Dinosaurs, doggy paws, shark-phobia, Helliconia: The Kennington Literary Festival 2011

This was our third year as bookseller for the small but perfectly formed Kennington Literary Festival, a fantastic little festival which springs out of the passionate and thriving community surrounding Kennington Library - given added poignancy this year by the threats to the library's existence.

This year the festival welcomed the widest possible range of authors, from first time novelists to literary legends, poets, illustrators and local celebrities.

Newly-installed Oxford City Poet Kate Clanchy read poems, and extracts from her memoir Antigona and Me, in which Kate writes about the deepening friendship between her and a Kosovan immigrant whom she employed as a cleaner, and who becomes her friend. Kate uses her own story to explore many aspects of immigration, heimat and our treatment of immigrants in this country. We were also very pleased to have copies of the superb collection of science-inspired short stories she edited: Litmus (we have both books in the shop, and can really recommend them both).
In the main hall, Winnie The Witch illustrator extraordinaire Korky Paul sketched dinosaur portraits and read from the original Winnie book (25 years old next year). Korky also announced and presented prizes to a story and illustration competition held in the run-up to the Festival.

Science Fiction legend Brian Aldiss talked about his life in writing, and also discussed Oxford as a centre for fantasy fiction, in conversation with fantasy author Juliet McKenna.

I was very excited to meet Brian, whose books I consumed voraciously at school and university, and felt particularly privileged to discuss his views on the future of manned spaceflight for a few minutes whilst he signed. Brian was born in 1925, won a short story competition in the Observer in 1955, and then went on to become one of the true greats of Science Fiction - and definitely the grandmaster described on his website. He is also an accomplished poet and (exhibited) artist.

He and Juliet were heading off to the Cheltenham Festival that afternoon, and had other events lined up the following day. Truly inspiring.
A change of tack in the afternoon. Local authors Margaret Pelling and Frank Egerton spoke about their novels Diamond in the Sky and Invisible respectively. MG Harris talked about her bestselling books for confident readers The Joshua Files (and gave news of next year's final installment, with its sexy black cover).

Bill Heine was utterly compelling in talking about 25 years of the Headington Shark. Never heard of the Headington Shark? I'll bet this looks familiar:

The shark celebrated its 25th birthday in August, and Bill has published the definitive account of its history. Bill is a local celebrity and broadcaster on BBC Radio Oxford who, I think it's fair to say, divides opinion. The same can be said of the shark, whose arrival in 1986 on a well-to-do suburban street (an artistic response to the threat of nuclear war) caused all kinds of conflicts, court battles and ultimately led to a ruling from the then home secretary which has had implications for planning laws ever since.

It is frankly an incredible story, particularly concerning the court battles that Bill lost time and again (comprehensively, expensively) and yet the shark survived. Bill is a master storyteller, holding his audience rapt (albeit running out of time). The book has been beautifully produced by OxfordFolio and is a work of art itself, and of course we have signed copies in the shop...

After the authors had signed books and met fans, the local author and journalist Helen Peacocke led a local walk to tie in with her latest dog-friendly walking guide "Paws Along The Way".

Kennington has a very family-friendly reputation. The Friends of Kennington Library laid on tea, coffee and cake (amongst other refreshments) and lots of volunteers gave up a very sunny October Saturday to ensure the event was a big success. Thanks to them, to the authors - and thanks for inviting us to take part too.

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