Bibliophiles’ paradise

This year’s Guernsey Literary Festival attracted record numbers of visitors. George Clode was among them.
Earlier in the year I joined 6,000 bookish tourists who flocked to Guernsey to hear pearls of wisdom from the scholarly bigwigs assembled for the island’s fifth literary festival.
I arrived on the Friday afternoon to cover the last three days, and set up camp in the recently refurbished four-star St Pierre Park Hotel, Spa and Golf Resort.
Just a 10-minute cab ride or leisurely 20-minute amble from the heart of the action, this is an ideal place to recharge, eat, or be pampered in between literary events.
After dinner at the hotel, I walked to the Guernsey Museum for a showing of 2016 English drama The Departure, followed by a Q&A with writer and director Andrew Steggall. This was a great warm up event for me, and got me in the mood for the hectic schedule of sessions I had planned the next day.
Workshops, talks and education
Over the course of the five-day festival, there were 76 talks, workshops and sessions, 18 educational events and a number of family activities – including a Roald Dahl Tea Party and the opportunity to meet Children’s Laureate and illustrator extraordinaire Chris Riddell at the Guille-Alles Library.
If my trip had been on the pages of a work of fiction, I could have discovered some magical way to be at all these events at once. Sadly, it wasn’t, and constrained by the harsh rules of reality I was forced to miss some excellent speakers, including rapper, poet and political activist Akala, the aforementioned Chris Riddell and science author Simon Singh.
The sun was shining on Saturday and Market Square was alive with pop-up second-hand book stalls and punters waiting for the first sessions to begin.
In a packed out inflated marquee, Victor Hugo aficionado David Bellows gave his fascinating talk, ‘Les Misérables: Novel of the Century’, which he delivered as if, rather than discussing one of the greatest novels of the 19th century, he were talking about a person.
The session was essentially a biography of Hugo’s epic novel, charting its conception, publication and the many, many mixed-media interpretations of it over the years.
Literary criticism
After purchasing one of Bellows’ signed books, I soaked up the vibrant atmosphere around St Peter Port before attending a creative writing workshop with novelist, non-fiction writer and professor Richard Beard at the Guille-Allès Library.
Beard had asked the attendees to submit short stories or passages from longer works they had written in advance of the session, which, one by one, he helpfully, if a little ruthlessly, tore to shreds.
I loved the format of this workshop, and thought Beard was just the sort of harsh, constructive critic that every aspiring novelist needs.
Historian Tom Holland’s engaging talk dealt with the making of England, with a particular focus on 10th century monarch, King Athelstan. Holland’s passion for the subject was infectious, and the queue to meet him afterwards stretched outside the marquee and down towards the seafront.
I managed to catch author Sebastian Faulks’ talk at the St James Concert Hall before a night of music and poetry at the Fermain Tavern, where slam poetry champion Harry Baker brought the house down.
Faulks was also there as part of the Authors’ XI, a cricket team made up of writers who travel the world to indulge their passion for the game, and whose alumni includes Arthur Conan Doyle and PG Wodehouse.
Seafood galore
The final day of the festival was very family-focused, and so I spent the early afternoon exploring the island’s first Seafood Festival. Seafront stalls selling shellfish, mini fish and chips, paella, gin cocktails and craft beer were dotted around St Peter Port, and musicians gathered on the pier to sing their songs out to sea.
Guernsey had provided me with a weekend of all the things I love the most, and in the cab back to the airport I was already wishing that this story could have gone on for a few pages more.
Luckily the next one is in May, and from now on is planned to be an annual event. Better get booking!