Annual Book Festival in Chiswick, London W4, where authors talk about their new books in interviews and discussion events over a long weekend in September.

I love you, You’re perfect, Now change

The Chiswick Playhouse has opened its first production under its new name. in the studio space above the Tabard pub. I love you, You’re perfect, Now change is running until 30 November.

I went to see it last week and it was great fun. It’s billed as a brand-new version of a hit musical. To me it seemed more like a revue – a selection of songs based on different scenarios on the theme of love, sex and relationships, but with no over-arching story line.

It’s none the less engaging for that. The four actors / singers are very accomplished West End performers and Laura Johnson in particular has a fabulous voice. 

You can tell from their very honed and toned muscles that they’re professional dancers and they worked their way through the numbers – sad, poignant, funny, witty – with an ease and confidence which made for a highly entertaining show.

NB Club Card holders are able to claim the concessions discount on all Chiswick Playhouse productions. Just book the concession ticket and take your club card with you to show on the door.

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Tabard theatre becomes Chiswick Playhouse

See also: Simon Reilly to leave Tabard theatre

See all our current Club Card offers here

So many memorable moments, so many vivid memories

So many memorable moments, so many vivid memories

Guest blog by Torin Douglas

September 2019

Photographs above: Chiswick Book Festival Director Torin Douglas; the sun shines on the festival

Can it be just a week since I went to pick up the prizes for the Festival’s annual ‘Quiz Night at Fullers’ from Foster Books, the oldest (and most photogenic) shop in Chiswick High Road? Stephen Foster had kindly donated four copies of ‘A Vicarage in the Blitz – The Wartime Diaries of Molly Rich’ to reward the winning team. It is beautifully illustrated by the late artist Anthea Craigmyle, who grew up in the Vicarage of St Nicholas Church, where her mother was the vicar’s wife.

As I walked in to the bookshop, who should I see but John Rowe, the Chiswick actor who has achieved new fame – and great reviews – in The Archers, as his character, Jim Lloyd, has moved centre-stage. I offered him a complimentary ticket to our Archers Academics session, to be chaired at the weekend by Jane Garvey, and he accepted with thanks.

Cryptic, classy and crammed – the hors d’ouevres

Photographs above: Festival Quiz night at the Griffin brewery; AN Wilson in the Burlington Pavilion at Chiswick House. Photograph below: Local authors night at Waterstones. Photograph by Roger Green

The Quiz Night in the historic Hock Cellar at Fullers Brewery is technically a ‘pre-Festival event’ because the opening night is always held at Chiswick House. It still got the Festival off to a terrific start on Tuesday evening. Quizmaster Alan Connor (former editor of BBC Two’s Only Connect) was on entertainingly cryptic form, urging teams to shout out as soon as they identified Harold Pinter, Iris Murdoch, John Betjeman and other names on the Chiswick Writers Trail. The brewery’s new owners, Asahi of Japan, were as generous as their predecessors and, with finger food from the wonderful Cookbook Festival team, a great time was had by all.

On Wednesday evening, we were at Waterstones for the Local Authors Party, where 20 writers are each given two minutes to ‘sell’ their books – or be cut off in mid-flow by a loud blast on a horn from Jo James, the Festival’s charming and indefatigable author programme director. 150 people gathered to hear a wide and inspiring range of speakers, among them Maggie Pigott, whose new book ‘How To Age Joyfully’ has a foreword by Dame Judi Dench. As if to prove her point, she was followed by Pat Davies who, in her mid-90s, has just been awarded France’s highest award, the Legion of Honour, for her wartime service, and spoke eloquently about the wartime memoirs of her father. Another speaker in her 90s was Lotte Moore, grand-daughter of AP Herbert, who still visits schools talking about her childhood memories, Lotte’s War.

James O’Brien of LBC Radio, currently one of Chiswick’s most celebrated authors, took his 2-minute turn and signed books downstairs, generating a long queue down the High Road. Waterstones sold more than 75 copies of his book ‘How To Be Right’ – a proper reward for the hard work of manager James Barber and his team, who were to sell many more books over the next few days. Local distillery Sipsmith donated cans of gin and tonic, to mark the launch of its own book – ‘Sip: 100 Gin Cocktails’, and we also gave a platform to Better Mental Health in Chiswick to launch its new initiative, the Read Well Book Club, which attracted great interest.

On Thursday evening, some 250 people came to Chiswick House to hear one of the Festival’s favourite authors, AN Wilson, talking entertainingly about his new biography ‘Prince Albert: The Man Who Saved the Monarchy’ – a follow-up to his sparkling 2016 Festival appearance discussing Queen Victoria. An exhibition highlighted Albert’s own visits to Chiswick House, notably 175 years ago in 1844, when he hosted a fete for the Tsar of Russia and 700 of the great and the good – described at the time as one of the finest fetes ever seen in England.

The main course

Photographs above: Sir Mix Hastings; Cahal Dallat; Lucy Briers with James Hogg and Peter Egan

On Friday evening, the focus switched to Bedford Park and St Michael & All Angels Church, where another Festival favourite, Max Hastings, spoke about his new book on The Dambusters to an audience of around 250. As a preamble, he showed a clip from the 1955 film which helped build the legend and he asked our new sound team to turn up the volume on their excellent equipment. The pews shook as the aircraft prepared to unleash Barnes Wallis’s deadly bouncing bomb – an unexpected precursor of life as it may sound in Bedford Park when the Third Runway gets underway and the flight paths change! Max was in his element – delivering a pitch-perfect lecture – to the delight of the audience. “Even better than last year” and “Max never disappoints” were two of the comments as people filed out into the night.

Meanwhile at the London Buddhist Vihara, 100 yards away, Cahal Dallat was giving a lecture about one of Chiswick’s two winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature – ‘WB Yeats in Utopian Bedford Park’. The building was, from 1877 to 1939, The Bedford Park Club, where Yeats’s father, painter John Butler Yeats, joined in debates with fellow artists, writers, critics & political thinkers; where the young WB Yeats witnessed the pageants that were to inspire his drama & co-founding of the Irish National Theatre; and particularly appropriate, Cahal said, because of Yeats’s search for a spiritual dimension, in Hindu & Buddhist literature & teachings.

At 8pm, we were in another of Chiswick’s iconic venues – the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation Theatre at ArtsEd in Bath Road. The session there was ‘Remembering Richard Briers’ – Chiswick’s own national treasure – with the actor’s daughter Lucy; his friend and Ever Decreasing Circles co-star Peter Egan; and Richard’s biographer James Hogg. It was a wonderful evening – warm and full of very funny anecdotes about Richard appearing in an commercial for his local garage and how Lucy first introduced him to Kenneth Branagh, who transformed his later career by casting him as Malvolio, then Lear and as the blind man in his film of Frankenstein with Robert de Niro. There were occasional tears too, as they recalled a last lunch with Richard just before he died – and we watched a TV clip (including black and white pictures of a very young married couple), in which Annie Briers recalled how she had to improve Richard’s diet, after discovering he used to fry everything, including scones!

London’s most literary location (?)

Photographs above: Cookery writer Trine Hahnemann; the audience for Cressida Cowell in St Michael & All Angels Chuch; gazebos outside the church; the cake stall, the queue and BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour presenter Jane Garvey with Dr Cara Courage and actor John Rowe

And so to the weekend itself, where we were blessed with beautiful weather and made the most of the green space around St Michael’s. It was filled with marquees (for the Cookbook demonstrations and children’s events) and gazebos containing the famous Book Festival cakes (and sandwiches and savouries); valuers from Chiswick Auctions; books and merchandise from the Cookbook Festival and a raffle from The Chiswick Calendar; and representatives of the three Festival charities – InterAct Stroke Support, Doorstep Library and, for the first time, The Felix Project which distributes surplus food, that would otherwise go to waste, to charities and schools.

Plenty of room too for the queues that formed ahead of the most popular sessions – most notably for Cressida Cowell on the Sunday, when over 350 children and parents lapped up her inspiring talk and then queued again for well over an hour in the sunshine for her to sign their books.

Along the Bath Road, we had a new venue – the ‘early years annexe’ of Orchard House School in Rupert Road (famous for many years as the Wendy Wisbey Dance Studio). The first speaker there was local novelist and former Blue Peter presenter Janet Ellis (watched by daughter Sophie Ellis Bextor and family and many others). Later came the eagerly-anticipated session on Women In The Archers, chaired by Jane Garvey – and that was where I met up again with John Rowe. He was slightly late and Jane had begun her welcome as he arrived, so I escorted him to a seat in the front row. Apologising for interrupting her, I introduced him with four words – “John Rowe, Jim Lloyd” – and the whole audience erupted in spontaneous applause, to John’s great surprise.

Just one of the highlights of an unforgettable weekend, which helped reinforce the Observer’s recent verdict that ‘Chiswick may be Britain’s most literary location’. Thank you to everyone who helped make it happen.

Torin Douglas is the Director of the Chiswick Book Festival

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Lucy Cufflin’s guest blog on the 2019 Cookbook Festival

See also: Turnham Green Terrace piazza launch

The Best Book Festival yet?

The Best Book Festival yet?

By Bridget Osborne

Photograph above: Two of the bestselling female writers of our time, Joanna Trollope (An Unsuitable Match) and Kate Morton (The Clockmakers Daughter) talk to Cathy Rentzenbrink about their new books, inspiration, and the challenges of writing. In my view yes.

This is what the festival Director Torin Douglas had to say:

“It’s been a terrific year. Our sales income is easily a record – which is great news for our reading charities – and our total audiences are higher than they’ve ever been. We sold around 4,000 tickets, with over 300 in St Michael & All Angels Church for Max Hastings and around 175 each for Charles Spencer, Misha Glenny and Anthony Horowitz.

At Chiswick House we had a capacity crowd – 200 – for ‘Vanity Fair, Thackeray and Chiswick’. In the Andrew Llloyd Webber Theatre at Arts Ed we had a full house of 200 for Alan Rusbridger. We were sold out for Ann Cleeves and Caroline Slocock in the Parish Hall, which holds 100 seats. Our new venue – the London Buddhist Vihara – also seats 100 people and was full both for Roger McGough and the Young People’s Poetry Prizegiving.

Even more rewarding was the great feedback we’ve had. Our audiences really have enjoyed this year’s speakers and you can see lots of appreciative comments on social media. And the authors seem to have loved being here and the great welcome they’ve received.

On top of all that, our innovation for this year, the Cookbook Festival, was a huge success with sell-out demonstrations and talks in the Marquee and at Ginger Whisk. We’re already looking forward to next year!”

Torin Douglas.
Director, Chiswick Book Festival

2018 Chiswick Book Festival in pictures

2018 Chiswick Book Festival in pictures

2018 marked the 10th anniversary of the Chiswick Book Festival and the place was awash with well-known authors: novelists Anthony Horowitz, Kate Mosse, Joanna Trollope and Ann Cleeves; historians Max Hastings and Charles Spencer; spy writers Charles Cumming and Jane Thynne; poet Roger McGough and comedian turned children’s author Julian Clary.

The year was also the start of the Cookbook festival, with master chef John Torode, ‘Deliciously Ella’ Mills and cooking on a budget queen Jack Monroe not only talking about their recipes but demonstrating them and offering them to sample.

2019 Chiswick Book Festival in pictures

2019 Chiswick Book Festival in pictures

The 2019 festival was rich with authors who live locally talking about fascinating topics: Polly Devlin on her memoir Writing Home, Lucy Briers about her late father Richard Briers, who lived for many years in Chiswick, whose biographer James Hogg joined Lucy and actor Peter Egan to celebrate his life; Cahal Dallat on WB Yeats and Tom Mangold on the Profumo Affair.

Graham Holderness talked to broadcaster Julian Worricker about Meat, Murder, Malfeasance, Medicine and Martyrdom: Smithfield Stories: Wat Tyler, Anne Askew, Sweeney Todd, Jack the Ripper, Heinrich Himmler & more … a gruesome presentation if ever there was one; Jane Garvey chaired a session on the much more wholesome topic of Women in the Archers and Marthe Armitage discussed the progression of design over the twentieth century and her own beautiful book The Making of Marthe Armitage: Artist and Printmaker. Children’s author Cressida Cowell, creator of the series How To Train Your Dragon, talked about her latest venture: The Wizards of Once.  

From further afield we had Ken Livingstone, talking about his book Livingstone’s London and festival stalwarts Max Hastings, with Chastise, the story of the Dambusters, and AN Wilson, on his latest book: Prince Albert: The Man Who Saved the Monarchy .

Plus the usual favourite activities – the festival quiz at the Griffin brewery; the local authors evening at Waterstones, which this year included James O’Brien, and workshops which included bookbinding for children.

Photographs below: Polly Devlin; Lucy Briers, James Hogg and Peter Egan; Cahal Dallat; Tom Mangold; Julian Worricker and Graham Holderness; Jane Garvey; Marthe Armitage; Cressida Cowell; Ken Livingstone; Max Hastings; AN Wilson; festival quiz; James O’Brien; children’s bookbinding session; the sun shone on this year’s festival. Local authors’ night at Waterstones. With thanks to Roger Green and Jim Cox for use of their photographs. 

Ten years of the Chiswick Book Festival

Ten years of the Chiswick Book Festival

Guest blog by Festival Director Torin Douglas

September 2018

For several years, I had discussed launching a Book Festival with Father Kevin Morris, the vicar of St Michael & All Angels. It couldn’t be that hard, we thought!

The Bedford Park Festival – Chiswick’s biggest community event – provided a good model. We had the venues – the church and the parish halls. We knew how to find speakers and attract audiences and look after them, using volunteers from St Michael’s and elsewhere. We knew how to sell tickets, attract sponsors and use a Festival to raise money for good causes.

We’d built up a good relationship with Waterstone’s in Chiswick High Road and local publishers and publicists – notably Jacks Thomas (then managing director of Midas PR) and her husband Malcolm Edwards (then deputy chairman of Orion), who supplied lots of new books for fund-raising events.

Photographs above: Lady Antonia Fraser; Anthony Horowitz; Jacqueline Wilson; Lynn Barber; Michael Frayn 

In less than three months in the summer of 2009, we put together a programme that surprised us all. I had suggested starting small and gradually building the Festival up. Jacks’ and Malcolm’s idea of starting small was persuading Lady Antonia Fraser, Anthony Horowitz, Jacqueline Wilson, Lynn Barber, Michael Frayn and more than a dozen other leading authors to take part. The attendances and feedback were terrific and the Festival was on its way. In truth, we had underestimated what it takes to put on a book festival, but with lots of volunteers and goodwill it grew from strength to strength.

For our 10th Festival, we’re delighted to be welcoming back Anthony Horowitz, to talk about his new James Bond book, along with other headliners from previous Festivals: novelist Kate Mosse, historians Max Hastings and Charles Spencer, spy writers Charles Cumming and Jane Thynne, globe-watcher Tim Marshall and Masterchef presenter John Torode, who heads the lineup at our new sister venture, the Cookbook Festival.

We also have well-known authors speaking here for the first time: novelist Joanna Trollope; poet Roger McGough; historian Kate Williams; economist and broadcaster Dharshini David; food writers ‘Deliciously Ella’ Mills and Jack Monroe; and children’s author Julian Clary.

Photographs below: Kate Mosse; Max Hastings; Charles Spencer; Joanna Trollope; Roger McGough; Dharshini David; Ella Mills; Jack Monroe; Julian Clary

A year of inspiring women

A year of inspiring women

Guest blog by Festival Director Torin Douglas

On the day Jane Austen appears on the new £10 note in September, marking 200 years since her death, the Chiswick Book Festival will open, presenting many inspiring women speakers on a wide range of subjects. Clare Balding, Jo Malone, Maggie O’Farrell, Sarah Outen, Martine Wright and many others will be speaking, and there will also be timely sessions on Austen herself and Queen Victoria.

Images above: Jane Austen; Clare Balding; Jo Malone; Maggie O’Farrell; Sarah Outen; Martine Wright

The life and work of Jane Austen will be celebrated at the Festival’s opening event on Thursday September 14 in the glorious surroundings of Chiswick House & Gardens, with the House’s curator Dr Esme Whittaker of English Heritage, Paula Byrne (The Genius of Jane Austen) and Dr Helena Kelly (Jane Austen, The Secret Radical).

On Friday 15, Clare Balding, a tireless champion of women in sport, will introduce her new book, The Racehorse That Disappeared, the second brilliant adventure story about her inspiring young heroine Charlie Bass.

On Saturday 16, Martine Wright (Unbroken), who competed in the Paralympics after losing her legs in the 7/7 London bombings, tells her own inspiring story in an interview with sports journalist Sue Mott.

On Sunday 17, fragrance entrepreneur Jo Malone (My Story) and athlete and super-adventurer Sarah Outen (Dare To Do) will discuss what it takes to keep going when things don’t quite go to plan. And Somerset Maugham and Costa Prize winning novelist Maggie O’Farrell will talk about her writing and new memoir, I Am, I Am, I Am, with acclaimed author and journalist Cathy Rentzenbrink.

The role of women in war will be discussed by Anne Sebba (Les Parisiennes) and best-selling novelist Elizabeth Buchan (The New Mrs Clifton); and that of women in Ancient Greece by Radio 4 broadcaster and comedian Natalie Haynes, whose second novel is The Children of Jocasta.

And one of history’s most powerful women, Queen Victoria, will be the subject of ‘Victoria & Abdul – and a Game of Thrones’ as the new film opens starring Dame Judi Dench. Shrabani Basu is the author of the book which inspired the film – Victoria and Abdul: The True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant. Deborah Cadbury’s new book, Queen Victoria’s Matchmaking, describes the Royal marriages that shaped Europe and how seven of Victoria’s grandchildren came to occupy Europe’s thrones.

Photographs above: Oz Clarke; Hunter Davies; Jeremy Vine

But there is no shortage of men at this year’s Chiswick Book Festival – and there is also a full Children’s Festival programme and a series of workshops for aspiring writers. Male authors speaking will include Oz Clarke, Hunter Davies, Peter Hennessy, Robin Lustig, Harry Mount, John O’Farrell, Craig Oliver, Laurence Rees, Marcel Theroux and Jeremy Vine.

2017 Chiswick Book Festival in pictures

2017 Chiswick Book Festival in pictures

Actor Imogen Stubbs was among the panel at the opening session of the 2017 Chiswick Book Festival, discussing the work of Jane Austen, in the year which commemorated the 200th anniversary of her death. A year of ‘inspiring women’ also included Somerset Maugham and Costa Prize winning novelist Maggie O’Farrell, broadcaster Clare Balding, perfumier Jo Malone, Martine Wright, who competed in the Paralympics after losing her legs in the 7/7 London bombings, and athlete and adventurer Sarah Outen.

Below also: broadcaster Jeremy Vine; journalist Hunter Davies; wine writer Oz Clarke and comedian and children’s author David Baddiel.

2016 Chiswick Book Festival in pictures

2016 Chiswick Book Festival in pictures

2016 was a big year for children’s authors. We had both Jacqueline Wilson, author of many, many books including the Tracy Beaker series, and Cressida Cowell, who had just completed her series  How to Train Your Dragon: 12 books which she started writing in 1998, which have been phenomenally successful and spawned blockbuster films.

Victoria Hislop, number one best-seller with her first novel The Island, talked about her latest book Cartes Postales from Greece. S.J. Watson, author of Before I Go To Sleep and Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train discussed having their books, both psychological thrillers, made into films.

Below also: comedians Shappi Khorsandi and Andy Hamilton; authors of the Ladybird books for grown-ups series Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris; and Waterstones manager Annakarin Klerfalk and editor of The Chiswick Calendar Bridget Osborne, hosting the first Local Authors Night at Waterstones, inviting local authors to promote their books, including Madhuri Bose, Diane Chandler and Peter Oborne.

2015 Chiswick Book Festival in pictures

2015 Chiswick Book Festival in pictures

2015 was the 150th anniversary of Alice in Wonderland, which gave the Children’s festival its theme. Other highlights from 2015: Mary Portas talking to Jane Garvey about her book Shop Girl; leader of the Liberal Democratic Party Sir Vince Cable talking to political journalist Julia Langdon about his book After the Storm: The World Economy and Britain’s Economic Future; John Torode in conversation with local chef Jo Pratt about his book What the Master Chef really cooks (and eats); historian Sir Max Hastings talking about his book The Secret War: Spies, Codes and Guerrillas 1939-1945. Also below, vicar of St Michael & All Angels Church Fr Kevin Morris and Festival Director Torin Douglas talking to that year’s surprise hit author Helena Coggan. who wrote the first draft of her novel The Catalyst when she was just thirteen. 

Queen Victoria at Chiswick House

Queen Victoria at Chiswick House

Interview with Esme Whittaker, curator of Chiswick House by Bridget Osborne

September 2016

The Chiswick Book Festival 2016 opened with a session at Chiswick House with A N Wilson, biographer of Queen Victoria, and Daisy Goodwin, screen writer of the hugely popular TV series Victoria. Esme Whittaker, curator of Chiswick House for English Heritage, spoke to Bridget Osborne about Queen Victoria’s association with Chiswick House.

Queen Victoria was a frequent visitor to Chiswick House. She came as a young woman in her twenties and was hugely impressed with the Italian style of the building, the beauty of the gardens and the hospitality of the Duke of Devonshire.

She came back as a middle aged woman when her son the Prince of Wales was living at Chiswick House and there is a picture of her surrounded by her 300 of her family and the great and the good of the time at a garden party hosted by the Prince of Wales. The picture, by Louis William Desanges, was put on display for the opening of the festival.

Painting above: The Royal Garden Party at Chiswick, c.1876-79, Autotype with hand-colouring. Royal Collection Trust

Festival “challenging and informative” says Fr Kevin

This year’s book festival “challenging and informative”

Vicar of St Michael & All Angels, Fr Kevin Morris

September 2016

Art and religion overlap, says Fr Kevin Morris. Sessions at this year’s festival which he has enjoyed most have been ‘challenging and informative’ and he’s glad the church is at the heart of the festival.

Woman’s Hour presenter Jane Garvey at the 2016 festival

Woman’s Hour presenter Jane Garvey at the 2016 festival

September 2016

BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour presenter Jane Garvey was at the 2016 festival to interview Mary Portas about her autobiography Shop Girl. Jane told The Chiswick Calendar why she always likes coming to the Chiswick Book Festival.

Comedian Richard Herring pops in to the 2016 festival

Comedian Richard Herring pops in to the 2016 festival

September 2016

Stand-up comedian and comedy writer Richard Herring pops in to a see mate performing at the 2016 Chiswick Book Festival.

At home with festival Director Torin Douglas

2016 Book Festival

Interview with Torin Douglas by Nick Raikes

September 2016

Chiswick Book Festival Director Torin Douglas talks to Nick Raikes about the line-up for the 2016 festival and the history of the festival. Talking at Torin’s home, and looking at the bookshelves stacked with books, Torin makes something of a confession.

Why we run a book festival – Director Torin Douglas

Why we run a book festival

Comment by Chiswick Book Festival Director Torin Douglas

September 2015

Torin Douglas reckons every town should have one.

Local authors session 2015

Local authors session 2015

September 2015

The Chiswick Calendar organised a ‘Meet the local authors’ session at George IV pub. That would account for the background noise of children enjoying their Sunday lunch!

Sadie Jones talks about turning her book The Outcast into a TV drama, Salley Vickers describes her new book of short stories and Rhidian Brook recounts how travelling round America selling butterflies in glass cases inspired his next novel. Mark Ellen goes one further and demonstrates how Tony Blair used to come on stage trying to look like Mick Jagger when he fronted their university band, the Ugly Rumours.

Local authors talk to The Chiswick Calendar as part of the 2015 Chiswick Book Festival.

2017 Chiswick Book Festival video snapshot

2017 Chiswick Book Festival video snapshot

Chiswick Book Festival goes from strength, with more people going in 2017 than ever before. In fact Festival Director Torin Douglas says they had to turn people away from some sessions.

Here’s a quick impression of some of the sessions: Maggie O’Farrell, Sarah Outen and Jo Malone, the Jane Austen evening at Chiswick House, Jeremy Vine, Oz Clarke, Elizabeth Buchan, Anne Sebba and Fanny Blake and Peter Hennessy and Robin Lustig. Oh, and some gorgeous cakes. Congratulations to Director Torin Douglas and the Programme Organiser Jo James.

Carol’s Picks – The New Mrs Clifton

Carol’s Picks – The New Mrs Clifton

Carol Douglas reviews Elizabeth Buchan’s novel

July 2017

Elizabeth Buchan appeared at the 2017 Chiswick Book Festival talking about her book The New Mrs Clifton. Set at the end of World War Two, an army officer shocks his community at home in Clapham, when after the war he brings back his new bride with him, and she’s a German. Carol Douglas reviews it here.

Carol is an avid book reader, a long term member of the St Michael & All Angels Church book club and wife of the Book Festival Director Torin Douglas.

Carol’s Picks – The Co-Op’s Got Bananas

The Co-Op’s Got Bananas

Carol Douglas reviews Hunter Davies’ biography

July 2017

Hunter Davies OBE was one of the guests at the 2017 Chiswick Book Festival. Known as an author, journalist and broadcaster, he has written many books, including the only authorised biography of the Beatles. His latest is his memoir The Co-Op’s Got Bananas! Watch the video to see Carol Douglas’ review.

Carol is an avid book reader, a long term member of the St Michael & All Angels Church book club and wife of the Book Festival Director Torin Douglas.

150 years of Alice in Wonderland

150 years of Alice in Wonderland

Festival feature by Nick Raikes

September 2015

The Chiswick Book Festival celebrated 150 years since the publication of Alice in Wonderland in 2015, with an Alice Extravaganza for children.

Nick Raikes discovered that one of Chiswick’s residents had played a key role in rediscovering the long lost artwork for the Lewis Carroll book, that had been lost for many years.

Lewis Carroll (real name Charles Dodgson) commissioned Sir John Tenniel to do the illustrations and paid for the first print run himself, so he was concerned to know what the publisher Macmillan had done with the original wooden blocks from which the illustrations were printed. He wrote to them asking them about it.

For decades the whereabouts of the wooden blocks was unknown, until they turned up in a bank vault in 1985. Chiswick resident Michael Wace was head of Children’s Books at Macmillan at the time of the discovery. Nick Raikes talked to him about it and asked him why he thought Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass were still so popular.

Biography of American wartime spy Virginia Hall

A Woman of No Importance

Interview with Sonia Purnell by Bridget Osborne

September 2019

A Woman of no Importance is the story of Virginia Hall, an American spy who changed the course of World War II, whose story has never been told before. It reads like a thriller: ‘a suspenseful, heartbreaking and ultimately triumphant tale of heroism and sacrifice’. (BookPage) and has been very well reviewed.

its author Sonia Purnell has form in producing well researched, beautifully written historical memoirs. Her last book First Lady, on the life of Clementine Churchill, was chosen as a book of the year by The Telegraph and The Independent. Her first book, Just Boris, (about Boris Johnson) was longlisted for the Orwell prize. A Woman of no Importance is selling so fast it’s had two reprints in two days and Sonia, who lives in Shepherd’s Bush and has appeared at the Chiswick Book Festival, is currently promoting it on a book tour in the States.

“I’ve always been interested in spies” Sonia told me. “My father was a spycatcher, working in British counter-intelligence, so that world has always interested me”. She stumbled across Virginia Hall researching World War II spies on the internet and wondered why so little had been written about her. Glamorous, American, hugely successful and with the memorable feature of a wooden leg, she couldn’t work out why she Virginia seemed so elusive. She was without question a hero, who played a significant role in altering the course of the war. In 1942, the Gestapo made it a priority to track down the mysterious ‘limping lady’ who was fighting for the freedom of France. An urgent Gestapo transmission read: “She is the most dangerous of all Allied spies. We must find and destroy her.”

As she dug deeper, Sonia realized that part of the reason Virginia Hall was not more celebrated was because after the war she went on to work for the CIA, so it suited her purpose to remain out of the public eye. But it was also that she didn’t conform to the romantic / tragic heroine stereotype, thinks Sonia. She was too good. “She didn’t conform to the feminine ideal” she says, “I’ve seen internal job appraisals from her former CIA bosses. Men tried to do her down because they saw her as a threat. Even her SOE controller during the war described her as ‘embarrassingly successful’.“

That Sonia should have read her internal CIA appraisals speaks volumes about the meticulous nature of her research. Virginia had “about 20 different code names” she says. She spent three years tracking down the story, spending time in the Resistance archives in Lyon and in Paris and America and getting to know Virginia’s family in Baltimore. She also discovered a historian of prosthetics at the Science Museum. It was an “epic detective operation” she says – “not easy”.

Photographs below – Virginia as a child with brother John and father Ned; Virginia and John as adults; Virginia as a young woman. She grew up on a farm and had an affinity with animals

Virginia became the first Allied woman deployed behind enemy lines, despite the encumbrance of a wooden leg (she’d literally shot herself in the foot in a hunting accident in Turkey at the age of 27, and named her prosthetic limb affectionately ‘Cuthbert’). Working for the SOE – Special Operations Executive – she established vast spy networks throughout France, organized weapons drops and became a linchpin for the Resistance. When the Germans laid a trap and captured almost all the SOE operatives in southern France at one meeting,  she didn’t go. She managed to get all 12 out of prison in a spectacular jail break involving classic subterfuge such as hiding files in pots of jam.

Even as her face covered wanted posters and a bounty was placed on her head, Virginia refused order after order to evacuate. Eventually her cover was blown and she escaped by hiking over the Pyrenees into Spain. “She couldn’t reveal she had a wooden leg” says Sonia, even though they were pushing through deep snow. “If they’d known she would have ended up in a ravine because they’d have thought she would slow them up”. Even after she escaped she plunged back in to the war in France, adamant that she had more lives to save, and led a victorious guerilla campaign, liberating swathes of France from the Nazis after D-Day.

A Woman of no Importance is available from Amazon and in all good bookshops – providing that is they’ve not sold out and are waiting on the next reprint.

Photographs below – ID papers from when she was posted to Tallin in the 1930s; steering a gondola in Venice; painting by Jeff Bass of Virginia transmitting messages from a farm in the Haute-Loire, July 1944; Virginia was the only civilian woman in the Second World War to be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, for extraordinary heroism against the enemy. She received the medal in Washington, DC on 27 September 1945.

Read about Sonia’s previous books on Clementine Churchill and Boris Johnson here.

Terrorism linked to domestic violence

Domestic violence linked to terrorism

Festival review by Bridget Osborne

October 2019

Photograph above: Jess Phillips MP in the Chamber of the Houses of Parliament

Labour MP Jess Phillips says she’s had it explained to her in graphic detail what some angry men would like to do to her. She gets messages like this one: ‘Unless you change your attitude, be afraid, be very afraid… Wherever you are, keep looking over your shoulder … You and your Remain friends have been warned’ and messages which are much more explicit than that.

Paula Sherrif MP says she gets death threats ‘every single day’. ‘I’ve received death threats, I’ve received rape threats, I’ve been shouted at in the streets, I’ve had abusive phone calls’. 23 year old Neo-Nazi Jack Renshaw was recently jailed for life for making preparations to kill his local MP Rosie Cooper and a female police officer. He’d bought a 19 inch blade to slit the MP’s throat. As he was sentenced, one of his supporters in the public gallery said ‘we are with you, Jack’.

When Jo Cox was murdered she was shot and stabbed multiple times by a man with far right views. He believed people with liberal and left wing views were the cause of the world’s problems. He saw her as a ‘collaborator’ and a ‘traitor’ against white people. He used those exact words. Trigger words like ‘surrender’, ‘collaborator’, ‘betrayal’ are used by Boris Johnson and his coterie and repeated back by the perpetrators of hate crime. Jess was told she would be ‘dead in a ditch’ if she carried on expressing her views.

What part of this is ‘humbug’? This is not a bunch of hysterical women having a fit of the vapours over nothing. There is clearly a direct link between the use of inflammatory language by politicians and the upswing in violence particularly directed against left wing women.

Jess Phillips spoke at the 2019 Chiswick Book Festival about this targeted violence against women. She was talking to Joan Smith, who has written a book about domestic abuse and terrorism. Her research shows that the perpetration of violence against their own families is a common trait among men who go on to become terrorists, yet it’s not something which has been considered to any great extent by those whose job it is to identify terrorist suspects and prevent acts of terrorism. What they both had to say about the extent to which violence against women is routinely ignored was shocking.

Photographs above: Jess Phillips MP, Joan Smith’s book Home Grown; Joan Smith

Terrorism starts in the home

What do the attacks in London Bridge, Manchester and Westminster have in common with those at the Charlie Hebdo offices, the Finsbury Park Mosque attack and multiple US shootings? They were all carried out by men with histories of domestic violence. Yet ‘terrorism is seen as a special category of crime that has blinded us to the obvious’ said journalist Joan Smith, author of the book Home Grown. Joan has done extensive research into the backgrounds of terrorists and says we should be looking for the obvious. The men who commit acts of terror don’t suddenly become violent overnight; they have a history of violence. That violence isn’t evident to police and intelligence officers because it’s hidden, or rather it’s overlooked. There are no red flags because violence committed within the home isn’t taken seriously. ‘The extraordinary link between so many tragic recent attacks is that the perpetrators have practised in private before their public outbursts’ she says.

From the Manchester bomber to the Charlie Hebdo attackers, from angry white men to the Bethnal Green girls, from US school shootings to the London gang members who joined ISIS, Joan Smith has shown that, ‘time and time again, misogyny, trauma and abuse lurk beneath the ‘justifications’ of religion or politics’. Now she says her work is being taken seriously and criminology departments at universities are asking for copies of her book. “The reaction has been ‘Oh, we’d better come and talk to you’” she told the audience at the Chiswick Book Festival. But before she pointed it out in 2017, criminal authorities routinely missed this connection, which should have been staring them in the face, because violence against women has become dangerously normalised.

Jess Phillips’ exposure to male violence is not a new thing. She told the audience at Chiswick Book Festival that she had worked for many years with Rape Crisis centres and every year on International Women’s Day she had taken to reading out all the names of women & girls murdered by men. “There’s been an outcry about knife crime, but no corresponding outcry against domestic violence against women. There’s a big action being taken by the Centre for Women’s justice at the moment because the incidence of cases being passed from police to CPS has fallen by 22% in the last year… Men get away with it and women give up reporting it”.

Case studies of domestic abusers-turned-terrorists

Joan’s book looks at a number of case studies. Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, the man who drove a 19-tonne cargo truck into crowds of people celebrating Bastille Day in Nice in July 2016, killing 86 people and injuring 458 others, “was a horrific abuser” said Joan. “Only after they (his family) had managed to get him out of the house did he take any interest in religion or jihad. He hadn’t been to a mosque until three weeks before”.

Darren Osborne, who killed Makram Ali and injured twelve others in the attempt to kill as many Muslims as he could by driving his van into them outside the mosque at Finsbury Park “hadn’t shown any interest in politics before he was thrown out of the family home in Cardiff”.

Jess’s conclusion: “the narcissistic wound of being thrown out of the family home causes them to take up a cause to continue to be violent”.  “A long tail of violence leads up to men becoming terrorists. They don’t just snap, any more then they do when they kill their wives. There’s usually been a reign of terror” said Joan.

Haron Monis, the Iranian-born refugee and Australian citizen. who took hostages in a siege at the Lindt Chocolate Café in Sydney in December 2014, was another example of the pattern, said Joan. He was a serial sex offender. He said he was acting for Islamic State, but the Iranian government told the Australian authorities he was a con man. “He’d been in Australia 15 years. They charged him with 43 counts of rape because they found his stash of videos where he’d filmed himself and he was still let out on bail”.

Salman Ramadan Abedi, the suicide bomber behind the Manchester Arena bombing in 2017 which killed 23 people and wounded 139 others, had previously punched a muslim woman unconscious because he thought the skirt she was wearing was too short. He had no criminal record for that; he was just given a ‘restorative justice’ sentence, where he had to sit down with his victim and talk about what he’d done – a reaction which is in any case not considered suitable by women’s groups for sex crimes.

Joining ISIS to have sex slaves

In interviews with returnees from Syria, Joan found that about half of them had become involved in ISIS because they’d wanted to own sex slaves. Elliot Roger, the 22-year-old Elliot Rodger killed six people and injured fourteen others at Isla Vista, near the campus of University of California, Santa Barbara considered himself “the perfect gentleman” said Jess. “He had a thing about blondes and couldn’t understand why he was still a virgin. He decided to take revenge because he couldn’t get a girlfriend”.

Jess has been on the receiving end of “huge long diatribes explaining exactly how they’re going to hurt and rape me” from men who disagree with her politics, so she’s very well aware of “a culture of grooming young angry men online”. Her conclusion, from long association with the violence of men, was that “victimhood of women is not seen as being unimportant. 177 women murdered in their homes last year. If there were 177 men murdered at football matches, football would be banned”.

Public policy implications

In terms of public policy, Joan, who sits as the independent chair of London crime reduction board, has suggested an offenders register for those who have been violent within the home. The response was that it would be impracticable because it would just be too long. Jess’s suggestion is for young men who have grown up in violent homes to be flagged up in the Prevent programme, designed to spot radicalised would-be terrorists early on. “We don’t want people being targeted unnecessarily, but can’t be squeamish about terrorism” she said.

It’s interesting that within two weeks of this discussion, our Prime Minister was dismissing the idea that the language of betrayal is linked to threats of violence against women MPs as ‘humbug’.

Home Grown: How Domestic Violence Turns Men Into Terrorists is available in bookshops or online

Is Chiswick Britain’s most literary location?

Is Chiswick Britain’s most literary location?

Famous authors associated with Chiswick

Chiswick’s writers have created some of the country’s greatest works, from William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair to John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger and Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker.  Director of the Chiswick Book Festival Torin Douglas decided to see how many writers there were who had some association with Chiswick, for the tenth Chiswick Book festival in 2018.

The best-known include Alexander Pope (who lived next to the Brewery), WM Thackeray, WB Yeats, EM Forster, GK Chesterton, Harold Pinter, Dame Iris Murdoch, Anthony Burgess, Patrick Hamilton, John Osborne, Sir John Betjeman, Sir Arthur Pinero and Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.

Chiswick Writers Trail

Torin has created a Writers Trail featuring 21 acclaimed novelists, poets and playwrights who have lived in Chiswick or written about the area. He produced a leaflet for the 2018 Chiswick Book Festival with brief description of each writer and their connection with Chiswick, including a map so you can walk round and find the places where they lived. You can download the leaflet here.

He borrowed the idea from the Artists Trail, created by Karen Liebreich and Sarah Cruz for the launch of the Chiswick Timeline mural under the railway bridge on Turnham Green Terrace. You can download the Artists Trail leaflet here.

Chiswick Timeline of Writers and Books

‘Everyone has a book in them and that, in most cases, is where it should stay.’

The line is attributed to the late journalist Christopher Hitchens, well known for his sardonic wit and devastating put downs, (though it may have been recycled from an earlier acerbic cynic). It’s an argument which cuts absolutely no ice in Chiswick, whose population, undeterred by such negativity, seems to think they all have a story to tell and the ability to tell it. That may be a slight exaggeration but there does seem to be a remarkable glut of authors in a relatively small area.

Torin embarked on the massive undertaking of finding all the authors who live or have lived in Chiswick who have ever published a book. At time of writing the list was upwards of 250, which prompted the Observer and Guardian to pose the question: Could Chiswick be the most literary location in Britain?

Image above: snapshot of the Timeline of Writers and Books ‘how it all began’ page from The Chiswick Book Festival website

The project which started in the Book Festival’s 10th year has grown beyond all expectation and become something of a labour of love. 

“When we started the Chiswick Book Festival, I wanted to celebrate the writers who have lived here, because I thought Chiswick’s record had been under-recognised” says Torin. “I knew there were distinguished writers with W4 connections, and famous residents who’d written their memoirs, as well as less well-known authors, poets and dramatists. But I never suspected we’d find 250 – or that so many of them would be quite so distinguished!”

See the Chiswick Book Festival Timeline of Writers and Books here.

Meeting authors who you’ve read for years

Meeting authors who you’ve read for years

Festival review by Bridget Osborne

September 2018

Photographs above: Kate Mosse; Ann Cleeves

Kate Mosse and Ann Cleeves at the 2018 Chiswick Book Festival

The relationship between a writer and a reader is an intimate one. When you’ve been reading someone’s books over many years, enjoying them to the extent that you put your life on hold while you get to the end of one book and then look forward to the next, you feel you know them and to some extent you have ownership over their characters.

So it’s a bit of a risk going to see them live. They may not live up to expectations. You might not like them in the flesh or agree with what they say about their creations. It could be a huge let down.

But it wasn’t. I went to see historical novelist Kate Mosse (author of Labyrinth, Sepulchre, Citadel, The Winter Ghosts and The Taxidermist’s Daughter) and Ann Cleeves, the crime writer whose books are behind the TV drama series Shetland and Vera at the Chiswick Book Festival and they were lovely. They both just love writing and feel privileged to be successful enough to do just that. They were warm and funny and happy to share their characters with us. “Reading is an active process not a passive one” said Ann. Handing over a finished book to the public was “like handing a child over for adoption”. Once you’ve done that, you have no further say in their development; you just hope that others will care about them as you have done.

Read more about Kate Mosse and her latest book The Burning Chambers – in which she returns to Carcassonne and the French religious wars –  here.  It’s the first of four books in a family saga spanning 300 years.

You can read more about Ann Cleeves, the making of Vera and her last and final book in the Shetland series Wild Fire, published just two weeks before the 2018 festival here.

Vanity Fair – the Chiswick connection

Vanity Fair – the Chiswick connection

Festival review by Bridget Osborne

September 2018

ITV production of Vanity Fair, pictures courtesy of ITV

Vanity Fair launches the 2018 Chiswick Book Festival

Vanity Fair was the theme of the opening night of the 2018 Chiswick Book Festival in the Burlington Pavilion at Chiswick House. ITV’s ‘sexed-up period drama’ (The Telegraph) had hit our screens two weeks earlier and it was a huge hit. The production had a great team behind it: the screenwriter was Gwyneth Hughes, (Dark Angel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood). The director was James Strong (Broadchurch, Doctor Who) and the production company was Mammoth Screen, who made Poldark.

The star-studded cast included Michael Palin, Frances de la Tour and Martin Clunes but the lead roles were all played by actors in their twenties: Olivia Cooke (then 24) played the heroine Becky Sharp, Tom Bateman (29) her husband Rawdon Crawley and Claudia Jessie (28) her best friend Amelia Sedley.

ITV production of Vanity Fair, pictures courtesy of ITV

The production was designed to appeal to today’s audience. ‘In the social-climbing Becky Sharp, it has a heroine in tune with today’s materialistic, self-obsessed world’ said the Daily Mail. “She would be so self-promoting and she would love social media,” Olivia Cook told The Telegraph. The soundtrack included Madonna’s Material Girl.

The Chiswick connection

Director of the Chiswick Book Festival Torin Douglas is very astute at picking up on current TV drama series to launch the festival at Chiswick House. In 2017 the theme was Jane Austen, with actor Imogen Stubbs. The year before it was Victoria. Queen Victoria we know visited Chiswick House, the Austen connection was a bit more tenuous but Vanity Fair is right on the button, as William Thackeray went to school in Chiswick and the book’s first chapter is set in Chiswick Mall.

Photographs above: Places in Old Chiswick associated with William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair  – Walpole House, Chiswick Square, and a plaque marking the garden where Thackeray describes Becky Sharp throwing the dictionary  

The launch evening, sold out with a waiting list two weeks earlier, featured writer Gwyneth Hughes and actor Claudia Jessie with Thackeray scholar Professor John Sutherland talking about Vanity Fair with Festival Director Torin Douglas. 

You can read more about the Chiswick Book Festival here and a profile of Director Torin Douglas here.

Prince Albert: The Man Who Saved the Monarchy

Prince Albert: The Man Who Saved the Monarchy

Festival review by Bridget Osborne

September 2019

AN Wilson at the opening session of the 2019 Chiswick Book Festival at Chiswick House; Prince Albert: The Man Who saved the Monarchy book cover

AN Wilson is a prolific writer of biographies as well as the author of more than 20 works of fiction and a huge body of work as a journalist. He wrote Resolution, a fictional account of Captain James Cook’s second voyage, and Scandal about the Profumo affair, but the subjects of his biographies also include such towering literary figures as Leo Tolstoy, CS Lewis, Hilaire Belloc and John Betjeman and in the past few years he’s written highly acclaimed books on the Victorians and the Elizabethans. A more erudite speaker you could hardly find, but I’d no idea he was so witty.

In an hour-long talk at the 2019 Chiswick Book Festival on his latest book Prince Albert: The Man Who Saved the Monarchy, he made jokes about the Duke of Edinburgh, Boris Johnson, Sergeant Wilson, John Le Mesurier’s character in Dad’s Army and Tinkerbell, and held his audience effortlessly, with a disarming smile and a dry wit. Wilson argued that Prince Albert was worthy of a book in his own right ‘not just as a companion to my book on Victoria’. Albert was important, he said, ‘because we owe him’.

Developing the constitution

After the four Georges, the monarchy needed saving. Although Albert was very young when he came to England to marry his cousin, ‘he had a very clear idea what his function was going to be’. He’d studied at Bonn University (under the same tutor who later taught Karl Marx) and saw that the monarchy had to be woven into the developing parliamentary system if it was to survive. Queen Victoria didn’t have quite the same vision, but according to Wilson he kept her on track, developing the constitution as ‘a wonderful mix of the power of the executive and symbolism of the monarchy’, because he foresaw that the extension of franchise was inevitable.

I’m pleased that the portrayal of Victoria and Albert we’ve seen in the ITV series Victoria appears to have been accurate. Tom Hughes’ portrayal of Albert is exactly as AN Wilson describes him: a shy boy, who abhorred sexual promiscuity and impropriety and whose best friend throughout his life was his brother, but also an intelligent man who had a vision for the monarchy and for this country.

Cultural debt

Wilson told the audience at the opening night of the Book Festival in the Burlington Pavilion at Chiswick House, that we also owed a great cultural debt to the Prince Consort. He was a patron of the arts and a patron of music. The V&A was originally proposed as just the ‘Albert museum’. We have the Royal Albert Hall because he encouraged the building of symphony halls and we have one of the greatest scientific centres in the world, Imperial College, because he understood the value of modern science. It was because he was voted Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University that science was introduced as an area of study. Once Cambridge deemed science worthy of admission to the curriculum, other universities followed suit. Prince Albert was genuinely interested in how machinery worked – he could have been an engineer or a scientist – and he was also mad about photography. One of the early photographs to be on sale to the public was a photograph he took of the royal family at Osborne House.

Wilson told the audience that Victoria and Albert became personally very rich from the Duchy of Lancaster – from the development of the spa town of Harrogate and the docks on Merseyside, and their ownership of agricultural land in Wales whose coalfields powered the industrial revolution. But Albert was a compassionate Prince; he travelled around the country a lot and met people who worked in factories and mills and schools. As a result, he realised that the working-class lived in squalor and he pioneered model cottages in Kennington with sanitation, flushing toilets and living room – unheard of in the houses of the working class.

The mention of John Le Mesurier’s character in Dad’s Army was with reference to his situation vis-à-vis Ian Lavender’s character Private Pike. The youngest member of Warmington On Sea’s Home Guard called Sergeant Wilson ‘Uncle Frank’, though it was clear to the audience that he was far more likely to have been his son. Such quite possibly was the relationship between Albert and his Uncle Leopold, though his paternity was never proven.
The reference to the Duke of Edinbugh was pure name dropping. They met at a function while Wilson was writing the book. The Duke exclaimed ‘not another bloody book about Prince Albert’ and told him that as Albert had only lived a short life, so it only needed to be a short book.

Did you know?

Prince Albert visited Chiswick in June 1844. He was here to attend a banquet for Tsar Nicholas I of Russia at Chiswick House, hosted by the 6th Duke of Devonshire. Also there were the King of Saxony and around 700 members of the principal noble families in the country. It was described as ‘one of the most splendid fetes ever given in this country’.

Marie Colvin’s Final Assignment

Paul Conroy – Under the Wire: Marie Colvin’s Final Assignment

Festival review by Bridget Osborne

September 2019

Photograph above: Paul Conroy talking to Julia Wheeler in the Andrew Lloyd Webber theatre at the 2019 Chiswick Book Festival

Paul Conroy’s hilarious. He’s talking about death and destruction in the war zones of the couple of last decades, so it shouldn’t be that funny really, but he has the Liverpool scally’s natural ability to tell stories, and he has some corkers.

He met Sunday Times correspondent Marie Colvin when they were holed up in a decrepit hotel on the border of Syria and Iraq with about 40 other members of the international press, all trying to get across the Tigris to report the war in Iraq. There was a boat operated by Syrian secret police which went over once a day. Once a day they all trooped to the office of the police, were offered tea, refused passage and they all trooped back again. After a few days Paul got fed up with this. He decided to build a boat, sent his driver off to buy inner tubes for lorry tyres and fashioned some sort of inflatable craft from tyres and ropes. They set off after dark. He’d given the driver money to bribe the border guards, but still, as he was pumping up his makeshift craft with a couple of others, they came under volley of fire. They were captured, had bags put over their heads, and were led to believe that they’d be shot. They thought they’d had it, until one of the guards asked him where he was from. “Liverpool”. “Ah Steven Gerrard” said the guard, excitedly. They started chatting about football, as you do. The bag came off. ‘“Any chance we could have the bags taken off us?” my two colleagues asked after about half an hour. “Nah, you’re all right.”’

They were let out, but when he got back to the hotel he was given the cold shoulder by the rest of the press pack, for making their chances of getting on the boat that nigh on impossible. So he drank alone at the other end of the bar, until Marie Colvin strode in, demanding “who’s the boat man and where is he?” “That would be me” he said. “I like your style” she replied. She bought him a whisky and it was the start of a beautiful relationship which took them to Libya, and ultimately to the war in Syria, where she was killed and he was injured.

Our job is to get the story out

Marie was famous for her fearless reporting from some of the worst situations in war zones – and for wearing a black eye patch because she’d lost an eye covering the civil war in Sri Lanka (she wore a diamante eye patch to parties). They shared a belief that it was their job to get the story out, no matter what. “She called me boatman till the day she died. It was very hard to hook her up with any other photographer. One found her scarier than the war. One she didn’t like because he was too ‘metrosexual’. He probably combed his hair or something”. How did Sunday Times deal with that? “She was a bit of a nightmare to manage”. While his exchanges with the Sunday Times picture desk in London were brief, she argued for hours with editors, persuading them that as she was on the ground, she knew best what the story was.

In Libya Paul took the famous photograph of Ghaddafi after he was killed. “We the got a call from London to say they wanted a picture of his unmarked grave. What part of ‘unmarked’ did they not get?”. Despite being given directions by her excellent contacts, it took them three days of wandering about before they found it because, he said, “Marie had a terrible sense of direction”.

Paul told the audience at the 2019 Chiswick Book Festival that he was slightly shielded from the horrors they saw, being behind a camera lens: “You’re constantly seeing traumatic stuff, but the camera is a bit of a barrier. You’re concentrating on the light, on technical stuff. Whereas I was standing back, she was completely immersed in it, looking into their eyes as they told their story. If people are going to tell you their story you have a responsibility to tell it well”.

An incredible sense of humour

She dealt with the trauma she’d witnessed with humour. “She had an incredible sense of humour, but dark”. They both coped badly with being at home between trips. “People say ‘how was it?’ but what do you tell them? How much do you tell them? How much do they really want to know?” They couldn’t quite reconcile themselves to the fact that people around them were bothered about such things as car tax, so they got back to war zones as quickly as possible. They went to Syria once Arab Spring had spread across the region. “The Syrian army said any journalists found near Homs were to be executed and bodies thrown on the battlefield”. That was enough to put most foreign correspondents off. Marie and Paul found themselves a guide to take them in.

“We had to walk through minefield, sneaking past an army checkpoint 50 yards away. We could hear them talking. We were following the guide’s white trainers. I had hold of Marie because she had a tendency to veer off to the left as she just had the one eye”.

Journey into Homs

Their journey to Homs was made by motorbike and in the back of trucks. Finally they had to walk the last three kilometres through storm drain, bent double. “Coming out the other end into Homs was like walking into hell. Neither of us had ever seen anything like it”. There was a small, civilian neighbourhood being demolished by huge firepower. “There was no fighting, just slaughter. There were a few rifles against this massive artillery. At the field clinic there were bodies stacked up, blood everywhere”. Paul took pictures of Marie with hundreds of women and children, widows in a basement trying to find shelter from the almost constant bombardment. “That was probably the best piece she ever wrote. It was Mediaeval slaughter and her piece conveyed the horror”. The photograph in the basement was the last one he ever took of her, and one which he said greatly annoyed the Syrian government.

“The Free Syrian army was getting intelligence that Assad’s ground forces were coming”. They went back through the tunnel and filed their story. The army didn’t invade then, and the Sunday Times told them under no circumstances were they to go back in. So they switched off their phones and went back through the tunnel. “All the people who had helped us to get in the first time were dead”. They realised the situation had deteriorated so much that if they waited till Friday to make their despatch to the Sunday Times it would be too late, so Marie did a broadcast for the BBC by sat phone. She did three broadcasts in all, knowing that it would attract fire.

Their last night before she was killed “we were like kids at a sleepover”. She thought she was going deaf. He shone a torch into her ear and fished out the rubber cover off an earphone which had been wedged in her ear. They couldn’t sleep for giggling. “Every time one of us began to doze off, the other one started up again”. They got up later than planned next morning and left at 6.30am rather than 5.30am. As the rockets began landing on either side of them, he realised the operator was finding the target, as they were getting nearer. Marie was killed instantly with French photographer Remi Ochlik. Paul was injured. He would have bled out from a gaping hole in his leg, had he not made a tourniquet from an ethernet cable.

His book Under the Wire came out in 2018 and is now available in paperback.

The Art of the Thriller

Peter Hanington & Alan Judd: The Art of the Thriller

Festival review by Bridget Osborne

September 2019

Photograph above: Left Julian Worricker; Centre Alan Judd; Right Peter Hanington

Broadcaster and journalist Julian Worricker discussed the art of writing thrillers at the 2019 Chiswick Book Festival with one veteran and one fairly new writer of the genre: Alan Judd, (real name Alan Petty) and Peter Hanington. Alan is a former soldier and diplomat who writes both fiction and non-fiction, with ten previous thrillers under his belt. Peter worked as a journalist for over twenty-five years, most recently at The World Tonight and Newshour on the BBC World Service. He has one previous novel to his credit: A Dying Breed.

Spoiler alert

Julian Worricker, who broadcasts on the BBC’s News Channel and on Radio 4, used to present the Breakfast show with Victoria Derbyshire on Radio 5 Live. Discussing the release of the film Titanic, they had been careful not to let slip what happened to Leonardo diCaprio and Kate Winslet’s characters, he told the audience at the 2019 Chiswick Book Festival. He did however say that the Titanic had sunk, and received an angry email from a listener greatly irritated that he’d given away the end of the film!

Mindful of that, he was careful not to give too much away about the plot of either book, but rather focused on strategies for writing a thriller. Alan said he always set out with a beginning, an end and a ten point plan, so he knew how he wanted to finish but he didn’t necessarily stick to the route he’d planned to get there. Peter on the other hand is a writer who develops the plot as he goes along. Interestingly both said they’d had whole chapters ruthlessly chopped by their editor. In Alan’s case, his first editor told him he didn’t need the last chapter of his first book. “As she said it, I knew she was right” he said. Peter’s editor “tends to remove the first two or three chapters”. A thriller is like an engine. It has to motor on.

Both authors have read a lot of thrillers themselves. Alan reminded the audience that Raymond Chandler famously said that if you were stuck as to how to develop the plot, just have a character come in to the room with a gun in his hand.

Photographs above: Alan Judd; Accidental Agent book cover

The importance of speaking with an authentic voice

They both also have a perfect background for writing thrillers. Alan had served with the British army in Northern Ireland, so his chief character, Charles Thoroughgood was introduced in his first novel A Breed of Heroes, as an army officer in Northern Ireland. You can write a perfectly plausible story, he said, as long as people don’t know the circumstances in which your story is set. He worried about his peers in the army and later in the diplomatic service finding his plots plausible. Authenticity is important and it is appreciated.

British historian Peter Hennessy described A Breed of Heroes as ‘one of the best spy novels ever’. Alan brought back his character twenty years later, by which time he had graduated to the diplomatic service. The problem he’d found with his most recent novel Accidental Agent, was that he’d painted himself into a corner by promoting Thoroughgood to the head of MI6. “The trouble with the head of MI6 is that they just go to meetings all the time. They don’t have assignations in back streets”.

Photographs above: Peter Hanington; A Single Source book cover

Peter’s character William Carver is the ‘dying breed’ referred to in the title of his first book. An old hack who is set in his ways, cannot be doing with meetings, BBC bureaucracy or internal politics, and cares only about the story. He’s grumpy, he’s difficult, does not suffer fools gladly and is a damn good journalist. Peter was a senior editor on the Today programme and had ample opportunity to work with such reporters. “I used to ride the tube home after a 12 hour shift and fill notebooks full of jottings” he said. He took aspects of character and experience from a pool of journalists. I interviewed Peter about his first book at the 2016 Chiswick Book Festival. You can watch the interview here.

His second book A Single Souce has chapters set in Eritrea and in Egypt during the rise of the Arab Spring. Kevin Connolly told him he had to use an inhaler when reporting on the events in Tahrir Square in Cairo, as tear gas brought on his asthma. The Eritrean part of the story has to do with “one of the greatest moral crises of our time”, said Peter, the movement of people as refugees and their treatment as they crossed borders. He and his wife have hosted three Syrians and a Ugandan for the charity Refugees at Home. Eritrean refugees had told him first hand accounts of the conditions they had risked hazardous journeys to escape.

Photographs above: Julian Worricker; Alan Judd; Peter Hanington

A sense of place

Physical locations  are hugely important, they both agreed. You have to describe them correctly if they are to be recognisable. If you manage that, you can set the scene and create the atmosphere you want for your characters to be at home in and your plot to develop. Georges Simenon once started a story with a man on a barge coming on deck in the early morning and lighting up a cigarette. “He had you right there” said Alan.

Language can get in the way of creating the atmosphere you want. Asked if he’d had any disagreements with his editor, Peter said he’s been determined to keep in the description of a fountain ‘plashing’ instead of ‘splashing’. His editor had been right, he admitted, that such poncy use of language made the reader aware of the writing and distracted from the creation of the scene. An editor’s job is to ‘kill your darlings’ – a phrase attributed to William Faulkner. Or as Peter put it “an editor’s job is to tell you to get over yourself”.

Inspiration to write

Peter grew up in Chiswick and went to Chiswick School. When asked what inspired him to write, he said: “my English teachers at school”.


What does success look like? Why do they write? Lee Child apparently sells a book every nine seconds; that’s certainly one incentive. “I’d be happy with one every nine months” said Peter. “It would be nice to have a better bank balance” said Alan, but mostly what he hopes for is respect for his work, or appreciation. “I’m trying to make sense of the world” he said.

“It’s amazing when someone says they like one of my phrases” said Peter. Alan read out one of Peter’s descriptions, of a man with spiky black hair, gelled so he looked like ‘an oil stricken sea bird’. If someone praises his syntax Peter said, “it’s like someone has paid a compliment to one of your children”.

“Better” said Alan.

Who organises the Chiswick Book Festival?

Who organises the Chiswick Book Festival?

Organising a book festival is a phenominal amount of work. There are many volunteers to give their labour to ensure the smooth running of the festival each year but there are two people who bear the responsibility for organising it all.

Torin Douglas is the Director

Douglas was the BBC’s media correspondent for 24 years and has reported on media issues for over 40 years. He left the BBC in 2013 and now speaks, writes and chairs events for a range of media, arts and academic organisations.

Since he left the BBC he has been able to put more time and energy into directing the Chiswick Book Festival, but his involvement in arts and community events in Chiswick goes way back before he ‘retired’. He has been organising and promoting the Chiswick Book Festival, the Bedford Park Festival and events at Chiswick House, St Michael & All Angels Church, the Arts Educational Schools, the Tabard Theatre, and Chiswick Library for years. In recognition of this work he was awarded the MBE in 2013 for ‘services to the community’ in Chiswick.

Torin has lived here with his family for more than 30 years and now dedicates most of his time to raising money for charities and churches by bringing together performers, writers, arts lovers, local businesses and volunteers to enhance the social and cultural life of Chiswick. Read a full profile of Torin here.

Jo James is the Author Programme Director

Jo James has been in the book trade for more than 25 years, firstly as a bookseller and bookshop manager of an award-winning independent, and then managing the events for the bookshop chains Ottakar’s and Waterstones. She has created and produced events with speakers ranging from Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, to David Beckham, JK Rowling, Sir David Attenborough, Michael Palin, David Walliams and Jacqueline Wilson.

Jo also helps to run and programme a number of festivals, including the Times & Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival, The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, The Stratford Book Festival, the Stanfords Travel Writers Festival (part of the Destinations Show at Olympia), Live at the Hive (an arts festival in Worcester), the Cheltenham Science Festival and the Oxford Science Festival. Jo is also the Author Programme Director of the Chiswick Book Festival – 2020 will be her fifth year in the job.

Although now living in Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire, Jo has strong family ties to Chiswick and the surrounds, “My parents had their first home together in Chiswick, and I spent six happy years living here whilst working for Waterstones. It’s such a lovely area, with so much going on. I love it, and look forward to my regular visits.”