The 16th Aldeburgh Literary Festival 2017

The 16th Aldeburgh Literary Festival

Thursday 2nd to Sunday 5th March 2017


Thursday 2nd March


Event 1           4.30 pm          Meg Rosoff and India Knight



This opening session to the Festival isn’t about dogs, but it begins with dogs: ‘Jonathan came home from work one day to find the dogs talking about him. They weren’t even his dogs’ are the arresting opening lines of Meg Rosoff’s novel, Jonathan Unleashed.


Meg Rosoff is the prize-winning author of extraordinary, award-winning books for teenagers and young adults: How I Live Now, Just In Case, What I Was, The Bride's Farewell and There is No Dog (which isn’t about dogs at all).  She has now written her first work of fiction for adults, Jonathan Unleashed, and it’s an articulate, witty novel about a young New Yorker trying to find his feet in the adult world.  ‘How did normal people cross the huge gulf between childhood and adulthood?’, Jonathan wonders in the book. ‘He’d always assumed it would just happen–one day he’d wake up and find himself on the other side.’  Rosoff was awarded the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Memorial Prize in 2016.


‘Dogs tend naturally towards happiness. That’s why humans choose to live with them’, Jonathan’s vet tells him in the novel.  Meg Rosoff will be interviewed by India Knight, whose new book is all about living with dogs.  The Goodness of Dogs is a celebration of happy dogs and the happy people who own them. At once a companion, a manual and a repository of useful information, The Goodness of Dogs also contains avid dog-lover India Knight's reflections on the sheer brilliance of dogs and the life-enhancing delight of dog ownership.

Event 2          6.00 pm          James Stourton - Kenneth Clark: Life, Art and Civilisation  Sold out


Art historian James Stourton examines the life of the brilliant polymath Kenneth Clark, director of the National Gallery, author and patron of the arts.  No voice has exercised so much power and influence over the arts in Britain as Clark’s.  And, as writer and presenter of the thirteen-part TV series Civilisation, he was responsible for the greatest syntheses of art, music, literature and thought ever made–‘a contribution to civilisation itself’.  K, as he was known, has a special connection with this part of the world having been brought up in remote style in the 50-bedroomed Sudbourne Hall across the river from Aldeburgh.


Stourton is the ideal choice for Clark's official biographer and his book is hailed as ‘scholarly, entertaining, beautifully written and sympathetic’ (The Times).  Stourton spent thirty years at Sotheby’s, becoming chairman in 2007.  His previous works include Great Collectors of Our Time: Art Collecting since 1945 and Great Houses of London.


At The Aldeburgh Cinema


Event 3          7.30 pm          Adventures in Wild Life Film Making: Alastair Fothergill  Sold out


Alastair Fothergill is the award-winning director of some of the most important natural history documentaries of the last thirty years.  He worked closely with David Attenborough on many films, and produced Life in the Freezer, a six-part series for BBC1 celebrating the wildlife of the Antarctic, presented by Sir David Attenborough.  While still working on this series, he was appointed Head of the BBC Natural History Unit in November 1992, aged 32.  In 1998 he produced The Blue Planet, a landmark series on the natural history of the world’s oceans, followed by Frozen Planet and Planet Earth.  Fothergill now runs his own production company, Silverback Films, which recently made The Hunt for BBC1.


Behind the camera on many of Fothergill’s films (as well as his own) is John Aitchison, double Bafta and Emmy winner for his cinematography.  Aitchison’s book The Shark and the Albatross: Adventures of a Wildlife Film-maker is not only an exciting account of twenty years’ travel to remote, exotic and dangerous places but also a thoughtful and sensitive look at man’s relationship with the natural world.


Aitchison and Fothergill will be discussing their work together, illustrated by film clips.




Friday 3rd March


Event 4          10.00 am         Mark Ford—T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land  Sold out


‘When, a few years ago, T. S. Eliot topped a poll commissioned by the BBC to discover the nation’s favourite poet, the most common reaction was surprise.  Poetic beauty contests of this kind tend to uncover the philistine streak in British taste: could Eliot, the man who made poetry difficult, much of whose work can only be fully understood with the help of scholarly footnotes, really be our ‘favourite’ bard?  And wasn’t he still American when he wrote his most revolutionary and influential poem, The Waste Land? Since its publication in 1922, the annus mirabilis of the modernist movement, Eliot’s greatness and importance have never been in doubt, but the word “favourite” can conjure up someone cuddly. And, Cats notwithstanding, there is nothing cuddly about Eliot …’ (Mark Ford, The Guardian, 2014).


Mark Ford will be talking about The Waste Land.  Ford is a professor in the English Department at University College London.  Recent publications include Thomas Hardy: Half a Londoner, This Dialogue of One: Essays on Poets from John Donne to Joan Murray (Winner of the 2015 Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism) and the anthology London: A History in Verse.  He has also published three collections of poetry: Landlocked (1992), Soft Sift (2001) and Six Children (2011).


Event 5          11.30 am         Adrian Tinniswood The Long Weekend, Life in the English Country House between the Wars   Sold out


Acclaimed architectural historian Adrian Tinniswood explores the truth behind the myths of the half-forgotten world of the English country house between the wars.  Drawing on hundreds of memoirs, on unpublished letters and diaries, on the eye-witness testimonies of belted earls and unhappy heiresses and bullying butlers, this ‘fantastically readable and endlessly fascinating book’ (Guardian) is at once hugely entertaining and a serious look at the social and architectural history of England at this period. 


Tinniswood is the author of fourteen successful books on social, architectural and cultural history, including a biography of Christopher Wren and an account of the Great Fire of London By Permission of HeavenThe Verneys—a fascinating story of a seventeenth-century family—was short-listed for the Samuel Johnson Prize.



Event 6          2.00 pm          Artemis Cooper Elizabeth Jane Howard, a Dangerous Innocence  Sold out

Elizabeth Jane Howard (1923-2014) wrote brilliant novels about what love can do to people, but in her own life the lasting relationship she sought so ardently always eluded her. She grew up yearning to be an actress; but when that ambition was thwarted by marriage and the war, she turned to fiction. Her first novel, The Beautiful Visit, won the John Llewellyn Rhys prize - she went on to write fourteen more, of which the best-loved were the five volumes of The Cazalet Chronicles.

Following her divorce from her first husband, the celebrated naturalist Peter Scott, Jane embarked on a string of high-profile affairs with Cecil Day-Lewis, Arthur Koestler and Laurie Lee, which turned her into a literary femme fatale. Yet the image of a sophisticated woman hid a romantic innocence which clouded her emotional judgement.  She was nearing the end of a disastrous second marriage when she met Kingsley Amis, and for a few years they were a brilliant and glamorous couple--until that marriage too disintegrated.  It is interesting to think that nowadays Howard’s books will be found in stock in all good bookshops, whereas Kingsley Amis’s books have dropped out of fashion and out of print.

Artemis Cooper interviewed Jane several times in Suffolk, where she lived latterly. She also talked extensively to her family, friends and contemporaries and had access to all her papers.  This biography explores a woman trying to make sense of her life through her writing, as well as illuminating the literary world in which she lived.


Event 7          3.30 pm          Christopher de Hamel: Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts   Sold out

‘Christopher de Hamel opens the door and invites us to join him for the intellectual expedition of a lifetime’ (Neil MacGregor).

In the course of a long career at Sotheby's, Christopher de Hamel has probably handled and catalogued more illuminated manuscripts than any person alive.  In his latest book Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts, he chooses twelve of the most famous manuscripts in existence and describes what they tell us about nearly a thousand years of medieval history—and even about the modern world.  Encountering an original medieval manuscript is, he says, in some ways like encountering a famous person.  With meticulous biblio-sleuthing he seeks to divine the hidden ‘character’ of the celebrity documents under his scrutiny.  Erasures and scrapings, a scribal error here, a jumbled foliation there, can tell us much about the scholarly disputes, patrons and politics of the times.

De Hamel is a Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and is Fellow Librarian of the Parker Library, one of the most important small collections of early manuscripts in Britain.  He is the author of numerous books on illuminated manuscripts and book collecting, including Glossed Books of the Bible (1984), The Book: a History of the Bible (2001), and Bibles: an Illustrated History from Papyrus to Print (2011).


Event 8          5.00 pm          Fiction and Non-Fiction: Annalena McAfee in conversation with John Preston  Sold out


Annalena McAfee’s new novel, Hame, is a dazzling and witty kaleidoscope of a book.  Commissioned to write a biography of the late Bard of Fascaray, Grigor McWatt, a cantankerous poet with an international reputation, American biographer Mhairi McPhail moves to the remote Scottish island of Fascaray.  But who was Grigor McWatt?  As Mhairi struggles to adapt to her new life and put her own troubled past behind her, she begins to unearth the astonishing secret history of the poet regarded by many as the custodian of Fascaray’s—and Scotland’s-–soul.  The novel combines extracts from Mhairi’s journal, Grigor’s letters and poems and his evocative writing about the island to create a compelling narrative that explores identity, love and the universal quest for home.


McAfee’s first novel, The Spoiler, was set in the world of British journalism from which McAfee hails.  She worked in newspapers for more than three decades, as arts and literary editor of the Financial Times, then founding the Guardian Review, which she edited for six years.  She has also written eight books for children and edited a collection of profiles of contemporary writers. 


McAfee will be discussing the overlap of fact and fiction with fellow author, John Preston.   Former colleagues in journalism, both McAfee and Preston have used their journalistic experience in novels.  Preston’s latest book, A Very British Scandal: Sex, Lies and a Murder Plot at the Heart of the British Establishment, is non-fiction, and he brings his novelist’s skill to tell this extraordinary true story in a thrillingly readable way.  It is an account of the shocking political scandal and trial of Jeremy Thorpe.  Preston is the author of several novels, including The Dig, about the unearthing of the Sutton Hoo treasure, remains a local favourite. 


Event 9          6.30 pm          Maggi Hambling: Touch   Sold out


One of Britain's foremost figurative artists, Maggi Hambling is celebrated for her portraits and controversial sculptures.  Now, with Touch, we are introduced to her lively drawings and sensuous Monotype prints. These works are the subject of her current exhibition at the British Museum.

For Maggi Hambling, drawing has always formed the central core of her work.  'Drawing’ she says ‘is an artist's most direct and intimate response to the world.  The touch of charcoal, graphite or ink on paper is full of endless possibilities.  I try to distill the essence of a subject and capture the life-force of a moment.  The challenge is to touch the subject with all the desire of a lover.'

Maggi Hambling will be interviewed by James Cahill, writer and critic. He writes regularly for the art journal Apollo and has recently embarked on a thesis focusing on the impact of classical mythology on contemporary art.



Saturday 4th March


Event 10         10.00 am         Ian McEwan interviewed by Martha Kearney   Sold out


We are fortunate to be able to welcome back Ian McEwan, one of Britain’s most acclaimed novelists.  He is a winner of the Jerusalem Prize and the Shakespeare Prize and has been short-listed for the Booker Prize six times, winning in 1998 with Amsterdam.  His novel, Atonement, was made into a successful film, and his previous work, The Children Act, is being adapted for cinema directed by Richard Eyre.


McEwan’s new novel, Nutshell, is a truly dazzling piece of story-telling: a classic tale of murder and deceit told from a perspective unlike any other.


The narrator of Nutshell has learnt almost all he knows from BBC Radio 4, so it is appropriate that McEwan will be discussing his work with Radio 4 presenter Martha Kearney.


Please note that Ian McEwan will be happy to sign copies before his talk, but will not be available afterwards.


Event 11         11.30 am         Nick DaviesCuckoo: Cheating by Nature   Sold out


Beloved as the herald of spring, cuckoos have held a place in our affections for centuries.  The oldest song in English celebrates the cuckoo's arrival, telling us that 'Sumer is icumen in'.  But for many other birds the cuckoo is a signal of doom, for it is Nature's most notorious cheat.  Cuckoos across the world have evolved extraordinary tricks to manipulate other species into raising their young. How do they get away with it?

In this enormously engaging book, naturalist and scientist Nick Davies reveals how cuckoos trick their hosts.  Using shrewd detective skills and field experiments, he uncovers an evolutionary arms race, in which hosts evolve better defences against cuckoos and cuckoos, in turn, evolve novel forms of trickery.  This is a fascinating corner of Darwin's 'entangled bank', where creatures are continually evolving to keep up with changes in their rivals.  ‘Science of the highest order … rendered into clear, readable prose’ (Stephen Moss, The Guardian).


Event 12         2.30 pm          Henry Marsh—Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery   Sold out


What is it really like to be a brain surgeon, literally to hold someone's life in your hands, to drill down into the stuff that creates thought, feeling and reason?


In this powerful, gripping and brutally honest account, one of the country's top neurosurgeons reveals what it is to play God in the face of the life-and-death situations he encounters daily. Henry Marsh gives a rare insight into the intense drama of the operating theatre, the chaos and confusion of a modern hospital, the exquisite complexity of the human brain and the blunt instrument that is, by comparison. The surgeon's knife


Event 13         4.00 pm          Patricia Highsmith in Aldeburgh—Craig Brown, Jill Dawson and Andrew Wilson discuss Highsmith’s life in Suffolk   Sold out


Did you know that Patricia Highsmith, author of The Talented Mr Ripley and Strangers on a Train, lived in Aldeburgh in the early 1960s?  Drawn here to be with her lover, a married woman known only as ‘X’ in the biography, she was attracted by Aldeburgh’s ‘Edwardian’ charm.  She rented first a house in King Street, then bought a small, pale pink cottage in Earl Soham.  During this period, she was working on A Suspension Of Mercy, a novel about an American crime writer in Suffolk who is suspected of murder. 


Novelist Jill Dawson has brilliantly reimagined Highsmith’s Suffolk time in her new novel, The Crime Writer.  It is a dark, Highsmithian tale of obsession and murder, written in the style of Patricia Highsmith and featuring Patricia Highsmith as its main character.  


Dawson will be discussing this book with Craig Brown, who is equally addicted to Highsmith’s fiction, and biographer Andrew Wilson, author of Beautiful Shadow: a Life of Patricia Highsmith.  Dawson is the best-selling author of nine novels, including Fred & Edie (short-listed for The Whitbread and Orange Prize) and Watch Me Disappear (long-listed for the Orange Prize).  Her novel The Great Lover, about the poet Rupert Brooke, was followed by Lucky Bunny, which tells the life of Queenie Dove, East End thief and good time girl, which won a Fiction Uncovered Award.  Her novel The Tell-Tale Heart, described by Hilary Mantel as ‘an uncanny and atmospheric novel by a skilful storyteller’ was long-listed for the Folio prize.  Andrew Wilson has written lives of Sylvia Plath, Alexander McQueen and Harold Robbins, as well one novel, The Lying Tongue, inspired by, of course, Patricia Highsmith.


Event 14         5.30 pm          Alan Johnson MP interviewed by Nick Robinson   Sold out


From the condemned slums of Southam Street in West London to the corridors of power in Westminster, Alan Johnson’s multi-award-winning autobiography charts an extraordinary journey, almost unimaginable in today’s Britain.  Born in Notting Hill, west London, Alan Johnson’s early years and his job as a postman have been covered in This Boy and Please Mister Postman.  His third volume, The Long and Winding Road, continues the story-telling of Alan’s early political skirmishes as a trades union leader, where he comes to the notice of Tony Blair and other senior members of the Labour Party and his entry into Parliament as the Labour MP for Hull West and Hessle in 1997.  His memoir describes his rise filling a variety of Cabinet positions in both the Blair and Brown governments including Health Secretary and Education Secretary and finally becoming Home Secretary in 2009.


Nick Robinson has been the Political Editor for both ITV and BBC News and is now best known as a presenter on Radio 4’s Today Programme. He is author of two books on contemporary politics Live from Downing Street (2012) and Election Notebook (2015)



Sunday 5th March


Event 15         10.00 am         Lyndal Roper—Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet   Sold out

When on 31 October 1517 an unknown monk nailed a theological pamphlet to the church door in a small German university town, he set in motion a process that ushered in the modern age. His attempts to reform Christianity would split the Western Church, divide Europe and polarise people’s beliefs, leading to religious persecution, social unrest and war.  In the long run, his ideas would help break the grip of religion on every sphere of life.

Yet Luther was a deeply flawed human being: a fervent believer tormented by spiritual doubts; a prolific writer whose translation of the Bible would shape the German language; a married ex-monk who liberated human sexuality from the stigma of sin; a religious fundamentalist, Jew-hater and political reactionary.

An acclaimed historian and a brilliant biographer, Lyndal Roper reveals the often contradictory psychological forces that drove Luther forward and the dynamic they unleashed, which turned a small act of protest into a battle against the power of the Church. 

Professor Roper is Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Oxford.  She has published several books on the history of witchcraft including The Witch in the Western Imagination (2012) and Witch Craze: Terror and Fantasy in Baroque Germany (2004).



Event 16         11.30 am         Adam Rutherford—The Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived   Sold out


Last year at the Aldeburgh Literary Festival, Adam Rutherford, BBC Radio 4 Science Correspondent, casually dropped into the discussion the startling fact that we are all descended from Charlemagne.  This year he is coming back to explain further.  His talk will encompass three kings: Charlemagne, the Hapsburg Charles II and Richard III, as well as everyone who ever lived. It’s about genes.  It’s about us. 


In this captivating journey through the expanding landscape of genetics, Adam Rutherford reveals what our genes now tell us about history and what history tells us about our genes.  From Neanderthals to murder, from redheads to race, dead kings to plague, evolution to epigenetics, this is a demystifying and illuminating new portrait of who we are and how we came to be.


Event 17         2.30 pm          Kate Fox—Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour

I don't see why anthropologists feel they have to travel to remote corners of the world and get dysentery in order to study strange tribal cultures with bizarre beliefs and mysterious customs, when the weirdest, most puzzling tribe of all is right here on our doorstep’ comments social anthropologist Kate Fox.  She puts the English national character under her anthropological microscope, and finds a strange and fascinating culture, governed by complex sets of unspoken rules and byzantine codes of behaviour.  We are introduced to the rules of ‘weather-speak’, ‘ironic-gnome’ and ‘reflex apology’.   Racecourses and pubs are particularly rich sources of research material,  and who does not recognise the ‘free association rule’ of pub conversation.

Fox’s book is a serious—as well as entertaining—look at our national characteristics.  Now in its second edition, revised and updated, Watching the English is being taught on the anthropology syllabus of several distinguished universities.  It has sold thousands of copies at home and abroad to perplexed foreigners.  Fox is the author of The Racing Tribe: Watching the Horsewatching, and her forthcoming book, The New Tribal, will be published in 2017.  She is co-director of the Social Issues Research Centre and a Fellow of the Institute for Cultural Research.


Event 18:        4.00 pm          Libby Purves and Paul Heiney 
Sold out


Profits from this talk will be donated to The Woolverstone Project, a charity which provides sailing opportunities and tuition for those with disabilities.



Cover Illustration: Wilde at Noon, 1997.  Aquatint, in the collection of the British Museum.  Taken from Maggi Hambling: Touch, Works on Paper (2016).


All events are correct at the time of publication and are subject to change without notification.

Tickets are non-returnable and non-refundable.

The Aldeburgh Literary Festival wishes to thank John Commander for design; Torben Merriott, Graham Lapwood and Andrew Cotton at Blackwing for technical expertise; Bridget Logan, Penny Moorby, Ellen Nall and Gillian Varley for ushing; Catriona Chase and Tracy Rogers for help with the box office; Karen Lear for flowers; Jane Austin, Harriet Bailey, Carol Cameron, Jim Huggin, Alison Molyneux and Judith Russell at The Aldeburgh Bookshop; and last, but certainly not least, all the customers who loyally support the bookshop throughout the year..






Penny Graham

Exhibition of Recent Paintings at The Aldeburgh Gallery

Murray Lachlan Young and Butler.  Oil on canvas.

Penny Graham studied at Chelsea School of Art in the early 90s.  She is best known for her intense and colourful interiors, which she paints on commission.  Subjects have varied in size and content from the magnificent Carved Room at Petworth House to the tiny and idiosyncratic interior of Roald Dahl’s writing hut in Buckinghamshire.  In this show, Penny is exhibiting her more recent paintings, based on photos of friends, from books and imagination.

The exhibition will be open throughout the course of the weekend from Friday 3rd to Sunday 5th March 2017. 




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