French hilltop village scales literary heights

24 July 2019
Booker Prize-shortlisted Graeme Macrae Burnet with organiser Liz Stanley at Festilitt last year
By Jane Hanks

Some of the world’s most prominent authors are again heading for a small hilltop village in southwest France.

Preparations are under way for the seventh Franco-British literary festival in Parisot, in Tarn-et-Garonne, for three days on the third weekend of October.

Festilitt has proved popular in previous years, attracting authors such as Tracy Chevalier, Helen Dunmore, Kate Mosse, Adam Thorpe and Booker Prize-shortlisted Graeme Macrae Burnet.

Visitors are given the chance to get close to the writers and organiser Liz Stanley is keen for that to continue.

“It doesn’t necessarily get bigger, but we don’t want it to,” she said. “Part of the appeal is the intimacy of the sessions, allowing you to get close to the authors, eat lunch or dinner with them, or chat over a cup of tea.

“Our maximum capacity for a session is about 100 people and over the course of the weekend we attract 200-300 people.”

The festival takes over the village, with events in both English and French.

Ms Stanley said that worked well.

“It unites the French and English-speaking communities, old and young,” she said.

“Members of the Club des Aînés make cakes and canapés and man second-hand book stalls. We work with the village children, bringing an author into their classrooms to work on a project that is presented at the festival.

“This year we will have one bilingual session, featuring French photographer Bernard Plossu.

“He will be presenting his book Lire/Ecrire, which features photographs of readers across the world, of writers at work, of the written word, of graffiti, and of bookshops and libraries from Palermo to Berkeley and Delhi.”

English sessions this year include novelist Patrick Gale, BBC journalist Robin Lustig and new writer Jessica Andrews, plus Phyllida Shaw on the art and letters of a World War One soldier and handwriting expert Emma Bache.

Also appearing will be Joff Winterhart, author of Driving Short Distances, and Andrew Lownie on his new biography of the Mountbattens.

Author Adam Thorpe, who lives in the Cévennes, is one of the festival’s literary patrons and said that, in his 30 years as an author, the festival is in his top five such events.

“The invited writers are some of the English-speaking world’s leading voices. Given many authors’ reluctance to travel, that they should agree to come to a small, local festival in France is testament to Festilitt’s beguiling charm,” he said.

Festilitt runs from October 18 to 20. For more information, visit the festilitt.com website or email info@festilitt.com

Sessions are free and booking opens in September. Priority is given to “Friends”, who can sign up for a minimum donation of €15.

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