Great news – the programme for the 2019 Words by the Water festival at the Theatre by the Lake, Keswick, is now available! It promises “a packed programme of events, talks, comedy and workshops” and, looking through the programme, this is no idle boast! Over the course of the ten-day festival there will be ninety-four events on offer, divided between the main theatre and the smaller, more intimate Studio theatre.

The even more intimate space of the Circle Gallery will host four extra events: Karen Babayan, an Anglo-Iranian Cumbrian-based artist whose research has revealed that the fictional Walker family in Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons was based on the Altounyans, “a multilingual, multicultural family that lived contrasting lives in Aleppo, Syria and Coniston”. On 9th March, she will launch her book of short stories Swallows and Armenians and, weather permitting, this will be followed by a free Armenian circle dance event – sounds like fun! From 3:00-5:30pm on 10th March, Linda Blair will be running a “Beyond Mindfulness” workshop. From 10:15-11:30am on 13th March the gallery will host a Poetry Breakfast (coffee, croissants and poetry!), while the fourth event will be from 3:00-5:00pm on 16th March, when Angela Locke, a local writer and poet, will lead a “Landscape and Imagination” workshop.

The events in the two theatres will include talks from novelists, poets, biographers, journalists, artists, historians, scientists, politicians and philosophers – a diverse selection of speakers who share the common aim of celebrating a love of words and a desire to explore ideas and stimulate lively discussion. There really is something on offer for anyone with a lively imagination and a willingness to explore ideas! I love the fact that the final Sunday (17th) this year will offer a Family Day in the Studio – just one highlight being a session with Martin Brown, cartoonist and illustrator of Horrible Histories and Lesser Spotted Animals. That sounds like a wonderful day for children.

I have now bought my annual “treat” to myself of two passes to cover the ten-day festival and am looking forward to meeting up with like-minded people, as well as to all the talks. People often ask which ones I’m most looking forward to so, choosing just one event from each day (such a struggle to decide!), here are my anticipated highlights for each of those days:

Friday 8th – Kate Mosse talking about The Burning Chambers, the first in a new series of historical novels spanning three hundred years of Huguenot history.

Saturday 9th – Kamal Ahmed talking about his memoir A Very British Man and making the case for a new conversation about race in Britain.

Sunday 10th – John Lanchester talking about his latest novel, The Wall, which explores the impact of walls designed to keep others out, and the price we pay for building barriers. (I loved his The Debt to Pleasure and, more recently, Capital, so think this talk will be particularly thought-provoking.)

Monday 11th – Michèle Mendelssohn’s talk “Oscar Wilde: Rarely Pure and Never Simple”, which will be followed by a screening of the film Wilde.

Tuesday 12th – Sarah Churchwell talking about her book Behold America: A History of America First and the American Dream and reflecting on whether America is in danger of losing touch with its own history. (Had I not already heard him talk at the Borderlines Festival last October, my choice of the day would probably have been Diarmaid MacCulloch on “That Ruffian Thomas Cromwell” – an eminently scholarly but accessible lecture which I’ll enjoy listening to again!)

Wednesday 13th – Bulgarian-born journalist Oggy Boytchev introducing his novel The Unbeliever, which “draws on life behind the Iron Curtain and explores Cold War paranoia and intrigue in 1963”.

Thursday 14th – I heard Irving Finkel speak at WbtW a couple of years ago, when his talk on cuneiform script was one of the totally unexpected highlights of the day. So, I’m very much looking forward to his Unveiling of a Vanished World, when he takes us back 3,000 years, to the world’s oldest script and what it has to tell us about life in ancient Mesopotamia.

Friday 15th – Dear Lupin: Letters to a Wayward Son is a collection of letters written by The Sunday Times racing correspondent Roger Mortimer to his son Charlie. A selection of these will be read by actors Jeremy Child and Robert Portal and should reveal some amusing and touching anecdotes!

Saturday 16th – In his book Light in the Dark: A Winter Journal, Horatio Clare argues that by observing and appreciating nature’s seasonal rhythms we can banish the winter blues and see the magic in these cold, dark months.

Sunday 17th – I have always loved the depictions of Heath Robinson’s “absurdly ingenious world” so I’m eagerly anticipating hearing Adam Hart-Davis, a fellow fan, discuss this “…. Edwardian artist’s work in its social and technological context”.

I wonder if by the end of the festival these will prove to have been my highlights or, as happens so many years, there will be some unanticipated “gems” which take their place?

If you are tempted to sample some of the delights of this wonderful festival, in its beautiful lakeside setting, don’t delay booking because tickets are selling fast – and if you do make it to Keswick, I’ll be sitting in seat 16 of Row G, so I’d love it if you come and say hello!

Linda Hepworth
January 2019

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