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Who's appearing at the Aldeburgh Literary Festival? See the line-up here

PUBLISHED: 14:30 04 January 2020 | UPDATED: 23:05 05 January 2020

Juliet Blaxland last month, packing up after being told the property she has lived in for the past 12 years has to be demolished because of erosion   Picture: Neil Didsbury

Juliet Blaxland last month, packing up after being told the property she has lived in for the past 12 years has to be demolished because of erosion Picture: Neil Didsbury

Archant

We can't buy tickets online, by email or over the phone, but this annual seaside weekend for book-lovers is thriving

The phenomenon of Donald Trump is likely to come up during a couple of talks at the Aldeburgh Literary Festival  Picture: PA Archive/Dominic LipinskiThe phenomenon of Donald Trump is likely to come up during a couple of talks at the Aldeburgh Literary Festival Picture: PA Archive/Dominic Lipinski

You'd think a literary festival that each year experiences "horrendous oversubscription" might expand. More events, perhaps. A bigger venue, certainly. But no. There's something endearingly quirky about this long weekend at the seaside. No gimmicks: just interesting people talking and interested listeners lapping it up.

John and Mary James, who run The Aldeburgh Bookshop, started the festival in 2002. Aldeburgh has welcomed two Nobel Prize winners, a couple of Chancellors of the Exchequer, and a Pulitzer Prize recipient. So why change a winning formula?

"The intimate atmosphere makes it very special," the Jameses write on their website. Theirs is "a completely independent festival, without sponsorship or grants, which is the way we wish it to be".

How do we get tickets? Ah. Their "least worst system for our particular problem" - oversubscription - is to accept completed booking forms delivered to the bookshop in person or by post.

Forms and brochures have been dropping through letterboxes after being posted in a batch to the nearly-3,000 people on the mailing list.

It works on a first-come, first-served basis, with forms date-stamped in the order they are received at the shop.

We can't ring or email? No. "We have neither the staff nor the e-commerce resources to set up a telephone or website system for an event that only takes place once a year."

Was Prince Albert, pictured with wife Queen Victoria in 1854, really the man who saved the monarchy?  Picture: PAWas Prince Albert, pictured with wife Queen Victoria in 1854, really the man who saved the monarchy? Picture: PA

Mary and John explain: "By taking only physical forms we are giving the advantage to local Aldeburgh and Suffolk residents. These are the people whom we hope are our regular customers and who support the bookshop throughout the year."

Yeah, but… some of the more popular events sell out within hours and Aldeburgh's Jubilee Hall seats only 235. Is there any point applying?

"As soon as one event sells out, the rumours fly that it is all sold out. This is rarely the case in the first week of booking. Not everything sells out, and we encourage you to be adventurous and try the lesser known names…

"We do hate having to disappoint people, but we are often oversubscribed so it is inevitable that some people will not get tickets.

"If you don't get tickets one year, then do try again. Or move to Aldeburgh."

The festival runs from Thursday, March 5, 2020 to Sunday the 8th. Details here.

Margaret Thatcher - here visiting Fakenham in Norfolk in October, 1974 - is the focus of Charles Moore's talk at Aldeburgh  Picture: ArchantMargaret Thatcher - here visiting Fakenham in Norfolk in October, 1974 - is the focus of Charles Moore's talk at Aldeburgh Picture: Archant

Who's coming?

Just because we can't book online, don't think the festival is stuck in the Dark Ages. It truly reflects the spirit and concerns of the time.

Take the first event. Juliet Blaxland and her husband have been watching the edge of the cliff move ever closer to their home at Easton Bavents, near Southwold, and before Christmas realised they had to evacuate.

Writer and illustrator Juliet appears with farmer and author John Lewis-Stempel.

You may also want to watch:

Historian David Kogan is in conversation with broadcaster Bill Turnbull about Protest and Power: The Battle for the Labour Party.

Dame Gillian Beer speaks on England and Europe, with reference to George Eliot novels Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda. In the latter, for instance, scenes range across Europe and show the effects of migration and flight.

Thriller writer Robert Harris will be in conversation with broadcaster Nick Robinson at Aldeburgh  Picture: Dr Jost HindersmannThriller writer Robert Harris will be in conversation with broadcaster Nick Robinson at Aldeburgh Picture: Dr Jost Hindersmann

Peter Pomerantsev, born in the Soviet Union and now a senior fellow at the London School of Economics, talks about Beyond 'Fake News' - How the Information Circus corrodes and cripples Democracy.

His book This Is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality argues that spin doctors and digital myth-makers use similar reality-bending tactics to the Putin regime - aiming to confuse us.

The political circus has merged with reality TV, he claims - exemplified by the rise of Donald Trump.

Others appearing include

- Gill Hornby on novel Miss Austen, inspired by Cassandra Austen's burning of a hoard of letters written by novelist sister Jane

- Tim Bouverie on Appeasing Hitler

Russian president Vladimir Putin. His name will come up during the 2020 festival  Picture: Alexei Druzhinin/Tass/PA ImagesRussian president Vladimir Putin. His name will come up during the 2020 festival Picture: Alexei Druzhinin/Tass/PA Images

- Virginia Nicholson on Women and the 1960s

- Thriller writer Robert Harris in conversation with broadcaster Nick Robinson

- Peter Stanford on Angels: a Visible and Invisible History

- Charles Moore on Herself Alone: Margaret Thatcher

- Oliver Morton on The Moon

- Ursula Buchan on Beyond the Thirty-Nine Steps: a Life of John Buchan

- Robert Service on Kremlin Winter: Russia and the Second Coming of Vladimir Putin

Juliet Blaxland at Easton Bavents last year. The sea simply got closer and closer  PICTURE: Jamie HoneywoodJuliet Blaxland at Easton Bavents last year. The sea simply got closer and closer PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

- Andrew Gimson on America's 44 presidents

- AN Wilson on Prince Albert: the Man who saved the Monarchy

- Jonathan Sumption on Trials of the State: Law and the Decline of Politics

- Violet Moller on The Map of Knowledge: A Thousand Year History of How Classical Ideas were Lost and Found.

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