The first Shute Festival of Literature and Landscape proved a huge success, drawing over 200 visitors to two days of stimulating and inspiring talks, film showings, workshops and discussions.
The festival, which took place over the weekend of 29th and 30th October, brought together an eclectic range of speakers, ensuring visitors enjoyed a rich variety of topics in the intimate and beautiful surroundings of Shute Church, lit professionally for the occasion by Axe Valley student Jed Holmes, of Simply Stage.
The first day opened with Greta Stoddart reading from her moving and life-affirming third collection of poems, Alive Alive O. This was followed by historian Andrew Lownie speaking about the slippery and enigmatic Guy Burgess. Afternoon highlights included Laurence Anholt reading from his new and now prescient YA Crossover novel, The Hypnotist, Paddy Magrane talking about the links between Freud and crime fiction, and Deborah Dunham revealing the extraordinary story of the restoration of a neglected garden in the heart of Kabul. In the evening, visitors were treated to a poignant talk from BBC Correspondent Diana Darke, who spoke from personal experience about life in Damascus, and the wider Syrian conflict.
Historian and classicist Bijan Omrani opened Sunday’s events with a fascinating insight into Afghanistan’s rich culture and history. Next up were the founder of Bradt travel guides, Hilary Bradt, and Bradt guide contributor, Janice Booth, who delighted the audience with tales of hitchhiking, camel rides, missed flights and other adventures in some of the world’s most far-flung destinations. The afternoon’s audiences enjoyed documentary maker Simon Deeley’s enthralling film about Argentina’s obsession with psychoanalysis, an extraordinary account of half a century of Amazonian exploration by leading botanist and former director of Kew Gardens, Professor Sir Ghillean Prance, Robert Twigger discussing the multi-layered Himalayas, and Jason Webster talking about the dark Mediterranean underbelly at the heart of his crime novels.
Children also enjoyed art workshops with artist Letice Littlewood, making a short film with three documentary film makers, and outdoor bread making, clay modelling and bush craft with Penny Evans of the East Devon AONB.
Visitors were able to buy books (and get them signed by authors) at Tim Prichard’s pop-up Archway Bookshop in the church. They also tucked into delicious Indian cuisine from Kilmington’s Kushi Kitchen and mouth-watering Middle Eastern fare from Di Magrane in the school, as well as a tempting array of cakes and pastries in the church made available by Liz Gosling and her team of helpers.
The festival has made over £500 profit (with some sponsorship already secured for next year’s event), money which will be shared equally between St Michael’s Church maintenance fund and Shute Primary School’s garden campaign. A separate amount of £300 was raised from coffee, tea and cake sales – money that will further boost the church’s maintenance fund.
Festival co-director, Samantha Knights, is delighted with how the festival was received. ‘We could not have hoped for a better opening weekend. We’ve had amazing feedback, with visitors genuinely bowled over by the stimulating speakers and the intimate, rural location. We’re already planning next year’s event!’