East Croydon Cool talks…Croydon Literary Festival

East Croydon Cool talks… is a blog series that explores topics of cultural interest via local area experts.

This month we chatted to Cassie Whittell, the Head of Croydon Literary Festival 2018, to learn a little more about the event.

How did the idea for the Croydon Literary Festival come about?
Back in January 2017, Jonny Rose put a shoutout in the Croydon Citizen (RIP) for volunteers looking to set up a literary festival. In a fit of madness, I put my hand up. It all went from there – we met in Matthews Yard in March 2017 and the first Croydon Literary Festival took place in September 2017. So it was Jonny’s idea and we took it and ran with it. The festival committee is made up of me, Clair Woodward and Brad Merrett, and we’re supported by a wonderful raft of volunteers and helpers, whom we can’t thank enough for their support.

Does Croydon have a strong Literary background/association?
Yes, it does – and that’s something we wanted to promote. Arthur Conan Doyle, Henry James, Emile Zola, Kingsley Amis… all of them have connections to Croydon. One of my favourites is murder-mystery novel The 12.30 From Croydon by Freeman Wills Crofts, which was published in 1934. The titular ‘12.30’ is actually a plane, which makes the whole thing even more thrilling and glamorous.

What type of sessions are there?
We’ve expanded this year and really tried to give people a choice of sessions to attend. Whether you’re interested in rock’n’roll, modern romance, erotic literature, Brutalism, food blogging, punk rock, historical crime novels, poetry, local authors… we’ve got something for everyone. A veritable smorgasbord (to quote a cliche) to choose from, and we hope everyone who comes finds something that whets their appetite.

Is there anything for children to take part in?
Yes – and this is a new addition to this year’s festival. As we’re holding it in half term, we decided to add in three events for younger readers. So we have the wonderful Robin Stevens, author of the Murder Most Unladylike series, talking about her books in the Braithwaite Hall; then in the Croydon Children’s Library, we have Sylvia Bishop (author of Erica’s Elephant) and her interactive storytelling, which should be a lot of fun. And we also have local poet Paul Point and The Chocolate Poetry Club running a session for young poets. These are for children aged seven and up, and we hope these younger readers will be just as inspired!

Would you recommend any of the events for people who say they’re not into reading?
If people aren’t sure what to come to, then try the sessions that we’re running with the Reader charity. These are interactive sessions where you can listen to a poem being read aloud, discuss it, think about it, and hopefully come away wanting to learn more about the author, or reading in general. We have two of these sessions on the day, and they’re inspirational… and only cost £1.50 each (which is to cover off the Reader’s expenses).

How can budding writers make the most of the festival?
My old English teacher once told me that the only way to become a writer is to read – as often as you can, as much as you can, as widely as you can. I think that’s true. So budding writers can come along, hear their favourite authors speak, and get inspired! We also encourage our sessions to be as interactive as possible, so authors can ask questions and get involved. Plus, Croydonist is running a short story competition, which is a great platform to get your voice heard – the closing date is Saturday 27 October, so there’s still time to enter your literary work!

In a tech dominated world, how can books/literature keep holding peoples attention?
You dive into a book and it’s another world, one that’s often totally different from your own. So it’s escapism of the best kind. Or maybe it’s a book that speaks to you – reflects your truth and your life back at you, makes you think about who you are. Those perennial truths – love, friendship, family, the pressure of the outside world – are what keep people coming back to books written centuries ago. Books make you think in a way very few other forms of media do. I think that’s the reason why we’ll never stop reading.

What’s your vision for the Festival’s future?
At the moment, I can’t see past Saturday 27 October and making sure this year’s festival runs smoothly! Next year… I think that’s something we’ll start to think about in December. Probably over a glass of wine at Clair’s flat. But we hope that as long as people are interested, we’ll keep putting the festival on. How it looks in 2019 and beyond… we’ll have to wait and see!

For more information about the Croydon Literary Festival (taking place on Saturday 27th October) or to book your tickets, click here.

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