Book by the seaside: the fourth Felixstowe Book Festival

Ruth Dugdall

Ruth Dugdall - Credit: Archant

Now in its fourth year, the Felixstowe Book Festival, with its charming seaside location, its diverse range of speakers and exciting workshops, is rapidly gaining a fine reputation on the literary circuit. Catherine Larner previews the not-to-be-missed event

Hugh Fraser

Hugh Fraser - Credit: Archant

Book lovers are known to travel from Cambridgeshire and Essex, as well as all over Suffolk, to visit the Felixstowe Book Festival, such is the growing reputation for the weekend of talks and activities in the seaside town. This year it has something of an international flavour, not least because there are some visitors from Luxembourg dropping in on the event at the end of June.

A group of students from the Lycee Belval in Luxembourg are organising a school trip to Suffolk to coincide with the festival. It’s all thanks to festival regular, author Ruth Dugdall, who introduced the students to the county through her books while she was living and working in Luxembourg.

“The books brought them to Felixstowe,” says Ruth, who has based her thrillers there. “They have all read Nowhere Girl and Humber Boy B, so they feel they know Suffolk quite well already.”

The sixth form pupils will meet Felixstowe’s mayor, and will also visit Polstead and the Moyses Hall, in Bury St Edmunds while they are in Suffolk. They have all heard about Polstead’s Red Barn Murder through a presentation from Ruth who taught a creative writing class at the school when she lived in Luxembourg. Ironically, the pupils will miss Ruth’s festival session on the final afternoon. She will be discussing the rise of the ‘domestic noir’ genre with fellow writers Julia Crouch and Elizabeth Haynes on Sunday, June 26.

“Our theme is gateways,” says festival director Meg Reid. “We are looking outwards to other world literatures as well as our own.”

There will be sessions with Polish authors, the history of Portugal with Roger Crowley and his book Conquerors, and travel writing explored by the publishers of Oxygen Books. With the festival taking place two days after the referendum, Giles Merritt from Belgium will be talking about his book on the future of Europe.

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The opening event will recognise the Olympics taking place this summer, with an evening of Brazilian music on Friday, June 24. Luiz Morais and Gabriela Kozyra will get everyone in the party mood with melodies of the samba, choro and bossa nova. And on the next day publishing guru, Liz Calder will be introducing audiences to great Brazilian writers, novelists and poets through her experience of working with the pioneering literature festival Flip in Brazil over the past 15 years. Liz also launched the Flipside festival to Suffolk, which now takes place biannually at Snape Maltings celebrating the arts, culture and writing of Brazil.

Reading the work of writers of different nationalities and in languages other than our own is dependent on the skill of the translator, and one of the sessions at Felixstowe will be a fascinating exploration of the challenges and dilemmas facing the translator.

Antonia Lloyd-Jones, Sarah Bower, Will Stone and Daniel Hahn are all very engaging, entertaining and informative speakers, and will discuss the rise of this genre in recent years. Scandinavian noir, the Elena Ferrante novels and The Shadow of the Wind are all hugely successful and popular books in translation.

There are also many familiar names and formidable talents of British literature appearing at the festival – novelist Rose Tremain, historian Alison Weir,, Bronte biographer Juliet Barker, crime writers Nicci French and novelist and screen writer Deborah Moggach are all speaking over the weekend at the Elizabeth Orwell Hotel.

And there are lots of events for children too, including appearances from Carnegie medal winner Tanya Landman talking about her stories for young adults, and picture book author and illustrator Rebecca Elliott. Debut novelists SE Craythorne and Megan Bradbury, both graduates of the creative writing MA at the University of East Anglia, will discuss their journey to being published and there are various workshops and gatherings for budding writers to explore their work in a supportive and affirmative atmosphere.

There’s a vintage tea party, poetry and Pimms night, a book trail, a bedtime story, and an art installation at Landguard Fort using Shakespeare’s The Tempest to provide a commentary on the ongoing refugee crisis.

So whether you want to be informed, entertained or inspired – or all three – there is something for everyone at this year’s festival.

Felixstowe Book Festival June 24-26

Turning to crime

Actor Hugh Fraser is used to facing up to Agatha Christie’s villains. Now he’s penned a much darker criminal world of his own

one page While Agatha Christie’s eccentric Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot was exposing villains and solving crimes, his slow-witted companion Captain Hastings seemed only to look on in astonishment. Yet for alter ego, actor Hugh Fraser, this may well have proved prime feeding ground for his own murder mystery – writing a crime novel.

After 25 years in the television role, when the series had come to a natural and conclusive end, Hugh Fraser enrolled on a creative writing course run by the Guardian UEA and found that by having clear deadlines to meet, and encouragement from classmates, he had all the confidence he needed to complete a first draft.

This month he publishes his second novel centred on the life of a contract killer named Rina Walker. Both books – the first is called Harm, the second, Threat, and is released on June 23 – focus on a dark, sinister and oppressive criminal underworld with graphic accounts of sexual violence and gruesome murders. It will come as quite a shock to anyone expecting any Agatha Christie influence.

“I really don’t know why it turned out the way it did,” says Hugh. “People have said it’s quite shocking but violence is, sadly, part of life.

“As a teenager growing up in the slums of Notting Hill in the 1950s, Rina Walker is the victim of a series of sexual attacks by a local gangster. When the predator turns his attention to her younger sister, Rina kills him and is drawn into a web of retribution and revenge from which she cannot escape.” Hugh reads crime novels and watches Tarantino films for relaxation. He believes they have a cathartic effect.

“I think perhaps we all occasionally experience violent urges, which we do our best to control, and maybe reading books and watching films about people who give those urges free rein provides a kind of release for us.” He is pleased he isn’t writing from experience. He grew up in Birmingham, leaving school at 18 and, despite having failed his A-levels, managed to secure a place at drama school. He went on to work in repertory theatre, including Ipswich Arts Theatre, and a succession of parts followed. TV dramas such as ‘Poirot’ and ‘Sharpe’ have made him a memorable face, but he has also appeared in films with Harrison Ford and Clint Eastwood.

When he’s not acting, music is his other love. In the 1970s, while playing in a band called Telltale, he co-wrote and played the theme for the children’s TV series Rainbow, which ran for 20 years. Currently he is backing singer-songwriter Kimberley Moore, based in Norwich and whom he met when they worked together at Aldeburgh Music on music therapy initiatives for dementia patients and teenagers. Hugh is a patron of Suffolk-based charity Lapwing, which works with young people who have complex educational needs. He is increasingly immersed in activities in Suffolk after moving to Woodbridge five years ago.

“I really enjoy the friendly atmosphere of Woodbridge,” he says, though admits the pace of life took some getting used to after London. “I’d be queuing at the chemists and somebody would be talking about their warts. I’d think ‘get a move on, we haven’t got all day’, but now I think, ‘fine, let’s wait, I might learn something interesting about warts!’”

Work commitments mean he still has to make regular trips to London and further afield. Recent projects have seen him filming a political thriller in Kazakhstan, to record an account of the country’s independence from the Soviet Union, and he’s also been measured up as a character in a video game. “I’ve never had a burning desire to play King Lear or Romeo, or take my acting career in a particular direction. I’ve always been happy to work wherever I can.”

Hugh Fraser will be at Slaughter in Southwold on June 19 and the Felixstowe Book Festival on June 26.