Blog – The Start Of LitFest by Nick Fogg

Tuesday, July 25th, 2017

Credit Ben Phillip

Marlborough Literary Festival 2013 credit Ben Phillips Photography

Can you wait another 25 years for the next one? I mean my next mayorality. That’s the cycle over which I do the job. In my first session as mayor, we began the Marlborough Arts Association to put on an annual festival. Eventually this became the Marlborough Jazz Festival, because that‘s where the bums were going onto the seats, but there were lots of spin-offs – Opera Luna and the Artist’s Studios to name but two. I always regretted the loss of the literary element though, particularly the poetry evenings in a beautiful garden in Aldbourne with top actors. Thus when I became Mayor again in 2009, reviving the literary aspects of the festival seemed a good idea. To have a tester event also seemed a good idea.

By a fortunate coincidence, the distinguished literary critic, John Carey, had just produced a biography of Marlborough’s distinguished local son, William Golding, so I invited him to speak at what I dubbed “The Mayor’s Literary Lecture” in dialogue with the former St. John’s School Headmaster, John Price, whose teaching career had curiously followed Golding’s. It was a great success, so the LitFest was in business! Not only that, it brought about contact with Golding’s daughter, Judy, who’d just brought out a splendid book about her Dad and has proved a resolute supporter of the festival.

A team of all the talents was gathered together – amongst them novelists Mavis Cheek and Mark Ellis, local literary enthusiasts Sir John Sykes and Alison Galvin Wright and top journalist, Craig Brown. It was Sir John who brought in the core team that would be the workshop of the festival, people like Jan Williamson, Kay Newman and Amelia Trevethick. It was Mavis Cheek who defined its purpose – “Back to Basics”.

Nick Fogg at the Wiltshire Life awards

Too many literary festivals had succumbed to the temptation to orientate themselves around popular TV programmes. Marlborough Literature Festival would be one in which literary quality would be the panacea. And so it has been. We went into the very first one in 2010 with some trepidation, but retrospectively, it’s the start-ups that are the most fun. It was indeed something to get Margaret Drabble, Michael Holroyd, Lynn Baber and Judy Golding along, but equally good to give breaks to aspiring young writers. And since then it’s simply got better each year. Well done the team!

Nick Fogg, Marlborough Town Councillor & former mayor