What could be more joyful for literary lovers than sitting in the glorious grounds of a centuries-old castle listening to some of the UK’s leading writers and novelists discuss their work and chat to their contemporaries?
Well that’s exactly what happens at Chiddingstone Castle every summer, and despite having to cancel last year’s event due to Covid, the good news is the festival is back for 2021 .
However, unlike previous years, it will be a more fringe-style event taking place over the season, as opposed to packing in a number of famous faces over the course of just one weekend. According to its organisers this is to ensure that the necessary social distancing is observed and that numbers don’t exceed the limit decreed in the Government’s guidelines.
Instead, book lovers will be treated to a series of renowned author talks during the afternoons and early evenings of summer and have the opportunity to picnic, purchase books, meet authors and receive signed copies amidst Chiddingstone Castle’s Orangery and stunning gardens.
Despite the 2020 festival being cancelled due to Covid, the organisers still managed to create podcasts of all their scheduled author events – all of which are still available to listen to on their website.
The new series of summer dates opens on July 8 with author Anne Sebba hosting a talk from 5-6pm on her biography of Ethel Rosenberg, the first woman in the US to be executed for a crime that wasn’t murder. The book is titled ‘Ethel Rosenberg; A Cold War Tragedy’, and Anne will discuss the ‘catastrophic’ failure of humanity and justice which resulted in ‘the trial of the century’.
Later that evening, from 7-8pm, Royal biographer Hugo Vickers and journalist Simon Heffer will discuss the diaries of Henry ‘Chips’ Channon and Cecil Beaton. Vickers’ new book, ‘Malice in Wonderland’, reveals society photographer Cecil Beaton’s world of royalty, aristocrats and film stars, whilst Simon Heffer exposes society icons under the gaze of Henry ‘Chips’ Channon in the 1920s and 30s. The event will be chaired by James Lee with readings by actor Geoffrey Streatfeild.
Two weeks later, on July 22, Amanda Owen, TV’s Yorkshire Shepherdess, will talk about combining life on the farm with raising nine children, filming and writing. Amanda will speak from 5-6pm about how she rose to fame in Channel 5’s Our Yorkshire Farm after moving from urban Huddersfield to Ravenseat in Swaledale.
Later that evening, from 7-8pm, Ben MacIntyre will uncover the life of ‘Agent Sonya; Lover, Mother, Soldier, Spy’. This will give ticket holders the chance to hear the remarkable true story of World War II’s most extraordinary spy, Ursula Kuczynski Burton, who combined rural motherhood with being a spymaster, saboteur, bomb-maker and secret agent.
On the evening of August 19, classicist and comedian Natalie Haynes will turn the spotlight on the remarkable women of Greek myths in her talk titled ‘Pandora’s Jar’, which runs from 5-6pm.
Then from 7-8pm, the art critic Martin Gayford presents an illustrated talk on Hockney’s latest paintings in ‘Spring Cannot be Cancelled: David Hockney in Normandy’. Gayford is a long-time friend and collaborator of Hockney.
Finally, on September 2 Chiddingstone Castle welcomes acclaimed novelist Sebastian Faulks, who will talk about his new novel ‘Snow Country’ – described as a ‘landmark novel of exquisite yearnings, dreams of youth and the sanctity of hope’.
Later that day, from 4-5pm, Deborah Moggach, author of ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’, unveils her new novel ‘The Black Dress’, which is described as a ‘beautifully observed, darkly funny, tender and surprising novel about life changes and the unexpected twists and pleasures of being alone’.
To purchase tickets, priced £16 per event, or to find out more about all the dates in July, August and September, please visit: chiddingstonecastle.org.uk/literary_festival