The 13th Aldeburgh Literary Festival 2014

The 13th Aldeburgh Literary Festival

28th February – 2nd March 2014



All talks take place at The Jubilee Hall apart from Patrick Marnham’s session with film at The Aldeburgh Cinema and Helen Napper’s exhibition at The Aldeburgh Cinema Gallery


Friday 28th February


10.00 am         Lucinda Lambton


Erudite, eccentric and infectiously enthusiastic, Lucinda Lambton is well-known for finding the beautiful in unusual and unexpected places.  She is a prolific and award-winning film-maker, photographer and author of 14 books on architectural history.  She has photographed the Beamish Open Air Museum in County Durham, the site of a former colliery and mining cottages, and has also recently written the authorized book on Queen Mary’s Doll’s House.


All her television series are compelling viewing, from Sublime Suburbia, on the architecture of London’s suburbs, to Lucinda Lambton’s A to Z of Britain, an exposition of the architectural and historic treasures to be found throughout the country. Part of her enormous charm is that she can make the eccentric a delight and isn’t afraid to tackle quirky but diverting subjects, like the evolutionary designs of lavatories in her book Temples of Convenience, or her study of architecture for animals, Beastly Buildings.


As a young woman, hearing that Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, was to visit London in the early 60s, she dressed in white gloves, took a camera and managed to gain access to the VIP Lounge of Heathrow Airport.  Gagarin was amenable and she followed him during his tour, snapping photographs as he visited the capital. By the end of the visit he bowed in acknowledgement to her and her career was established. Heartened by the experience, she sold the images and became one of the first women photographers on the journalistic scene.


11.30 am         Patrick Gale on novels and mothers


Patrick Gale’s absorbing, multi-stranded novels shine with emotional intelligence and human understanding.  He writes so well about people, about their hopes, needs and disappointments.  ‘Gale is an effortlessly elastic storyteller, a writer with heart, soul, and a dark and naughty wit’, wrote Julie Myerson in a recent review.  And he writes particularly well about women and complex family relationships. 


Notes from an Exhibition, the work that catapulted Gale into the best-seller list, tells the story of a mother--an artist, a genius, a loving wife and parent, a faithful friend, but also tormented by bi-polar disorder and driven by an artistic compulsion to damage all who try to love and protect her.  Rough Music, set in Gale’s beloved Cornwall, is his most autobiographical novel. His most recent novel, A Perfectly Good Man, explores the theme of characters thinking how best to live and takes another family in crisis.


Many of Gale’s fifteen novels, like Notes From an Exhibition and A Perfectly Good Man, are told from multiple viewpoints so that our perspective on the hero keeps shifting and we're never entirely sure where his own sympathies lie. Arguably the viewpoints furthest from his own are those of the various mothers he portrays, from the terrifying to the downtrodden. In this talk he'll introduce some of these women and explore the ways in which their maternal instincts various chime or clash with the instincts of the novelist. 


2.30 pm          Alan Powers on Eric Ravilious


More popular than ever, the work of Eric Ravilious (1903-42) is rooted in the landscape of pre-war and early wartime England. In his book Eric Ravilious Artist and Designer, Alan Powers provides the most comprehensive overview to date of the artist's work in all media - watercolour, illustration, printmaking, graphic design, textiles and ceramics - and firmly positions Ravilious as a major figure in the history of early 20th-century British art.


Alan Powers discusses the part Ravilious's work played in creating an English style, positioned between tradition and modernism, and borrowing from naive and popular art of the past. The book analyses his different spheres of activity in turn, covering his education and formative influences, his mural painting, his printmaking and illustration, his work as leader in forming a new style of watercolour painting between the wars and his final period as an official War Artist. In a career curtailed by an early death, Ravilious also played a significant role as a designer; Powers argues that Ravilious showed how decoration and historical reference could find a place in the reform of the applied arts whilst simultaneously renewing a sense of national identity.


Dr Alan Powers was Professor of Architecture and Cultural History at the University of Greenwich until 2012. His research covers a wide range of topics, including architecture, painting, typography, illustration and textiles. He was a guest curator of the centenary exhibition, Eric Ravilious: Imagined Realities, at the Imperial War Museum (2003), his other books include Britain in the series Modern Architectures in History (2007) and Curwen: Art and Print (2008).



4.00 pm          Frances Welch on Rasputin


Grigory Rasputin, Siberian peasant-turned-mystic and court sage, was as fascinating as he was unfathomable. He played the role of the simple man, eating with his fingers and boasting, 'I don't even know the ABC'. But, as the only person able to relieve the symptoms of haemophilia in the Tsar's heir Alexei, he gained almost hallowed status within the Imperial Court.  During the last decade of his life, he and his band of ‘little ladies’ came to symbolise all that was decadent, corrupt and remote about the Imperial Family, especially when it was rumoured that he was not only shaping Russian policy during the First World War, but also enjoying an intimate relationship with the Empress. Rasputin's role in the downfall of the Tsarist regime is beyond dispute.  But who was he really?  Prophet or rascal?  Or a ‘breath of rank air ... who blew away the cobwebs of the Imperial Palace’, as Beryl Bainbridge put it?


In this riveting and eye-opening short biography, Frances Welch turns her wry gaze on one of the great mysteries of Russian history.


Frances Welch has written for the Sunday Telegraph, Granta, The Spectator and the Financial Times. She is co-author of Memories of Revolution: Russian Women Remember (1993), The Romanovs & Mr Gibbes (2003, A Romanov Fantasy: Life at the Court of Anna Anderson (2007)  and The Russian Court at Sea.


5.30 pm          Professor Mark Miodownik on Stuff Matters


Mark Miodownik is committed to communicating science. His illuminating popular talks on science and engineering on television and to lecture halls all over the world have earned him a place in The Times list of the top 100 most influential people in UK science. 


From the towering skyscrapers of our cities to the most ordinary objects in our homes, Miodownik’s new book, Stuff Matters, tells enthralling stories that explain the science and history of materials we take entirely for granted, while introducing some of humankind's most ingenious and improbable inventions. From the tea-cup to the jet engine, the silicon chip to the paper clip, the plastic in our appliances to the elastic in our underpants, world-leading materials scientist Mark Miodownik reveals the miracles of engineering and ingenuity that permeate every aspect of our lives. Along the way, he introduces materials that can heal themselves, implants that become living bone, the explosive that made the movie business, materials that might one day save the world - and others that already have.


Mark Miodownik is Professor of Materials and Society at UCL, scientist-in-residence on Dara O Briain's Science Club (BBC2) and presenter of several documentaries, including The Genius of Invention (BBC2).  In 2010, he gave the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, broadcast on BBC4.  He is Director of the UCL Institute of Making, which is home to a materials library containing some of the most wondrous matter on earth, and has collaborated to make interactive events with many museums, such as Tate Modern, the Hayward Gallery and Wellcome Collection.


7.00 pm          Patrick Marnham on Snake Dance

                        Film Screening and Book Launch at The Aldeburgh Cinema

The terrifying first use of nuclear weapons over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 was the most controversial act of warfare in history, dramatically ending the Second World War but ushering in the age of mass destruction. Yet it was also the climax of a story that extends beyond Japan and Washington: the culmination of decades of scientific achievement and centuries of colonial exploitation.

Snake Dance is the account of a journey that turned into a quest to discover how humanity reaches this point.  Patrick Marnham travels from the opulent nineteenth-century palaces of King Leopold II of Belgium, built with riches plundered from the Congo, to the lethally derelict nuclear reactor of modern-day Kinshasa. He follows the shipment of Congolese uranium to the deserts of New Mexico for the Manhattan Project’s secret test detonation. Here he uncovers the legacies of Robert Oppenheimer and Aby Warburg, two ‘mad geniuses’ who confronted the devastating power of twentieth-century science in very different ways.

Both men travelled to New Mexico. Oppenheimer was honoured for building a bomb, the ancestor of weapons that have enslaved humanity. Warburg, condemned to obscurity and confined to a mental hospital, regained his sanity by studying the rituals of the Native Americans of the Southwest who, for thousands of years, practised the ritual of the 'snake dance' in an attempt to harness the power of lightning. And it was in New Mexico, at Los Alamos, that the ultimate act of playing God was realised.

The circle is closed in Japan. The catastrophe at the Fukushima Nuclear Plant in March 2011 confronts scientific man, like the snake dancers, with a power beyond his control. Spanning three continents and the history of civilisation, Snake Dance is at once an intrepid intellectual adventure and a wake-up call for mankind.

This session will begin with Patrick Marnham introducing the film (screening time 75 minutes) and will be followed by a 15-minute question and answer session and book signing.


Saturday 1st March



10.00 am         Sarah Dunant on Blood and Beauty, a Novel of the Borgias


Sarah Dunant, acclaimed novelist of the Italian Renaissance, has taken on the subject of this era’s most infamous family, the Borgias.  Stripping away the myths, Blood & Beauty is a majestic novel that breathes life into this astonishing family and celebrates the raw power of history itself: compelling, complex and relentless.

By the end of the fifteenth century, the beauty and creativity of Italy is matched by its brutality and corruption, nowhere more than in Rome and in the Church.  When Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia buys his way into the papacy as Alexander VI, he is defined not just by his wealth or his passionate love for his illegitimate children, but also by his blood: he is a Spanish Pope in a city run by Italians. If the Borgias are to triumph, this charismatic, consummate politician with a huge appetite for life, women and power must use papacy and family to succeed.

His eldest son Cesare, a dazzlingly cold intelligence and an even colder soul, is his greatest – though increasingly unstable – weapon. Later immortalised in Machiavelli’s The Prince, he provides the energy and the muscle. His daughter Lucrezia, beloved by both men, is the prime dynastic tool. Twelve years old when the novel opens, hers is a journey through three marriages: from childish innocence to painful experience, from pawn to political player.

Sarah Dunant is a novelist, broadcaster and critic. She teaches creative writing at the Faber Academy and Oxford Brookes University and Renaissance Studies at Washington University, St Louis. She is the author of The Birth of Venus, In the Company of the Courtesan and Sacred Hearts.






11.30 am         Charles Moore on Margaret Thatcher

‘Moore has produced a biography so masterly that it comes as close as biography can to being a work of art.’  (Mail on Sunday).

In 1997, seven years after the end of her premiership, Margaret Thatcher chose the journalist and political commentator Charles Moore to write her authorized biography, on condition it would not be published in her lifetime.

Charles Moore was given full access to all Lady Thatcher’s personal and government papers.  He interviewed her and her family extensively and she supported all his requests for interviews with those who worked most closely with her, interviews given in the knowledge that Lady Thatcher would never read the manuscript.    Permission was also granted to former and existing civil servants to speak freely about her years in government and the author was given early access to official papers held back from public view under the thirty-year rule.

Moore’s account, the first of two volumes, begins at the moment of her birth in October 1925 and ends with her victory in the Falklands in 1982.  It paints, for the first time, a fully-rounded picture of one of the towering political figures of the 20th century - but who had to fight hard to cling on to power in the early years of her premiership.

Charles Moore was editor of The Spectator from 1984 to 1990, editor of The Sunday Telegraph from 1992 to 1995 and editor of The Daily Telegraph from 1995 to 2003. He will  be talking about the first volume of his Margaret Thatcher, the authorised Biography.


2.30 pm          Peter Hennessy: Distilling the Frenzy--Writing the History of One’s own Times


One of our finest contemporary historians, Peter Hennessy draws on his wealth of knowledge and experience to write his own appreciation of Britain’s postwar history. In this his latest book Distilling the Frenzy: Writing the History of One’s Own Times, he examines Britain’s place in the world--the perceived diminution of its power as well as its remaining potential for influence, while also offering insights into the public actions and hesitations of individual Prime Ministers from Attlee to Cameron.  Using new material released from government archives, he provides an expert account of the constitutional factors in play if the electorate produces a hung parliament in 2015.


For over forty years Hennessy has been observing government, from his early days as a lobby reporter for the Financial Times to becoming the hugely respected expert on the British constitution, the Attlee Professor of Contemporary British History at Queen Mary College, the University of London, a member of the Chief of Defence Staff’s Strategic Advisory Panel, Fellow of the British Academy and cross bench peer.  His books include Cabinet, Whitehall, The Hidden Wiring, The Secret State, The Prime Minister—all required reading for students of British government.  Never Again: Britain 1945-51 was followed by his magnificent account of Britain in the fifties, Having it So Good, which won the prestigious Orwell Prize for Political Writing.


4.00 pm          Hermione Lee on Penelope Fitzgerald


Penelope Fitzgerald is now recognised as one of the finest British novelists of the last quarter of the last century, so it is particularly fitting that this new and brilliant biography is written by one of this country’s most renowned biographers, Hermione Lee, a writer whom Fitzgerald herself admired.  Lee captures Fitzgerald’s elusive personality and reveals a complex, and sometimes harrowing life. 


‘The quiet genius of British fiction’, Penelope Fitzgerald did not publish her first book until her sixtieth year and did not become famous until she was eighty: this is a story of lateness, patience and persistence. Her novels were short, spare masterpieces, self-concealing, oblique and subtle. She won the Booker Prize for her novel Offshore in 1979, and her last work, The Blue Flower, was acclaimed as a work of genius. The early novels drew on her own experiences – a boat on the Thames in the 1960s; the BBC in wartime; a failing bookshop in Southwold; an eccentric stage-school. The later ones opened out to encompass historical worlds which, magically, she seemed to possess entirely: Russia before the Revolution; post-war Italy; Germany in the time of the Romantic writer Novalis. 


Hermione Lee is a distinguished biographer, critic and teacher of literature. Her previous books include the internationally-acclaimed biography, Virginia Woolf ('One of the most impressive biographies of the decade: moving, eloquent, powerful', Financial Times) and Edith Wharton ('A feat of exhaustive research... a glorious biography', Independent on Sunday), as well as books on Elizabeth Bowen, Willa Cather and Philip Roth. Her collection of essays on life-writing, Body Parts, was published in 2005, and Biography: A Very Short Introduction in 2009. In 2013 she was made a Dame for services to literary scholarship.


5.30 pm Jon Canter and John Lloyd: The Life and Works of Douglas Adams


John Lloyd collaborated with Douglas Adams on two episodes of The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy, as well as The Meaning Of Liff and The Deeper Meaning Of Liff, while Jon Canter's friendship with Douglas was celebrated in the Radio 4 programme I Was Douglas Adams' Flatmate. In this entertaining and anecdotal session, they discuss the life and writings of their much-missed friend and his influence on their own new book, Afterliff, the third in the series of comic dictionaries that recycle place-names to define familiar objects or experiences for which English has no words.


Jon Canter is the author of the comic novels Seeds of Greatness, A Short Gentleman and Worth. He was script editor for Fry and Laurie , wrote stand-up with Lenny Henry and his journalism has appeared in the Guardian. His Radio 4 series Believe It won Best Scripted Comedy at the BBC Audio Awards. He lives in Aldeburgh with the painter Helen Napper and their daughter Nancy in a house without a yoxford.


John Lloyd was born in 1951 and first met Douglas at Cambridge University. They were friends for 30 years.  John was the original producer of The News QuizQuote ... Unquote, To The Manor Born, Not the Nine O’Clock NewsBlackadder, Spitting Image and QI.  He has written or edited 23 books including The Book of General Ignorance, which has been translated into thirty different languages. Married to Sarah they have three little kelks and twelve prospidnicks.


Sunday 2nd March


10.00am          Tom Holland   In the Shadow of the Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World

In the 6th century AD, the Near East was divided between two great empires: the Persian and the Roman. A hundred years on, one had vanished forever, while the other had become a dismembered, bleeding trunk. In their place, a new superpower had arisen: the empire of the Arabs. So profound was this upheaval that it spelled, in effect, the end of the ancient world.

But the changes that marked the period were more than merely political or even cultural: there was also a transformation of human society with incalculable consequences for the future. Today, over half the world’s population subscribes to one of the various religions that took form during the last centuries of antiquity. Wherever men or women are inspired by belief in a single god to think or behave in a certain way, they bear witness to the abiding impact of this extraordinary, convulsive age.

In the Shadow of the Sword explores how a succession of great empires came to identify themselves with a new and revolutionary understanding of the divine. It is a tale vivid with drama, horror and startling achievement. But there are questions as well as stories. When did Judaism and Christianity finally and definitively split from one another? Where did Islam originate: in the depths of the desert or much further to the north? Are all the claims made to this day by Jews, Christians and Muslims about the origins of their faiths actually true.

Tom Holland is a historian and television presenter. He is the author of Rubicon: the Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Empire, Persian Fire: the history of the Graeco-Persian Wars and Millennium:the End of the World and the Forging of Christendom. His latest work is a translation of Herodotus’s histories.


11.30 am         Miranda Seymour: Noble Endeavours: The Life of Two Countries, England and Germany, in Many Stories


‘No two countries in Europe possess a stronger history of cultural and familial sympathy, trust and mutual respect than Britain and Germany.’


So says Miranda Seymour in her book Noble Endeavours. Beginning with the marriage of Frederick and Elizabeth in 1613, Miranda Seymour tells the history of this friendship through the lives of kings and painters, soldiers and sailors, sugar-bakers and bankers, charlatans and saints—a history of two countries so entwined that one man, asked for his allegiance in 1916, said he didn't know because it felt as though his parents had quarrelled. Thirteen years of Nazi power can never be forgotten. But should thirteen years blot out four centuries of a profound, if rivalrous, friendship?


‘Amid signs that next year's centenary of the outbreak of the First World War will be used as an excuse for chauvinism against 21st-century Germans, Miranda Seymour deserves to be hailed for her courage, generosity, imagination and decency. She has spent five years investigating the history of Anglo-German relations in order to celebrate the amity and sympathies shared between the two countries’ (The Observer).


Miranda Seymour is the author of the prize-winning memoir, My Father’s House, and many acclaimed novels and biographies including the lives of Mary Shelley, Robert Graves, Ottoline Morrell and Hélène Delangle, the Bugatti Queen.


2.30 pm          Professor John Mullan: What Matters in Jane Austen—Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved

Even those who think they don’t want to hear another word on the subject of Jane will be fascinated by this talk, presented with flair, based on a lifetime’s study by enthusiastic academic, John Mullan.  ‘Such is the quality and incisiveness of Mullan’s critical engagement with Austen that the only thing to regret about his book is that there isn’t more of it ... What Matters in Jane Austen? is a model of clarity, verve and perception’ (The Literary Review).

Is there any sex in Austen?  What do the characters call each other, and why?  What are the right and wrong ways to propose marriage? And which important Austen characters never speak? In What Matters in Austen, Mullan shows that you can best appreciate Jane Austen's brilliance by looking at the intriguing quirks and intricacies of her fiction--by asking and answering some very specific questions about what goes on in her novels, he reveals their devilish cleverness.

John Mullan is a Professor in the English department at UCL. He writes the regular ‘Guardian Book Club' column on fiction and frequently appears on the BBC's Review Show. He was a judge of the ‘Best of the Booker Prize' in 2008 and a judge of the Man Booker Prize itself in 2009.



4.00 pm          Nicholas Shakespeare: Priscilla: the Hidden Life of an Englishwoman in Wartime France

When Nicholas Shakespeare came across a trunk full of his late aunt’s personal belongings, he was unaware of where this discovery would take him and what he would learn about her hidden past. The glamorous, mysterious figure he remembered from his childhood was very different from the morally ambiguous young woman who emerged from the trove of love letters, journals and photographs, surrounded by suitors and living the precarious existence of a British citizen in a country controlled by the enemy during World War II.

As a young boy, Shakespeare had always believed that his aunt was a member of the Resistance and had been tortured by the Germans. The truth turned out to be far more complicated. 

Piecing together fragments of his aunt’s remarkable and tragic story, Priscilla is at once a stunning story of detection, a loving portrait of a flawed woman trying to survive in terrible times, and an unprecedented insight into the world of occupied France.

Nicholas Shakespeare is a biographer, novelist, journalist and television producer. He has won numerous literary awards and amongst other books wrote a biography of the writer Bruce Chatwin.


Helen Napper  Exhibition of Paintings at The Aldeburgh Cinema Gallery from Friday 28th February to Sunday 2nd March


Exhibition Launch at 12.30 pm on Friday and Saturday.  Otherwise open throughout the weekend at The Aldeburgh Literary Festival.


Helen Napper was born in Wivenhoe, Essex in 1958 and has lived in Aldeburgh for twenty years. She has exhibited in London since 1980 and her work is in public and private collections in the UK, the USA, Australia and Hong Kong.


Charlotte Chesney writes: ‘Hers are pictures of something heartfelt yet elusive. They are intimate but tell of isolation. Here is candour in a world of secrets; a timeless world where the very moment is precious; a silent world that can make you laugh out loud.

They soothe and they enchant and they continue to delight and only the paintings themselves can tell quite why.’


We are delighted that Helen has kindly allowed us to use one of her paintings as the cover for our brochure this year. A selection of her luminous, colour-saturated work will be on display at the Aldeburgh Cinema Gallery. Do find time to see the exhibition which will be on throughout the weekend.


The Aldeburgh Literary Festival would like to thank


John Commander for his design work;

Torben Merriott, Andrew Cotton and Graham Lapwood at Blackwing for technical wizardry;

Catriona Chase and Tracy Rogers for help with the box office;

Sean Morrison and his team at The White Lion Hotel;

Tim and Lucy Rowan-Robinson for their support;

our hard-working and efficient ushers: Tony and Bridget Logan, Penny Moorby, Penny Hawes, Gillian Varley and Rob Wheeler on the door of the Jubilee Hall;

Thomas Gerstenmeyer and his team at The Aldeburgh Cinema;

the staff at The Aldeburgh Bookshop: Jane Austin, Carol Cameron, Alison Molyneux, Kathleen Beller and Judith Russell;

and finally thank you to all our customers who support the bookshop throughout the year.



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