latest book, 1914: FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT – Britain, the Army, and the Coming of the First World War, was shortlisted for the Duke of Westminster’s Medal for Military Literature, and has just won the army “book of the year” award.
Come along and share lunch with Allan on Saturday 14th February at The Crescent Hotel, Scarborough.
Tickets are available from The Crescent Hotel (tel 01723 360929) or online at Coastival.com
Ticket price includes a delicious 3 course lunch followed by tea/coffee. Books will be on sale and Allan will be available for signing after lunch. This is an informal event in a relaxed setting. Places are limited so hurry to get your tickets for that special Valentine’s Day treat!
– Heather French
Books By The Beach: The Final Round-Up
By Peter Guttridge, 9th May 2014
From Joanne Harris explaining the pleasures of running pursued by zombies to Jo Nesbo demonstrating a phone app of different fart noises, the first Books By The Beach was full of the unexpected.
The weather wasn’t kind but that didn’t matter – if nothing else our enthusiastic audiences could get in out of the rain. Indeed, the sea frets on Friday were a bonus for our Gothic dinner in the Town Hall: the sight of top-hatted and flame-haired Victorian vampires emerging from the mist to enter the 175 year old building was quite something.
The Ghosts and Ghouls events in the Victorian prison was quite something too. Cold? You bet. Damp? Probably. Atmospheric? Unbelievably. Greta Scacchi’s reading of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell Tale Heart was a tour de force and held the audience enthralled. However, her co-reader, author David Stuart Davies, more than held his own with bewitching versions of his own ghost stories.
Meanwhile Kate Adie, Lucy Worsley, Peter Snow, Jim Naughtie and Sally Magnusson all showed that broadcasters can deliver the goods on stage too. Former head of Special Branch Roger Pearce was terrific in his Spying Game event with Mr Naughtie and ace spywriter Charles Cumming – especially given it was Roger’s first ever festival event.
Margaret Drabble was a delight on and off stage. She sat in on Joanna Trollope and Jo Baker’s Jane Austen event and one of David Taylor’s two magnificent talks about Stanley Spencer in the art gallery – and she sat in Scarborough Flare’s story chair to spin a yarn or two.
I loved this comment on stage from rock journo Mark Ellen: ‘There are two types of people when it comes to Van Morrison: those who like him and those who’ve met him.’ He and the other Mark – Billingham – were a riot together, despite an exhausting road journey from London that took eight hours because a lorry caught fire on the M25 and shut it down. Still, it gave them the chance to listen in the car, in random order, to every Beatles song, which they did. So now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall.
Our new chair-people did sterling work. Margaret Drabble, Jo Baker and Joanna Trollope shone even more brightly thanks to the insightful questions of Steven Gale. Alan Mallinson ensured Charles and Roger could get a word in edgeways on stage with the wonderfully loquacious Jim Naughtie and Barry Forshaw kept the newspaper reviewers and the beach-reading panel in line on Sunday.
Allan explained the origins of the Great War and those all important first thirty days with clarity and authority in his own event, one of four dealing with the 1914-1918 conflict. (Allan, a Yorkshire-man has strong links with Scarborough and stayed on after the festival to explore the Wolds for a couple of days.) And Barry provided an amuse bouche of horrific film moments for his lunch guests at the Gothic cinema literary lunch.
Probably the liveliest (and latest) night occurred on Saturday in the Crescent Hotel after the last event was over. Most of that day’s guests and several of those appearing on Sunday (including just arrived Paul Pickering) converged on the bar for animated conversation – and, of course, a few pints of our Wold Top Bestseller beer.
Our volunteers were fab, whether selling books and beer, waiting on table at the Gothic dinner, fetching and carrying a bizarre range of things (not including the authors) or looking after our audiences. Our audiences weren’t bad either.
Joanne Harris opened the festival. She came to talk primarily about Norse mythology but diverted off to explain about the app she uses to encourage herself to run – an app in which she is pursued by zombies. Somehow it made sense at the time. As did Jo Nesbo at our last event in the Spa when he brought up an app on his phone and put the phone against his microphone so we could all hear the range of fart noises the app provided. It was linked to his children’s books about Doctor Proctor and his Fart Powder but perhaps you had to be there. But then, if you weren’t there – why not?
The Vampire film that wouldn’t die
By Peter Guttridge, Friday 18 April
In 1916, whilst fighting for the German Army in the Balkans, architect and artist Albin Grau was told by a Serbian farmer that the farmer’s father was a vampire and one of the Undead. Grau was also an occultist studying alchemy, astrology and mysticism. (He was later a founder member of Fraternitas Saturni, Germany’s most influential occult group.)
After the war, Grau formed Prana film to produce movies devoted to the occult. (Prana is ‘breath-as-life’ in yoga and Buddhism.) His first (and, it turned out, last) film, however, was inspired by his encounter with the Serbian farmer and his reading of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror, directed by the great German expressionist F W Murnau and starring the extraordinary Max Schreck as the vampire, was released in 1922. Grau was largely responsible for the film’s look. (Several of his storyboards are reproduced on this page.)
Nosferatu was an unauthorised adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel. Since he didn’t have permission to film Dracula Grau changed the names of all the characters (Dracula became Orlock, Jonathan Harker became Hutter etc) and set the film in Germany, not England. (It was filmed in the Carpathians and several Baltic towns.) Director Murnau already had experience filming unauthorised adaptations of horror classics. A couple of years before he had directed The Janus Head (now, alas, lost), a version of Jekyll and Hyde, intriguingly featuring Bela Lugosi, later to become Hollywood’s most famous Dracula.
When the film came out Florence, Bram Stoker’s widow, immediately sued. Grau declared bankruptcy to avoid paying her anything but the court ruled that all copies of the film should be destroyed. One survived and the film became – and remains – a cult.
Werner Herzog paid homage to it with his own version, Nosferatu: Phantom of the Night, in 1979, starring Klaus Kinski as Dracula. Kinski reportedly had his two front teeth filed into points for neck-biting purposes and Herzog imported 12,000 rats from Hungary to Delft in the Netherlands and let them loose in the city for a scene about the plague coming to town. (Nosferatu means ‘plague-carrier’.) He had no means of catching the rats again.
John Malkovich played F W Murnau and Willem Dafoe played Max Schreck/Count Orlock in Shadow of The Vampire (2000) a clever account of the making of the original film. The twist is that Schreck is an actual vampire hired by Murnau to bring total realism to the film. Schreck wreaks havoc on the cast and crew and only Murnau survives.
Far-fetched maybe but Schreck’s name translates as ‘terror’, he was in real life an eccentric loner – and no photo of him out of make-up exists…
Whilst you’re having your pre-dinner drink at our Gothic festival dinner, as an amuse-bouche we’ll be screening clips from these movies plus excerpts from other silent horror classics such as The Phantom Carriage, Vampyr and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari.
Friday 25 April, 7.30pm Gothic Festival Dinner Tickets £28.
Your Favourite Beach Read?
By Peter Guttridge, Monday 14 April
Tender Is The Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s other masterpiece, should be the ultimate beach read. After all, the main characters, Dick and Nicole Diver, began life based on the real-life expat American couple, The Murphys, who in 1923 invented sunbathing and, by extension, beach reading.
In 1921 Gerald and Sara Murphy moved to Paris from New York City. Wealthy yet bohemian – Gerald was a pretty decent Cubist painter – they gathered round them fellow expat Americans such as Scott and Zelda, Hemingway and Cole Porter, alongside Stravinsky, Picasso, Cocteau and Fernand Leger.
In the summer of 1923 the Murphys went to Cap D’Antibes on the French Riviera. It was deserted because it was too hot for the fashionable people who wintered there. Actually, fashionable people avoided the full glare of the sun altogether: for centuries the dictum had been ‘the whiter the skin the better the breeding’.
But the Murphys persuaded the Hotel du Cap to stay open so they could have summer on the beach with their friends. The season over they bought a villa along the coast and stayed permanently.
Until the Murphys came along, lying in the sun just for the pleasure of it was pretty much unknown. However, their beach picnics were quickly emulated. Coco Chanel paid a visit and returned to Paris with a tan soon copied by her acolytes. Then an enterprising French chemist produced a sun oil so that sun lovers could cook rather than just tan.
Reading books on the beach became much easier after Allen Lane began the paperback revolution in 1935, launching Penguin with Andre Maurois’ Ariel. Four years later, Simon & Schuster in the US launched Pocket Books with James Hilton’s Lost Horizon.
Sun-bathing took off in every European and American coastal town, including Scarborough. But what to do whilst roasting on the beach? Read, of course. (In Scarborough’s case whilst sheltering behind that all-important wind-break – goose-bumps don’t go well with a good read.)
These days, the paperbacks we most commonly read on the beach are, to use a technical term, trash. A book you can put down for snooze, swim or sex on the beach and pick up without having lost the plot. High concept, big stories, big emotions written in Capital Letters. (As Sex on the Beach should be written since it’s the name of a cocktail. Sorry.)
But we read other things too. Chocolat, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and Eat, Pray, Love have all topped beach reading lists at various times.
On Sunday 27 April at 3pm novelist Paul Pickering, historian Lucy Worsley and film and crime fiction expert Barry Forshaw will be revealing their favourite beach reading. You might be surprised by their choices.
Getting the hump
By Peter Guttridge, Saturday 12 April
It’s three in the morning in the Royal Pavilion, Brighton. Sir Ian McKellen, twisted and limping in a Thirties lounge suit, is accompanying Maggie Smith and movie stars Annette Bening and Robert Downey Jnr through a door which actually leads into a broom cupboard but, thanks to the magic of film, on the cinema screen leads out onto the grand staircase of the St Pancras Hotel, London.
It’s 1995 and McKellan is filming (with director Richard Loncraine) Richard Eyre’s magnificent Thirties-set National Theatre version of Shakespeare’s Richard III. I’m on the set as a film journalist. [If you have too much time on your hands you can read the archived feature that resulted here]
McKellan explains to me during a break in shooting that he is being true to Shakespeare and that therefore means his Richard is twisted and crippled with a withered arm as a physical representation of the character’s twisted and evil character. (Although there’s only a token hump on his left shoulder.)
But that’s Shakespeare for you. He’s hardly going to present Richard otherwise given he’s writing whilst the Tudors, the family that stole Richard’s crown, are still on the throne.
Philippa Langley, who is coming to Scarborough to discuss discovering Richard’s burial place in a Leicester car park, always saw him differently. In keeping with decades of revisionist historians she believed that Richard’s bad character and physical deformities were entirely Tudor propaganda, one of the more striking examples of history being written by the victors.
The argument has gone that although Richard only ruled for two years (1483-1485) he made some wise laws. And he could not have been so deformed since during the Wars of the Roses, aged only 18, he was known as a warrior who excelled in the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury. (And at the fatal Bosworth Field he died charging the field in an attempt to kill Henry Tudor and end the battle.)
But anyone who saw the TV documentary about the discovery of his grave will have seen Philippa’s crestfallen look when the skeleton showed that Richard did indeed have curvature of the spine. However, whilst that means he suffered from idiopathic adolescent scoliosis that doesn’t mean he couldn’t function normally and as a warrior. Or kill the Princes in the Tower… but that’s another story.
The King’s Grave with Philippa Langley and Michael Jones is at 10am Saturday 26 April in Scarborough Library Concert Hall
By David Stuart Davies, Monday 7 April
Like one that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head:
Because he knows a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The ghost story is one of the earliest forms of literature. It survives and succeeds because we like being frightened – within the safe environment of a story. The art of writing ghost stories is refined and specialised, unlike horror fiction here where gratuitous descriptions of blood and gore are the raison d’ệtre. The ghost story is more subtle and aims at creating unnerving shivers down the spine rather than stomach churning shocks.
Montague Rhodes James (1862-1936) was the master of the ghost story. Even today, his stories provide creepy and disturbing moments of sheer spooky delight. M. R. James was able, with gentle cunning, to draw his readers into a narrative that at first seems innocuous, but which grows darker and darker until he transfixes you with his prose, creating the most unforgettable, alarming and frightening images. What begins as a mildly disturbing dream becomes a nightmare. He does this by implication and suggestion. It is as though we see the terrors through a distorting mirror. James forms a partnership with the readers who create their own chilling images, embellishing what has only been hinted at in the story. James knew that there is nothing more frightening than our own imagination.
At only eighteen, James wrote in the Eton college magazine: ‘Everyone can remember a time when he has carefully searched his curtains – and poked in the dark corner of his rooms before retiring to rest – with a sort of pleasurable uncertainty as to whether there might not be a saucer-eyed skeleton or a skinny-sheeted ghost in hiding somewhere.’
It is that ‘pleasurable uncertainty’ which is the key to all successful ghost stories. And that’s what you can expect in the Ghosts and Ghouls in the Gloom and Ghosts and Ghouls by Gaslight. Greta Scacchi and I will provide you with a selection of classic chills along with some new ones. We aim to provide you with a grisly pot pourri of dark imaginings.
I shall also be reading from my forthcoming book The Hallowe’en Mask and Other Strange Tales (so it will be a kind of spooky premiere). I attempt to inject into my ghost stories that unexpected twist at the end so that not only have I raised your goose pimples but also your eyebrows in chilled surprise.
By Peter Guttridge, Saturday 5 April
I’ve been acquainted with Greta Scacchi for a while. We first met when, as a film journalist, I went to interview her at her lovely Elizabethan farmhouse, hidden down miles of narrow Sussex lanes on the South Downs. Problem was, the film company had messed up the schedule: as I was arriving, she was leaving.
She was driving up to London for a theatre party. She suggested I go as her guest and we do the interview on the way. So she drove me to London in her big old Mercedes and told me funny, sometimes wonderfully indiscreet stories about her co-stars and directors.
I was in film buff heaven. By that stage she’d already acted with the cream of British acting, from Laurence Olivier, James Mason and Vanessa Redgrave through to Alan Rickman and Charles Dance. She’d done small films with quirky actors like Jeff Goldblum, Gabriel Byrne and Eric Roberts, brother of the more famous Julia. (She hadn’t taken to Eric.)
She’d done her Hollywood bit, playing, most famously, opposite Harrison Ford in Presumed Innocent, and as part of the stellar ensemble in Robert Altman’s The Player. Altman is just one of the great directors she’s worked for. Given she speaks more languages than is, frankly, decent, many of them have been brilliant but rather obscure Europeans unknown to anyone but film nerds like me. (She’s half English, half-Italian and speaks fluent Italian, German, French and Spanish. She was brought up in Australia so can also produce a fine Aussie twang when required.)
What endeared her to me most, however, was that she did a totally unexpected impersonation of Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple that still cracks me up when I think about it.
Since then she’s done dozens more films and a lot of theatre. Terence Rattigan seems to suit her but a couple of years ago I saw her ‘do’ a convincing Bette Davis on stage opposite an equally impressive Anita Dobson as Joan Crawford in a great little play about their legendary rivalry.
She hasn’t done much television, although she guest-starred on a Marple playing Tuppence Beresford, one of Agatha Christie’s other amateur sleuths. She made her original TV debut in a long-ago episode of Bergerac and John Nettles was keen to have her appear in his final episode of Midsomer Murders but she was in the middle of filming something new: presenting a Sky arts series filmed in the great galleries of Europe. The irony was that none of the Eastern European crew spoke English and for once she had no clue what they were saying.
‘I could have been talking gibberish about these paintings for all they knew,’ she said. ‘In fact, I probably was.’
No chance of gibberish when she appears at Books By The Beach on Saturday 26 April. And as her interviewer, I promise I’ll keep the nerdiness to a minimum.
By Peter Guttridge, Thursday 3 April
Sadly, posterity won’t remember James ‘Jim’ Naughtie for what he’s best at. Not for his distinguished career as a political broadcaster and print journalist with an impressive side-line in opera and literature. Nor for his novels, the first of which, The Madness of July, is the reason he’s visiting Scarborough in April. No, he’ll be remembered for an embarrassing spoonerism in 2010.
Giving the post of Culture Secretary to someone called Hunt – in this case, Jeremy Hunt – was a blooper just waiting to happen. And one morning, alone in the Today studio, Jim Naughtie accidentally obliged, to the vast amusement of most of his listeners (and the horror of a few).
Naughtie was ‘trailing’ an interview with ‘Jeremy Hunt, Culture Secretary’ when he put the C in the wrong place. Listeners then heard a kind of strangled throat-clearing as he tried to hold down the hysterical laughter welling up in him. He coughed to disguise it but that came out as a splutter. It was made worse for him because he had immediately to read the 8am news whilst trying not to choke on his laughter.
He recently told Scotland’s Daily Record: ‘I was convulsed with a mixture of hilarity and horror. I got out of the studio and walked pathetically up to the editor who was sitting in his chair. I said, “That didn’t go out, did it?” He just pointed at his computer screen and the emails were rolling in so fast the page was just going up and up.’
His friend, the military historian and historical novelist, Allan Mallinson, will be chairing the event Naughtie is doing with Charles Cumming and Roger Pearce on Saturday evening then sharing the Sunday Papers panel with him on Sunday morning. Does he expect Mallinson to bring up the spoonerism?
‘Probably,’ he told me when I did an event with him in a London bookshop a few weeks ago. ‘I am asked about it most days and certainly at book festivals, where very proper older ladies tell me they were listening and have never laughed so much.
Whilst in no way condoning vulgar spoonerisms – accidental or otherwise – it would be remiss of me not to give the link to the broadcast in case you haven’t heard it…
Scarborough Dungeon Reveals Shocking Link Between Bronte Sisters and Dracula
By Peter Guttridge, Tuesday 1 April
I made a startling discovery last week in a dank dungeon in Scarborough’s Victorian prison. In a slender folder labelled ‘Correspondence’ I found a cache of a dozen letters from 1878, the year the prison closed, between Bram Stoker, creator of Dracula, and Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Wyatt, the last governor of the prison.
Put together with a handful of letters in the same folder between the Governor and Richard Stout, the town’s Chief of Constabulary, they tell an extraordinary story and overturn all conventional theories about the creation of Stoker’s 1897 novel.
They also show Anne Bronte, who died of consumption in Scarborough in 1849 and was buried by her sister Charlotte in St Mary’s churchyard, in an alarming light.
The folder was on a shelf crammed with files in a cell in the basement of the prison. Heather French and I were exploring in advance of the festival events we’re holding there. Heather doesn’t do what she calls ‘fusty dusty’ so she moved along. Me, I like fusty-dusty.
In the first letter Bram Stoker was thanking Lieutenant-Colonel Wyatt for a dinner that took place in the Governor’s residence in a gateway tower of the prison. The dinner was also attended by Wybert Reeve, the owner of the town’s Georgian Theatre Royal.
I was familiar with Stoker’s association with Whitby in the early 1890s but not that he had visited Scarborough so early. I discovered later that he was on honeymoon in the town in 1878 and that his father-in-law, Lieutenant-Colonel James Balcombe, had provided a letter of introduction to Lieutenant-Colonel Wyatt, with whom he had served in the Crimea. I also discovered that Stoker knew Wybert Reeve from the occasions when he brought the actor Henry Irving north to perform at the Theatre Royal.
In this first letter Stoker expressed gratitude for ‘the astounding stories’ Wyatt had told him ‘of the town and the gaol’s inmates’. As I read through the dozen letters I realised just how astounding these stories were.
I had always understood Stoker had been inspired to write Dracula by stories he heard in the 1880s and 1890s about the Carpathian mountains from Hungarian writer and traveller, Armin Vambery. However, the letters made it apparent that inspiration had come in 1878 and from real people and events in Scarborough.
Of the people, one of only twelve female prisoners in Wyatt’s jail was a Mina Harker, the name Stoker used for the woman with whom Dracula becomes obsessed. Another prisoner was a John Retford, who was kept in a cell away from the other prisoners because of his disruptive behaviour. Aside from a similar name, Retford shared with the novel’s Renfield a diet of flies, spiders and birds eaten raw.
The real events, discussed in three letters from Richard Stout, the Chief of Constabulary, were as macabre as Stoker’s novel. The letters refer to decades of inexplicable disappearances and attacks on the vulnerable in Scarborough old town and around the harbour. In each case the victim was bitten in the neck. Rumours were rife of a pale woman descending from a churchyard near the castle to stalk her prey.
The police had been slow to make a link between the different attacks because of the time span but had cottoned on in 1878. Only two weeks before the dinner the woman had been sighted down by the harbour in the middle of the night. Police had trailed her back to St Mary’s graveyard. According to Stout, at first dawn the woman had been ‘dealt with in the recommended manner’.
Stout didn’t name her but described a woman in her late twenties who had ‘apparently’ died of consumption in 1849. (He wondered if her coughing up blood before her ‘death’ had a more hideous cause than the illness.)
Obviously my first thought was Anne Bronte. The date, the graveyard and the illness all fit. But this was a bombshell that would horrify the legion of Bronte Sister fans around the world. I left messages with the Bronte Museum in Haworth and the Bronte Society. My calls were not returned.
I began to wonder about the real causes of Bramwell and Emily Bronte’s deaths in Haworth in 1848. I pondered over why Charlotte insisted on taking Anne eighty miles away from her home to Scarborough when Anne was apparently near death; why Charlotte insisted Anne be buried in Scarborough and not back in Haworth where the rest of the family was buried; and I wondered why, after Anne’s ‘death’ she refused to allow republication of Anne’s 1847 novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.
But I’ve decided it’s not my job to speculate. The only way to quell the uproar that will follow the publication of the letters is the opening of Anne Bronte’s grave in St Mary’s churchyard. An exhumation isn’t necessary – lifting the coffin lid would suffice. After all, a stake through the heart is difficult to miss.
Don’t Underestimate Your Audience
Guest Blogger Barry Forshaw on watching what he says at his British Gothic Cinema literary lunch in Scarborough
When I’ve talked in the past about crime fiction or films to university students, I’ve learned that it’s sometimes a mistake to expect that they will have heard of names which are bread-and-butter to me, so I now tell them who some famous names were. But that cautious filling-in could lead me into a risky area: talking down to my audience. And it’s something I’ve learned to avoid. Case in point? The literary lunch I did at Scarborough a couple of years ago, built around my books British Crime Film and The Rough Guide to Crime Fiction. As the wine flowed, I quickly realised that the diners present – a very lively crowd – knew exactly who and what I was talking about most of the time, which in fact made the whole thing much more fun — like a conversation over dinner with friends, in fact. But can I assume a similar knowledge of the field at this year’s lunch in April, which centres on my new book British Gothic Cinema? Whatever most people think of horror films, they’ve usually seen one or two — and are certainly familiar with the great (and menacing) stars of the genre, from Boris Karloff to Christopher Lee, and from Vincent Price to Peter Cushing. So I’m hoping that I can keep these giants at the centre of my chat (while not forgetting current things in the field of blood-chilling). But should I try to avoid too much gruesome content as people are tucking into their beef Wellington?
Whether or not I avoid grisly detail, I might use a tactic that’s standard for me in the crime field: personal anecdotes from actors and directors I’ve met; I have not quite so many personal stories in the horror genre (certainly fewer than in the crime field), but I’ve still acquired a few choice ones.
I have one luxury this time: I can breathe more easily now that the book is well on its way. Most writers would tell you that they are nervous for those first few reviews, but the first two that have appeared for British Gothic Cinema were upbeat. The Times described it as ‘a celebration of the U.K.’s horror film industry… Forshaw traces the genre from the 40s through such films as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Witchfinder General, 28 days Later and Kill List. Vampires, werewolves and spectres abound. And of course there’s the rise of the Hammer Studios from the coffin of obscurity’; the strapline read: ‘Ketchup with your popcorn; Roger Lewis applauds a red-blooded history of British horror film’.
The Express said:
‘As usual the British are being very bad at honouring their truly great men, so hats off to Barry Forshaw, who in British Gothic Cinema describes what we are in fact best at, which isn’t men riding camels against desert sunsets… but circuses of horror, houses that dripped blood, and beasts in cellars. The scary moments still carry a charge in the 21st century,’ we are assured. The secret of the box office success was sex. If ever a frigid Victorian bluestocking found herself in a cardboard Carpathian castle, in no time at all she’d become ‘a sexually voracious monster usually played by Ingrid Pitt. Generous displays of female cleavage were essential, as were topless serving wenches and interpolations of sadomasochism. This being the era of cheap package holidays, the films are almost warnings about why the British oughtn’t to travel abroad as they’ll only meet a sinister, possibly enjoyable, fate.
‘As the chief characteristic of Gothic cinema is the eroticism, the melding of kissing and biting — ultimately the proximity of love and death — Forshaw traces the roots of the genre back to 19th century poems and novels with their fondness for graveyards, gibbets, torture chambers and women in white lost in storms.’
I’ve just got to make sure that I can spread a little of the goodwill of those reviews among those I meet at the Scarborough lit lunch – and keep the bloodshed down to modest levels…
Barry’s British Gothic lunch is on 26 April:
ELLEN AND BILLINGHAM: THE TWO MARKS
By Best-selling Crime Writer Mark Billingham, Thursday 27 March
I first met Mark Ellen a few years ago. We were introduced by mutual friends and hit it off immediately and not just because we shared a name and were both married to wonderful women called Claire. Though these things helped. We shared a love of football and food, but above all of course, music. Mark was kind enough to invite me on to a podcast for his fabulous magazine The Word where we talked about everything from my detective’s love of country music to terrible Beatles songs (there are only three according to Mark and I’m certainly not going to argue).
I had known Mark for far longer of course. Because I had read Smash Hits and the NME, because I had been an avid viewer of The Old Grey Whistle Test and because, like almost everyone else on the planet, I had watched Live Aid. One of the best things about being his friend (and there are many) is that I get to hear some of his amazing stories about all these aspects of his life and now readers can enjoy them too thanks to his fantastic memoir Rock Stars Stole My Life.
Mark will be talking to me about his book in Scarborough as part of the Books By The Beach Festival on April 24th and it tells you a lot about both of us that one of the things we are most excited about is what music we will be listening to on our long drive from London. Both of us will of course be spending many hours making playlists and the majority of the journey will doubtless be spent discussing the various choices and sundry related topics. Which was the best Everley Brothers album? Is Van Morrison as miserable as he seems? Tell me again about that time you saw Lady Gaga naked!
That sort of thing…
I have been lucky enough to attend more than a few concerts with Mark and I never cease to be amazed at his genuine and hugely infectious enthusiasm for music and musicians. This is someone who has forgotten more gigs than most of us will ever see, but he is someone for whom the show he saw yesterday was every bit as exciting as the one forty years ago. Far too many who work as critics and journalists become cynical, but Mark is most definitely not one of them. He remains, above all else, a fan and that comes across on every page of his book. Our event in Scarborough is one you will not want to miss, because I can guarantee that Mark is every bit as charming and entertaining in person as he is on the page.
He might even tell that Lady Gaga story…
By Peter Guttridge, Tuesday 24 March
Picture this. Indian Army soldiers in their summer uniforms come from the sweltering heat of the Punjab and Uttar Pradesh to fight a terrible new kind of war on the Western Front in the freezing winter of 1914. Indian academic Santanu Das recalls their sufferings in this alien setting in our event Aspects of War.
We knew we wanted to commemorate the start of the First World War in Books By The Beach but, faced with a barrage of works on the subject, looked for unusual and little known angles. We found enough for four events: Aspects of War; Women in World War One; Stanley Spencer: Heaven in a Hell of War; and The Coming of The Great War.
For Aspects of War, Santanu is joined by Emily Mayhew, whose book, Wounded, is on the shortlist for the Wellcome Book Prize. Among other things in her book she celebrates the bravery and achievements of stretcher-bearers.
Meanwhile, back in Blighty, airship raids brought death, destruction and psychological terror to civilian populations. Often wildly inaccurate – bombs dropped on Hull were intended for London – raids sometimes caused mass casualties because people came out onto the streets to watch the airships go over. Roderick Bailey completes the panel with his look at that aerial bombardment.
Kate Adie sees the war from the perspective of women in her book Fighting on the Home Front: The Legacy of Women in World War One. She’ll be talking about the way women stepped into the breach back home – and debunking some myths about what they could and couldn’t do.
The Great War was captured on film in photos and moving images but the government still employed official war artists. The inimitable Stanley Spencer was one of them but his paintings were not what you might expect – perhaps unsurprisingly. We’re pleased that art expert David Taylor is coming to talk about Spencer’s paintings of off-duty soldiers going about their mundane daily business.
And, finally, historians have many theories about the causes of the war but we decided to go to the top. Canadian academic Margaret Macmillan’s The War That Ended Peace is pretty much the last word. The last word but not quite the whole story. Military historian Allan Mallinson’s 1914: Fight The Good Fight overlaps to a degree but also looks at whether war was inevitable and at ‘what might have been’ in those vital early weeks of war. Together they make an unassailable pair.
I never drink…wine
By Peter Guttridge, Saturday 21 March
But we hope you will, even if Dracula doesn’t. Wine will be served to accompany your three course meal on Friday 25 April at our Gothic Literary Dinner in the spooky corridors of Scarborough Town Hall. Just to reassure you, we’re not expecting our guests to dress up as Dracula or someone from Twilight – though if you choose to you’ll be made most welcome (and may win a small prize).
But we’ll have a few silent horror movie delights screening in the background as you have your pre-dinner drink and Lynn Shepherd, our guest speaker, will be reminding you of the shivery delights of the world’s most famous vampire novel after the meal.
The line ‘I never drink…wine’ does not appear in Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, Dracula, but is original to the 1931 film version, starring Bela Lugosi as the title character. Just thought I’d share that.
The ghostly goings-on we planned for Sunday 27 April in the evening at Scarborough’s Victorian prison – Ghosts & Ghouls By Gaslight – has sold out so quickly we’ve decided to turn the afternoon ghost-story writing workshop into a matinee performance of the evening event. It will be gloomy rather than gas-lit, as it’s still daylight, and wine is not included so the tickets are cheaper than in the evening.
Tickets are £7 and the event starts at 2.30pm. Check for further details with the Tourist Information Centre.
Books By The Beach Needs You!
By Heather French, Thursday 20 March
We have a lot of great authors coming to town at the end of April and we need your help looking after them – and their sizeable audiences, since tickets are selling like hot cakes. We’re pleased that we already have a dozen volunteers who know the ropes from previous experiences at the Library’s Literature Festival but we need more.
We need enthusiastic, friendly folk to play an invaluable part in the smooth running of the new festival. The work is varied but fun, involving ticket-taking, seat-coordinating, drink-serving and a myriad of other duties, including a little fetching and carrying. Plus looking after your favourite authors, of course.
Most of the events are in Scarborough Library Concert Hall but we’re also looking for volunteers to help in the Art Gallery, at the Gothic Dinner in the Town Hall and in spooky Scarborough prison.
Cheryl Siddons is going to be coordinating our volunteers and she’s holding two drop in sessions in Scarborough Library: this Saturday (22 March) and Tuesday, 1 April for anyone who wants to sign up or just find out more about what’s involved. The one on 22 March is from 10am to 12 noon; the one on 1 April is 2pm to 4pm.
If you have any immediate questions contact her at email@example.com.
By Peter Guttridge, Tuesday 18 March
As she was born in a sweet shop, it’s no surprise that food is at the heart of Joanne Harris’s work. She’s coming to Scarborough primarily to talk about her new novel based on the Norse myths but, don’t be fooled, as her inquisitor I’ll be asking about the recipes in her other new book – The Little Book of Chocolat – written in collaboration with Fran Warde.
Chocolat, her best-selling novel that also made a delicious film starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp, is still the book she is best known for although she has written many terrific works of fiction since. She doesn’t seem to mind (her name on Twitter is, after all, @joannechocolat).
Joanne won’t remember but we shared the same literary agent at the time of Chocolat’s publication. Her name was Serafina. (She had a last name too but that’s not relevant.) Serafina had got me a nice UK book deal for my debut comic novel but was having trouble selling it abroad. ‘Comedy doesn’t translate,’ Serafina would say to me, before telling me excitedly how she’d just sold Chocolat into twenty more, increasingly unlikely, territories. (I’m sure they included Antarctica and Mars but that might be my faulty memory.)
Envious? Moi? Not in the least – no, honestly – because Chocolat is one of those inspired, inimitable books that don’t come along often. And the recipes in The Little Book of Chocolat are fab.
And We’re Off!
By Heather French, Friday 14 March
Tickets went on sale on Thursday 14 March for Books By The Beach and there were queues round the block to buy tickets at the Tourist Information Office. (Sorry if you had to wait a while!) And my co-director, Peter Guttridge, and I were very pleased to get a tweet of support from The Mayor, among many others wishing us well.
If you’ll excuse the racing analogy (because the Cheltenham Races seem to be all over the press this week) Jo Nesbo took an early lead in ticket sales – but then to fill the Spa he has more ground to cover than anyone else – whilst Kate Adie, Joanne Harris, Peter Snow, Jim Naughtie, Joanna Trollope, Margaret Drabble and Lucy Worsley are all running neck and neck.
Actually, every single event has sold tickets, which on a first day is, apparently, quite remarkable. Please help spread the word – tweet it you twitterers – we have a lot more tickets to sell. And come along, of course!
Peter and I have a friendly bet on about which event will sell-out first between Peter Snow’s ‘Burning Down The (White) House’ and Irving Finkel’s ‘The Ark Before The Flood’. I’m going for the ever popular Mr Snow, who I see as an odds-on favourite, but Peter insists that, despite longer odds, the subject matter of Dr Finkel’s event means he’ll come up on the outside to pip the broadcaster to the post.
Whoever wins it will be candy floss all round!
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and…Crime. Jo Nesbo in Scarborough.
By Peter Guttridge, Tuesday 11 March
Yes, Books By The Beach is providing Scarborough Fair, Unfair and positively Foul. Fictionally speaking, that is. Heather French, my partner in crime in programming the new Scarborough Book Festival, said a couple of months ago: ‘We should try for Jo Nesbo, you know. He’d go down really well in Scarborough.’
And everywhere else, I thought. In my hosting duties at other book festivals around the country I’ve been lucky enough to interview Norway’s most famous export on four occasions in the past couple of years. And from small-ish beginnings at the Cheltenham Festival in front of an audience of fewer than 100 people I’ve seen those audiences grow exponentially until at the Bloody Scotland crime festival in Stirling last autumn he entertained an audience of around 800 people.
His phenomenal rise is well-deserved and I can tell you – because I finished reading an advance proof of it over the weekend – his new novel, The Son, is his best yet.
Heather and I are so pleased Jo and his publisher opted for us when they were choosing where to go for the northern leg of his brief promotional tour. We hope you are too.