Woodstock literary festival packs a punch

Banbury Cake: ex-Irish President Mary Robinson Buy this photo ex-Irish President Mary Robinson

This year’s Woodstock Literary festival at Blenheim Palace ended in a blaze of song as Elkie Brooks belted out some of her latest hits to a sold-out crowd at Blenheim Palace on Sunday afternoon.

Fitting for a festival that while small, still packs a punch, whatever your interest in books.

Indeed, according to Sally Dunsmore, the festival’s director: “We have had a fantastic five days with so many people enjoying talks and events featuring ex-Irish President Mary Robinson, Roger Mcgough, Paddy Ashdown, Liz Earle and Deborah Harkness, to name but a few.

“And ending with our grand finale of Elkie Brooks talking about her life and singing us six songs from her new album.”

Everyone had their favourites but for me it was meeting blockbuster novelist Frederick Forsyth on Friday night.

A fan since the age of 11, I wasn’t exactly penned in to shake his hand.

However, armed with my 40th anniversary edition of his first best-selling novel The Day of The Jackal, I pushed my way to his table and said: “I read Day of The Jackal when I was just 11 and think you’re a genius...”

So frankly, how could he refuse?

And his talk warmed the hearts of all those of us who believe it’s easy to be intellectual but a lot, lot more difficult to tell a good story.

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Calling story-telling “the oldest profession in the world” , he said: “If you haven’t got a story, no matter how elegant your prose might be, it simply won’t work. But if you have got a story, you can be assured it will survive.”

Wise words, and all those in the audience who rated John Grisham, Stephen King, Jilly Cooper and Jodi Picoult over Salman Rushdie nodded approvingly (me included).

People’s poet Roger McGough opened the festival in true, whimsical style, while other literary celebrities such as chef Ken Hom, Mary Robinson and colourful politician Paddy Ashdown mingled easily with Woodstock’s home-grown.

It was charming, laugh-out loud funny five days and, save for a few exceptions, cheaper than lunch for two at McDonald’s...

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