The 14th Aldeburgh Literary Festival 2015 Programme



The 14th Aldeburgh Literary Festival

Thursday 5th – Sunday 8th March 2015


All events take place at the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh.  Tickets £11.00 each.


Thursday 5th March


6.30 pm          Charity Preview Event: Rendlesham Rediscovered, an East Anglian Royal Settlement of the Time of Sutton Hoo.  Presented by the landowner Michael Bunbury, Dr Judith Plouviez of the Suffolk County Council Archaeological Department and Professor Christopher Scull with demonstrations by the detectorists, Roy Damant, Alan Smith, Robert Atfield and Terry Marsh.


In his eighth-century book An Ecclesiastical History of the English People, the Venerable Bede mentioned the ‘king's village’ at ‘Rendlaesham’ near Woodbridge.  This royal settlement may have included a wooden palace, which would have been used by King Raedwald and other Anglo-Saxon rulers of Norfolk and Suffolk in the sixth and seventh centuries.  More than a millennium later, archaeologists are beginning to understand the relevance of the site. Anglo-Saxon coins, fragments of gold jewellery, buckles, pieces of brooches, and a Visigothic gold tremissis coin from the late sixth century are among the finds that have been unearthed in the fields over the past six years.


Work is still ongoing and discoveries are being made all the time.  Michael Bunbury, Professor Scull and Dr Judith Plouviez will explain the modern day story behind the discovery and the archaeological significance of the site.  It is an enthralling story of treasure, scholarship and teamwork.


Please note: this event is not included in the Rover Ticket

Proceeds from the sale of tickets will be donated to St Gregory’s Church in Rendlesham Restoration Fund


Friday 6th March


Event 1:          10.00 am         Two writers, two continents: in this opening session we are presenting talks on two writers of the twentieth century, one American, one English, who, whilst not unknown, do, we feel, deserve wider readership.


Kate Charlton-Jones on Wallace Stegner and the Topography of Friendship.  In 1944 Sinclair Lewis hailed Stegner as ‘one of the most important novelists in America’.  Exploring themes of friendship and memory, landscape and affliction in his novels, Kate Charlton Jones will discuss the work of this Pulitzer Prize-winning author, with particular reference to his novels Crossing to Safety, Angle of Repose and The Big Rock Candy Mountain.  Charlton Jones’ biography of Richard Yates, Dismembering the American Dream was published in 2014.


Adam Crick on Arnold Bennett.  Arnold Bennett’s reputation is one of the curiosities of literary history.  As a journalist and writer of bestsellers, he was held in high regard by many of his contemporaries.  The Old Wives’ Tale was published in 1908 to huge acclaim, it was hailed as a masterpiece in England and America.  His other works include Anna of the Five Towns (1902) and Clayhanger, set in the Potteries.


Then came decline and semi-obscurity, caused almost entirely by the withering comments of Virginia Woolf, who condemned the writings of this eminent Edwardian as ‘old guard’.  For much of the twentieth century, Bennett's work was affected by the Bloomsberries’  perception.  It was not until the 1990s that a more positive view of his work became widely accepted. The noted English critic John Carey was a major influence on his rediscovery, praising Bennett in his 1992 book, The Intellectuals and the Masses. 


Looking particularly at The Old Wives’ Tale and The Card, Adam Crick will demonstrate that far from being reactionary, Bennett’s work displays a modernity matched by his vigorous take on life.  He explores themes in Bennett’s work of the generation gap, the clash between the provincial and the metropolitan and the threat small communities face from industrialisation.


Like Arnold Bennett, Adam Crick grew up in Staffordshire—and left.


Event 2:         11.30 am         Helen Macdonald on H is for Hawk     Sold out


Combining memoir, nature writing and biography, Helen Macdonald’s beautiful, moving book won the current year’s Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction.  After her father’s sudden death Macdonald, historian and hawk flier, decided to train a goshawk.  She bought Mabel for £800 on a Scottish quayside and took her home to Cambridge.  Then she filled the freezer with hawk food and unplugged the phone, ready to embark on the long, strange business of trying to train this wildest of animals.  To this intense process was added her growing fascination with the troubled writer T.H. White, author of The Once and Future King, who trained a goshawk in 1936.  H is for Hawk is an extraordinary achievement destined to become a classic of nature writing.



Event 3:         2.00 pm          Kate Mosse on The Taxidermist’s Daughter interviewed by Lucy Hughes Hallett  Sold out


Kate Mosse is a novelist, non-fiction author and playwright, with a history of successful publications that other writers can only envy.  Her award-winning historical novels in the Languedoc trilogy (Labyrinth, Sepulchre and Citadel) have sold over five million copies in 42 languages.  Her most recent bestseller, The Taxidermist’s Daughter, is a spine-tingling Gothic tale of murder set in Edwardian Sussex.  Her collection of ghost stories, The Mistletoe Bride and other Haunting Tales was published to much acclaim in 2013 and broadcast on Radio 4 and she is currently writing the screenplay for The Winter Ghosts.  Mosse is also renowned for her championship of women’s writing in setting up the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly Orange).  She is Deputy Chair of the National Theatre and the ‘biographer’ of the Chichester Festival Theatre.




Event 4:         3.30 pm          Helena Attlee on The Land Where the Lemons Grow: the Story of Italy and its Citrus Fruit  
Sold out



In this fascinating book Helena Attlee has combined her two passions and areas of expertise: the histories of Italian gardens and citrus fruit.  The result is a remarkable work, ‘inspiring, learned, clever [and] sensual’, which takes us from the arrival of citrons in second-century Calabria to current day cutting-edge genetic research.  On the way we learn about the use of citrus fruit in perfumes; the menus of Pius V (porcupine, bear and dormouse); the origins of the Mafia among the lemons groves of the Conca d’Oro outside Palermo, later used as cover for even more valuable heroin production.  Each chapter reads like a separate essay, the whole a rich combination of travel writing with history, recipes, horticulture and art, reflecting on human greed, trade and ingenuity. 


Helena Attlee has written several books and articles about Italy and its gardens, and others about the gardens of Japan, Portugal, Wales and the Caribbean.


Event 5:         5.00 pm          A. N. Wilson on Victoria  
Sold out

Both the longest-reigning British monarch and female sovereign in history, Queen Victoria was a figure of profound paradox who has mystified historians for over a century. Now in this magisterial biography, A. N. Wilson questions the conventional wisdom about her life—that she was merely a ‘funny little woman in a bonnet’ who did next to nothing—to show she was in fact intensely involved in state affairs despite a public façade of inaction.  Wilson’s complete immersion in Victoria’s countless letters and journals reveals a carefully nuanced portrait of a monarch possessed by family immigrant insecurities, a reluctant public figure who learned to exploit public display, a mother who hated pregnancy and above all, a political luminary who created and controlled the story of her life, true or otherwise.

With dramatic sweep and novelistic style, Victoria: a Life is an accomplished work from one of our greatest biographers.  A. N. Wilson is also a celebrated novelist, historian (including The Victorians), journalist and commentator.  His biographical subjects include Jesus, C. S. Lewis, Sir Walter Scott, John Betjeman and Milton.

Event 6:         6.30 pm          Craig Brown's A to Z of Humour with Eleanor Bron  
Sold out


The satirist Craig Brown has been described as ‘the most screamingly funny living writer’ by Barry Humphries and by Marina Hyde in The Guardian as ‘encyclopaedically hilarious’.  Once again, he is joined by the sublimely versatile Eleanor Bron to present an A-Z of Humour, incorporating Clerihews, Irony, Knockabout, Malapropism, Nonsense, Puns, Whimsy and much else besides.   


Saturday 7th March


Event 7:         10.00 am         Max Hastings: The Generals of The First World War 
Sold out


Recent historians and commentators of the First World War have not treated its generals kindly.  From Oh What a Lovely War through to Alan Clark’s The Donkeys and Blackadder, an impression of arrogance, incompetence, stupidity and insensitivity has been created.


Yet immediately after the war and well into the twenties and thirties, these generals were often revered by the men who had fought with them.  With reference to C. S. Forester’s novel The General (first published in 1936), Max Hastings will talk about these leaders in a war unlike any that had ever been fought before.


Sir Max Hastings is an author, journalist, broadcaster and former editor of the Daily Telegraph.  His historical work has established his reputation as the leading military historian of our times. His most recent book is a brilliant account of the complex build-up and early days of the Great War, Catastrophe: Europe goes to War 1914.



Event 8:         11.30 am         Graham Farmelo on The Strangest Man, the Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Quantum Genius interviewed by Robert Butler 
Sold out


Science writer and former theoretical physicist, Graham Farmelo will be talking about his remarkable biography of a remarkable man in this fascinating and sensitive account of the life of the scientist Paul Dirac.  Graham Farmelo will be interviewed by Robert Butler, Associate Editor, Intelligent Life, the award-winning magazine from The Economist group.


Dirac, sometimes called the British Einstein, was the greatest English theoretician since Newton – and one of the strangest geniuses in the history of science.  He predicted the existence of anti-matter, determined some of quantum mechanics' key equations, won a Nobel Prize in 1933 and laid the foundations for today's micro-electronics industry.  He was also socially awkward, unusually taciturn and literal minded. 


Winner of the Costa Biography Award and The Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Science and Technology, The Strangest Man is ‘a wonderful book … moving, sometimes comic, sometimes infinitely sad, and goes to the roots of what we mean by truth in science’ (William Waldegrave).  Graham Farmelo is also author of Churchill’s Bomb, a Hidden History of Science, War and Politics.



Event 9:         2.00 pm          Diarmaid MacCulloch on Silence, a Christian History 
Sold out

Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church at Oxford University, will be talking about his latest book Silence, an examination of the role of silence in Christian history.

MacCulloch considers the surprisingly mixed attitudes of Judaism to silence, Jewish and Christian borrowings from Greek explorations of the divine, and the silences which were a feature of Jesus's brief ministry and witness.  Besides prayer and mystical contemplation, there is shame and evasion; careless and purposeful forgetting.

Many deliberate silences are revealed: the forgetting of histories which were not useful to later Church authorities (such as the leadership roles of women among the first Christians), the constant problems which Christianity has faced in dealing honestly with sexuality.  Behind all this is the silence of God; and in a deeply personal final chapter, MacCulloch brings a message of optimism for those who still seek God beyond the clamorous noise of over-confident certainties.

Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch is the author of A History of Christianity: the First Three Thousand Years, Reformation: Europe’s House Divided 1490 – 1700.  He is also a television presenter, having written and presented for the BBC A History of Christianity, How God Made the English, recently God’s Enforcer, The Life and Death of Thomas Cromwell and his latest TV series is Sex and the West.

Event 10:        3.30 pm          Elif Shafak in conversation with William Sieghart  
Sold out


Elif Shafak is an award-winning novelist and one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary Turkish literature.  The author of thirteen books and the most widely read female writer in Turkey, she is also a brave and outspoken commentator on Turkish politics.  Shafak’s work blends East and West, feminism and tradition, the local and the global, Sufism and rationalism—all with a certain black humour. 


Shafak’s nine novels include The Forty Rules of Love, Honour and, most recently, The Architect’s Apprentice.  Architecture is used as a powerful motif in this new, intricate, multi-layered new fiction, which ‘excels both in its resplendent details and grand design. It is not only the construction of the Ottoman empire’s architectural wonders that is vividly evoked, for this beautifully written story also asks: what is the best way to build our lives?’ (Anita Sethi, The Guardian).


International philanthropist, entrepreneur and publisher, William Sieghart will be exploring the wide-ranging themes in her work.



Event 11:        5.00 pm          Colin Thubron 
Sold out


In 1967 Colin Thubron published his first book, Mirror to Damascus.  Thus began the writing career of one of The Times Fifty Greatest Writers of the 20th Century.  


He has written extensively about the Middle East with The Hills of Adonis: a Quest in Lebanon (1968) and Jerusalem (1969); about Russia in Among The Russians (1983) and In Siberia (1999); and China with Behind the Wall: a Journey through China (1987).  His most recent writing was about his 7000-mile journey along the Silk Route in Shadows of the Silk Road (2006) and his pilgrimage to the holy Mount Kailas in To a Mountain in Tibet (2012).  In all of these his work displays an erudition and a willingness to immerse himself in the culture and customs of the places under discussion.  Thubron is also the author of many novels, including the historical novel, Emperor (1978), A Cruel Madness (1984) and Turning Back the Sun (1991).

Thubron has said about his work: 'My travel books spring from curiosity about worlds which my generation has found threatening: China, Russia, Islam (and perhaps from a desire to humanise and understand them).  The novels seem to be reactions against this, and mostly arise from more introverted, personal concerns: often being set in enclosed places (a prison, a mental hospital, an amnesiac's head).  My writing swings between the two genres.'

Joan Winterkorn, who will be interviewing Colin Thubron, is a freelance expert in archival and manuscript valuation for which she was awarded the Benson Medal from the Royal Society for Literature for ‘conspicuous service to literature’.








Sunday 8th March


Event 12:        10.00 am         Adam Nicolson on The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters  Sold out


Where does Homer come from?  Why does Homer matter?  His epic poems of war and suffering can still speak to us of the role of destiny in life, of cruelty, of humanity and its frailty.  But why they do is a mystery.


In The Mighty Dead Adam Nicolson sets out to explain why these ancient poems still have so much to say about what it is to be human, to love, lose, to grow old and die. He reflects on what The Iliad and The Odyssey have to say about relationships between fathers and sons, men and women, on the necessity for love and the violence of warriors, on peace and war, youth and old age.


Nicolson also refers to the history of the poems, the archaeologists who found the fragments of the texts, the geography of the stories, the oral poets of Bosnia and the academics who have helped us understand their importance.


Adam Nicolson is the author of many critically acclaimed books on history and the landscape including Sissinghurst, Sea Room and When God Spoke English.



Event 13:        11.30 am         Simon Winder on Danubia: a Personal History of Hapsburg Europe 
Sold out


For centuries much of Europe was in the hands of the very peculiar Habsburg family. An unstable mixture of wizards, obsessives, melancholics, bores, musicians and warriors, they saw off–through luck, guile and sheer mulishness–any number of rivals, until finally packing up in 1918.  From their principal lairs along the Danube they ruled most of Central Europe and Germany and interfered everywhere–indeed the history of Europe hardly makes sense without them.

Simon Winder will be talking about his extremely funny new book.  An exceptional amount of reading and travel lies behind the maelstrom of music, piracy, religion and fighting.  It is the history of a dynasty, but it is at least as much about the people they ruled, who spoke many different languages, lived in a vast range of landscapes, believed in many rival gods and often showed a marked ingratitude towards their oddball ruler in Vienna.  

Simon Winder is the author of The Man who saved Britain, a personal take on the impact of James Bond, and of the best-selling Germania.  He works in publishing.



Event 14:        2.00 pm          John Lahr on Tennessee Williams: The Outcrying Heart 
Sold out


‘A masterpiece about a genius’ (Helen Mirren), John Lahr’s latest book, Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh, follows Lahr’s other ground-breaking theatre biographies to give intimate access to the mind of one of the greatest American playwrights of the twentieth century.  Williams’s work ushered in—as Arthur Miller declared—‘a revolution in American theatre’.  Williams put his best self—and most of his life—into his plays, The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, among many.  The plays, later made into films, defined their times.


This brilliantly written, deeply researched biography sheds light on Williams’s turbulent life and work.  John Lahr writes for the New Yorker, where for twenty one years he was its Senior Drama Critic, and he is the author of many acclaimed theatrical biographies including the life of Joe Orton, Prick Up Your Ears and Dame Edna Everage: Backstage with Barry Humphries.  He has edited the diaries of Ken Tynan and Joe Orton and twice received the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism.


Event 15:        3.30 pm          John Crace: I Never Promised You a Rose Garden: A Short Guide to Modern Politics, the Coalition and the General Election 
Sold out


Now, in the countdown to the General Election, John Crace presents his humorous up-to-the-minute portrait of Westminster.  Insightful, painful and very funny, this is a must-read for all of us with a vote.  As parliamentary sketch writer for The Guardian, John is in a perfect position to expose the realities of the Coalition:


Foreign Policy - The new 'special relationship' - William Hague and Angelina Jolie;

The Economy - Osborne finally cracks it: boom in London; bust everywhere else;

Immigration - should the entire population of Bulgaria pick strawberries for us?

The Opposition - how Labour got the wrong Miliband.


John Crace is also the author of the ‘Digested Read’ columns and books, and Harry’s Games: Inside the Mind of Harry Redknapp.



Group 8 Exhibition of Paintings at The Aldeburgh Cinema Gallery


Exhibition Launch at 12.30 pm on Friday and Saturday.

Otherwise open throughout the weekend at The Aldeburgh Literary Festival.  Entry free.

Group Eight is a collective of independent, multi-disciplinary, Norfolk-based artists.  They believe passionately in the importance of working outdoors, presenting here an exhibition of their plein air paintings, drawings and photographs in all seasons and all weather conditions inspired by the shimmering coastal light, the watery wildernesses of the East Anglian marshes and the clean-edged geometries of the Fens. 

Mark Cator

James Colman

Ed Crisp

Alex Egan

Katie Falcon

Tor Falcon

Cornelia Fitzroy

Auriol Innes

Fred Ingrams


The Aldeburgh Literary Festival would like to thank all those who have helped, including

John Commander for design;

Torben Merriott and Graham Lapwood of Blackwing Technical Services;

Catriona Young and Tracy Rogers for box-office assistance;

Jane Austin, Arthur Boscawen, Carol Cameron, Alison Molyneux and Judith Russell at The Aldeburgh Bookshop;

Rob Wheeler for cold front-of-house duties;

ushers Bridget Logan, Ellen Nall, Gillian Varley and Penny Moorby;

and all the customers who loyally support the bookshop throughout the year.


The 14th Aldeburgh Literary Festival

42 High Street, Aldeburgh, IP15 5AB

01728 452587


Cover Image: Aldeburgh Marshes by Fred Ingrams


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