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Charleston Festival


It’s an annual ritual shared with an old schoolfriend. Charleston (Literary) Festival, at the end of May, takes place in the farmhouse once lived in by the ‘Bloomsberries’ – Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Lytton Strachey, John Maynard Keynes et al. Several hundred people are accommodated in a marquee in the garden, with between-sessions visits to the house, the shop, the lovely walled gardens and the tea tent.

This year there was an addition – the ‘Arabian Tent’ – where Faber held a few taster sessions for its writing courses (clearly more money in this than publishing these days). When it wasn’t being used, however, it looked like this – a space where anyone could loll, meditate or have a quiet gossip while draped over a thinly-disguised campbed or (slightly better upholstered) chaise. Lovely to look at though not so wonderfully comfy in reality, especially on the second weekend when it was COLD.

Can’t complain though – on the first weekend we had glorious weather and Caroline and I enjoyed a long boozy picnic on the lawn.


Oh – and the actual author readings…well, Charleston never bothers much with poets, although I feel the opportunity is there for them to run a poetry competition on the Bloomsbury theme. I have a lovely little number about Virginia Woolf ready made for it. Except it’s been published already – heh.

The session that stood out for me was Jeanette Winterson, who talked about her memoir ‘Why be happy when you could be normal.’ From the moment she bounced in she had everyone’s attention. Plus, she eschewed the usual format of reading from behind a lectern, or being interviewed in an armchair by another writer. No, Jeanette wore a lapel mic and simply stood and talked, holding everyone’s attention for over an hour. Very difficult to describe in words the atmosphere and the effect she had. This was pure charisma. I got the feeling whatever she might have asked us to do we would have done it. Winterson for PM!

PS the two friends I was with both got their books signed – cleverly leaving those few seconds early in order to get to the front of the queue – just to report that the author in question is MUCH more petite than she seemed on stage. A big presence.


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Robin Houghton 2024