If you missed the post about the Marlborough Literary Festival and feel you’ve missed out, click here.


We’d been to the Marlborough Festival on a Saturday. The events we’d booked at Henley were on the Wednesday, our first at 4:30, so there was no rush to get there. The morning was spent doing writerly things, then we set off around 2pm, giving ourselves plenty of time to get our bearings and have another late lunch before the fun started.

Based on the advice given by the Festival organisers, I used the railway station car park. It was the furthest away, but allowed a longer stop and was – surprisingly – reasonably priced. From there, we walked into the town in search of the “Festival Hub”, which we understood to be on the Market Place. And so it turned out to be.

I have kind of described it before, so won’t repeat myself. In short, it was a temporary structure that served as an information point as well has having a separate room for talks and presentations.

Bearings gained, we retired to what looked from the outside like a quaint pub and turned out to be a Wetherspoons. At least we knew lunch wouldn’t take long to serve, allowing us to relax about being on time for our first event.

Because we hadn’t been to literary festivals before, we’d tried to book a mix of events. With no particular expectations we hoped the variety would give us a flavour of things. That said, our preferences were for fiction, so we were unlikely to turn up for Oliver Letwin talking politics, or Max Hastings on the Vietnam War. At Marlborough, we’d seen two authors at different points in their careers, one holding court as she spoke without interruption, the other being interviewed and interacting more with her audience. Both were good in their own ways. Today, we were going to see another established author doing something different again and, at this first event, three new authors talking about their very first books being published.

It was billed as The Faber Proof Party, though I don’t recall Faber being mentioned during the presentations. When, after milling about for fifteen minutes in the information area of the Hub, we were eventually let in, we discovered our seats were of the white plastic variety often seen in pub gardens – not the most comfortable. Unfortunately, this did impact on the experience as we both have problems with our backs, and the growing discomfort – pain in my partner’s case – became increasingly distracting.

A carrier bag containing a proof copies of the books being talked about had been left on every seat, so we weren’t going away empty-handed. Though what we were going to do with two copies of each between us was something we decided to debate later.

On stage were the three new authors and a host. Introductions were made and the authors asked to give readings from their books. The passages read were clearly favourites of the authors, but didn’t leave me feeling enticed. To be honest, by the time the readings had finished, I was considering using the back pain as an excuse to leave. A passing road sweeper competing with the sound system for our attention was adding to that inclination..

I’m glad I didn’t, though, because the ensuing Q&A elicited more interesting tales about the conceptions of the books, their development and the writers’ own experiences in writing the books and their roads to writing. All varied, and all offered hope and inspiration in their own ways so that, long before things were concluded, my earlier negative thoughts had been eclipsed.

As everything came to a close, the opportunity was offered to meet the authors afterwards. They’d be happy to sign copies of the books we had in our bags and – who knows? – might even have been prepared to have a chat for a while. It would have been good to do that. However, with our backs screaming for relief, we concluded walking to the car to deposit our booty would be more therapeutic.

We had around an hour to kill before we went to our next event. This was taking place in a theatre, so we were hopeful of a more comfortable experience.

When the tickets had arrived, they’d been accompanied by a brochure that included a map of Henley, highlighting all the venues. Our initial walk into town had been sufficient to establish that the accuracy of the map was questionable so, having identified where we thought the theatre was, we left the car in plenty of time. For a change, we walked by the river, which was lovely, and another reason to come back here.

And there, I think, I’ll leave it for now. What happened at the next event was much more than I could have hoped for, so it will take some telling.