Festilitt: The little literary festival that could

Girl with a Pearl Earring author Tracy Chevalier will head a list of writers at a Franco-British literary festival in October.

25 July 2017
By Jane Hanks

Festilitt, held in the hilltop village of Parisot, Tarn-et-Garonne, is in its fifth year and attracts top writers, despite its modest size.

Liz Stanley is one of the founders and says they are delighted that it is growing from strength to strength: "We can’t offer the publicity of the big literary events like Hay-on-Wye but we do put on a festival in a beautiful village with an engaged and positive audience who love it, in deepest, darkest, rural France.

"We try to keep it very intimate and we don’t want it to become big so that people can continue to really get to talk to the authors who come.  

"About 120 is the biggest audience at any one time, we eat lunch together in the local restaurant and there is a very popular dinner which all the authors attend and each one hosts a table of around eight people."

In previous years, the event has attracted Kate Mosse, best known for Labyrinth, the first of a trilogy set in the Languedoc and Helen Dunmore, author of The Siege, The Betrayal and Birdcage Walk, who died of cancer aged 64 this year but described Perisot as  “the lovely festival” after her visit.

She liked it so much, she became its Literary Patron and in the 2016 programme wrote: "Over the course of my career I have appeared at many literary festivals in the UK and abroad, each with its own distinct character and atmosphere. None has been quite like Festilitt…

"Unlike big commercial festivals, the pace is relaxed, there is no stress or pressure, no mad dash to the next talk.

"Instead you take your time, browse the second-hand bookshop, wander around the historic village and look out over stunning countryside, have coffee in the bar, develop friendships with other readers and writers … You please yourself, and make Festilitt your own."

This year, for the English speaking part of the festival, Tracy Chevalier will be in conversation with Beccy Speight, CEO of The Woodland Trust about her latest novel At the Edge of the Orchard, which speaks of the raw hardship of 19th century pioneer America. Luke Kennard will present his debut novel The Transition, which was serialised on BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime earlier this year.

Keggie Carew won the 2016 Costa Biography Award and will talk about Dadland which she wrote about her unorthodox father and there will also be the British poet, novelist and playwright, Adam Thorpe who has lived in the Cevennes for more than 25 years; and Claire Fuller who will present her second novel, Swimming Lessons.

Festilitt began when a group of enthusiastic book lovers invited both French and English local authors to the library to give talks.

They proved so popular the idea emerged of holding a weekend event for which the local mairie and département gave some funding.  

The committee which runs it is split 50/50 French and British and during the festival there are events in both languages. Mrs Stanley says the mayor is delighted to host the event in his village: "There are only around 500 people living in the commune and then suddenly in the 3rd week in October the village comes alive and is very animated.

"It is also a very positive way to bring the French and British communities coming together."

Participation at the festival which runs from Friday October 20 to Sunday October 22 is free of charge, so the only costs for people attending are food and accommodation. However reservation is essential for the most popular events, such as the Tracey Chevalier talk.

Booking starts in early September but anyone interested can sign up to the festival’s newsletters by emailing info@festilitt.com  

The website is www.festilitt.com

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