Clapham Book Festival 2019 took place on 5th October 2019 and was the most successful CBF yet!
Beginning at 2 o’clock in Omnibus with Rival Queens the award-winning TV historian and New York Times bestselling novelist Professor Kate Williams vividly explored the rivalry between Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I and shared her experience of writing historical fiction. Kate stayed around afterwards to sign books and chat and became the three hundredth subscriber to local not-for-profit The Reading Den, an online support hub for book clubs, which had a stall at the Festival this year (much to Ann and Jenny’s delight).
Then, in Beyond the Thirty Nine Steps, award-winning journalist Ursula Buchan drew on new family archive material to discuss the ‘magnificent biography’ of her grandfather John Buchan with Clapham novelist and co-founder of the Festival, Elizabeth Buchan. This revealed the author of The Thirty-Nine Steps in a completely new light. ‘JB’ was an intriguing personality, a scholar, antiquarian, barrister, colonial administrator, journal editor, literary critic, publisher, war correspondent, director of wartime propaganda, member of parliament and imperial proconsul – given a state funeral when he died, a deeply admired and loved Governor-General of Canada.
Audience engagement was the order of the day in the next session when New York Times best-selling local writer Henry Hemming introduced and read from his latest work Our Man in New York. This documented the extraordinary story of how a covert British operation used fake news to manipulate US public opinion and bring America into WWII. Henry got the audience voting on what was real and what was fake!
The audience journeyed to Ehiopia/Abyssinia in the next discussion, with Guardian journalist and Ondaatje prize-winner Aida Edemariam talking to novelist and Booker long-listee, Michèle Roberts. Her prize-winning and unusual memoir The Wife’s Tale, about the life of her Ethiopian grandmother, Yetemegnu, ranges across most of the twentieth century from Yetemegnu’s birth to her marriage (at the age of eight) to a cleric and poet two decades her senior, through fascist occupation, the rise and fall of ruler Haile Selassie, revolution and civil war. Aida took inspiration from her grandmother’s storytelling and folk tales from a long oral, not written, tradition.
With a career that combined BBC reporting from war zones, Territorial Army service and deep throat research into security issues, the journalist and author Frank Gardner was never going to be short of material when he chose to start writing thrillers. He writes about a world he knows inside-out: as a scholar of the Middle East and the Arab world and BBC correspondent in the region – he was shot by terrorists in Saudi Arabia, which left him confined to a wheelchair – he initially put pen to paper in a riveting memoir, Blood & Sand. This year’s sell-out evening session In Conversation with Frank Gardner saw him talk about all aspects of his career and writing with fellow thriller writer and BAFTA-winning broadcaster Simon Berthon.
Like all the authors, Frank stayed around afterwards to sign books and chat. And there were lots of Festival goers to chat with, through-out the day, talking about books and writing in a fabulous atmosphere. Folk were still there almost an hour later as Jago Poynter played and sang us into a still-warm night.
And that was that for another year. Clapham’s annual get-together to discuss writing and books with those who create them finished on a very positive note. Bring on Clapham Book festival 2020!