Phil Gillam: Looking forward to a whole weekend of pageturners

Phil Gillam | Published:

They can make us laugh, they can make us cry, they can make us think and they can arouse our deepest emotions.

Shrewsbury’s Wightman Theatre is one of the venues for the festival

I’m talking about books of course.

They can thrill us. They can also frighten us and shock us and give us nightmares; they can make us glad to be alive, they can surprise, delight, raise us up and inspire us.

If anyone should need reminding of all this then they should look no further than the Shrewsbury Festival of Literature which launches today and runs throughout the weekend across a variety of venues in the town.

Writing of almost every kind is represented.

One of the big attractions will be the coming together of two very fine writers. In conversation together at the Wightman Theatre (just off The Square) will be Stef Penney, screenwriter and author of three novels (including Under A Pole Star) and highly-respected novelist Jonathan Coe (The Rotters Club, The Accidental Woman, A Touch of Love, What A Carve Up! and many others).

Jonathan’s latest book, The Broken Mirror, has just been published this month.

It has been described as "a political parable for children, a contemporary fairy tale for adults, and a fable for all ages”.

Meanwhile, Stef Penney’s Under A Pole Star prompted this from The Guardian: "It is a tribute to Penney’s superlative descriptive skills that the book’s erotic charge is so startlingly effective, and that her icy landscapes cast such a lasting, almost hallucinatory spell. This combination is the true rocket fuel of Under a Pole Star, and what makes it resonate long after the Snow Queen has divulged her long-held secret".


Festival events on Saturday include a workshop - Re-telling Myth and Legend with Bethany Rivers - a self-publishing expo and the arrival of the Emergency Poet in St Alkmund’s Square.

Writing crime fiction is the subject of one event and stories from overseas another.

There’s poet, author and artist Frieda Hughes discussing alternative values with Liz Lefroy, and much, much more.

On Sunday, there’s Fantastic Imaginings with Adrian Cole, writer of science fiction and fantasy. There’s a poetry brunch with Greg Leadbetter, Angela France and Bethany Rivers.


There’s Pedal Power with Anna Hughes - inspirational stories for all people from the world of cycling.

Fiona Sampson’s love for limestone country is celebrated at an event in the Unitarian Church.

Traditional crafts are explored in a talk by Alex Langlands.

The festival gets under way with a launch reception at the Wightman Theatre just off The Square at 6pm tomorrow, and Yours Truly will be saying a few words to welcome supporters.

I adore books… have done since I was a child.

But, for myself, I wouldn’t say there’s ever been any kind of a strategy or plan to my reading habits over the years. However, I do of course have favourite genres and favourite authors.

I love novels that are quiet, understated and nuanced and have something to say about the human condition (from Larry’s Party by Carol Shields to The Web of Belonging by Stevie Davies to On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan to The Rain Before It Falls by one of Shrewsbury Festival’s stars this year, Jonathan Coe). But, on the other hand, I love science fiction and epic fantasy like American Gods by Neil Gaiman or Just After Sunset by Stephen King because - while being thrilling and mysterious and other-worldly - these stories too have something to say about our humanity.

And I like utterly silly stories too like the classic Professor Branestawm adventures by Norman Hunter or the more recent Evil Machines by former Monty Python star Terry Jones.

But back to the festival:

Shrewsbury Festival of Literature is run by a group of people (including the ever-enthusiastic Susan Caroline who runs Pengwern Books) who love all things literary and wanted to establish something book-oriented for the town.

They managed to do just that and are now building on the success of last year’s event with this latest full programme of goodies.

For full details, visit:


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