A Literary Landmark for Stroud


Several pages were turned, discussed and celebrated at Stroud’s first Book Festival in November. This 10-day event brought together an impressive array of writers who are connected, one way or another, with the Five Valleys of Stroud.

It would be impossible to convey all that was shared beneath the golden canopies that turned the Sub Rooms into an intimate space for readers and writers to enjoy. Here are a few reflections on this new chapter in Stroud’s seventy-year long festival history.

Stroud Book Festival was one where local people turned out to hear local writers. This was an important landmark in a world where literary festivals typically focus on enabling audiences to see and hear national and international writers from further afield. As the witty columnist Sue Limb noted in her excellent interview with Paul McLaughlin it is typical of folks in Stroud to turn out and support local authors.

Notable for their focus on Stroud and its valleys were presentations by Pip Heywood and the Stroud Football Poets. You could have heard a pin drop as Pip Heywood reflected on the accident in childhood that shaped his life and considered how his work, as a documentary film maker, responded inter-generationally to paintings of these valleys by his late father, Oliver Heywood. While I wondered if I would grasp all local references by the Stroud Football Poets, it was moving to hear Crispin Thomas describe daybreak on his 12,000th day of living on Butterrow. I was also deeply touched as Stuart Butler recounted how Archibald Beard of West End walked with his fiancée to drown together in Longford Lake rather than risk him not returning to Minch from the First World War.

The personal engagement with each audience of Festival Director, Jamila Gavin, and the willingness of authors to share the ups and downs of writing brought a sense of open exchange. Authors reflected on the way reviews impact their work and considered whether writing can be a form of therapy for the loss of pregnancies, dear ones and pets.

Speaking gracefully to a packed Subscription Room Ian McEwan relayed the complexities of condensing novels into screenplays. He noted how this involved moving from “being God” -- conveying insight into human emotions -- to becoming a bit-player in a production that focuses on the actions of acting. Novelists, by contrast, have opportunities to explore people’s thoughts.

Poets abounded at the Festival in full performance mode – speaking and signing their poems and reminding us on many occasions of their radical roots in Stroud.

Above all the first Stroud Book Festival created opportunities for adults and children to see themselves as readers who generate new ideas for authors -- active storytellers with potential to contribute to the creative energy of writing that takes root around the hills and valleys of Stroud.

Annis May Timpson