Amazing literary festivals this month

Wise Words

Wise Words - Credit: Archant

From poetry and storytelling to Bond and Beatrix Potter, Kent’s trio of literary festivals this month has something for everyone

Actor Robert Bathurst will perform The Song of Lunch

Actor Robert Bathurst will perform The Song of Lunch - Credit: Archant

Wise Words, Canterbury

(30 April-8 May)

A poetry and storytelling festival that aims to inspire wonder and curiosity by offering audiences unexpected encounters with poetry, literature and the arts Canterbury’s Wise Words Festival, directed by Raphael Klatzko and now in its sixth year, has secured £15,000 of Arts Council Funding to bring nine days of talks, music, performance and poetry to the city’s Secret Garden.

Wise Words, produced by not-for-profit organisation Workers of Art, will bring writers and readers together once again to share stories and ideas that inspire, challenge and entertain.

Headliners include festival friend, the poet, playwright and radio broadcaster Lemn Sissay MBE (pictured in action below), the former Canterbury Poet Laureate Patience Agbabi, Nigerian-born poet Inua Ellams and father and son Ian and Andrew McMillan.

Ian, the ‘bard of Barnsley’, hosts BBC Radio 3’s weekly radio show The Verb and is a regular on BBC Breakfast, Coast, Countryfile, Pick of the Week, The Arts Show and Last Word.

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As well as hosting a show for children, Ian and his poet son Andrew will invite audiences to join them for an Evening with Father and Son.

Andrew will join other renowned poets such as Canterbury Laureate John Siddique to offer master-classes, workshops and retreats for seasoned and new writers. Patron Jane Gardam will invite festival-goers to join her for tea while she reads and discusses themes and characters from her books. Patrick Cockburn, Foreign Correspondent for The Independent will share his experience of recent travels to Syria and Emily Hennessey will enthral audiences as she weaves stories while you drift down the river on a punt.

Inspired by what would have been the 150th birthday of both Beatrix Potter and the 100th birthday of Roald Dahl, the family area will offer the chance to meet their favourite characters.

Chiddingstone Castle is the venue for West Kent's first Literary Festival

Chiddingstone Castle is the venue for West Kent's first Literary Festival - Credit: Archant

Expect to see poets popping up in coffee houses across the city, your favourite authors in tents and storytellers on punts on the river this month.

Find out more

Buy a Festival Pass or individual event tickets at: For more information contact: or 07540 998872. Directions: To find the Franciscan Gardens, more popularly known as Canterbury’s Secret Gardens, turn into Stour Street from the High Street and walk about 100 yards until you come to Greyfriars B&B and beside it big black doors. A bumpy drive takes you across two bridges and into the Secret Gardens (satnav: CT1 2BD). Gardens open at 9am and events on this main site begin at 10am. The ticket office opens at 9.30am.

Literary Festival, Chiddingstone

Kent-based authors and actors feature strongly at West Kent’s first-ever Literary Festival being held at Chiddingstone Castle over the Bank Holiday Weekend

The festival programme offers author talks for adults and teenagers on 1 May, family events on Bank Holiday Monday and a day of children’s authors especially for schools on 3 May.

Local authors include Juliet Nicolson, the grand-daughter of Vita Sackville-West, who will reveal the lives of seven generations of women in the Sackville-West family who lived (and continue to live) at Knole, Sissinghurst and at Long Barn in Sevenoaks Weald.

Ian Fleming's first Kent residence was at St Margaret's at Cliffe, near Dover

Ian Fleming's first Kent residence was at St Margaret's at Cliffe, near Dover - Credit: Archant

Janet Ellis, the former Blue Peter presenter turned writer, will talk about her dark debut novel The Butcher’s Hook. Andrew Lownie (who grew up near Sevenoaks) will discuss his new biography of Guy Burgess, while David Lough (who lives in Penshurst) will reveal the secrets of Churchill’s finances (Churchill’s home is just down the road at nearby Chartwell).

Veteran broadcaster and Penshurst resident Sandy Gall will discuss the war in Afghanistan with Major Richard Streatfeild, who lives in Chiddingstone and runs his family home Hoath House as a wedding and conference venue.

The evening will feature a talk by historian Antony Beevor, From Stalingrad to Syria: How Warfare has Changed, followed by a performance of The Song of Lunch by Christopher Reid with Robert Bathurst (Downton Abbey and Cold Feet).

On Bank Holiday Monday the Pericles Theatre Company will perform The Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter, a musical event for families, and there will be poetry and percussion with Brian Moses, who uses a variety of instruments to underpin the rhythm of his words.

Children will love Roald Dahl storytelling (celebrating his 100 anniversary) with local voiceover artist, Rachel Sellers. There will be musical Stories in Song by Edgelanders, a five-strong folk band and an opportunity to meet Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell. Take an epic voyage through the history of Britain with Leigh author and nephew of Great Dixter’s Christopher Lloyd, Christopher Lloyd’s new giant What on Earth? wallbook and his coat of many pockets.

There will be literary walks around the grounds with local historians Penny Harris and Chris McCooey and an ‘espresso’ theatre stall brewing freshly made individual plays from London’s Royal Court Theatre.

Festival organisers include Chiddingstone Castle’s Director Ali Ditzel, Chairman of the Trustees Mark Streatfeild and Festival Director Victoria Henderson, who came up with the idea after realising that despite there being more than 350 literary festivals springing up across the UK, there was not one in her West Kent home ground.

Other events include a Schools Short Story Competition. Winning entries will be read out on Bank Holiday Monday by Geoffrey Streatfeild (RSC and National Theatre), brother of Major Richard Streatfeild, whose family previously owned Chiddingstone Castle from the early 16th century and 300 years onwards.

It was sold to Lord Astor of Hever in 1938 and in 1955 bought by Denys Eyre Bower, an antiques dealer, to house his collections.

Following his death, a Charitable Trust was set up in 1984 to uphold his wish that the collections be kept intact in their present setting so that future generations can enjoy them.

Find out more

Tickets available online: or call 0800 033 7564. Adults: £12 per performance; children (three-13) £5 and under three’s free. Tickets include entry into the Castle and its Japanese and Egyptian collections. Festival day ticket (Sun only): £55 (for entry into all seven events on 1 May). Tickets for the school events can be bought in advance by emailing: and are priced at £4 per student. Chiddingstone Castle, Chiddingstone, Edenbridge, Kent TN8 7AD

WhitLit, Whitstable (11-15 May)

With the release of the latest Bond film Skyfall and the 60th anniversary of the first Bond novel, the focus of this year’s WhitLit is on Ian Fleming, who lived in Kent and featured the county in several of the Bond books from Goldfinger to Moonraker - even the 007 tag came from the number of the London to Dover coach, now a National Express service.

This year’s WhitLit festival takes a look at Ian Fleming’s work and his love of Kent.

Says WhitLit founder Victoria Falconer: “James Bond is still as popular as ever and Ian Fleming is a fascinating character with so much of his dramatic real life and experiences going into the Bond books.

“He was inspired so much by the Kentish coast, it made sense to look at his life and work in this year’s festival. I’ve recently re-read Goldfinger and Moonraker and was reminded by how different the books are to the films, and how Kent played such a big part in the Bond novels, which are still a thrilling read.”

Contrary to the 1966 film, baddie Auric Goldfinger’s luxurious hideaway was not in America but in Herne Bay – Reculver to be precise! And Drax, the notorious villain in Moonraker, didn’t live in an imposing French chateau, but in Kingsdown, on the coast between Dover and Deal.

In fact the entire novel of Moonraker is set in England, largely in Kent and in writing it Fleming went to great lengths to get the details of the area right, including lending his car to his stepson to time the journey from London to Deal for the car chase passage.

Fleming’s first Kent residence was at St Margaret’s at Cliffe, near Dover with his wife Ann, which he bought from Noel Coward in 1951 and enabled him to escape London to write.

Throughout the next few years, during which he wrote his Bond blockbusters, Fleming and his wife Ann visited White Cliffs and entertained famous pals including former Whitstable boy Somerset Maugham and Evelyn Waugh. Fleming loved to gaze through his telescope at shipping in the Channel – the very stretch where the evil Drax flees in his submarine after the Moonraker rocket has been launched.

In 1958 the Flemings left St Margaret’s and bought the Old Palace at Bekesbourne, an eight-bedroom 18th-century house, outside Canterbury. It was close to the Duck Inn, at nearby Pett Bottom, where the young Bond comes to live after his parents died in a skiing accident. The Duck Inn was one of Fleming’s favourite locals and today you can find his preferred seat, marked with a plaque, in the picturesque gardens.

A keen golfer, Kent also offered Fleming quality play at the Royal St George’s Golf Club, Sandwich, many-times host to the British Open Golf Championship and thinly disguised in Goldfinger as the ‘Royal St Mark’s, ‘the greatest seaside golf-course in the world’.

From the 1930s, Fleming liked nothing more than to spend weekends on the links while staying at the now-demolished Guilford Hotel, Sandwich Bay. After the war, he often motored down from London in his Ford Thunderbird on a Friday, in time for nine or 18 holes before tea and, of course, a dry martini in the clubhouse – ‘shaken, not stirred’.

The club was sadly to be the stage for the author’s final curtain call. Elected captain for the club 1964/5, he was present for a committee meeting on 11 August 1964 and suffered a heart attack. He died in Canterbury the following day.

Higham Park (not open to visitors) on the edge of Bridge was once home to the flamboyant motor-racing driver Count Louis Zborowski, who designed and built cars fitted with aero engines – he named three Chitty Bang Bang. Zborowski was killed, aged just 29, racing at Monza in 1924.

But Fleming, a later visitor to Higham Park, was so fired by the romance of the cars that he wrote the children’s tale, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (published 1964) for his son Caspar. No doubt Bond, a sophisticated motorhead, would have appreciated the vehicle’s magical technology.

At WhitLit this year, there will be a special Bond evening on 13 May at Whitstable Community College.

For young readers the new Young Bond author Steve Cole will talking about his challenge to write exciting adventures featuring the teenage James Bond, and how Ian Fleming and Bond has inspired his writing.

Fleming’s biographer Andrew Lycett will be revealing all about Fleming in his talk ‘The Man Behind Bond.’ And Matthew Parker will be looking at Fleming’s other important, and more famous home, Goldeneye in Jamaica.

The finale of the evening is Andrew Lycett interviewing Fleming’s step-daughter Fionn Morgan who spent time with Fleming and her mother Ann in Kent over the years. She gives a unique insight into the real Fleming as a writer, father and husband.

There will also be a free book debate on Goldfinger on 15 May at 10am at Whitstable Library. The library has ordered an additional 40 copies of the book for local readers to borrow.

And the First Whitstable Scout Band will be playing the Bond themes at a special concert on 11 May at Whitstable Community College.

Find out more

For more information visit: or call the Horsebridge Box Office 01227 281174

For more 007 adventures and Ian Fleming connections in Kent, see: