The "Splendid" Stonyhurst Literature Festival (25th-26th June)

The first ever Stonyhurst Literature Festival was a tremendous success. Readings, talks and question-and-answer sessions by award-winning writers were underpinned with a creative writing workshop, book signings and sales. The weekend-long event, which in the run-up had been featured on BBC Radio Lancashire, was popular with students, teachers, parents, OS and the public. Audiences for each of the nine events numbered from around thirty to over a hundred. As one local visitor enthused, it was “a splendid festival of literature”.

Sherry Ashworth Sherry Ashworth signs books

Sherry Ashworth

A hard-hitting real-life-issues author, novelist Sherry Ashworth read and discussed extracts from her books, exploring such weighty matters as paraplegia, suicide bombing and religious cults with a charismatic and frank engagement of her audience that won her many new fans.  Face beaming, she concluded by reading out passages from her latest novel, “Revolution” - about a student rebellion in a northern school (!).

Nicholas Royle Graham Mort

Nicholas Royle (right) with Jacob Eardley-Dutton                       Graham Mort

George Green, author of “Writing a Novel and Getting Published” and of the epic novels “Hawk” and “Hound”, expertly nurtured twenty-five or so budding authors in his workshop for student writers (“More, please!” was their verdict). Older fans of fiction were treated to a short-story masterclass by writer and judge of the Manchester Fiction Prize, Nicholas Royle, who held us breathless by reading his unnerving, cleverly-constructed story, “Lancashire”, with its allusions to dark local legends of bewitchment. And fellow short story enthusiast Graham Mort – described simply as “outstanding” by one festival-goer – not only drew upon his seven volumes of highly acclaimed poetry for his reading, but he also read “Daniel”, a visceral and elegiac story from his recent prize-winning collection, “Touch”.

Conor O'Callaghan John McAuliffe

Conor O'Callaghan                                                                                          John McAuliffe

Contemporary poets were much in evidence over the weekend. The witty Conor O’Callaghan read from his collection “Fiction” and gave us a tantalizing taste of some of his latest work in manuscript, explaining his dizzyingly inventive approach to the English language in terms of a liberating, particularly Irish playfulness and irreverence. Fellow Irishman John McAuliffe demonstrated a similar gift for finding unlikely connections - with references to Batman, genetic research labs, the Large Hadron Collider, and the last member of a Red Indian tribe. John’s poems made an enormous impression on his audience.

Diran Adebayo Marilynne Heward-Mills

Diran Adebayo                                                                                          Marilynne Heward-Mills

Ethnicity emerged as a strong theme at the Festival. While Conor and John spoke of the changing cultural identity of the Irish in Ireland, Diran Adebayo explored the challenges of forging an authentic identity from such diverse cultural influences as traditional Nigerian family values, UK hip-hop, and a solidly middle-class career at public school, Oxford and the law. Diran, listed by the “Evening Standard” as one of London’s 100 most influential people, and whose novel “Some Kind of Black” was longlisted for the Booker Prize, read from his latest novel, “The Ballad of Dizzy and Miss P” (in which P. G. Wodehouse’s lively approach to language - an early influence, he told us - was much in evidence.

Marilynne Heward Mills, of Swiss and Ghanian parentage, explored questions of identity from a different perspective. She spoke of the cultural and gender conflicts evident in “Cloth Girl” (winner of the Costa First Novel Award) and in “The Association of Foreign Spouses”, her latest published novel. Both proved very popular with her audience, which also included a good number of Stonyhurst students, many of whom were delighted to be able to buy signed copies of her books.

Jo Baker

Jo Baker

The Festival was rounded off by Lancashire-born novelist, Jo Baker, who read from her proof copy of “The Picture Book”, which will be out in September. Jo explained how her fourth novel was inspired by her time as writer-in-residence at the St James Cavalier Centre for Creativity in Malta. From Malta her grandfather had sailed towards Gallipoli on “The Goliath”, torpedoed in 1915 by the Turkish navy. In response to questions from her audience, Jo went on to speak of the complex relationship between autobiographical detail, the past, memory and fiction.

With students clutching new signed books (thanks to SilverDell Books of Kirkham), and members of the public saying what an “enjoyable” weekend it had been, it seems that the Stonyhurst Literature Festival could be set to become an annual Ribble Valley event.

Dr P Ellis, Head of English