Guildford Book Festival 2016 authors share their favourite reads

PUBLISHED: 14:24 12 October 2016 | UPDATED: 17:59 20 October 2016

Just a small selection of Guildford Book Festival 2016 authors

Just a small selection of Guildford Book Festival 2016 authors


For nearly 30 years, Guildford Book Festival has been bringing Britain’s leading authors to venues around the town. This month is no exception, with top novels, best-selling autobiographies and even cookbooks set to be featured. Here, we meet some of this year’s writers – and discover their own recommended reads

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine October 2016


Need to know

Now in its 27th year, Guildford Book Festival takes place at venues across the town from Sunday October 9 to Sunday October 16. To book tickets or for more information about all the attending authors, visit the official website at Alternatively, pop into the box office at Guildford Tourist Information Centre in the High Street.


Elizabeth Buchan

Known for her best¬selling novels, Elizabeth Buchan’s short stories have also been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and published in a range of magazines. A patron of the Guildford Book Festival and of the National Academy of Writing, her latest novel, The New Mrs Clifton, tells the story of an intelligence officer who shocks his family by returning home from the Second World War with a German wife.

Recommended read:

“I’ll be appearing at this year’s Guildford Book Festival alongside the author Anne Sebba, and her enthralling Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved and Died in the 1940s had me pinned to my chair. Pulling together such a huge subject is a feat in itself but to write also with such clarity and empathy is another. What women they were: stubborn, fearless and resourceful, unafraid to use sex as a currency and their looks as a weapon. Some actively resisted, some kept their heads down and got on with the business of sheltering their families, some collaborated. Absolutely superb.”

GBF event: Literary Lunch – Anne Sebba and Elizabeth Buchan on Monday October 10, 12.30pm, at The Mandolay Hotel. Tickets: £26

Siân Evans

Cultural historian Siân Evans has worked for the National Trust, the V&A and the Design Museum, and is the author of several works of social history. Her latest book is entitled Queen Bees: Six Brilliant and Extraordinary Society Hostesses Between the Wars.

Recommended read:

“I recommend Charmed Life: The Phenomenal World of Philip Sassoon. The life of Philip Sassoon, the World War One veteran, influential politician and elegant arts patron, is recounted by Damian Collins, MP for Folkestone and Hythe, Sassoon’s former seat. Witty and stylish, and at the heart of British society, consummate host Sassoon was discreetly gay; in the 1920s and ‘30s, he knew everyone, from Churchill, Coward, and Edward VIII to Lawrence of Arabia. Despite his ‘party animal’ reputation, he anticipated the coming conflict with Nazi Germany, and worked tirelessly to counter the threat. His fascinating career and achievements, before his early death aged just 50, are eloquently related in this timely and enjoyable account of what was a ‘charmed life’.”

GBF event: Queen Bees – Siân Evans on Friday October 14, 12.30pm, at The Electric Theatre. Tickets: £8/£7.20 concessions

Edward Wilson-Lee

Raised in Kenya, as part of a family of wildlife conservationists and film-makers, Edward Wilson-Lee now teaches Shakespeare at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. Written to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, Shakespeare in Swahililand: Adventures with the Ever-Living Poet is a celebration of the Bard as a global phenomenon.

Recommended read:

“Among the recently published books I’ve read, I really enjoyed Joe Moshenska’s A Stain in the Blood: The Remarkable Voyage of Kenelm Digby. For starters, it’s a rip-roaring tale of a 17th-century cavalier making his way around the Mediterranean in a bid to win glory as a privateer and remove the stain his father had left on the family name in the Gunpowder Plot. But it’s also a thoughtful investigation of the ways in which we make our worlds out of the books we read and the ideas, things and people with which we come into contact.”

GBF event: Shakespeare in Swahililand – Edward Wilson-Lee on Friday October 14, 6.30pm, at The Electric Theatre. Tickets: £8/£7.20 concessions

Joanna Cannon

Having graduated from Leicester Medical School, Joanna Cannon worked as a hospital doctor before going on to specialise in psychiatry. Part coming-of-age story, part mystery, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is her quirky and charming debut novel about a community in need of absolution.

Recommended read:

“A book I’ve read recently and absolutely loved was Rob Ewing’s The Last of Us. This is the story of a group of children, left to fend for themselves on a remote Scottish island. It may sound dark, but it’s a beautiful tale about the strength and fragility of human beings. I read it in a day, and had that wonderful feeling of finishing a novel and struggling to find my way back into the real world. This doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s an absolute joy. I promise you a story you won’t forget.”

GBF event: Readers’ Day, a mini festival in one day featuring eight speakers, on Saturday October 15, 10am to 4pm, at G Live. Tickets: £32

Mark Nicholas

As a former cricket player and now a commentator, Mark Nicholas knows all the key figures of the sport and has witnessed some of cricket’s greatest moments. His book, A Beautiful Game, is a personal account of the sport as he has experienced it first-hand.

Recommended read:

“I just finished The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. It is set in Barcelona, my favourite European city, albeit at a very different time from the one I have known. I like the story within the story, the weaving of narrative from one unlikely drama to another and the brilliant development of the characters that the reader comes to own, love and fear. There is a point, about two-thirds of the way through, where it all becomes a bit too fantastical but then the story settles down again and does more than satisfy by the end. It is beautifully written and stylishly told – an achingly sad fairy-tale in its way – but with tension created by unpredictable twists and turns through a traumatic period in Spain’s history. I loved it.”

GBF event: The Future for English Cricket – Mark Nicholas and Jon Hotten with Tom Collomosse on Friday October 14, 8pm, at The Electric Theatre. Tickets: £14/£12.60 concessions

John Julius Norwich

Following National Service, John Julius Norwich took a degree in French and Russian at New College, Oxford. In 1952, he joined the Foreign Service, serving at the embassies in Belgrade and Beirut. In his acclaimed book, Four Princes, he tells the colourful story of Henry VIII, Francis I of France, Charles V of Spain and Suleiman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire, the four very different men who shaped our modern world.

Recommended read:

“I would unhesitatingly recommend The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson. An American through and through, he knows this country as well as – if not better than – any Englishman alive, having explored almost every inch of it, and much of this on foot. He loves it too: loves its countryside (for years, he was president of the CPRE), its place names, its eccentricities, its occasional utter dottiness. He doesn’t let us off lightly; more often than one could wish, he deplores the changes of the last quarter-century – the disappearance of old traditional shops, for example. But half a dozen times, he had me literally crying with laughter; and his gentleness and charm shine through every page.”

GBF event: Four Princes – John Julius Norwich on Monday October 10, 6.30pm, at The Electric Theatre. Tickets: 10/£9 concessions

SJ Parris

SJ Parris is the pseudonym of Surrey-based author Stephanie Merritt. As a student at Cambridge, she became fascinated by the rich history of Tudor England and Renaissance Europe. Since then, her interest has led her to create a series of historical thrillers featuring heretic philosopher and spy, Giordano Bruno. Conspiracy is the latest must-read instalment in the series.

Recommended read:

“I’ve been gripped by Sarah Perry’s second novel, The Essex Serpent. Set at the end of the 19th century, it’s the story of a young widow, Cara, who defies convention by leaving London society for an isolated village on the Essex coast where she hopes to find fossils. But the village lives in fear of a legendary monster, and local vicar Will has enough on his plate without a striking, opinionated woman to disturb his world. Perry has a sure tone with her characters, deftly keeping the reader guessing while delivering an unexpected but wholly satisfying twist. It’s a tender, funny, intriguing book by a talented new voice.”

GBF event: Conspiracy & Lies – SJ Parris and Charles Cumming on Tuesday October 11, 6.30pm, at The Electric Theatre. Tickets: £10/£9 concessions

Juliet Nicolson

As part of a renowned and much-scrutinised family, Juliet Nicolson is the latest in the family line of record-keepers of the past. In A House Full of Daughters, Juliet talks about the extraordinary women of her family stretching back seven generations.

Recommended read:

“A sucker for everything Dahlesque, I was entranced by Love from Boy: Roald Dahl’s Letters to his Mother, beginning with the compulsory, weekly letters sent home from Dahl’s horrible boarding school when that glorious, witty, inventive and subversive storytelling gift was already beginning to emerge. The book covers his experiences as a wartime pilot, and his Hollywood meetings with the President and A-list movie stars, with each amazing, often outrageously elaborated anecdote recorded for his much-loved, widowed mother. Her replies have not survived but Mrs Dahl’s feisty spirit is suggested as an encouraging, loving, unshockable recipient, and triggers the growing expansiveness and idiosyncrasy of her extraordinary son’s letters.”

GBF event: A House Full of Daughters – Juliet Nicolson on Sunday October 16, 3.30pm, at The Electric Theatre. Tickets: £8/£7.20 concessions

William Shaw

Born in Devon, growing up in Nigeria and living for 16 years in Hackney, William Shaw is the author of the acclaimed Breen & Tozer crime series set in 1960s London. His latest book, The Birdwatcher, is a dark and powerful crime novel.

Recommended read:

“I would recommend All for Nothing by Walter Kempowski. All aspiring writers are told, ‘show, don’t tell.’ A telling detail can say more than ten laboured paragraphs. In his utterly engrossing novel about a German household overwhelmed by the catastrophic blood-letting at the climax of World War Two, Kempowski takes this to extremes. At times you scream, why are you concentrating on the footling details of a meal or a meerschaum pipe when there is a cataclysm happening all around you? But that turns out to be the point. In the detail lies the humanity and out of that emerges the tragedy.”

GBF event: Readers’ Day, a mini festival in one day featuring eight speakers, on Saturday October 15, 10am to 4pm, at G Live. Tickets: £32

Anna Pasternak

Great-granddaughter of Leonid Pasternak, the impressionist painter, and with Nobel Prize¬winning novelist Boris Pasternak her great-uncle, Anna Pasternak is herself a successful author. Lara is the heartbreaking story of the passionate love affair between Boris Pasternak and Olga Ivinskaya, the woman who inspired Lara in his classic novel, Doctor Zhivago.

Recommended read:

“It sounds morbid but since my mother died suddenly four years ago, I devour books about grief. Extreme grieving leaves you in such an isolated, devastated place that reading other people’s accounts of savage pain makes you feel less alone. Decca Aitkenhead’s memoir, All At Sea, is, like all brilliant books about death, a testament to love. Aitkenhead’s partner, Tony, drowned, rescuing their four-year-old son from the sea. This book is her journey towards a measure of acceptance; to embracing fleeting moments of peace. It’s both achingly personal and a universal talisman of survival.”

GBF event: Lara – The Untold Love Story and Inspiration Behind Doctor Zhivago – Anna Pasternak on Saturday October 15, 6.30pm, at The Electric Theatre. Tickets: £10/£9 concessions or book to see the film as well (8pm) for £18/£16.20 concessions


A few more potted highlights

• A Dead Good Evening with Robert Harris, Sunday October 9, 7pm to 8pm, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

• William Sitwell – Eggs or Anarchy? How a Nation at War was Fed, Monday October 10, 11am to 12noon, The Mandolay Hotel

• Anthony Horowitz – Magpie Murders, Monday October 10, 8pm to 9pm,

The Electric Theatre

• Paddy Ashdown – Game of Spies, Tuesday October 11, 8pm to 9pm,

The Electric Theatre

• Graham Norton – Holding, Tuesday October 11, 7.30pm to 8.30pm, G Live

• David Essex – Faded Glory, Wednesday October 12, 8pm to 9pm, The Electric Theatre

• Alison Weir and Elizabeth Norton – Tudor Women, Thursday October 13, 12.30pm to 1.30pm, The Guildhall

• Jeremy Paxman – A Life in Questions, Thursday October 13, 7.30pm to 8.30pm, Marquee at the Cathedral

• An Audience with Damon Hill, Saturday October 15, 7.30pm to 8.30pm, Marquee at the Cathedral

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