Bridport Literary Festival: Rebel Writers
PUBLISHED: 14:38 28 October 2019 | UPDATED: 14:38 28 October 2019
Credit: Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Stock Photo
As Bridport Literary Festival (Brid Lit) springs into action, bringing light to the darker days of November, one speaker will be particularly busy.
Writer Celia Brayfield, who lives in Dorset, is involved in three events. Her life-writing masterclass at the Bridport Literary and Scientific Institute on 7 November, sold out within days of tickets going on sale. It focuses on the art of narrative in biography, history or memoir, which, she says, "is the art of arranging real life events into the beguiling stories that make the ordinary extraordinary."
And Celia should know. Her books have sold more than two million copies around the world. She is the author of five non-fiction titles and nine novels, most notably Heartswap, which is currently in development as a feature film, Mister Fabulous And Friends, and Wild Weekend.
In 2005 Celia joined the staff of Brunel University London to set up the creative writing programme; she now teaches creative writing at Bath Spa University, including a specialised course in historical fiction. In fact, so many of her students have become successful writers that she keeps a whole shelf just for their novels.
Celia, who started out as a journalist, working mostly for The Times and the Evening Standard, has always had a passion for Dorset. "My parents used to rent a cottage in Charmouth every year," she tells me. "I was very nearly born here, but my mother made it back to where we lived in North London just in time."
Celia was educated at St Paul's Girls' School and briefly studied French language and literature at Grenoble University in France. "After I moved to Dorset in 2016, I was asked to join the advisory team for the Bridport Literary Festival. It's one of the longest-running and most impressive literary events in Britain, so I was thrilled."
At this year's Festival Celia will be discussing her latest book, Rebel Writers, The Accidental Feminists (6 November, 2.30pm Bull Ballroom). It's a ground-breaking biographical study of the very young women writers of the 1960s - Shelagh Delaney, Edna O'Brien, Lynne Reid Banks, Charlotte Bingham, Nell Dunn, Virginia Ironside and Margaret Forster - many of whom were teenagers when they made their debuts as writers. As well as comparing their early lives and work, Rebel Writers paints a fascinating portrait of 1960s life.
"When I was about 23 I occasionally felt like a terrible failure because I hadn't written a novel yet," Celia confesses. "Back then being a novelist was like being a film star or a top model; it was every girl's fantasy ambition. Because of these women, who'd been published at incredibly young ages, it completely changed the way women writers were viewed.
"Actually, they changed the way women were supposed to be, too, simply because they told the truth about what it was like being female in the 1950s or early 1960s - pretty tough. No power, no money, no control over your life, or even over your own body. And everything changed for us because of feminism, but before second-wave feminism these writers were getting death threats and accusations of satanic possession, just because they spoke up. They were my inspiration and I wrote this book to say thank you, to pay it forward."
Not since the Brontës have a group of young women been so determined to tell the truth about what it was like to be a girl, and they proposed new ways to live and love in the future.
"Shelagh Delaney, who wrote the play, A Taste of Honey, was the first of a succession of very young women who rebelled against sexism, inequality and prejudice, in doing so she rejected masculine definitions of what writing and a writer should be," Celia says.
The third string to Celia's Brid Lit bow is being in conversation with Eleanor Fitzsimons. They will be discussing The Lives and Loves of E. Nesbit on 5 November. This first major biography of the much-loved children's author in 30 years, casts new light on an unconventional life story.
Edith Nesbit's wonderfully imaginative books - such as The Railway Children and Five Children and It - are loved by millions and influenced many bestselling authors including J.K. Rowling, Jacqueline Wilson, C.S. Lewis, P.L. Travers, Neil Gaiman and Julia Donaldson.
"It's an immensely interesting story," says Celia. "She's not at all what you would expect of a writer for children. Eleanor Fitzsimons has used Nesbit's letters and deep archival research to shed new light on a beloved literary icon."
A conflicted feminist, Nesbit threw away her corsets, cut her hair short and took up smoking, defying convention. Yet she once delivered an uncharacteristic speech so vehemently opposed to women's rights that it was suppressed by George Bernard Shaw, who was one of her many lovers.
"Since I've been involved with Brid Lit, I've realised that it's really a conspiracy of booklovers," Celia says. "It's created by people who just adore reading and who make up the most enthusiastic and informed audiences and author could hope for. It's an oasis of delight every year."
BRIDPORT LITERARY FESTIVAL LINE-UP 2019
Tim Bouverie | Appeasing Hitler: Chamberlain, Churchill The Road To War
Max Hastings | Chastise:
The Dambuster Story 1943
Philip Clouts, Andy Williamson, Daniel Marcus Clark & Matt Harvey |
Quartet of Musical Wordsmiths
Rosanna Ley, Maria Donovan
& Gail Aldwin | Spirit Of Place
Horatio Clare | Something of His Art: Walking to Lübeck with J.S. Bach
Christopher Somerville |
Ships of Heaven: The Private Life
of Britain's Cathedrals
Simon Armitage | The Poet Laureate
Anthea Simmons | Children's Story: Lightning Mary
Christy Lefteri |
The Bee Keepers Of Aleppo
Nicholas Jubber |
Epic Continent: Adventures in the Great Stories of Europe
Jennifer Potter |
The Jamestown Brides: The
Bartered Wives of the New World
Philip Mansel | The King of the World: King Louis XIV
Andrew Lownie | The Mountbattens: Their Lives and Loves
Peter Marren | Emperors, Admirals & Chimney-Sweeps: The Naming of Butterflies and Moths
Eleanor Fitzsimons |
The Life and Loves of E. Nesbitt
Christopher Tugendhat | A History Of Britian Through Books 1900-1964
Max Porter | Lanny
Henry Blofeld | My A-Z Of Cricket
Jason Goodwin | A Life In Colour: Jocasta Innes Remembered
Henry Hemming | Our Man In
New York: The British Plot To
Bring America Into WWII
Isabel Bannerman | Scent Magic: Notes From A Garden
Celia Brayfield | Rebel Writers:
The Accidental Feminists
Olivia Glazebrook |
The Frank Business
Jason Webster | Violencia:
A New History Of Spain
Stephen Moss | Mrs Moreau's Warble: How Birds Got Their Names
Humphrey Stone |
Reynold Stone: A Memoir
Mark Galeotti |
We Need To Talk About Putin:
How The West Gets Him Wrong
Sadie Jones | The Snakes
Matt Frei | The George Millar
Philip Marsden | The Summer Isles:
A Voyage Of The Imagination
Tom Holland | Dominion:
How The Christians Revolution Changed The World
Deborah Moggach | The Carer
Dr David Nott | War Doctor:
Surgery On The Front Line
Melvyn Bragg | Love Without End:
A Story Of Heloise And Abelard
Martin Maudsley | The Lost Stories
Isabella Tree | Wilding: The Return of Nature to a British Farm
Lindsey Hilsum | In Extremis: The Life of War Correspondent Marie Colvin
Dr Lewis Dartnell | Origins:
How the Earth Made Us
David Nicholls | Sweet Sorrow
Steve Richards | The Prime Ministers: Reflections on Leadership
Molly Arbuthnott | Children's Story: Oscar, the Ferry Cat
Bridport Literary Festival runs from Sunday 3 November to Saturday 9 November. Their free festival brochure is available in and around Bridport or download the programme at bridlit.com where you can also buy tickets, which are also available from Bridport Tourist Information Centre 01308 424901.