Big names heading for the seaside

IT seems like wishing away the summer to cast one's mind forward to chilly November, but there's something coming up at Southwold that will paint the winter grey with a splash of colour.

IT seems like wishing away the summer to cast one's mind forward to chilly November, but there's something coming up at Southwold that will paint the winter grey with a splash of colour.

Southwold Literature Festival brings a host of well-known names to the seaside from November 9-13.

Headlining is former Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey, one of the grand old men of British politics, who will celebrate his 90th birthday next year. He recently updated his best-selling political memoirs with a new afterword, and will regale festival-goers with stories from his years at the seat of power.

Mr Healey was also deputy leader of the Labour Party, under Michael Foot, and served as Shadow Foreign Secretary for much of the 1980s. He retired from the Shadow Cabinet after the 1987 General Election and in 1992 stepped down after 40 years as an MP. He was subsequently made a life peer.


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Lord Healey was an early supporter of Tony Blair's leadership ambitions, but has latterly been critical of the Prime Minister, several times calling for him to pass the reins to Gordon Brown.

His autobiography The Time Of My Life tells of the changes he has witnessed since World War II and covers all aspects of his life as politician, speaker, writer, art lover, photographer and family man.

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It's a family affair at Southwold, for also appearing is Lord Healey's good lady. Edna Healey, who wrote Memoirs Of A Wife At Westminster, will be giving a glimpse of political life from the spouse's point of view.

Her book charted her husband's rise to power, his leadership struggle, 10 General Elections, and meetings with world leaders.

Shirley Williams - or Baroness Williams, the leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, to give her her full title - is also coming to Suffolk, though politics isn't the prime focus of her talk. A practising Catholic, she will explore the relationship between Christian teaching, the Church and public life. She will also consider the impact of her faith on her political career.

As well as the heavy input from the world of politics, there's a significant gathering of TV names.

Rageh Omaar has become one of the UK's most recognised journalists after reporting on the Iraq war for the BBC. He went on to write Only Half Of Me - Being A Muslim In Britain, which looks at lives that are misunderstood and tries to make sense of our world.

His book contains a moving account of leaving Somalia at the age of six, his family's attitude to religion and the stabbing of his cousin last summer.

Fellow BBC journalist George Alagiah, author of A Home From Home, examines similar issues and challenges. He has gone from being an immigrant to a member of the establishment - but not without a struggle between heritage and assimilation.

A third BBC heavyweight, Newsnight terrier Jeremy Paxman, asks a perhaps-unlikely question: What does it mean to be royal? The presenter, whose book On Royalty is published in October, asks how important the royal family is to our national identity.

Melvyn Bragg, doyen of TV arts broadcasting, will also be in Southwold. His talk will be based on his recent publication and television series 12 Books That Changed The World - a personal list that offers considerable scope for argument.

The literary dinner at the Swan Hotel, meanwhile, showcases a book with local links that was featured in the EADT a few weeks ago. The entertainer and regular letter-writer Joyce Grenfell visited Aldeburgh every year from 1962 to 1979 for the famous music festival started by Benjamin Britten.

Janie Hampton, her biographer and godchild, has put together Joyce Grenfell's Letters

From Aldeburgh - insightful and witty reflections on Suffolk, its renowned festival, and the people she met.

Details about dates, ticket prices and venues can be found at www.wayswithwords.co.uk - or phone 01803 867373. General booking starts on August 21. Bookings submitted before then will be kept until that date and processed then, say the festival organisers.

ONE-time Suffolk resident Joan Bakewell promises an interesting afternoon as she returns to the county for the Southwold Literary Festival.

The author of 70 Plus gives a candid account of life having attained her three score years and 10. Her talk mixes personal anecdotes and social commentary, and issues touched on could include new technology, how to deal with failing health, communicating with the dying, the nature of faith, and what it means to be British.

On a more controversial note is a session on Lord Longford, the cabinet minister and penal reformer whose life has been made into a film for Channel 4. It focuses on his relationship with Moors Murderer Myra Hindley.

Peter Stanford, who has penned Longford's biography and continued his prison work, shows extracts from the programme and gives his thoughts on the adaptation.

Margaret Drabble is in Southwold to explain her craft. Her latest work, The Sea Lady, examines the importance of place, and how where we come from makes us who we are.

Political commentator Anthony Howard, meanwhile, tells the story of Basil Hume, who served as Archbishop of Westminster for 23 years.

Other festival drawcards include:

Stephen Games, first arts editor of The Independent, on the radio broadcasts of the poet John Betjeman - the things that made him famous;

Penelope Lively, whose book Making It Up sees her write about key moments in her life and then ask “what if?”;

Biographer Victoria Glendinning tells the story of Leonard Woolf, aka the husband of Virginia Woolf, but a formidable figure in his own right as a publisher, writer and activist;

Jenny Uglow gives an illustrated talk on Thomas Bewick, the farmer's son from Tyneside whose History of British Birds was the first field guide for ordinary people;

Jan Dalley tries to cut through the fog of self-interest, emotion and propaganda and discover the truth of The Black Hole of Calcutta;

Salley Vickers, whose books tackle love, death, loss and redemption, explores the complexities of human lives and hearts;

Juliet Barker, biography of Wordsworth and the Brontë sisters, turns her attention to the Battle of Agincourt.

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