Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Althorp Lit Fest and Coton Manor Gardens

There will be better photos of Coton Manor, Northamptonshire on their website  I always love the peace and beauty of this interesting extensive garden.

I had a great day at the Althorp Literary Festival, home of the late Princess Diana.
First I heard Artemis Cooper talk about her biography of Paddy Leigh Fermor, war hero, traveller and lothario. “Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915-2011) was a war hero whose exploits in Crete are legendary, and he is widely acclaimed as (one of?) the greatest travel writer of our times, notably for his books about his walk across pre-war Europe….Artemis Cooper has drawn on years of interviews and conversations with Paddy and his closest friends as well as having complete access to his archives. Her beautifully crafted biography portrays a man of extraordinary gifts - no one wore their learning so playfully, nor inspired such passionate friendship.”  Or indeed love in so many women, often rich ones. Fascinating.  Here is a review from the Independent.
Then it was The Return of a King by William Dalrymple. This is the story of a British disaster, not something we were taught at school.  Gripping stuff and embarrassing too.  Here is the blurb.
In the spring of 1839, the British invaded Afghanistan for the first time. Led by lancers in scarlet cloaks and plumed shakos, nearly 20,000 British and East India Company troops poured through the high mountain passes and re-established on the throne Shah Shuja ul-Mulk.
On the way in, the British faced little resistance. But after two years of occupation, the Afghan people rose in answer to the call for jihad and the country exploded into violent rebellion. The First Anglo-Afghan War ended in Britain's greatest military humiliation of the nineteenth century: an entire army of the then most powerful nation in the world ambushed in retreat and utterly routed by poorly equipped tribesmen.
Return of a King is the definitive analysis of the First Afghan War, told through the lives of unforgettable characters on all sides and using for the first time contemporary Afghan accounts of the conflict. Prize-winning and bestselling historian William Dalrymple's masterful retelling of Britain's greatest imperial disaster is a powerful and important parable of colonial ambition and cultural collision, folly and hubris, for our times.”
Then I heard the lovely Alexander McCall Smith who is just as charming and amusing as you might expect from reading his books.  I sat there enchanted as he chatted away to one of the Althorp presenters about the numerous characters in his numerous books. When asked how he manages to be so prolific, he said he wrote very fast(!), sometimes getting up at 4am to write, then goes back to bed again.  He was funny about the supposedly pushy mothers of Edinburgh of whom Irene in the Scotland Street books is the shining example.  I queued for ages to have a book signed and was then tongue tied when I shook hands with him.  I wanted to say I was a great fan of the frightful Irene’s and that I hoped he wouldn't ever write her away from Edinburgh.


callmemadam said...

If our politicians knew more history, they's know how impossible it is to win a war in Afghanistan. Humph.

Lucky you to meet AMS, he seems a lovely man. Irene and Bertie are my favourites!

Susie Vereker said...

Yes, it was an amazing day. I even saw Antonia Frazer sitting opposite me.
Agree about Afghanistan - I expect you have read Rory Stewart on the subject too.

Thurman said...