Anna Mazzola reports from the Alderney Literary Festival 2017
Alderney, the northernmost of the inhabited Channel Islands, has blonde hedgehogs, about two thousand inhabitants, and numerous fortifications. It also has a history and literature festival. Every March, a group of historians, biographers and historical fiction writers are invited to attend the festival to throw fresh insight into old events. This year, I was lucky enough to be one of their number.
As soon as I mentioned on social media that I was appearing at Alderney Literary Festival, several authors told me that I would love the island and would be very well looked after. They were right on both counts.
The festival was established in 2015 and was the brainchild of Isabel Picornell, a forensic linguistics expert, and bestselling author Simon Scarrow, who visited Alderney in 2014 to teach a creative writing course. Previous speakers have included Manda Scott and Tom Holland. This year they included HWA members Lloyd Shepherd, Elizabeth Chadwick, Ruth Downie and Imogen Robertson as well as literary agent Andrew Lownie and formidable historical knitter Joyce Meader.
The audience is drawn from Alderney itself, as well as Jersey and Guernsey. The festival takes place in Island Hall, Alderney’s seat of government, and talks are deliberately kept fairly small to give a salon atmosphere. All of the talks I gave and attended were full, and audiences were friendly and engaged. Several people had already read my novel and wanted to talk to me about it. Others wanted to talk to me about criminal justice and the legal system in the Channel Isles.
The programme is a rich mix of historical fiction writers talking about their craft and the dividing line between fact and fiction, and historians discussing their particular area, for example Matthias Strohn on Writing Military History. My personal highlight was the talk given by literary agent Andrew Lownie and thriller writer Rachel Abbott on the different publishing models available to writers. Rachel, who lives on Alderney and self-publishes with great success, explained that she had written a 27-page marketing plan when setting out, and spends 30% of her time on marketing work. I have much to learn.
When you’re not attending talks, you’re free to roam the island, by car, bicycle or on foot. I went on several runs, past yellow gorse, blue sea and numerous birds and butterflies to Gannet Rock, Alderney lighthouse and a couple of the many historic fortifications. Admittedly, I got hopelessly lost, but on an island that’s only three miles long, that didn’t much matter.
The island itself was part of the delight, but the key thing was that I and the other authors were fed and cared for like prize pets for the entire weekend. When I arrived by puffin plane (officially a Dornier 228), Lisa from Villa Mondrian was already there to meet me and take me back to my lovely accommodation. On Friday night we were hosted at Victorian Fort Corblets under the care of bestselling author and marketing guru Rachel Abbott. On Saturday night we were entertained by a Romans v Britons debate (S.A. Turney and Ruth Downie in full costume, chaired by Simon Scarrow wielding a sponge on a stick) and on Sunday evening, we dined at Isabel’s house on French cheeses and croissant pudding. I was glad I’d been for the runs.
All in all, I had a fantastic weekend and was rather sorry to return to my puffin plane to fly back to London. My only complaint was that none of the blonde hedgehogs put in an appearance. So I’ll have to go back.
Anna Mazzola‘s debut, The Unseeing, is based on the life of Sarah Gale who was convicted in 1837 of aiding and abetting James Greenacre in the Edgware Road murder. The Unseeing is out now in paperback. Read our review.