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Jun 29

Sidmouth Literary Festival By Wendy Breckon

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June 19th – 20th 

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The eye catching poster in front of me spelt out ‘Sun, Sea and Books,’ so I couldn’t resist a visit to the very first Sidmouth Literary Festival, sponsored by Winstone’s Indie Bookshops.

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This event was brilliantly organised by Diana Bowerman and Jane Bidder,  the writer in residence, (aka Sophie King and Janey Morris) .

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If you haven’t been to this delightful Regency town in East Devon, jump in the car now, (OK… maybe needs a bit of planning).  If it’s seagull chasing, dipping your sandy toes in the sea, or strolling along the promenade with an ice cream that might be bigger than yourself … just do it!

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As I clambered up the steps to Kennaway house, past the blue stripy deckchairs and the fluttering bunting, the excitement was rising.

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There were many fascinating people in the programme, such as Terry Waite who delivered an inspirational talk and Christine Lee (sister of Jennifer Worth of BBC TV’s Call the Midwife) discussing her memoir. For me though, meeting Fay Weldon was an unexpected delight. I was fortunate to have lunch and a bit of a natter with her and her close friend Rose Harte. In the 1970’s as an English Literature student, the memory of our group mulling over one of Fay’s stories with a sharpened pencil, dissecting her wit and wisdom has stayed with me.

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Later, in the Q and A session the audience listened fondly to the memories of a writing life.  Everyone was enthralled by Fay’s various tales and other experiences. As she told me over lunch, “I always love talking to the different people I meet.” There she stood, clutching her latest book of short stories with an eye catching cover, simply called MISCHIEF. Of course, as you will understand I just had to buy it! Here within are a wonderful selection of stories from the 1970s to the present day, ending with a Novella sci fi. Fay believes that it is important that writers show interest and write about the age they are living in. Her earlier work reflected the very different society of the 1970s and 80s. I loved the tale she told, that when her children were small she snatched moments on the stairs to write while they played around her. A charming, fascinating writer…

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Now’s the time to mention Helen Lederer. Wow!  The very funny actress and comedienne is another one of my favourite people.  In the brilliant Q and A session, we were treated to hilarious stories and a superb reading from her new book ‘LOSING IT.

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Described by Helen as ‘mid-lit,’ her fictional heroine dives through the pages coping with a variety of situations. The unique gift of engaging immediately with an audience, was apparent from the moment she sat down with the writer in residence. One of her witty anecdotal stories, included her experience in the television programme ‘Splash’ where she suffered from ‘vertigo in sling backs.’  It was also fascinating to meet Helen, because recently she kindly sent in a pair of shoes for my son’s celebrity ‘Heels for Hearts’ campaign on ITV’s ‘Good Morning Britain.’

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One of the reasons for attending the Literary Festival was to participate in a Sophie King creative workshop. Alongside like minded people, (we writers love to stick together), we learnt many interesting and practical hints / creative tips on how to write about our lives and the importance of passing memories down for future generations.

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This ‘Writing About Life’ workshop was followed on Saturday afternoon by another session ‘Writing Fiction’ where Janey Fraser talked about the important elements required for a good story.

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Many of us spent time in Sophie King’s morning writing clinic, receiving constructive criticism on our pieces of work.  As a talented writer of fiction and a journalist for many years on women’s magazines, she has also written self help books and organises many courses.  I am currently enjoying the ‘WEDDING PARTY ,’ which is her fifth novel about ‘life and love’.

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As with all festivals, it is the people working tirelessly behind the scenes that generate success.  The Sidmouth Team were good fun, very helpful (thanks for the lunch), so to David the House Manager and to Diana and Jane, I’m looking forward to the next one.  Hopefully I will be first past the bunting, clutching the magic tickets and sitting on the top step.

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