Whale of a Time
What a weekend it was!
Weymouth Leviathan, the UK’s first and currently only maritime literary festival, was undoubtedly a tremendous success. A packed programme embraced a wide variety of talks and other events, many of which were attended by large, enthusiastic audiences. From a personal point of view, it was great to be able to catch up with old friends from the nautical writing fraternity, some of whom had come from far afield – such as Linda Collison, Bob Russell and Rick Spilman from the States, Margaret Muir from Tasmania, and James Davey from, umm, Greenwich. It was also really exciting to finally meet other authors from the genre, some of whom I’ve been connected with via social media for years but had never met in person before – the likes of Alaric Bond, Julian Stockwin and Antoine Vanner. One of the most memorable moments for me, though, involved nobody else at all: it was sitting alone in a huge Victorian church while a recorded reading of Moby Dick (with individual chapters read by such luminaries as Stephen Fry) boomed out.
My own talk seemed to go down well, and played to a packed venue. I riffed on the conference theme of ‘fear and courage’ by looking at how the ‘gentleman captains’ of Charles II’s reign experienced both of those feelings during an age of adversity, when the Dutch often proved the equals or superiors of the Royal Navy. I also talked about how they interacted with Samuel Pepys, and focused on some of those who served as my models for my fictional hero, Matthew Quinton – notably Francis Digby and Sir William Berkeley, both of whom featured in recent reblogs on this site.
All in all, then, it was a glorious weekend – and the sun shone, too, although we also had something approaching a ‘pea souper’ on one of the nights, which made it very easy to visualise the Weymouth of smugglers and press gangs! But it also brought home in spades the slightly disconcerting fact that here in Britain, surely the maritime nation par excellence, this was the first festival of its kind, and it remains the only one. True, the organisers judged it enough of a success to announce that it will run again next year, on 25-26 March; but given the proliferation of literary festivals in many parts of Britain, quite a few of them being in areas with strong maritime heritage connections (which said festivals virtually ignore), is it really too revolutionary to suggest that maybe the country could easily sustain just one or two other maritime literary festivals too?
Finally, though, a huge thank you to James Farquharson and his team for their hard work, and to the Royal Dorset Yacht Club – the astonishing history of which could take up a blog post in its own right – for its splendid hospitality. See you all next year!
And now, an exciting announcement – I’m delighted to confirm that I’ll be speaking on 3 September at the Historical Novel Society’s conference in Oxford. Appropriately, I’m on a panel (to be exact, chairing a panel) about the Great Fire of London with C C Humphreys and Andrew Taylor, on what will be the 350th anniversary of the second day of the fire. The conference as a whole should be another occasion that’ll involve plenty of chinwagging with lots of old and new friends, but I’m also looking forward to being able to talk about the new Quinton novel, Death’s Bright Angel, which is set against the backdrop of the fire. This is a very unusual book, not only by the standards of the Quinton series and the naval historical fiction genre, but of fiction as a whole, too. More of which anon!