All you need to know about the 20th Essex Book Festival this March

PUBLISHED: 15:51 22 February 2019 | UPDATED: 15:51 22 February 2019

Ann Cleeves

Ann Cleeves


With Essex Book Festival limbering up for its 20th birthday, book-lovers are in for a treat this March in Essex

Whether it’s award-winning author Sarah Perry of The Essex Serpent fame launching the festival at the University of Essex with her best-selling new novel Melmoth, Melyvn Bragg talking about his latest novel Love Without End in Southend or ex-MP Alan Johnson sharing insights into his life-long passion for music: In My Life, A Music Memoir in Chelmsford, this year’s programme is packed full of fascinating literary gems.

All things nautical are on the menu for Secret Water, the festival’s opening weekend in Harwich (March 2 to 3). As the name suggests, this involves a celebration of the 80th anniversary of the publication of Arthur Ransome’s Secret Water: the eighth in the series of Swallows and Amazons, which is set on the Essex coast.

The weekend’s festivities also include Mueller and Malten’s Live Poetry Jukebox: a poetry installation designed to intrigue and delight audiences of all ages. This will be located on board the iconic LV18, otherwise known as The Boat That Rocked, moored on Harwich Quay.

Other events taking place on the LV18 include performances by all-female Essex sea-shanty band The Silver Darlings and traditional storyteller Shane Ibbs who will be spinning some distinctly fishy tales below deck.

Live Poetry Juke BoxLive Poetry Juke Box

The Redoubt, a circular fort built to repel Napoleon in 1808, will play host to a fabulous programme of family-friendly activities.

This includes The Big Write led by local author Anita Belli, an interactive writing project which everyone can join in with; creative-writing and craft workshops led by award-winning children’s author Wendy Constance; plus a series of perambulating storytelling sessions with the inimitable Glenys Newton, winner of the national storytelling Moth Award.

In addition to this, there will be a rolling programme of author events featuring writer, broadcaster and performer AL Kennedy who will be reading from her new children’s book The Little Snake — a magical, charming and deeply moving fable about the journey we all take through life, about love and family, about war and resilience, about how we live in this world and leave it.

Other writers include Lucy Popescu who will be talking about A Country to Call Home: An Anthology on the Experiences of Young Refugees and Asylum Seekers, and Kim Sherwood, who will be talking about her award-winning debut novel The Testament.

Bunny GaloreBunny Galore

Another date for the diary is the festival’s inaugural Murder Mystery Dinner. This will be taking place in The Park Inn Palace Hotel in Southend on Saturday, March 16 as part of the Golden Age of Crime Weekend. Get in quick for this one.

One of the authors participating in the weekend is novelist and playwright Stella Duffy, who will be talking about Money in the Morgue: The New Inspector Alleyn Mystery, which was shortlisted for the Crime Writers Association Historical Dagger Award 2018.

Roderick Alleyn is back in this unique crime novel begun by Ngaio Marsh during World War II and now completed by Stella Duffy to critical acclaim. Jessica Fellowes, Martin Edwards, Fiona Cummins and Laura Shepherd-Robinson, among others, will be joining Stella for a weekend of ‘fine-sleuthing’ in Southend.

Essex Libraries always play a huge part in Essex Book Festival, and March 2019 is no exception. Over 35 authors will be taking part in 25 libraries countywide, from Wivenhoe to Thurrock.

Alan Johnson - In My LifeAlan Johnson - In My Life

These include award-winning crime writer Ann Cleves who will be giving this year’s Dorothy L Sayers Lecture at Witham Library on March 8, and Christopher Skaife who will be talking about his fascinating book The Ravenmaster at Hullbridge Library on March 5.

The Ravenmaster was serialised on Radio 4 and features a unique ‘close up’ of the ravens in The Tower of London.

Other authors to look out for include Sophie Hannah, who will be making a special trip to Maldon Library; Damian Le Bas who will be talking about his memoir The Stopping Places: A Journey Through Gypsy Britain at Wivenhoe Library, also serialised on Radio 4’s Book of the Week, and Rachel Reeves MP who will be spilling the beans on what life is really like for women at Westminster at Shenfield Library.

The festival returns to Firstsite in Colchester for the weekend March 23 and 24 with a feast of events focusing on place. This includes a series of events in partnership with River Stour Festival that focus on the Essex landscape.

Sarah Moss _ Sophie DavidsonSarah Moss _ Sophie Davidson

Participants include Ken Worpole and Tim Burrows, both contributors to the recently published anthology Radical Essex, which explores the less-known innovations and creativity of this county.

Meanwhile, award-winning journalist and writer Madeleine Bunting, winner of The Wainwright Book Prize for her non-fiction book Love of Country, will be discussing the challenges of turning fact into fiction, as she traces the process of writing her debut novel Island Song.

This is followed by best-selling historian and novelist Simon Scarrow who will examine another challenge: what the Romans would have made of Brexit in the context of his latest book The Blood of Rome.

There is also plenty to keep the children busy. With a fabulous range of drop-in craft and writing workshops running throughout the day, plus a make-your-own book bookbinding workshop (early booking recommended), Firstite is definitely the place to head on March 23.

Sue Nelson zero g flightSue Nelson zero g flight

Also make sure you don’t miss out on drag queen Bunny Galore who will be making a special appearance on the Storytelling Armchair.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Other special events for the diary include Robin Ince (of Radio 4’s The Infinite Monkey Cage fame) who will be launching the festival’s Science and the Imagination strand at Anglia Ruskin University on March 13.

Plus British investigative journalist Clare Rewcastle Brown’s climate change panel debate – We Need To Talk About Mother (Earth) – with writer and broadcaster Sue Nelson and environmental artist-in-residence Lily Hunter Green, which fittingly will be taking place on Mother’s Day.

Jessica Fellowes Bright Young DeadJessica Fellowes Bright Young Dead

Find out more

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