The idea came to Amanda Dackombe and Louise Frith while they were enjoying the Hat Festival in April last year. Amanda remarked to Louise: I’m surprised Faversham doesn’t have a literary festival,’ and Louise replied: ‘How fantastic, let’s do one.’
Less than a year later, after months of plotting and planning, with a gratifying response from the authors invited, and some sponsorship, the inaugural Faversham Literary Festival is ready to go. It will take place from 23 to 25 February 2018 in two of Faversham’s most atmospheric historic buildings, the Guildhall and the Assembly Rooms, and also the upper room at The Limes public house in Preston Street. ‘It has grown since our first idea for it,’ admits Amanda. There will be some 30 sessions during the main weekend of the festival, writing workshops in the week before, and short story competitions for children and adults. This being Faversham, there will be music too – read on.
Contributors are an impressive mix of household-name authors such as Martin Bell, former independent MP, soldier and war reporter, who will talk about his latest book, War and the Death of News, in which he writes of his personal experience of war and the impact on reporting of television and social media. Iain Sinclair, who as a psychogeographer has exhaustively examined and documented the changing character of London, will be in conversation with filmmaker Andrew Kotting, who accompanied him on his walk along the Roman road, Watling Street, from Dover and then through Kent to Westminster. The session will include a showing of Kotting’s 20-minute film of the project.
Military historian Peter Barton, who is an authority on World War I, leads an impressive cast of Faversham-based writers. His talk, Challenging Histories, will distinguish between the writing of fact and fiction and draw on his research into military archives and interviews with veterans. Antiquarian bookseller Justin Croft, whose knowledge of books and manuscripts old and new regularly features on the Antiques Roadshow, will be available after his talk to value antiquarian books brought in by members of the audience. Read an interview with Justin Croft in the Faversham Life post for 27 January 2017.
Faversham Life has also profiled illustrator Julia Woolf (20 October 2017), who will join forces with children’s author Lou Kuenzler for a lively reading of their book Not Yet Zebra. Other local children’s writers taking part are Briony Dixon – Sleuths, Snoops and Surprises, for ages 3-7 – and Stella Fry, whose book Grandpa’s Garden is a story about a little boy who learns from his grandfather ‘the magic of pulling a little green thing out of the ground and finding a buried treasure underneath.’ Stella, who is a storyteller at Whitstable Junior School, believes that stories encourage, inspire and soothe. ‘Good schools put storytelling at the heart of what they do.’ She will be telling stories in which forests and woods are the setting for traditional tales, myths and legends.
These are just some of the Faversham writers taking part. From further afield, in Kent and elsewhere, will come crime writers, performance poets (see article on Daryl Haines in Faversham Life on 16 September 2016) and exponents of the resurgent genre of nature writing, in which marginal places feature as well as woods and wildlife. There are tales of journeys – personal or cultural, as well as fleeing persecution across the seas. There is too much to cover here, but it is set out in the festival programme and online.
The musical strand in the festival makes its glorious debut on Thursday 22 February, on the eve of the festival, in the Assembly Rooms. The Skate Boys of Faversham Town is the extraordinary but true story of how a team of rink hockey players (rink hockey is like ice hockey but played on roller skates) who all came from the Front Brents in Faversham, made up the entire team for Great Britain, and won the coveted Cup of Nations at the international tournament in 1930 in Montreux. This musical presentation, put together by musician Geoff Sandiford, a former teacher, consists of 15 songs, with narration by Martin Long based on the words of Perce Monk, a Faversham character and one of the members of the team. A trunk full of Perce’s papers, including newspaper cuttings, turned up at The Mechanics Arms in 1982. Perce’s daughter Sue, who worked there as a barmaid, showed the trunk to Geoff, who was inspired to write a song, which became 15 songs and a timeless musical tale of the triumph of endeavour over adversity.
On Saturday 24 February, Judith Nockolds, local pianist and music therapist (she will shortly start teaching a Master’s training course on the subject at the Guildhall School of Music) will launch the day’s events in the Assembly Rooms with a performance of Francis Poulenc’s wonderful L’Histoire de Babar, the story of the baby elephant whose mother was shot by a huntsman, with narration by Faversham baritone Simon Thorpe. Judith is keen for children to come along and is working with a group of Year 3 and 4 pupils at Ethelbert Primary School to familiarise them with the story.
Festival Directors Amanda Dackombe and Louise Frith have put together a remarkably rich and diverse programme. They both work, as the reader may have guessed, in the literary world, Amanda as a freelance editor and Louise as an academic. For the last ten years Amanda has had her own book-editing business, working for independent publishers and individuals. She and her partner moved here from London in 2016, having tired of London. They researched Faversham online, having discovered it when they drew a circle around Margate. ‘We just came out of the station and fell in love.’ Amanda describes the Assembly Rooms as ‘Faversham’s own Wigmore Hall.’
Louise was brought up in Sittingbourne and trained as a teacher. A spell in the far western region of Nepal teaching English and the basic skills of teaching led later to teaching refugees and asylum seekers at Canterbury College. She now works in a small team at the University of Kent as an Academic Skills Tutor, working with both academic staff and students. ‘Our role is to bed academic literacy in the curriculum,’ she says. Her job satisfaction is evident.
Hugh Ribbans is the third member of the team. His role, he says, is that of ‘volunteer designer’, responsible for the logo and programme. Hugh was born in Faversham and trained at Canterbury College of Art. A successful graphic designer, who keeps his hand in doing projects he believes in, Hugh mostly concentrates on printmaking from his linocuts of people and places, animals and birds, both local and seen on his travels. His elegant logo for the festival comes in two variants – a male or female figure reading in a stylised fruit tree laden with books as its fruit. The idea came from the line from Baudelaire: A book is a garden, an orchard.’ Hugh lives in Conyer where he is surrounded by orchards.
Programmes for the inaugural Faversham Literary Festival are available in the town from The Hat Shop, the Fleur de Lis centre and Creek Creative or online at www.favershamliteraryfestival.org. With the exception of The Skate Boys of Faversham Town for which tickets cost £5 from The Hat Shop in West Street, tickets for all events that require them (see programme) are available either at The Hat Shop or online.
Faversham Literary Festival
23 to 25 February 2018
Faversham ME13 7AG
Faversham Assembly Rooms
66 Preston Street
Upstairs, The Limes
59 Preston Street
Text: Sarah. Photograph of Amanda Dackombe and Louise Frith: Hollie Callander.