Books. Beer. What’s Not to Like?

It is a truth not universally acknowledged that Jane Austen brewed her own beer, so I have absolutely no doubt that, as she looks down upon all the events marking the bicentenary of her death, the great author would thoroughly approve of Open Book, the first ever literary festival in Hitchin. The strapline, ‘Books, Beer and Banter’, tells you at once that this isn’t going to be one of ‘those’ sorts of festival – i.e. the highbrow intellectual kind, with great authors being interviewed in reverential tones by eminent journalists before a hushed, respectful audience. Open Book is going to be informal, lively, and, yes, fun, and I’m delighted that I’m going to be a part of it!

No. Just – no.

Open Book grew out of the relatively recently formed Society of Authors Hertfordshire group, to which I belong, despite being an interloper from over the Bedfordshire border. It’s being held on Saturday 29 July at the excellent British Schools Museum in Hitchin, which is well worth a visit in its own right. (Having said that, it’s somewhat troubling that many things which were features of my own schooling are now considered museum exhibits…) My talk is called ‘Don’t Mention Jack Sparrow: the Best (and Worst) Sea Stories’, and will give my take on the maritime fiction genre – its history, the reasons for its appeal, and, yes, my own highly personal choices of ‘the good, the bad, and the ugly’. Obviously, I’ll be referring to my own work, but my ‘top five’ of best sea stories won’t include any of my own books – although it will be a bit idiosyncratic and unexpected.

One of the good things about Open Book is that it’ll be a bit of a family affair, as my partner Wendy, the ‘LadyQJ’ of my Twitter feed, is also speaking at it. Her first book, Great Minds and How to Grow Them, is about to come out, and she’ll be talking about some of the ideas contained in it. As the book’s blurb puts it, ‘Wendy is joint chief executive of the Education Media Centre. An award-winning education journalist, she has spent her career at the Guardian, the Independent, and has edited the Times Educational Supplement. She cares passionately about the role of parents in developing the learning of their children’. She’s co-authored the book with her old friend Deborah Eyre, an academic who’s one of the acknowledged authorities on high performance learning, so it’ll be an absolute must for parents keen to give their kids the best possible chances to succeed, and for those who are interested in enhancing their own learning.

At £4 a ticket, with under 16s getting in free, Open Book is incredibly good value for money. As the strapline suggests, there’ll be beer, there’ll also be a barbeque, and there’ll be plenty of other fun things taking place. So if you live within range of Hitchin, why not put 29 July in your diaries?

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