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Sunday 16 June 2024

Despite us all dodging downpours and thunderstorms to get there, it was a full house to hear Elly Griffiths at the fabulous Slaughter in Southwold crime-writing festival yesterday. 

And I understand that my conversation with Michael Mansfield at the Felixstowe Book Festival later this month is now at capacity. 

As organisers, we are delighted when an event is popular and well-supported. But it's been a common observation among those putting on concerts, performances, festivals and talks, that bookings are being made much later these days. It's a hangover from Covid, apparently, we're all keeping our options open until the last minute!

The next few weeks are going to be very busy. In the sporting calendar alone we have the Euro 2024 matches, Wimbledon and the Olympics. But I hope you'll take respite from your screen and enjoy some live, stimulating conversation at the festivals and events which are taking place - and book your place early to help organisers sleep at night!

So if you have your diary to hand, note that Patrick Barkham is speaking for Suffolk Book League this Wednesday. And it's the First Light festival at Lowestoft next weekend.

We have our Woodbridge book group on Monday 24 June to discuss 'Close to Home' by Michael Magee. Do let me know if you're coming along to that meeting and I'll send you the details, as well as news of our next title.

And the following Wednesday in Framlingham we'll be talking about 'The Marriage Portrait' by Maggie O'Farrell. Everyone is welcome at Ottie and the Beafor that. 

There are a number of sessions at the Felixstowe Book Festival with tickets still available - perhaps you'll join me in finding out about artificial intelligence with Nigel Toon, first nights with Dominic Dromgoole and the lives of Gainsborough's daughters with novelist Emily Howes.

And, although it is still three weeks away, don't delay in booking your places for our visit by Iwan Thomas at the Riverside on Monday 8 July. There's no football that night! And it's sure to get you in the mood for Paris with Iwan's talk of his experience of Olympic training and competition, as well as everything else he has to share with us.

It's tough for anyone organising events these days, and likely to become more so for the bigger music and literature festivals as sponsors like Baillie Gifford and Barclays withdraw, so I hope you'll join me in planning ahead and looking forward to attending some great bookish events this summer! 

Thank you for reading.

Sunday 9 June 2024

It's difficult to know what to write this evening as today brought the news we feared in the sad loss of author and broadcaster, Michael Mosley. 

For someone so vibrant and healthy, who, through almost a dozen books and a strong and engaging media presence, had urged us all to live well, to have met such a shocking, tragic and seemingly unnecessary death is difficult to take on board. A sequence of small but bad decisions, apparently, led to him being exposed and vulnerable in an unforgiving landscape. 

Even though few of us knew him personally, his disappearance was felt keenly by so many. 

'Radio at its best makes you feel like its presenters are friends,' says broadcaster, Emma Barnett.

And the comments posted on social media since he went missing have confirmed our impressions that he was a warm, generous, genuine man who was also a brilliant communicator, able to make complex subjects simple. 

His books about adopting better lifestyle habits, losing weight and a healthier diet have literally changed lives.

Former Labour MP Tom Watson who overcame diabetes through following Michael Mosley's books, says of the man: 'Through courageous, science-based journalism, Michael Mosley has helped thousands of people get well and healthy. I'm one of them. He was a hero to me.'

What an extraordinary contribution to have made and what a legacy to leave. 

As one commentator, educational speaker Alison Kriel, said on X: 'He taught us about the importance of wellbeing and taking care of ourselves. And now he's teaching us how short life can be, and how easily it can be taken from us. In his memory let's embrace each day and strive to live our best lives fully (and healthily).'

Thank you for reading.

Sunday 2 June 2024

It's been a lovely afternoon here in Suffolk, so perhaps summer has arrived... 

But whether the sun shines or it rains once more, we know it's June because of the huge amount of activities and events taking place.

This weekend there have been open gardens and open studios, exhibitions, fetes, fairs and festivals with many more to come. And this month will also see the start of the Euro 24 competition and the lead up to Wimbledon. Oh, and the political parties are campaigning for our votes in the General Election.

There's a lot going on and my weekends are filling up.

So perhaps I'll see you out and about this month?

On 15 and 16 June it's the fabulous crime writing festival that is Slaughter in Southwold, organised by Suffolk Libraries. The wonderful Elly Griffiths will be there, the Rev Richard Coles (who joined us in Woodbridge in the autumn) and also husband and wife team Nicci French (read my article here), but lots of other writers too, and it's a great way to discover authors who are likely to become firm favourites.

And at the end of the month, it's the Felixstowe Book Festival with another packed and wide-ranging programme. I'll be interviewing a number of speakers there: the novelist Emily Howes about her book about Gainsborough's family 'The Painter's Daughters'; theatre director Dominic Dromgoole (scroll down for more details about his book 'Astonish Me!'); Nigel Toon explaining 'How AI Thinks' (I'll be saying more about that next week); and barrister Michael Mansfield telling us how now is the perfect time to act on his book 'The Power in the People' (this event is selling fast so don't delay if you wish to come along to that one).

Hopefully you've not filled your diaries already and will be able to join in some of these events, and all the other activities on offer in Suffolk this month. But while you're planning ahead, do think about booking your seats for our visit from Iwan Thomas on 8 July (details below). It'll be perfect to get us in the mood for the Olympics which start a few days later. It's going to be a busy summer! 

Thank you for reading.

Sunday 26 May 2024

We've said it before but these days there's never a shortage of information available for anything and everything.

And this includes books, films, tv programmes - the blurbs and trailers are designed to tempt us in but often it feels that they give rather too much away. Or they overegg the pudding - how many times have we been told a book is 'hilarious' only to find, for us, it barely raises a smile?

But these are competitive times and the marketing and publicity teams need to earn their keep. 

I was interested, then, to read a recent interview with the actors/writers Steve Pemberton and Reece Smith, speaking ahead of the release of their latest and last series of dark, comedic dramas - an anthology of stories in 30 minute episodes, called 'Inside No 9'.

They're known for always wanting to experiment with form, content and genre to surprise and delight their audience - for example, there has been one entirely silent episode, one in iambic pentameter and an episode filmed from a doorbell camera.

The tv executives often took some persuading but ultimately they trusted the talent and vision of the duo and it has resulted in an award-winning concept.

As their success and renown grew, though, they had to be increasingly inventive to keep ahead of their viewers.

And they tried to keep each episode a secret, giving away little information before the screening. Part of the appeal was that people didn't know what to expect. These days that feels quite a novelty.

But Steve Pemberton says the most memorable and enjoyable films and shows for him over the years have been the ones where he's had no knowledge or expectation of what he was about to see. 'I think if I had read a synopsis or seen a trailer before it would have ruined it for me.'

Our book group meetings try to take us out of our comfort zone with our reading habits in exploring different genres, styles and authors. And I appreciate how many of you trust me month by month in choosing books which I hope surprise and delight (most of the time).

I hope, too, that the author events I organise or help host also bring a new or different perspective. Often it's speakers with whom we are less familiar that we gain most inspiration.

I certainly commend the book by Iwan Thomas (I'll be including my review next week). I would never have thought a sports biography would be my 'thing' but people are people and I think it's always fascinating to find out about different professions and lifestyles, and usually surprising to learn about the particular challenges and triumphs. I hope you'll join me in meeting him in a few weeks' time!

Thank you for reading.

Sunday 19 May 2024

The sun was shining here in Woodbridge today, as it always seems to do for the town's 10k running race. A hugely popular event attracting around 700 participants for two loops of a surprisingly hilly course, it is known for the fantastic support given by residents and businesses along the way.

There was a powerful sense of community the other week, too, when around 50,000 people joined together on the streets of Ipswich to celebrate the football team being promoted to the Premiership.

Whether or not we're active or competitive ourselves, sport can transcend differences and bring us all together to celebrate excellence and achievement. It can capture our attention and imagination, and lift our spirits as we recognise courage and determination, often against all the odds.

It brings many life lessons too - dignity in defeat (and in victory), self belief, respect and courtesy to the opposition, perseverance and sacrifice in reaching the goal. We'll see all this, of course, in the ultimate competition, the Olympics held later this summer in Paris. 

So it's fabulous to be able to welcome Olympian and 400m recordholder Iwan Thomas to the Riverside in Woodbridge in July to find out more about his experience, the lessons he's learned, and the story of his life and career. He'll be introducing his autobiography at this event which has just been confirmed - click here or scroll down for more details. 

Of all sportspeople, I think I find athletes the most fascinating. Their lifestyle, diet and training seems punishing and isolated, and all-consuming for a race or event that can last seconds. How do they cope when their dreams are dashed by injury? What do they do when they reach the natural end of their career and need to channel their energy, passion and obsession elsewhere? Iwan will tell us all about it.

Thank you for reading.