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A look ahead to the Bury St Edmunds Literary Festival

Elly Griffiths. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood
Elly Griffiths. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

Elly Griffiths was the headline guest at the first Bury St Edmunds Literary Festival and will be back to share more stories about her bestselling mix of whodunit and history.

East Anglia has haunted her novels from the beginning and she will talk about her bestselling Ruth Galloway series and a new photographic journey through the locations which inspired her.

She was walking with her archaeologist husband when she conjured the plot of her first Ruth Galloway novel from the landscape.

As he talked of how prehistoric people believed marshland was a sacred place, neither land nor sea, neither living nor dead, but something in-between and a bridge to the afterlife, she found herself creating a story of linking a missing child, an ancient henge, modern policing and distant history.

Great British Life: Elly Griffiths hopes to find time to visit the Abbey Gardens during her visit to Bury St Edmunds Literary FestivalElly Griffiths hopes to find time to visit the Abbey Gardens during her visit to Bury St Edmunds Literary Festival

‘Walking towards me out of the mist, I saw Dr Ruth Galloway,’ said Elly.

Ruth starred in 15 novels, finishing this January with The Last Remains. The forensic archaeologist roamed through Norfolk and into Suffolk alongside key characters including detective chief inspector Harry Nelson and modern-day Druid Cathbad.

‘The Ruth books have edged into Suffolk a few times!’ said Elly. ‘Bungay has featured as has Southwold. Cathbad talks about the ‘drowned village’ of Dunwich. I’d like to set a story completely in Suffolk. My husband was born in Erwarton and that landscape fascinates me.’

Elly was so inspired by Bury when she appeared at the town’s inaugural literary festival that she is determined it will feature it in her fiction too.

‘My first thought was that I must set a book there,’ she said. ‘I was staying at The Angel Hotel and so immediately thought of Dickens – in fact I attended a candlelight reading of The Pickwick Papers. But MR James also set a ghost story in Bury and I must admit that my thoughts edged in a slightly darker direction…’

Great British Life: Elly Griffiths Norfolk, a photographic journey through the land of Ruth Galloway. Picture Quercus/Justin MillsElly Griffiths Norfolk, a photographic journey through the land of Ruth Galloway. Picture Quercus/Justin Mills

‘Norfolk and Suffolk are dream locations for a writer,’ said Elly, who has been visiting family here all her life. She first heard many East Anglian folktales aboard her aunt Marjorie’s boat on the Broads and her own stories weaving fact and fiction, ancient and modern, are now shot through with legends of brooding ghosts and baleful devil dogs.

‘My aunt used to know lots of really good ghost stories. We would be gliding along the Broads and she would be telling these stories,’ said Elly.

Her latest book, due out in November, is a photographic journey over the course of a year through some of the landscapes which have inspired her novels – with stunning pictures taken by Suffolk photographer Justin Mills.

‘I love Justin’s relationship with the landscape. His photographs always tell a story and you feel as if you are walking across the sand at Hunstanton or through the trees in Thetford Forest,’ said Elly.

Elly Griffiths Norfolk, a photographic journey through the land of Ruth Galloway features more than 100 awe-inspiring colour photographs.

‘It’s very hard to choose a favourite but I particularly love a picture of the beach at Cley, lit up by lightning. It reminds me of the role that weather plays in all the books,’ said Elly who has also written a mystery series set in 1950s and 1960s Brighton, plus stand-alone crime novels and a series for children.

Great British Life: Kate Sawyer. Picture Sophie DavidsonKate Sawyer. Picture Sophie Davidson

Novelist Kate Sawyer, who grew up in Bury St Edmunds, is another star of the festival.

She will talk about her award-winning debut novel The Stranding which won the East Anglian Book Awards prize for fiction, has been serialised on BBC Radio 4 and is now being adapted for the screen.

It tells the story of how Ruth sheltered from an apocalypse inside a beached whale and explores life stripped of modern comforts and stresses. ‘It is about relationships, family and what really matters in life,’ said Kate.

Her second novel, This Family, is set in Bury over the course of a single summer day, telling a story spanning 40 years with a chorus of characters chiming in with their memories. ‘It’s a sprawling family saga, with a 'state of the nation' twist,’ said Kate, who lives in Bury with her three-year-old daughter. ‘I write what I know and what I remember but I also like to put myself in others' shoes and try to imagine others' perspectives.’

She began writing novels after a 20-year career as a stage and film actress (with in-between jobs ranging from teaching yoga to waitressing and shop work) and has also written about being a single parent by choice, and hosts the podcast Novel Experience, talking to writers about how they work.

She helped organise this year’s festival and is looking forward to the entire programme – and especially the Saturday schedule.

‘As a mum who rarely gets to attend events unless I'm the guest author, the Saturday morning is particularly exciting,’ said Kate. ‘Hannah Gold is an absolutely brilliant children's author who'll be talking about her award-winning books with an eco-focus, and then straight after, author-journalist Marianne Levy will be talking about her memoir Don’t Forget to Scream.

‘The programming of this double-bill had parents and kids in mind and we'll have coffee and colouring to keep all parties happy!’

Don't miss:

FRIDAY OCTOBER 20

The festival opens at 6.30pm with poet and novelist Elizabeth Cook, a past poet in residence at St Edmundsbury Cathedral. From 7.30pm the launch party includes open mic sessions and the announcement of the winner of this year’s short story competition.

Great British Life: Ashley Hickson-Lovence will talk about his novel featuring the Premier League's first black referee, Uriah Rennie. Picture: supplied by Bury St Edmunds Literary FestivalAshley Hickson-Lovence will talk about his novel featuring the Premier League's first black referee, Uriah Rennie. Picture: supplied by Bury St Edmunds Literary Festival

SATURDAY OCTOBER 21

At midday children’s author Hannah Gold leads a session for youngsters, accompanied by an adult, based around her award-winning bestseller The Last Bear. She is followed by journalist and children’s author Marianne Levy in conversation about her frank and funny exploration of how motherhood is both venerated and undervalued, Don’t Forget to Scream. Babies and children welcome with parents.

At 3pm Norwich-based Ashley Hickson-Lovence talks about his stylistically unorthodox novel based on the life of the Premier League’s first black referee - Your Show: The life of Uriah Rennie. He will also preview his forthcoming novel for young adults, Wild East, set in East Anglia.

The evening programme opens at 6pm with novelist Annie Garthwaite in conversation about her retelling of the life of 15th century Duchess of York, Cecily Neville. The book moves between bedchambers and battlefields as Cecily becomes mother to two kings, buries all but two of her 10 children and survives defeat and ruin.

Hear Kate Sawyer at 4.30pm and Elly Griffiths at 7.30pm.

Great British Life: Marion Gibson will be talking about women accused of witchcraft in 17th century East Anglia. Picture: supplied by Bury St Edmunds Literary FestivalMarion Gibson will be talking about women accused of witchcraft in 17th century East Anglia. Picture: supplied by Bury St Edmunds Literary Festival

SUNDAY OCTOBER 22

Find out more about artist Gwen John with Annabel Abbs and Maggie Humm, who have both written books about her and will discuss what she can tell us today about how to lead creative, purposeful and independent lives.

New Voices in Fiction Out of East Anglia is a chance to find out how the region has influenced the writing of Karen Angelico, Sussie Anie, Rajasree Variyar and Eva Verde who all studied on the University of East Anglia’s celebrated writing courses.

Polly Crosby and Sally Harris have both set novels on the haunting Suffolk coast. At 4.30pm they will discuss their work, with Polly sharing extracts from dual time-line novel Vita and the Birds, set in Walberswick, and SA Harris talking about her ghost-story, Seahurst. Polly grew up in Walberswick and has set all her novels in her native East Anglia, with dual time-lines drawing in history and legend. Her first novel for young adults, This Tale is Forbidden is a fractured fairytale due out in January.

The festival finishes with an evening focusing on women accused of witchcraft. Rosie Andrews, author of bestseller The Leviathan, sets her latest novel, Monsters and the Monstrous, in East Anglia in 1643, with civil war and accusations of witchcraft and murder creating a dark and unsettling atmosphere. Hear her at 6pm, followed by a panel event at 7.30pm when AK Blakemore, Margaret Meyer and Marion Gibson focus on East Anglia’s ‘witchfinder general’ Matthew Hopkins, blamed for the deaths of 100 East Anglian women.

AK Blakemore’s novels include The Manningtree Witches, Marion Gibson is an academic whose next book will feature the women accused of witchcraft at St Osyth and Margaret Meyer’s novel The Witching Tide was inspired by England’s deadliest witch-hunt which swept across East Anglia in 1644-6.

The three authors will explore the history and the modern relevance of witchcraft stories.

Bury St Edmunds Literary Festival returns for its fifth year of celebrating books and writing in East Anglia, at the Unitarian Meeting House, from October 20-22. Tickets are available for individual events or the whole weekend. Burylitfest.co.uk



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