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. There was also a showing of Kill All The Lawyers (20 minutes, 2014) produced and directed by film maker and journalist Lisa Clifford, which follows a group of lawyers who represent accused war criminals from Africa, Europe and the Middle East, moving from genocide in Rwanda and rape in Bosnia to the recruitment of children to fight in Central African wars. Following the film, Lisa spoke in conversation with Samantha Knights, a barrister who has worked on numerous international legal cases relating to conflict zones including Afghanistan and Iraq.
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. In the school, visitors were treated to a showing of Cheryl White's film, A Lighthouse Breaking Waves, which tells the story of a mother coming to terms with the death of her son through an amazing work of art.
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 Khushi 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.
Shute Festival returns for a successful second year, September 2017
Shute Festival has built on the success of its inaugural event last year, bringing world-class speakers and larger audiences to the village of Shute in East Devon over the weekend of 22nd to 24th September.
The festival opened with a talk from Sir Anthony Seldon, former Wellington College headmaster and the biographer of the last four Prime Ministers. Seldon, a regular on Radio 4’s Today programme, gave an enthralling talk about the emergence of AI in the classroom, predicting robot teachers within a matter of decades. This was followed by art historian Susan Owens’s talk on the cultural history of the British ghost, which provided a fascinating insight into our preoccupation with the supernatural.
Saturday began with an impassioned talk from former New York Times journalist and France 24 commentator, Douglas Herbert, on the impact of Trump. This was followed by an enchanting talk from garden writer Anna Pavord, about her recent book Landskipping.
After a delicious curry lunch served by Mina of locally based Khushi Kitchen, visitors were enthralled by Rebecca Lowe, as she talked of her intrepid, year-long cycle from London to Tehran, a journey she made to dispel negative myths about the Middle East.
Continuing with the Middle East theme, garden designer Hugo Bugg, the youngest ever gold medal winner at Chelsea Flower Show, spoke of the challenges of creating a huge botanical garden in Jordan which has been commissioned by King Abdullah.
This was followed by Rosamund Bartlett’s illuminating talk on the complex relationship between Chekhov and Tolstoy. The day was crowned by a talk from crime queen Sophie Hannah, who delighted her audience with a mix of gossip and anecdote as she recounted how she came to write Poirot books with the blessing of the Agatha Christie estate. She also explained how she plumbs her personal experience for plot lines.
Sunday opened with a muscle-stretching and mind-expanding Tibetan rites yoga and mindfulness session led by Raageshwari Loomba, Bollywood pop star and now yoga teacher. Whilst at St Michael’s Church, Annie Freud spoke movingly about her father, Lucien, and made intriguing connections between her poems and art.
Following Annie, Tahir Shah, traveller and writer, delighted his audience as he spoke about the power and magic of story-telling while in conversation with crime writer, Jason Webster. After a mouth-watering Moroccan lunch cooked by local chef Harriet Haines, the audience enjoyed a magical journey through the Georgian mountains care of East Devon writer, walker and publisher, Peter Nasmyth.
Throughout the festival, visitors had the chance to buy books at Archway Bookshop’s pop-up stand for authors to sign, and enjoyed a constant supply of delicious cakes, tea and coffee was served by Angela Parry and her team.
The festival was topped and tailed by two landscape walks led by Ruth Worsley from Legacy to Landscape and also by outreach at Shute Primary School in the form of creative writing workshops and a Bollywood dance workshop. There were also a series of activities for children during the festival, including clay figure making, a film workshop and art.
For co-directors Sam Knights and Paddy Magrane, the festival could not have gone better. ‘It was an incredible weekend of brilliant speakers, lively discussion and great food and wine. We have a very unique festival, where internationally renowned speakers meet engaged audiences in an intimate environment. And with its location in the midst of an AONB and our land art, bush craft and walks, it’s a true celebration of landscape. We already have some exceptional speakers lined up for next year’s festival, which will take place on the weekend of 28-30 September 2018. We would like to thank all our sponsors, speakers and those who came for their support and enthusiasm.”