After surviving that 25-hour flight from New Zealand to Heathrow, I headed straight to the beautiful city of Winchester and relaxed for a day in the Royal Winchester Hotel’s terrace garden which my room overlooked. Good food and a comfortable bed soon overcame jet-lag.
Friday 16 June: The grand Winchester Discovery Centre, with its central library, packed entertainments programme and airy cafe, hosted Story’s first event: my talk on Story-Power: Why We Need it to Survive.
Certainly, it was over-ambitious of them to allocate the Performance Hall with raked seating for 182! And of course, we did not fill it, but those who attended made up for that with their enthusiasm.
We discussed the power of storytelling that evening until we were practically thrown out. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera at that time, so I have no pictures of them afterwards happily clutching their free Story book-bags as they dispersed.
My next three venues were in the Midlands – a treasure trail of history and literature and a template for English warmth and hospitality. We were based near Ledbury, where the Heritage Centre honours its local poet, John Masefield, Poet Laureate from 1930 until his death in 1967.
… the annual Poetry Festival, still held in July. And they start them young: promoting the festival this year, Ledbury Primary School pupils set up a Poetry Trail of quotations on plaques attached to benches in special places.
Another poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, is also celebrated here: though born in County Durham, Elizabeth enjoyed a delightful childhood in the nearby Malvern Hills famous, then as now, for farm-brewed ciders.
Ledbury is a town of poets. In the graveyard of the lovely church of Saint Michael and All Angels, we found this poem on the gravestone of “Thomas Russell, Blacksmith of this Town who died 24th March 1823.”
Thursday 22 June: On to Warwick, where Mog and Pauline, surely the most hospitable of independent bookshop proprietors, welcomed us to Warwick Books (@Warwick_books) with Prosecco and an enormous strawberries and cream sponge cake.
Displays in the window and the bookshop heralded Story’s arrival that warm, sunny evening, matched by the warmth and interest of the group who joined me for the talk and asked me to sign their copies of A Biography of Story afterwards.
A special treat was finding two of my favourite Twitter friends in the audience: @AlisonRunham (left), and @SharonBradshaw0, both talented writers and avid readers I met face-to-face for the first time.
Saturday 24 June: Ten miles north-east of Nottingham, the tiny village of Lowdham revealed the best garden roses I have seen, and the friendliest villagers. And they were hosting the final day of Lowdham’s 18th Book Festival. A day packed with three events running simultaneously at any one time in venues around the village and a buzzing book fair and cafe in the village hall.
Central to the buzz and success of the festival over so many years are Janet Streeter of The Bookcase bookshop in Lowdham (@TheBookcase1) and Ross Bradshaw of Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham (@FiveLeavesBooks).
My venue was a marquee behind the hall where I had the great pleasure of speaking to a full house and a wonderfully appreciative audience of story-lovers. And it was a lovely surprise to be introduced by Pippa Hennessy of Nottingham Writers’ Studio (@NWStudio) where I gave a writing workshop in 2014.
Lowdham Book Festival was a highlight of my tour, topped off with a stay at the Old Ship Inn across the road, a traditional pub with history and character, whose landlord, Craig, could not have done more to look after me. Food cooked exactly as I’d requested, and peaceful sleep in a comfortable bed.
Almost unique for a public bar, a snug corner of the Old Ship houses an informal library where punters can exchange a book or two or enjoy a cosy read with their pints.
Saturday 1 July: In the heart of the River Avon’s fertile valley lies the market town of Evesham, built to serve the abbey founded around AD 701 by Saint Egwin, third Bishop of Worcester. The abbey was dismantled for building stone during Henry VIII’s reign and endures only anonymously in walls of Evesham’s remaining Tudor buildings.
But the venue for my talk at Evesham’s Festival of Words was the more recent Friend’s Meeting House, where tea, coffee, cakes and a cheery welcome were offered to everyone who crossed the threshold.
I enjoyed talking to Evesham’s keen audience of book-lovers and responding to their lively questions and comments. It was at one of those moments that Angela Fitch caught me with her lens.
And a more formal photo with Sue Ablett, the leading light of festival organisation, which includes a short-story competition, fringe events over several months and the publication of their own Short Story Anthology available on their website.
A huge ‘Thank You’ to the hosts who made the tour possible, and to all the book-lovers who came to hear me talk about Story’s power in our lives.
I will write up the final visit – to the Isle of Man – in my next post, because the special experience of returning to the land of my birth for the first time in thirty years inspired much that I’d like to share with you.
You can find tips on How to Plan a Successful Book Tour here.
The full text of my talk and readings, Story-Power: Why We Need it to Survive is here,
And details of the new cultural history, A Biography of Story, A Brief History of Humanity, are here.
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