Article published on November 6, 2015.
Beverley is one of my favourite places – an attractive, vibrant market town on the edge of the Yorkshire Wolds, with lots of independent shops, including a brilliant, if somewhat topsy-turvy bookshop. The idea of combining Beverley with a literature festival is irresistible, especially as it is only an hour’s drive away. Last year I managed to attend one event – Shirley Williams talking about her mother, Vera Brittain, in the inspiring surroundings of the gothic minster – and this year decided to spend a whole day there.
My husband was keen to come with me so we agreed on three events which would suit us both and give us time for a bit of wandering and a nice meal. We might have factored in a bit more wandering if we’d realised the Beverley Food Festival was on the same day but that would have meant less time for the books, which was after all the point of the trip.
All our events were held at the East Riding theatre, a new venue for the Festival, which opened in 2014 under the artistic directorship of Vincent Regan. The theatre was a perfect venue with a spacious bar area providing sandwiches and a home for the Festival bookshop.
Our first event was A is for Arsenic with Kathryn Harkup. Kathryn is a chemist who has written a fascinating (and beautifully produced) book
all about the poisons in Agatha Christie novels. Although she began her talk with a disclaimer, ‘This is strictly information, not advice,’ she
delivered details of the origins, applications and effects of her various poisons with great relish. We learned about arsenic, cyanide,
phosphorus and strychnine and how Agatha Christie used her own expertise as a dispenser in the First World War to inform her
efficient despatching of victims in her novels.
Next up was journalist and founder member of Hacked Off, Brian Cathcart to talk about his book, The News from Waterloo. In today’s climate of instant communication it is easy to assume, and I confess I had assumed, that news of such as a defining battle as Waterloo would have travelled quickly back to Britain. Not so, and over an illuminating and often amusing hour we learned of the trials and tribulations of Major Harry Percy (whose father was Earl of Beverley, so a local hero) as he strove to carry Wellington’s dispatch to London. Think mud, a sailing ship becalmed in sight of the cliffs of Dover, an excessively enthusiastic crowd and two enormous French battle standards complete with gold eagles in a small post-chaise and you get the idea.
After a nice meal in the town it was time for a thirties style cocktail party, with mint juleps, canapes and a smoky voiced singer, in honour of Sophie Hannah’s Poirot novel, The Monogram Murders. Sophie was a little late, having travelled straight from an appearance at Ilkley Festival earlier in the day, but she was on good form, chatting about how the Christie family had come to ask her to write the book – a chance remark by her agent – and her own love for Christie’s novels. It made me want to go straight home and re-read my own collection. Once I’ve finished The Monogram Murders of course.
The festival ran from the 1st to the 10th October this year, with events by Brian Blessed, Joanne Harris and Rosie Millard among many more. There was also a rich programme of writing workshops and a Children’s Festival. I will definitely be back next year.