Walk the Walks

As the sun emerges after some very welcome rain, why not go out for a walk? In particular, if you live in or near Clapham in South London, go for a stroll on its wonderful and historic Common.

To add to your enjoyment and exercise your ‘little grey cells’ as well as your calf muscles, you could follow the Clapham Literary Trail (  Clapham literary trail leafletFinal ) a self-guided walk which takes about ninety minutes and includes Clapham landmarks and the places where Clapham authors of renown, past and present, lived and worked.  There are lots of blue plaques to find and works to identify.

It takes the form of a quiz ( answers supplied ), so, if you fancy testing your literary as well as your historical knowledge of Clapham, while taking some exercise and enjoying the Summer, download the pdf from this web-site or from the Clapham Book Festival site and stride out.

For the younger walker, the Clapham Children’s Book Trail ( Clapham children’s book walk final (1) ) is a version of the Literary Trail designed specifically with walkers aged 8 – 12 in mind, this time accompanied by an adult.   As the school Summer holidays approach, take a walk through children’s literature – you’d be surprised at just which famous writers for younger readers have lived here ( clue – there are very famous wizards, and witches, involved ).

If, on the other hand, art is your thing, why not try the Clapham Art Trail ( Clapham art trail leaflet final (2) ). The Common has attracted artists through out the centuries, who have rendered it in various forms of paint and graphite, from the internationally famous masters to the lesser known. Today local artists are still inspired by the urban, but somehow not quite urban scenes.  Another quiz, illustrated by some of the works in which the green space has featured takes you around the Common.

All the Trails, designed by Clapham Writers, begin at Clapham Common tube station, though many of the works referred to in the leaflets were created long before the Underground existed.

All are FREE to download from this web-site or the Clapham Book Festival web-site,  though we would welcome any donations you would like to make using the Paypal button on screen.  All proceeds go towards delivering the Book Festival and associated literary and reading activities.  If you’re out and about at the Clapham Summer Fete on 31st August why not come and have a chat at the Clapham Book Festival stall, where we’ll have books for sale in aid of the Festival.

This year’s Book Festival is on Saturday 5th October at Omnibus Theatre, so why not check out the Programme . History, historical fiction, biography, memoir, contemporary fiction and journalism are just some of the topics featured in sessions this year, with household names like Frank Gardner and Professor Kate Williams, as well as this year’s Ondaatje Prize winner, Aida Edemariam talking to Booker listee Michele Roberts.  Tickets are already available and are selling fast, so make sure you get yours at Omnibus.

You can find articles about Clapham Book Festivals past at                    Clapham Book Festival 2018                 Historical Seduction             Clapham Book Festival 2017                   Place and the Writer

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Sponsorship Shout Out

Sponsors, advertisers, all those businesses out there which want to associate themselves with a quality festival of reading and literature – we need you!

Clapham Book Festival is into fundraising mode. Thus far our main sponsor has been This is Clapham, the Clapham Business Improvement District and we will be applying to them again for the Festival 2019, but it’s time for us to be looking for other funding too, specifically from sponsors.

So what do we offer?

Our publicity has a long reach for a small Festival – we punch well above our weight. In 2017 we reached over 450,000 people, through local press, TV and radio and social media.  South London societies and book clubs are engaged as well as prestigious institutions like the Society of Authors and the Royal Society of Literature to circulate our publicity, as well as more recently established on-line organisations such as Book Brunch. The Sunday Times has shown interest in writing about the Festival.

Association with the Festival is association with high quality. Festival events have uniformly high satisfaction ratings (mid to high nineties). The Programme has include literary stars and household names like Dame Margaret Drabble, Kate Adie, Mark Lawson and Deborah Moggach.  The Festival has a track record of attracting rising stars and prize winners.  In 2016 Max Porter went on to win the International Dylan Thomas Prize, while in 2017 Andrew Lownie won Biography of the Year and St Ermin’s Intelligence Book of the Year for his biography of Guy Burgess. Crime writers who appeared at the Festival and were later recognised on Prize short-lists were Sabine Durant, M J Carter and J P Delaney. Vaseem Khan is currently short-listed for a Shamus Prize (Best Original Private Eye Paperback). The Costa Award-winning YA author Patrice Lawrence took part in 2018.

Supporting the Festival supports work on literacy and reading in South London. Clapham Writers, the charitable body which oversees delivery of the Festival conducts out-reach work to children and disadvantaged groups in south London working in partnership with Lambeth Libraries, the Reading Agency, HMP Brixton and National Prison Radio, Age UK and other local charities.

Various sponsorship levels are available

Companies or associations get their logo on Festival literature for only £250.

Accreditation as a sponsor costs £500.

Golden sponsor status is available for £1,000+.

We always acknowledge our supporters, even non-financial ones. So, in 2018, The Windmill Hotel was mentioned in the Festival satisfaction survey and by name, as the donating organisation of the prize. Our tie-ins with local business, for example, with cafe Tart are advertised in our literature. In 2018 Leslie Martin Ceramics featured on our tri-fold leaflet.

Two members of our Board will be contacting local firms and the Clapham offices of national businesses over the next few weeks to ask for sponsorship and/or arrange tie-ins.  Or contact us at claphambookfestival@gmail.com.

For more information on the Book Festival visit our web-site and take a look at the list of authors who have appeared. Or try                   Clapham Book Festival 2018, How’d It Go?                  Clapham Book Festival 2017, It Begins                    ‘Omnibus’ Clapham’s Literary Festival 2016

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It’s just so Clapham……

‘It’s just so Clapham round there,’ said Dave from Streatham, my colleague on the Clapham Book Festival stall at Saturday’s Old Town Fair. He’d just been for a wander around.  ‘All children and dogs… didn’t they call part of Clapham ‘Nappy Valley’?’

They still do (especially the estate agents). Though, to be fair, this was when Clapham Mutts – the fair’s annual dog show – was taking place in the arena just behind our stall. Also, to be fair, I hadn’t ought to criticise estate agents this morning, having enjoyed Dexters’* light-as-air cup cakes at no charge on Saturday afternoon.  It wasn’t just Dexters offering free comestibles, a gentleman wearing a chef’s coat was seen carrying large trays of what looked like delectable nibbles around, which didn’t last long. I didn’t get to try any, but folk who did seemed to like them. Nor do I know from whence the man came, lots of local restaurants were taking part.

Clapham is a good place to live (though it has become unaffordable for many, I appreciate) and events like this one demonstrate why. The sun was shining and it was hot in the open, landscaped space in the Georgian Old Town, adjacent to the Common.  There were plenty of families, but couples, groups of friends and individuals too, out to enjoy the food and drink, the music and the activities.

This was the third September shindig and the Festival has taken part in all of them ( see At The Polygon and He Shouldn’t have Parked There for reports on earlier events ). The event is arranged by This is Clapham – the estimable Jeremy Keates, its’ elected officer, was in evidence taking photos during the day –  in partnership with Omnibus Theatre.  It continues to thrive and grow and has a good, community feel, with lots of local societies taking part. Charitable bodies, like our own, are permitted free stalls, a noted difference from other Fetes and fiestas. This year the event spread from The Polygon into nearby Omnibus Theatre, where a Local History Fair took over that space, as part of the month-long Lambeth Heritage Festival.

Inside there were stands from the Cinema Museum, from Lambeth Palace Library and the Clapham, Brixton and Streatham Societies with historical displays and books for sale. I didn’t see them – too busy on our own stall – but there were talks in the theatre, including one about the history of Clapham Library and its conversion to Omnibus Theatre, and guided local walks.  The Clapham Literary Trail free leaflets on our stall had plenty of takers.

We gathered lots more e-mail addresses from people interested in being informed about the Festival and a few people came along who had been to this year’s edition. One of them, David, the winner of this year’s Prize Draw, dropped by to say hello – and buy a book. In all we sold well over a hundred books, all donated by local authors and publishers, and raised several hundred pounds for the Festival, as well as its profile.

‘Oh I can’t buy any books. I’ve got far too many already,’ was a common refrain, though I must say that every single person who said this ( bar one, who was on a bike ) went on to buy at least one book. Some bought four or five. Others asked us to put some volumes aside while they went off to get cash and then returned to purchase their books. But these were bargains and if you’re a book person, well, you can’t walk away from good books at bargain prices.

My one gripe – I missed the Penalty Shoot-out.

For more about Clapham try                  Common Books                        The Battle of the Crows             A Walk on the Wild Side                    Amazing Grace

*For those who don’t know, Dexters is an estate agents and one of the sponsors of the Old Town Fair.

A version of this article appeared on The Story Bazaar web-site earlier the same day.

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Out of the Hat

The final, happy action from 2018’s Clapham Book Festival was to draw the name of the lucky winner of our prize raffle. Many of the management committee gathered, most appropriately, at The Windmill on the Common last Wednesday evening to do this very thing.

The draw was made by Ben Evans, General Manager of The Windmill, as the star prize was an overnight stay for two with breakfast at said Windmill, the boutique hotel in the old coaching inn on Clapham Common which, some claim, is the inn at which Lydia and Wickham from Pride and Prejudice were last sighted as they took a hansom cab into London.

The winner, Mr David Cambridge, is a resident of Clapham and it was his first visit to the Clapham Book Festival where he attended Walls Have Ears, with Clare Mulley, Henry Hemming and Simon Berthon.  He said that he enjoyed it and will definitely be back next year.

It wasn’t all fun and larks on Wednesday, though it was very enjoyable, as we hadn’t met since the end of May. We also had a full Board meeting, discussing the comprehensive due diligence exercise that needs to be undertaken in the late Summer/Autumn to prepare for next year’s Festival, which is likely to take place in the Autumn. This means reviewing all our options as regards venue or venues, how we sell books, what our marketing strategy should be, as well as how we reach out to the local community.  As part of this exercise we have been speaking with the organiser of Balham Literary Festival, (and owner of Dulwich Books) which also takes place in south London in Spring. There’s also lots of learning to be had from other literary festivals in the London area.

That will be happening later in the year, but the search for sponsorship and funding continues year round and two of our number are already determining their strategy to approach Clapham businesses. I, meanwhile, will be drafting a bid for funds from our local authority (hot on the heels of appearing at their Country Show, see photo, left, of The History Girls event). We will all be searching for other funding opportunities, including approaching some national companies with an offer for them to be single major sponsors. It really is a fallacy that organising an event like a book festival isn’t an all-year-round job, because it is!

In the meantime, up-coming Clapham Writers events include a book stall at Clapham Fete on 1st September and a visit to Brixton jail later that month.  We’ll also be checking out how we might bring the Festival, or elements of it, to people who would like to go, but cannot get to it, e.g. in a local hospice. The outreach work also continues.

A version of this article appeared on The Story Bazaar on 6th August 2018.

For more about the Clapham Book Festival, visit its web-site, or the web-site of Clapham Writers, or why not try some other posts, like                 Clapham Book Festival 2018: How’d it go?                                Clapham Book Festival 2017                           Omnibus Edition: Clapham’s Literary Festival 2016

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Sunday in the Park with Books

So, are women better at writing thriller/crime novels than men?

The consensus on Saturday’s panel at the Clapham Book festival events at the Lambeth Country Show was that there isn’t a gender difference, both can be excellent, though there often is a gender difference reflected in the subject matter and style of thriller/crime writers.  As Isabelle Grey said, women tend to be more attuned to the possibilities of violence and the telling details, because their life experience is such that the shadow at the end of the path might be a real threat to the lone woman walker, the knowledge that the initially friendly but somewhat too persistent ‘admirer’ could turn ugly.  And, of course, the likelihood of being the victim of domestic violence is so much higher ( see the recent long term Lancaster University study which shows regular increases in domestic assaults on women during World Cup tournaments ).

Just one of the subjects raised in Thriller in the Park, a really excellent discussion and one which flowed because the participants were interested in it ( always the best kind for a moderator ). Then a fifteen minute break in which books were sold – one woman was so pleased to have a copy signed by its author that she took a selfie with her too. On to a reprise of Place & the Writer, a discussion at the 2016 Book Fest, this time without Matthew Beaumont, but covering the same ground.  Militant pedestrianism was a popular discussion point in relation to Clapham Common, but then it was also topical – this was the first Lambeth Country Show in 43 years which was enclosed, with a strong security presence and bag checks on entry. Our security was provided by Jordan of whom I have already written (see Sunshine at Lambeth Country Show).

The Sunday session was similarly successful, when our audience was somewhat larger, mainly, we thought, because people knew we were there having seen us the day before.  (The organisers really need to get their announcements system sorted.)  In addition, the TV profile of Prof Kate Williams would have helped.  So we had a reasonably full tent when we began by asking our audience which were their favourite historical novelists. Georgette Heyer, Lady Antonia Fraser, Hilary Mantel… all women.

The discussion ranged over why we write historical fiction, the differences between writing history and historical fiction and the seductive power of research.  There was a super question from an enthusiastic ten year old, asking us if we sided with any of our characters against the others and lots of good chat with the audience.  Books were signed and sold and folk asked about the Festival (almost no one we met knew it existed, testament to the insularity of the little communities which are scattered across south London ).  Its profile was definitely raised and we gathered more followers on social media.  The official photographs and video aren’t yet available, but they will be posted on the Book Fest site and that of Clapham Writers when they are.

Then we packed up to the strains of reggae – the next speaker was Dennis Bovell, legendary reggae musician and film maker.  Sunday in the Park with Books was coming to an end. And the next outing for Clapham Book Festival, well it could be Clapham Village Fete on 1st September or a visit to gaol.

For more on the Clapham Book Festival at the Lambeth Country Show and other activities see                          Selling Books in the Sunshine            Brockwell Park Weekend                      The History Girls

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Books for Sale in the Sunshine

Books, books for sale!  Coffee table £2 , hard back £1, paperbacks 50 pence!

It was my local south London Fete at the weekend, something I’ve blogged about before ( see Local Music ). This year was slightly different in that the Clapham Book Festival folk were helping on the second-hand book stall, which meant that I went to help them set up the stall on Friday.

I was astonished by what some people ‘donate’.

Dusty tomes, literally. Books which were falling apart, books likes Guides and Manuals which, of their nature, needed to be current, but which were decades old. Plus some books which certainly didn’t belong on a public book stall, not even if it had a top shelf. Certainly not a book stall in a church.  Then a fellow helper told me tales of working in a charity shop and receiving second-hand clothes covered in filth, grime and other suspect substances. Compared to that, the books were fine.

There were gems. Pristine art books with full colour plates, art exhibition catalogues, lovely old illustrated hardbacks without their dustcovers, but lovingly inscribed. Clapham writers had given too – pre-publication copies some of them, or books submitted for prizes by publishers and read only once. Special items – £5!

Sport, cookery, biography, fiction A – D. Humour, history, crafts, fiction E – L.

Someone had donated what seemed like the entire works of Anita Brookner and the entire works of Nina Bawden. Where did these paperbacks come from, who had they belonged to?  And why were they all on our stall?  A story lies behind those books. I think of Calvino, Borges.

Pallets full of books, their spines upwards, glossy and matte (the more recent the publication date the more likely to be the latter, glossy dustcovers being out of fashion for years). Boxes of sundry books for free – these were older, tattier, but still worth rummaging through for that special find. Who cares if the manual is for a motorcycle long gone, if it was once yours and most beloved. Lost youth and memory.

Poetry, nature, fiction M – T. Non-fiction (general), science, outdoor pursuits, fiction T – Z.

We can make the signs tomorrow.  It’s hot and dusty and there’s a bottle of rosé chilling in the fridge.

The following day the church is already full of Fete goers when I arrive, browsing the bric a brac stall, amassing small piles of purchases as a local school choir sings. Whistles and applause follow. Then the Welsh male voice choir (last seen performing later a capella outside the local pub and gratefully receiving drinks bought by those being entertained). Tea, strawberries and cream, delicious looking cakes (all in the church, which is cool, in both senses of the word). Lots of people buying books.

Art books over there, poetry on the last table down. That’ll be £1.50, madam. Would you like a leaflet on local writers appearing at the Lambeth Country Show?

Friends appear, Clapham Book Fest people, writers too. Ah, I think I donated that book two years ago. This frees me and others to have lunch, walk around the Fete, watch one of us in a dance demonstration ( I knew nothing about a dance called the merengue before Saturday, now I’ve danced it, drawn in, how ever much I protested ). Eat tasty salads, think about buying the fresh oysters being shucked outside a local restaurant. Sit at tables in the road, free sunscreen samples from the local beauty shop gratefully received by all. Watch the dog show, talk about the books, our books, any books.

A very good day.

With thanks to @VillageLifeSW4 for the photograph above.

For more about what Clapham Writers and the Clapham Book Festival is up to try                   Out and About                       Thriller                    Summer Books

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Sunshine at the Lambeth Country Show

Saturday morning is hot and sunny in south London. Eleven o’clock sees us on our way to Brockwell Park, having collected, inventoried and packed up the books the day before. Already the roads are busy and we were headed for Gate 2, traders and performers only. Yikes!  The road to Gate 2 is closed. What do we do now?  Ah, but there’s a man in a high viz jacket holding a clipboard, maybe the road is only closed to everyday traffic? We are in possession of a parking access permit to the Show Ground, perhaps this magic piece of paper is our passport through.

And it is.  We turn into the road and through the gate, shepherded along by yellow clad stewards, who all, curiously, have Scottish accents.  But the twang in the voice of the parking lady is decidedly antipodean as we are directed to our parking space.  So far so good. Now we just have to transport the books, using the trolley from the bookshop ( a hooray for Herne Hill Books ) to our stand in the Discovery Zone.

But this is a big park and the Show Ground is fenced off behind high green metal walls, so we can’t see in.  Plus, the dry grassy ground is uneven and the boxes of books tend to slide sideways off the trolley if there is a camber to the ground. Cue stress. Head for the nearest asphalt path.

The trolley’s boxes only slide off twice before we make it.  Then it’s up the hill to a pair of forbidding-looking heavy metal gates.  We drag them open and we’re through, into the Show Ground proper. There we are taken pity on by another yellow-clad Scot, Mick from Glasgow, who, like us, is ignorant of the Discovery Zone’s location but, grasping both trolley and heavy bag proceeds up the hill to Brockwell House, where his colleagues are able to direct him. So, past the big open space which will become the Main Arena later, alongside the backs of a series of food and drink outlets and there, in the distance, is the big Discovery banner.

And some Clapham Book Fest folk are already there!  Sitting at a picnic table.  Greetings all round. But we are puzzled – we know that our sessions will take place in a marquee, but there are three marquees in a line, which is ours?  One is already occupied by a number of scientific and medical societies, so that’s out.  One has a half closed front, so surely that’s not ours. No, we decide it’s the middle one, which has a low stage and a sound man in the corner, testing his equipment.  As yet there are no seats and no tables for selling books. But we have a security man – Jordan from Glasgow explains that the Security firm hired for the event is from Scotland, they all came down the night before.  He’s very helpful – ‘Dunna pay full price,’ he yells after me as I go to buy ice creams. ‘Tell him you’re staff – it’s £2. Have ye seen what they charge for a cone round here?’ Mr Whippy duly obliges.

Mitchell, the sound man, knows nothing about any furniture, but, he says the stage is not yet safe, we must wait for his colleague to come and fix it.  We are on at one. It’s already twelve.  ‘Oh, you’ve got a whole hour. No worries.’  He says. But we are worrying.  I head off to find someone in charge – there’s supposed to be an events manager called Chris.  I find him and he tells me that 200 chairs have been requested and two tables.  They’re just not here yet.

By the time I return to the tent the Clapham Book Festival ‘Common Reading’ banner is up and our writers/performers begin to arrive. Here’s Isabelle,former Clapham resident and crime writer par excellence. Hallo.  A little buggy arrives drawing a trailer, on which there are chairs!! But the scientists get to them first.  More please, we plead with the buggy driver, and QUICKLY. It’s after half past twelve.  But Mitchell’s colleague has arrived and secured the stage.  So we can at least set up the mics. Annemarie arrives, another Clapham writer. She, like me, has lived within a couple of miles of the Park for many years and yet has never been to the Show. The buggy is back and we all start unloading and setting up chairs, so that our tent looks as if something is about to happen.  It’s a quarter to one and Sabine, the last of the Thriller in the Park panel arrives.  One problem – no audience.

There are folk wandering around, but no one seems to have a clue what’s on and when. We don’t see any programmes – though there is an app it’s pretty impossible to read anything on one’s phone, the sunlight is too bright.  I take a mic and ‘announce’ to passersby that Thriller in the Park is happening in fifteen minutes ( ten minutes, five, about to begin ) and so we garner a small crowd. ‘Don’t worry’, the sound man says. ‘Just start, they’ll come. I see it with bands all the time.’

And he’s right. We begin and they do.  We launch into an interesting discussion about writing crime and thriller fiction. Clapham Book Festival at the Lambeth Country Show has begun.

There will be a further post about our experiences at the Show on Wednesday. meanwhile you can read more about Clapham Book Festival events at            Brockwell Park Weekend       Books for sale in the sunshine           Thriller in the Park                       The History Girls

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