2018 Festival reviews

Monday, October 22nd, 2018

Golding Speaker, Rose Tremain by Davina Jones

The Festival’s Golding Speaker, Rose Tremain, opened the talks with an enlightening discussion of her memoir, Rosie. The Town Hall was packed to hear the award-winning novelist talk about a childhood in which “parents did not know how to be parents”. Her early years were spent in London, at boarding school and in “the splendour” of Linkenholt Manor in Hampshire and her childhood suffering was, she explained, not that of poverty like Frank McCourt in Angela’s Ashes, merely one of emotional neglect.

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She described how her own mother was packed off to board at six by parents who only loved boys but lost both their sons, one at 16 and another in the Second World War; and so the cycle may have continued had Rose not been felt truly loved by a very dear nanny.



She was thrilled to be the Golding Speaker as William Golding had inspired her to start as a writer and she particular admired his novel about Salisbury Cathedral, The Spire: “He had an ability to not write the same kind of novel, and the restlessness of Golding is a marvellous thing. He had a unique voice which travels to different times and places and different genders.”


William Boyd on the truth of fiction and hoax by Helen Sheehan

In the beautiful, newly refurbished Memorial Hall at Marlborough College a packed audience welcomed one of this country’s most popular and successful authors, William Boyd. He is a natural on stage, relaxed, inspiring and witty. Boyd revealed that he has a “writing mantra”; readers should believe that fictional characters are real and fictional events really happened and, for the author to achieve this, any methods or ruse he employs are justified. He referred to this mantra several times, to great effect, as he talked about his latest book, Love is Blind, and a book he wrote in the late 1990’s titled, Nat Tate: An American Artist 1928-1960. 

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In Love is Blind Boyd explained that to access the world of 19th century classical music in Europe and to make it “real” to his readers, his research led him to interview a famous piano tuner who gave him great insight into the lives of professional musicians. With his mantra in mind he took this insight and created his central character, Brodie Moncur, piano tuner to the renowned pianists of his time.


Boyd went on to talk about Nat Tate: An American Artist 1928-1960, with a definite twinkle in his eye. In the 1990’s Boyd was invited to join an editorial board for an art magazine which included the late David Bowie. Together with Bowie, Boyd wrote an article about the 20th century artist, Nat Tate. The article was well received, the story of Nat Tate took on a life of its own and eventually became a biography that was published by David Bowie’s 21 Publishing company. Only Nat Tate is not real, despite the book hoodwinking a good many people in the art world. Again Boyd referred to his mantra – any methods or ruse to create fictional reality are justified.

An audience with William Boyd was a treat. He is as accessible and compelling in person as his books are to his readers. For those of us lucky enough to be there we are all in on the hoax now.


Big Town Read with Chris Cleave, by Andrea Keighley

Marlborough may be a fairly small town, but Chris Cleave’s “Everyone Brave is Forgiven” proved that the Big Town Read could draw a very big audience. Was the size of audience thanks to the compelling storyline or Chris Cleave’s beautiful dialogues?

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Maybe the novel’s appeal was as a result of the big questions his powerful and moving story forced us to ask ourselves; inequality and racism to name just two. Chris showed a series of slides which took us through the heartbreaking reality of lives shattered by the Second World War: the devastation in the east end of London after relentless air raids, the little-known and horrific siege of Malta, the black children living in terror in London as they were unwelcome in the countryside. An hour was scarcely enough to hear Christopher Cleave speak about his own family history and how it inspired his story. This was certainly a big town read that has left us with a hunger to read more of his works.


Alan Johnson by Madeline Wilks

It’s unlikely many renaissance men started life in a North Kensington slum. If only all our deprived children could become such charming, smiley, elegantly dressed people, Alan Johnson had the audience in the packed Assembly Room in the Marlborough Town Hall eating out of his hand.

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Most of us knew that Alan had been a very successful politician, holding many ministerial posts in Tony Blair’s government, but less about the start of his fascinating life. We were all riveted and enchanted by the tales of his boyhood, even when gruesome, as the stories were told with great humour. We felt he could easily have earned a living as a comedian, to add to his accomplishments as an author, a potential rock star and a speech maker.

The Town Hall would have been happy to listen to him all evening. Unsurprisingly some of his books were sold out, and I’m sure many of us drove home wishing he was still running the country.