End of first chapter for St Albans’ new literary festival - plus galleries

St Albans Literary Festival Tudor Night with Conn Iggulden and Leanda de Lisle, presented by Martine

St Albans Literary Festival Tudor Night with Conn Iggulden and Leanda de Lisle, presented by Martine Croxall - Credit: Archant

You can take it as read that the inaugural St Albans Literary Festival was a phenomenal success.

The four-day celebration of literature in its myriad forms attracted hundreds of book lovers to dozens of events across the city centre.

Presented by the Herts Advertiser but run entirely by volunteers, the festival took place at various venues ranging from St Albans Cathedral, Waterstones and Oxfam bookshops and the Clarion Hotel to St Michael’s Manor, St Albans School and Dagnall Street Baptist Church.

Activities kicked off on Thursday with visits from children’s authors to schools across the district, aimed at promoting and encouraging reading for all ages, before a packed Town Hall welcomed broadcasting legend Sir Terry Wogan for an evening’s entertainment.

Other events over the course of the festival included a Murder Mystery Dinner at the Abbot’s Kitchen, a panel of “Criminal Masterminds” revealing the secrets behind writing crime fiction, and a special Tudor night in the historic surroundings of the Lady Chapel at St Albans Cathedral.

Festival directors Claire Walsh (adults) and Jennifer Blackford (children) devised and organised the entire programme, including sourcing authors and venues.

Claire said: “I’ve always wanted to make a positive contribution to our local community and in doing this festival I think we have achieved that with over 1,000 attendees coming to some brilliant events. I loved the chance to meet some of my favourite authors and hear their tips about writing, and I’m now inspired to re-draft my first novel!”

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Jennifer added: “‘When talks about the festival began a year ago one of our main objectives was to develop a children’s programme that was accessible to all and that encouraged children to read for enjoyment. It has been an absolute pleasure to observe children engaging so brilliantly with a variety of authors and speakers this weekend and listen to their own brilliant and imaginative ideas.

“The wonder of meeting an author and the inspiration gained from some truly wonderful presentations will stay with the youngsters who participated in both the family and school’s programme for a lifetime. None of it could have been achieved without the amazing support or passion of those children’s authors who joined us for our inaugural festival. They have had a lasting impact on many children.’

Herts Ad editor Matt Adams, who initiated the festival and held journalism workshops over the four days, said: “It is remarkable to think that such a diverse, inclusive and entertaining festival was the result of a casual conversation on Twitter.

“I would like to thank all of our sponsors, volunteers, organisers, authors, venues, booksellers and audiences for helping create an event which truly inspired our whole community.”

Radio Verulam DJ Danny Smith, who was part of the festival management team, said: “The Terry Wogan event was a highlight for me. As a local broadcaster, it was a privilege and honour to have shared the stage with such a legendary figure. He was so down to earth and nice - staying to the very end to ensure everyone who wanted a photograph an autograph got one. At one point I thought he was going to help put the chairs away!

“It was also wonderful that Philomena Lee, the subject of the Judi Dench/Steve Coogan film, came to the event. Her son contacted me and told me how much of a fan of Sir Terry she is. We were delighted to invite her, along with her son and daughter who are all local residents, to the event as our guests.

“ir Terry spent a few minutes chatting with the family and was clearly as thrilled to be meeting Philomena as she was to be meeting him. Since the film, she has met some of the most famous people in the world, including Bono, Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks and the Pope. According to the family, it was Wogan who she was most excited about.”

Discussions for a follow-up festival are already underway.


BBC News presenter Martine Croxall: “Well done for a splendid job getting the festival off the ground. Thank you for involving me in it. It was a lot of fun.”

Author Jessie Burton: “With many congratulations on a marvellous literary festival.”

St Albans resident Paul Hurford: “I just wanted to say how much my wife and I enjoyed the literary festival and to thank you for your inspiration and hard work in turning it into a reality.”

Mindy Gibbins-Klein, founder of festival headline sponsor The Book Midwife as well as Panoma Press publishing, ran two workshops entitled ‘How to Write a Great Book Fast’ as part of the event, and said: “It has been amazing to be involved in the very first literary festival here in St Albans.

“With both of my businesses based here, it was only natural we would support the event, and I’m very glad we did. I met lots of wonderful aspiring authors, published authors and people who just like books, like we do.”

Festival ambassador Kate Griffin said: “Thursday’s Murder Mystert Dinner in the Abbot’s Kitchen with me, Matt Arlidge and James Carol was great fun for all concerned. “St Albans Abbey Sub Dean, Richard Watson, was a fantastic host interviewing each author between courses and providing plenty of information for guests to digest and enjoy! Over 50 people attended the evening, which was fantastic - proving that St Albans most definitely has an appetite for books! “The festival organisers deserve a massive round of applause. Roll on next year’s Lit Fest!”

Cllr Annie Brewster, Portfolio Holder for Sport, Leisure and Heritage said: “What an astonishing inaugural St Albans Literary Festival. “The enormous range of events and workshops staged in some inspirational venues was incredible. “I met people who said they have never been to anything else in St Albans... a genre not offered before, a gaping hole in our city. Congratulations to everyone involved for all their hard work to make our first LitFest such a storming success.”

Solicitors hosts variety of literary events

Festival sponsors Debenhams Ottaway solicitors hosted three events in their office and took part in one of the panels.

On Thursday evening, Debenhams Ottaway welcomed local authors Jessica Chivers and Christine Quinn-Brown who formed a Women in Business panel with employment partner, Louise Attrup and private client partner, Susan Glenholme.

The panel debated a range of issues facing working parents who want to demonstrate professional commitment whilst still meeting family needs. There was great interaction with the audience, made up of local business owners, HR professionals and working parents.

On Friday, children’s author, Liz Baddaley engaged the audience with her discussion on‘Hope and Loss in Children’s Literature, which included readings from her book, ‘The Finding of Freddie Perkins’ as well as exploring some classic children’s books that deal with loss.

On Saturday the office welcomed local parents and children for a Try Your Hand at Performance Poetry Workshop taken by Emma Thomas-Sloley from Killigrew Primary School. Since 2005 Emma has helped to encourage a love of reading and an appreciation of performance poetry by offering these workshops.

Chief executive, Ian Hopkins said: “Debenhams Ottaway is proud of its commitment to supporting local charities and initiatives. It was great to be involved in St Albans’ first literary festival this year and welcome some great local authors to our office.” - See more at: http://www.stalbansliteraryfestival.co.uk/content/debenhams-ottaway-hosts-variety-literary-events#sthash.YZmmjxbE.dpuf