My guest today is the delightful Mark Evans - relating his recent adventures at the Budleigh Book Festival.
Mark is passionate about writing and loves history. He wrote his first novel when fifteen years old and has written many more novels and scripts since. He’s most interested in the effects of history on ‘ordinary’ people. It’s the theme of his latest writing project, a Second World War novel, The Scent of Lilacs. He likes to get his facts right, whenever he can using the recollections and memoirs of people who were actually there. He draws on his own experience as an infantry and intelligence corporal in the Territorial Army during the Cold War of the 1980s, and as a civilian defence analyst working on projects for NATO and the UK, the United States and Canadian governments.
He’s also been a re-enactor of the early medieval, seventeenth century and world war two periods. Touch and taste it to understand it, is something he believes strongly.
Born in South Wales, he moved to London when four years old. After graduating from university as an Astrophysicist, he became an astronomer and then moved to defence analysis. After that he was a public affairs, public relations and marketing consultant. He was also active in local and UK politics. He believes that variety is the ‘spice of life!’
He helped set up a company to produce audio and radio works of Shakespeare, another company to make community films, and is now co-owner of a business consultancy.
But most of all he’s a writer.
Last month, I travelled from my remote Welsh valley to the Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival in Devon. The what, I can hear you say. Where? Actually, it was rather good. It’s been running for five years and had a very impressive line-up of speakers, starting on the Thursday night with Melvyn Bragg and PD James and running on through, amongst many others, Peter Snow, Hilary Mantel and Edna O’Brien. The full programme is on the website.
Budleigh sea front, courtesy Adrian Pingstone,
Budleigh is a small town about fifteen miles east of Exeter, nestling in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It was a great setting for a gathering of those of us who love books, and writing, and writers. Presentations by authors, and question and answer sessions, were held in churches and halls closely scattered around the small town centre. There was even a marquee on the green serving refreshments and with a Waterstones stall selling books and overseeing author signings. So very English; somehow it reminded me of church fetes and the Womens’ Institute. And the people did too, mostly of a certain age and nicely dressed and nicely mannered. I suppose that included me, well the age bit anyway. However, don’t think it was stuffy. Most certainly not. Ever been to a WI meeting? They can be lively. And there were younger people in the audience, and younger authors too like Ed Hogan and Katie Ward. The festival buzzed.
My favourite session was perhaps that with Peter Snow, sans ‘swingometer’, who spoke, or more accurately gushed, about his book When Britain Burned the Whitehouse. But I found them all interesting. My only criticism is that there was little opportunity to ‘meet and greet’ informally. There was a reception for Budlit Friends, but that was in August and really only suitable for locals. The festival itself had a drinks reception after the session with Sarah Churchwell, author of Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and The Invention of The Great Gatsby. In keeping with the theme, people were encouraged to dress up 1920s-style. But this happened at the very end of the festival, on the last evening, when many people would have left. It was very difficult to do any networking during the festival, really it was only possible in queues, so I handed out few cards and had no chance to chat. I missed the final reception because I had a plane to catch - how corny is that?
Budleigh Salterton Literary festival is one I’m told, of over 340 local such gatherings held across the UK each year. It was well organised. And the lovely folk in the Tourist Information Centre were so, so helpful. Worth the big ‘thank you’ box of chocolates I dropped off on my first morning for helping arrange tickets and taxis. I hope all the other local festivals are as well served.
The festival is mainly an amateur event, but only in the sense that nearly all the organisers and staff involved are volunteers. In terms of standards, its very professional.
As Peter Snow commented, it’s great to see the British tradition of DIY upheld in this way.
And they’re doing it again next year.
Next week: Alison Morton is my guest