Emirates LitFest at Cheltenham – Part 2
LitFest organisers Isobel Abulhoul and Yvette Judge flew into Birmingham, courtesy of Emirates Airline, to take in as much as possible at the oldest Literary Festival in UK, The Cheltenham Literature Festival. Over the next few days we will feature Isobel’s notes from Cheltenham as she checks out this well-established and world famous literary event.
Another fabulous day! We woke up to a brilliant cold and sunny day. After a hearty breakfast of the sort the English are so good at feeding their guests, Yvette and I set off, with a spring in our steps, and ready for another packed day of seeing some of the UK’s literary greats, stars, broadcasters and social commentators.
Yvette and I started with a session about the 1970′s based on a book by Dominic Sandbrook called Seasons in the Sun: A Battle for Britain 1974 -1979. He was in conversation with Joan Bakewell. I was flooded with memories not of the Seventies but the Sixties, and it was a fascinating discussion, with great audience participation. After a recuperative coffee I went to a panel discussion entitled Sharing Eden, an interfaith discussion on what the three Abrahamic Scriptures say about protecting the planet. Harfiyah Abdul Haleem, who spoke at Emirates LitFest this March, was one of the panel and it was a riveting talk, in many places very humorous and thoughtful at the same time. I think as an audience member I came away thinking how much the three faiths share and the emphasis was most definitely on commonalities.
There was time for a quick bite of lunch and then it was time to go to Robert MacFarlane’s talk on his latest book The Old Way: A Journey on Foot. During his talk there was a hail storm and the clouds burst open. We were in a marquee, so the dramatic weather punctuated his wonderful talk and only made it the more dramatic. He talked about visiting Palestine and walking with Raja Shedhadah (A LitFest favourite) and his book Palestinian Walks. But the most startling part for me were his recollection and photo slides of his walk along the sea paths that emerge on parts of the British coast at certain times and low tides. It looked so scary, but these sea paths were used regularly in our history. There is obviously a danger of being drowned and you really have to know your compass directions very well.
This was followed by a complete change of subject: Rose Tremain talking about her latest book, a sequel to Restoration, called Merivel. Rose is a brilliant speaker, eloquent and witty, and the hour just sped by. This is definitely on my reading list now. The next session I attended was Sandi Toksvig’s, with Fiona Lindsay moderating. It was so funny and Sandi had the audience in the palm of her hands. Her razor sharp wit and natural and warm humour shone, and it was such a privilege to see and hear her live.
To round off the evening, I went to see Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall talk about his latest book Three Good Things. Again he is a marvellous and fluent raconteur who was able to conjure up images so tasty and sumptuous that I have added his latest book to my cookbook collection.
Yvette and I trudged home weary but elated by a stunning and eye opening day, with so many different things to think about. If I take one thing away from our visit to Cheltenham it will be what a wonderful experience it is to attend a literary festival and have such intelligence, entertainment, contrast, and humour in one place and live, where some of the best writers and speakers are gathered for our pleasure.