The fifth Chichester Writing Festival ends today, and yesterday Brian (Viner, my husband) and I were both on panels, his non-fiction and mine, fiction. It was quite the best event I’ve attended; the venue is West Dean College, and if you ever get the opportunity to visit, go! It’s SO beautiful. The grounds are like those of a well-kept stately home, and the interior of the college – former home of the James family who must have had a bob or two – is magnificent. It reminded me a little of Eastnor Castle, here in Hererfordshire; baronial and imposing, with animal heads – a giraffe! never seen one of those mounted on a wall – and weighty oil paintings interspersed with staggeringly cool modern art and lots of panelling. None of it was at all what I’d expected.
The great thing about this event is that it’s a writing festival, not a literary festival. The people who attend are all interested in the craft of writing – many of them seemed to be aspiring authors, or published authors who were looking for further inspiration. Also, most of them were in residence, having signed up for all three days of the festival, and that meant that every event was well-attended (such a relief for the panelists!) After each event, authors and audience mingled in the bar and chatted about books and writing and all that jazz. Nobody was there to gawp at famous people, and the unknown writers seemed to be as interesting to the punters as the well-known ones. And there were well-known ones. For a start, Kate Mosse runs the show with her husband, Greg and Mark Billingham, Joanna Trollope and Francesca Simon were their headline names, but the charming, prolific Adele Parks was on my panel (along with Shelley Harris – read her book Jubilee, it’s fantastic – and Liz Fenwick, whose novel The Cornish House comes out soon). The authors attended each others’ panels and chipped in here and there with observations and questions, and truly it felt like being among friends. I’m sure Kate and Greg have to vary the menu from one year to the next, because I’m certain they have a good deal of repeat customers, but I’ll be there like a shot if they ask me again. Check it out for yourselves next year. Take a friend, but if you go on your own I guarantee you’ll make new ones.