Fowey Festival 2019

The debate could have gone on for much longer; there are as many versions of Daphne’s relationship with Cornwall as there are people with a story to tell.

When Ali first posted about her plans to run a Daphne du Maurier Reading Week, she mentioned that she shares her birthday with Daphne – 13th May – and also that the Fowey Festival is always timed to include that date.  Started in 1997, the festival was originally named after Daphne.  It is now called the Fowey Festival of Arts and Literature and has broadened in content although du Maurier and her work continue to be a primary focus.  It seems fitting that I end my series of Daphne posts with an account of my festival experience this year, limited though it was.

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I was very excited when the programme was announced; I declared it to be the best since we had moved here.  As usual, I worked through the programme carefully, flagging events and sessions that seemed irresistible.  Wisely, as it turned out, I didn’t buy tickets in advance.  I whittled down my long wish list to what seemed manageable.  How eagerly I anticipated the week to come.  And for one reason after another the days passed.  The list shrunk as the week shortened.  I wondered if I would get there at all.  I did make it, but only just.

I had thought I’d mention here the various events that I had planned to attend and didn’t, but as I’ve been writing about them it feels like I’m missing them all over again!  So we’ll gloss over Diane Setterfield and Ruth Ware and Patrick Gale and all the many Du Maurier sessions that I didn’t get to (all for very good and positive reasons) and move straight to the one session that I attended, which fittingly happened to be the very final event of the festival.

This discussion was between Ella Westland (whose book, Reading Daphne, I had just read) and Bert Biscoe, himself an author and poet, but also a passionate Cornishman and local politician, and the subject was stimulated by Daphne’s final novel, Rule Britannia.

41VIlis3JuL._AC_UL436_There has been plenty of debate about the relevance of this novel at this time, as we teeter on the edge of Brexit.  It must have seemed a bizarre concept when it was published in 1972.  Having left the Common Market, Britain forms an alliance with the United States of America without the knowledge of the British populace.  When US naval ships anchor in St Austell Bay, Cornwall rises in rebellion.  I haven’t read this one yet though I’m very keen to do so and even more keen to read Ella Westland’s introduction to my Virago copy, which I’ve flicked through and which seems crammed with fascinating details about Daphne’s later life.  This one is another departure from the wide range of genres Daphne had already written in.  It is – I am led to believe – more light-hearted and clearly quirky.  Westland, in the opening page of her introduction, describes it as ‘shifting from the funny and farcical to the bleak and bizarre’.

The session, however, was intended to focus significantly on Daphne’s relationship to Cornwall and the Cornish people.  The book was discussed – and inevitably, the current political situation couldn’t be avoided; there was plenty of good-natured disagreement.  But there was also plenty about Daphne herself – with yet more good-natured disagreement.  It was suggested that Daphne didn’t really engage with the local people or local issues and that Cornish characters in her books were perhaps caricatures.  Ella cited a Welsh character in Rule Britannia whom Daphne named Taffy – surely a caricature of a Welshman was the suggestion.  A sprightly member of the audience took the mic:  she had known Daphne personally and found her to be unfailingly kind and interested, and was Ella aware of the actual Welshman who had lived until his death in Polruan – whose name was Taffy?

Ella also talked about when she herself had first arrived in Cornwall in the late eighties and ideas were first being discussed about creating a du Maurier festival.  Ella found then that local people were very reluctant – claiming that ‘she (Daphne) wasn’t Cornish’.  Contrast this experience with the poignant introduction to her review of The Scapegoat, written by Jane at Beyond Eden Rock, herself a native Cornishwoman.

The debate could have gone on for much longer; there are as many versions of Daphne’s relationship with Cornwall as there are people with a story to tell.  I was sorry when time was called.  It was lively and stimulating and left me knowing that I should have got to more events.  But one is better than none and there’s always next year.

And so it was time for home.

Past the glorious ‘Rook with a Book’ created by father and son Gary and Thomas Thrussell and unveiled by Daphne’s son Kits Browning last year.

 

“When I was first approached, I was told that it was a crow so I spent a lot of time doing research on crows, in order to have a speech to tell you all but I was then told two weeks ago it isn’t a crow – it’s a rook.

“So you will be delighted to hear, I’ve torn up the research and I will be as brief as I can.”

Mr Browning said during research, he discovered that the collective noun for crow was a ‘murder’ of crows, which he said “was rather sinister – although it might have appealed to mum”.

(Kits Browning, from an article in Cornwall Live, March 2018)

 

Back through Fowey, back on the ferry, looking out at Ferryside and the Jane Slade figurehead outside what was once Daphne’s bedroom.

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And here on the blog, time at last, to move on.  Though I might just have to read Rule Britannia.  And one of the sessions that I missed – on The House on the Strand and The Parasites – reminded me that each have anniversaries this year (fifty and seventy years respectively) which provides strong justification to pull both off the shelves.  It’s very tempting.  Fortunately Ali has generously said that she will run the reading week again next year so perhaps I should wait until then!

 

 

 

 

 

48 thoughts on “Fowey Festival 2019”

  1. Lovely, interesting post! Thank you for sharing.

    Every year, I always mean to visit the Fowey Festival and every year I never get around to it! They had some wonderful authors and workshops on, but it looks like you had a wonderful insight too into Daphne Du Maurier’s life in Cornwall. I do hope you get around to reading Rule Britannia!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I just wish I had been able to attend more events but we can’t do everything 🙂 (Your posts aren’t appearing in my reader which is annoying. I’ll try resubscribing 🤞 🙂 )

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I hadn’t known about ‘Rule Britannia’ – sounds like perfect timing for a revival. Also fascinating to have someone chime in with the background. ‘Taffy’ would have been common enough as a name back then anyway. Having lived near the River Taff for many years in Trefforest and Cardiff, I’ve always assumed that was the origin of the name – but now I feel I should find out more!

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    1. Such names can be used affectionately every bit as much as a term of derision in my view. And yes, it was brilliant to hear from the audience member; I’m sure she had plenty more stories to tell!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I know! It’s frustrating but I’m not complaining. And Gale will almost certainly be back within the next year or so. He lives in Cornwall and is very active locally. I’ve seen him once – always be happy to see him again 😉

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      1. I’ll have to get myself down to Cornwall then. I’ve only been once. We were camping, and it was wall-to-wall rain…. We actually sometimes took the car to the toilet bock….. I do understand this isn’t normal!

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        1. Knowing what I know of the rain here, I think it’s very sensible! 😉

          I was stunned to learn (too late) that Cornwall gets 3 times more rain per year than mid-Sussex where my children live. Everyone told us it was always raining in Cornwall when we first voiced our plans to move here. Did we listen? (It would have made no difference anyway.) We get more rain than my sister in the Highlands! Yup, it rains a lot. But when the sun shines, it’s hard to beat. It’s been very dry for the last fortnight in fact. Due to change from tomorrow. Well-timed as I’ll be away in Kent. And my plants will need watering!

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  3. If that session was anything to go by, I can well understand why you wish you’d got to more, what a wonderful finish to the reading Daphne du Maurier week, to have had this festival to attend, and what a cast of characters in attendance!

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    1. Isn’t it stunning! It’s hard to distinguish rooks from crows but it really doesn’t matter; the statue is wonderful and a perfect choice for a du Maurier town. I love her short story ‘The Birds’. Much better than the film.

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  4. I think you’ll find Rule Britannia very interesting. I read that the Americans were not popular when they were in Cornwall during the war and they caused a lot of trouble, especially with the US army’s very poor treatment of their own black soldiers which upset the Cornish people. It seems to have stuck with Daphne.

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    1. My mum in her Dorset village had similar stories as there were two battalions from the Southern states of America stationed nearby: the white GI’s wanted the black GI’s banned from the pub her mum ran. Whereas she and the locals said in their usual straightforward way: ‘If they’re good enough to fight, they’re good enough to drink.’ The white soldiers mostly stayed away. The pub didn’t have beer every day mind but did stay open to all!

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      1. Wonderful tale! It’s still hard to believe how much this went on. I want to say that it was all so very recent but of course it isn’t recent anymore. Almost 80 years ago – a lifetime! It’s good to look back though, and acknowledge change for the better.

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  5. Enjoyed this post. I read Rule Britannia some years ago, and it was an interesting read though i didn’t enjoy it as much as I did her other books–but again, with changed circumstances, perhaps one needs to revisit this. The King’s General has similar themes even though set in the past and for me worked better.

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    1. Yes, your thoughts make sense to me too. I’ll enjoy Rule Britannia for its novelty value and because it’s so local to me but I don’t expect it to be anywhere close to the top when it comes to the main novels and my personal favourites.

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  6. Your comment about the locals not wanting the festival because Daphne wasn’t ‘Cornish’ made me smile. People are the same everywhere. Where I’m from, if their grandparents didn’t know your grandparents, one of you isn’t a local.

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    1. It is fascinating, isn’t it – how territorial we all become. One of the speakers made a point which resonated with me in regards to being Cornish. He is a native Cornishman and he said, we are Cornish if that is how we see ourselves. I’ve always felt rather afraid to consider myself Cornish; I feel like there should be some kind of rite of passage 😀 But maybe I’ll adjust my own thinking and see what happens 🙂

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      1. The speaker sounds as if he has the right idea 🙂 The rite of passage could be frightening, I’ve got a mental image of people being trapped in a cave on the beach in a rising tide and having to escape while being pursued by brutal, handsome smugglers in order to gain their belonging rights… my ideas come entirely from Daphne du Maurier and The Famous Five.

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  7. Thanks for taking us with you on your journey with Daphne, Sandra. SUCH an enjoyable and stimulating couple of weeks : your writing was worthy of Daphne herself. xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. From what I can tell, it’s quite a quirky book, Derrick, with elements of the lost boys from Peter Pan and a redoubtable old actress in charge of them as they join forces with local people to combat the marines. Certainly different!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. How wonderful to have a festival focused on a favourite author of yours. Sounds like an interesting session, I am glad you managed to attend. Rule Britannia sounds intriguing, but perhaps I will wait for your review, before deciding whether to read it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is brilliant being where we are and it’s pure coincidence. An added bonus. You might be wise to wait though it will be some time before I get to read it, I think. Much as I’d like to dive straight in, there are other books waiting in the wings!

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  9. Having become hooked on DDM I have been eyeing the Fowey Festival and wondering whether it might be possible to visit next year. Not sure, but I would love to get there some time. Meanwhile, by coincidence I just started reading Patrick Gale’s latest book today and of course have all those lovely DDM titles to savour!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are worse things to be hooked on! If you do get to visit Fowey we may perhaps meet up but I’ll leave that to you, Liz 🙂 Worth going on the festival mailing list to get sent a copy of next year’s programme when it’s available. Even if you decide that 2020 isn’t the year for you, it will give you a good overview of what’s offered. I struggle with Patrick Gale’s books. I want to like them…. I don’t dislike them… I’m just not hooked in. That said, he’s a lovely chap and is very active locally. (He lives in the west of Cornwall.)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I would love to meet up if I manage to get there one day, thank you! I have signed up for the programme in the meantime. Re PG I really enjoyed A Perfectly Good Man and his latest is set partly where I grew up so I am hoping it will be good too. But hey, we can’t all like everything, can we!

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  10. I remember reading Rule Britannia in my teenage, and loving it. In fact, I can still remember most of the story, it struck me so forcibly then. The Fowey Festival has been on my radar for a while now. After reading this, I’m definitely going to make more effort to get there next year.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sign up for their newsletter and you’ll get to see the programme for next year as soon as it comes out. The events are small in size but that makes them more intimate, and there’s plenty to choose from. Perhaps I’ll see you there one year!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Every time there’s some sort of special week in my area, I do the same thing–make big plans and then skip most or all of them. In my case, it’s the introvert winning . . . The one session you attended sounds fascinating!

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