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A visit to the Cheltenham Literature Festival 2019

12th October 2019

Cheltenham Literature Festival is the oldest literary festival in the world and is currently celebrating its 70th anniversary. So I’m really not quite sure why it’s taken me so long to get there, especially given the quality of authors and events the organisers line up every year.

Cheltenham Literature Festival

The 2019 Festival is running from 4th-13th October, and here is a flavour of the author events I was lucky to attend for TripFiction.

Victoria Hislop

In many ways, Victoria Hislop exemplifies TripFiction. Reading The Thread before visiting Thessaloniki a few years ago gave us a fascinating insight into the tumultuous history Greece’s second city had experienced throughout the 20th century, and really added something valuable to our own trip.

Victoria is a passionate Grecophile and has a home in Greece. And she is almost an honorary Greek herself, following the huge success of the TV series To Nisi adapting her book The Island, set on the former leper colony of Spinalonga.

Victoria was at Cheltenham to promote her latest book, Those Who Are Loved, set this time around the notorious prison island of Makronisos, during the Nazi occupation of WWII and the subsequent Greek civil war from 1946 to 1949.

She talked animatedly about her writing life and Greece, and I was lucky to have a quick chat with her afterwards. She claimed to remember me contacting her about The Thread when I was wandering the streets of Thessaloniki, in the footsteps of her characters. And she did ask to keep a TripFiction postcard, so she has a literary stalker and TripFiction hopefully has an illustrious fan.

Victoria and TF’s Andrew

Kevin Barry

I have recently read and enjoyed Kevin Barry’s novel Night Boat to Tangier, and he was a delightful interviewee in Cheltenham. Set in the Spanish port of Algeciras, and in Cork, this darkly comic story was longlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize.

Here are some nuggets imparted by Kevin about this latest novel, and about his literary life:

The source of Night Boat to Tangier is 20 years ago. I would escape the bleak Cork winter and spend time in Spain.The novel took a year to write, but Maurice and Charlie had already been in my head for a while. I was largely writing the story overnight, which gives it a dark, sombre feel, I think.’

The ear is a much better tool for a writer than the eye. Although some readers read with their eyes, others with their ears.’

‘The Irish talk a lot but often say very little. The substance is bubbling away below the surface of a conversation.’

‘The first draft of a book is like raw, untreated sewage. I enjoy hacking away during the editing process.’

And this is music to TripFiction’s ears: ‘The spark for my stories always comes from a place.’ Which inspired me to buy a copy of Kevin’s 2011 novel City of Bohane, set in a futuristic community on the west coast of Ireland.

Celeste Ng

Celeste Ng’s first novel – Everything I Never Told You – is set in 1970s Ohio and has been optioned by Julia Roberts.

Her latest – Little Fires Everywhere – is set in Shaker Heights, Cleveland, in the 1990s and has been optioned by Reese Witherspoon, who plans to play lead character Elena Richardson in the TV series adaptation.

That is a hugely successful start to any writing career, but this 39 year-old American of Chinese origin seemed wholly modest and grounded in her sensible roots.

Cheltenham Literature Festival

‘I’m interested in the TV adaptation of Little Fires Everywhere, but I’m quite happy sitting back and not being directly involved.’

‘Reese Witherspoon’s company intentionally focuses on women’s stories. The themes of my own writing tend to be motherhood, and the relationship between mothers and daughters, particularly the formative years which define who you become.’

‘I grew up in Shaker Heights, where Little Fires Everywhere is set. I was one of only a few Asian-Americans at school, in the middle of black and white. That gave me a sense of, and an interest in, being ‘other’ – which my character Izzy is in this novel.’

‘I find it easier to set my stories in the past, with a little distance from the present.’

Sebastian Faulks

The revered author Sebastian Faulks wasn’t at the Cheltenham Literary Festival to promote his latest book. Instead, he had a lively conversation with Sophie Raworth about his Desert Island Books. Read his eclectic choice in the separate TripFiction post here, and discover more about his latest novel Paris Echo, from this November 2018 TripFiction despatch from the Petworth Festival Literary Week.

So many years of missed Cheltenham Literature Festivals. I’m already planning to be there for the whole literary extravaganza next year

Andrew for the TripFiction Team

With thanks to the Cheltenham Literature Festival 2019.

Follow Victoria Hislop on Twitter and via her website,

Follow Kevin Barry on Canongate’s website.

Follow Celeste Ng on Twitter and via her website.

Follow Sebastian Faulks on Twitter and via his website.

Join team TripFiction on Social Media:

Twitter (@TripFiction), Facebook (@TripFiction.Literarywanderlust), YouTube (TripFiction #Literarywanderlust), Instagram (@TripFiction) and Pinterest (@TripFiction)

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