Culture / People

Croydon Literary Festival 2018

Croydon Litfest: the sequel

11 October 2018

If you are a Croydonist regular, you probably know by now that the Croydon Literary Festival is fast approaching. We’re sure a lot of you have already purchased your tickets for some of the festival sessions on Saturday 27 October. But if you haven’t yet decided which sessions to choose, read on. We caught up with one of the founders of the festival, Cassie Whittell, to find out just why you should get yourself along to Croydon’s second annual literary festival, and inevitably we chatted a bit about books in general along the way.

Croydonist: What’s your role in Croydon Literary Festival?

Cassie: Technically I’m Head of the Festival, but what that actually means is I look after the operational side – so everything from booking the venues and catering, to organising the volunteers… even making sure the chairs are set out properly. The Head of Festival role came about so one of us had a casting vote to move things forward – really it’s an honorary role, as we’re very democratic, so I’ve very rarely had to use my great powers! The core team (Clair, Brad and I) usually have brainstorming sessions together over dinner (and wine) at Clair’s, or we can generally be found planning the festival at the Clocktower Café on Saturday mornings.

Croydonist: Besides yourself, who else is behind the festival?

Cassie: Clair is the Programme Director – she oversees all the programming for the day, so decides on the pacing and different sessions we do.

Brad is the creative director – he does all the visual communications including photography, and artwork for banners, posters and social media.

We have three programme managers too. There is Tim Footman (the cleverest man alive). He’s programmed the food and drink session which has Leah Hyslop and Henry Jeffreys talking about how food has become almost porn for people.

Then we have Sarah Kingsford, who’s the children’s session programmer. Kids sessions are new this year, and we’ve also tied the festival in with half term. (Check out the sessions, Multicultural children’s books, The Chocolate Poetry club, Murder Most Unladylike, and Sylvia Bishop’s storytelling workshop).

Finally we have Deb Stone who has programmed the travel session: ‘Wish You Were Here… In Croydon?’ with John Carter (he’s almost a local  – from Bromley) and ‘On the Route to 66’ with punk ‘nearly’ superstar John Otway.

Our programmers bring lots of extra skills to the party.

We also have Ruth, our social media manager, and James, our financial guru (AKA my dad). And then there’s our amazing volunteers, which include my hairdresser.

Croydon Literary Festival 2018

Left: John Carter; right: John Otway

Croydonist: For our readers who didn’t attend last year’s festival, what can they expect from the Croydon Literary Festival?

Cassie: Expect books! No seriously, we’re all about seeing Croydon in a different light. The motto of the festival is ‘There’s more to Croydon than you think’. And we are all passionately fond of our borough. We want people to come here and see that there is more to Croydon than the headlines of riots and knife crime. There are, of course, issues here but there’s a lot of good stuff too and we want people to see that and appreciate it. We want to change perceptions of the place and broaden people’s minds about the borough.

We hope people come and find out more about their favourite authors but about some new authors or poets, too. Expect to be challenged by the sessions; the festival has a bit of an edge to it, from erotic literature and punk sessions to talking about difficult issues.

Croydonist: How’s this year’s festival different from last year’s?

Cassie: A lot of our authors in the first year were Croydon-based. We still have some sessions with local authors (John Grindrod, John Otway, John Carter, Elizabeth Sheppard), but this year we’ve branched out a bit to reach a wider audience. We want people to come and find out about other places in Croydon, too – to go and have lunch at The Ludoquist, or Crushed Bean, or Matthews Yard, or the Spread Eagle, while they are here for the festival.

Croydon Literary Festival 2018

Left: Elizabeth Sheppard; right: John Grindrod

Croydonist: You describe the different festival events as ‘sessions’ which sounds interactive. Are they intended to be?

Cassie: Yes, we want people to ask questions in our events. Having that interaction is important. Some of the sessions are quite intimate – in the David Lean, the Library and the Workshop – which means people can comfortably ask questions and speak.

Croydonist: We’re not sure if you’re allowed to answer this, but what event are you most looking forward to?

Cassie: That’s an incredibly difficult one, but I think it’s got to be ‘Men Who Write Romance’ because I’ve been constantly writing my own Mills & Boon for the last 10 years! It has a title: ‘The Movie Mogul Meets His Match’, but it’s never been finished, so that session will hopefully inspire me to complete it.

I also have to mention The Reader sessions. We have two taster sessions run by the charity The Reader, which has been connecting people through literature for 10 years now. The charity tackles social isolation and improves well-being as a result. You don’t have to read out loud if you don’t want to, and material is given out at the beginning of the session. Money raised from ticket sales to these sessions will go towards Shared Reading in Croydon. (You can book the sessions here and here).

Croydon Literary Festival 2018

Men Who Write Romance – left: Mike Gayle; right: Justin Myers

Croydonist: We love that you’ve got travel writer John Carter on the case with creating a travel guide for Croydon – what can our readers do to get involved with this and what can they expect on the day?

Cassie: People have been sending in ideas to contribute to the Croydon guide in exchange for winning tickets to the travel session. We’ve been looking for the hidden gems of Croydon, like Happy Valley, which lots of people don’t even realise is in Croydon. We will be creating a downloadable Croydon guide as an outcome of the session. So watch this space. And talking of hidden gems, John also wants to solve the mystery of an antique bottle he dug up in his garden, with the word ‘Croydon’ written on it. Random but true, so we’re calling all Croydon historians out there to come along…

Croydonist: Can you give us any hints for your Big Lit pub quiz questions to get us in the mood?

Cassie: It may well be the hardest quiz in the world! Our programme manager, Tim, is our literary quiz master on the day. He tested some sample questions on us which we mainly got wrong – I think the only one I answered correctly was in the section about famous opening and closing lines in novels. I managed to identify ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’. So there’s one point in the pub quiz for you. It’s definitely one for practiced quizzers, as Tim is a former Mastermind and Brain Of Britain finalist. Swot up beforehand, and read your Penguin Guide to Modern Literature, I would say…

Croydon Literary Festival 2018

Cassie Whittell

Croydonist: If you had to chair a panel discussion with three authors from the past, which three would you choose, and why?

Cassie: It’s fair to say, my reading tastes are varied and eclectic, so here goes.

Number 1: Jane Austen – she’s one of the finest comic writers ever to come out of England. For someone who barely left a small village in Hampshire, she knew a lot about life, love, and dynamics in couples. She had a great sense of humour, and I’d love to hear her talk.

Number 2: Stephen King – I’m a massive horror fan (I terrify myself). He engages you instantly, and his books are like a mainline drug. He has that art of putting words on paper and sucking you in.

Number 3: David Peace – he wrote one of my favourite books, The Damned United, about Brian Clough when he took over at Leeds United. Clough is dissected in this book in an almost clinical way. Astonishingly good! Peace writes biographies that are like no other biographies you’ve ever read. Incredibly engaging – almost stream of consciousness. He’s actually best known for writing the Red Riding Quartet.

Croydonist: Well that would be quite a panel discussion – football in a haunted Pemberley perhaps?
And who would be your favourite Croydon-linked author?

Cassie: It would have to be Henry James. He was inspired to write The Turn of the Screw, when he stayed the night at Addington Palace – he was told a ghost story there by the Archbishop of Canterbury. And The Turn of the Screw is a SUPER creepy book.

Croydonist: We had no idea Henry James was linked to Croydon. Great literary fact.
So, as a judge of the Croydonist and CLF short story competition what will you be looking for in a winning entry?

Cassie: I will be looking for that story arc – something that sucks you in really quickly, and you’re in that story immediately, as you know you’re only going to be in there for 10 pages or so before you’re chucked out the other end. If you’re looking for inspiration Shirley Jackson is a great short story writer, as you’ll be thrown into the action early on and be in the midst of things…

Croydonist and CLF short story competition

There you have it folks. The Croydon Literary Festival 2018 through the eyes of the Head of Festival. Thanks to Cassie for chatting to the Croydonist.

When Cassie’s not working out the logistics of the festival itself, she works as an editor and digital project manager and has a passion for welsh rarebit, cats and Rotherham United (in that order). She was also the former production editor on the Croydon Citizen.

If you haven’t already purchased your tickets for Saturday 27 October, get your tickets to the festival now – they are selling fast. Check out the full line-up here.

Oh and if you haven’t already entered our short story competition, there’s still time – read more about the rules and (most importantly) prize here.

Header illustrations and author portraits courtesy of Croydon Literary Festival

Posted by Julia

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