Festival of Literature 2017
From 2nd to 9th February 2017 we held the eighth annual Bishop’s Stortford College Festival of Literature. It was a pleasure to welcome so many people to the College, not just from our immediate community of pupils, staff and parents, but from the wider community of Bishop's Stortford, neighbouring schools and beyond. The programme included something for everyone, as we celebrated storytelling in all of its forms.
Local writers Alice Audley, Hina Belitz, Sara Hirsch and Lucy Saxon shared with their audience how they forged successful careers in writing, journalism, and performance poetry.
We enjoy a relaxed and informative afternoon tea with Jo Wheatley, including tips and tricks that made her a Bake Off winner, followed by a talk from journalist and BBC Radio 6 Music broadcaster Stuart Maconie.
For the adventurous, Dave Cornthwaite inspired and excited us with his tales of adventure and award-winning foreign correspondent Luke Harding who has covered a number of controversial and exciting news stories gave us a thought-provoking evening.
Nicola Morgan shared her knowledge on teenage stress and how to turn it into something positive; which was helpful to teenagers feeling the pressure from exams and also those who are living with a teenager. And book club favourite, Joanne Harris, discussed her latest novel, Different Class.
In an evening with Marcia Williams and College musicians, literature was brought to life through storytelling, vibrant illustrations, and music.
We also welcomed poets A. F. Harrold and Roger McGough, both known for their wit and sense of humour.
In addition to these Open Events, we welcomed other schools to attend our Schools Events featuring a number of popular children’s authors. This year, the line-up included Kjartan Poskitt, Julian Sedgwick, and Paul Jackson amongst others. And the Bishop’s Stortford Picture Book Award, presented by Winnie the Witch illustrator Korky Paul and voted for by local schools was given to Rob Biddulph for Odd Dog Out .
Please find reviews, written by some of our pupils, of this year's Festival events below. You can also read reviews from last year's Festival here.
Harry Potter Night
The Festival of Literature 2017 was launched by Harry Potter Night on Thursday evening. This popular event has taken place at the Prep School for the last two years. Coinciding with Harry Potter Book Nights across the globe, the Bishop’s Stortford College Prep School pupils enjoy a night of magic and wizardry to begin our week of Festival events. The night, run by Harry Potter publishers Bloomsbury, has a different theme every year and the theme for 2017 was Professors of Hogwarts.
Form Two pupil Edward reviewed the evening;
On 2nd February 2017 Bishop’s Stortford College had our third Harry Potter night. The Prep School Hall is where the event was held and four curtains bearing the crests of the four houses hung from the walls. Wooden signs sat around the edges of the halls with shops’ names (from the books) written on them.
Everyone was dressed as wizards or muggles roaming around the hall before Mr Herd asked us all to sit on the floor. We did as he asked and sat on the blue floor next to him. He told us that we would be sorted into houses that we would earn points for throughout the night. These houses included Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin. But before we got sorted into our houses we heard a passage from the book, Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone, about the sorting.
After we’d heard about the sorting we got asked to get into pairs (but I got into a three) and queue to see which house we were in. Mr Herd came around with the hat and one of the partners got asked to pick a small paper card out the hat which had the crest and name of one of the houses on it. Once the hat had come around to us I slowly went through some cards in my hand not knowing what house we were going to get. After shuffling around my hand in the hat for a few seconds I picked out one. I realised I had got Ravenclaw which was the house my partners, Jake A and Harry B, wanted so I was happy.
Then we had settled into our houses and had got to know everyone. Mr Wrobleski called into a microphone that we would do some activities such as: Herbology, Arithmacy, dress the professor and games. First Ravenclaw did dress the professor then Herbology and after that Arithmacy and finally the games. After this we had some things to eat and drink such as orange juice, water, crisps and Kit Kats. While we were eating and drinking we were answering some questions from a quiz. The questions were a mix between hard and easy but most of them were hard! Finally to finish off the night we had the prizes!!!!
The prize for the best dressed was Zinnia–Claire and the prize for invent the professor was Verity. Then were the winning houses. This was a tense moment for every house who sat on the floor hoping that they had won the house competition. In fourth place was... Slytherin! In third place was... Hufflepuff! In second place was... Ravenclaw! So the winners were... GRIFFINDOR! You could hear the screams of joy from all of Gryffindor house and even though you lost you felt really happy for them.
It was an amazing night. Thanks to Mrs Pike, Mr Wrobleski, all the heads of house (the Sixth Form pupils) and many more parents and teachers who made the event possible.
Marcia Williams and College Musicians
On Friday 3rd February, Marcia Williams shared a variety of her stories, from Romeo and Juliet to Les Misérables, whilst showcasing her illustrations alongside music provided by the Bishop’s Stortford College Orchestra and Choirs. Georgie wrote the following review;
The Festival of Literature 2017 opened with the eagerly awaited author Marcia Williams accompanied by musicians of the college; providing not only the joys of Williams’ renditions of historical tales in a digestible format for children, but also presenting the broad talent of College musicians. Marcia explained to the audience that ‘storytelling is just as important as breathing’ to her; leading to an anticipation over how she would convey such passion through her reciting.
Williams recited her rendition of the tale of Henry XIII, with the chamber choir mirroring the Tudor period with three madrigals; The Merchant of Venice matched with Vivaldi’s double violin concerto with soloists Claudia Lax Tanner and Lauren Tuch; the solemn tale of Les Miserables twinned with solo performances by Ryan Land and Georgie Elliott; as well as Williams’ versions of Oliver Twist and Joseph’s Technicolor Dreamcoat allowing members of the Prep School to display their incredibly mature and sophisticated vocal ability. Alongside solo performances, the Orchestra performed alongside Williams’ tales of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet, playing Mendelssohn’s Wedding March and Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet: Fantasy Overture.
Overall, the evening was a celebration of the marriage of literature and music; showing how both can convey a specific mood individually, however when brought together invokes a far deeper emotion. What’s more, the evening brought together all age groups from the College to show how broad and expansive the musical talent of students from all parts of the school are. A spectacular evening for all involved as well as all who watched; the perfect way to open the Festival of Literature and a month of celebrating the uniting power of literature.
On 4th February, audiences enjoyed a Mad Hatter's Tea Party and baking demonstration with The Great British Bake Off winner Jo Wheatley. Senior School pupils Holly and Imogen wrote the following review of the event;
Saturday saw the spectacular showcase of Jo Wheatley’s Mad Hatter’s Tea Party at Bishop’s Stortford College’s eighth Festival of Literature. Jo, the winner of The Great British Bake Off, an unbelievable achievement in itself, has since created two of her very own cookbooks filled with fun and innovative recipes. Amidst a world of instant messaging and microwave meals, Jo manages to break the seemingly impossible boundaries of today’s generation by bringing families together with her positive attitude and incredible baking. The vibrant atmosphere was mirrored by the fantastic decorations, transforming a school assembly hall into the magical realm of Alice in Wonderland’s famous Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. The informal environment allowed the audience to engage with the presentation, which consisted of Jo demonstrating her extraordinary culinary skills in a far more accessible way, with recipes which are easy to replicate at home. Jo illustrated her breadth of knowledge through a variety of bakes, ranging from toadstool meringues, to a show-stopping Cheshire Cat cake. Each tutorial was kept brief and concise, with the audience being constantly encouraged to ask any questions, which Jo answered with great insight, making for an engaging presentation for all ages. Her humorous anecdotes gave the audience a phenomenal view into some exclusive insider knowledge regarding Mary Berry’s life outside of our TV screen, along with other behind the scenes information that we have all been craving. Jo’s friendly approach made for a fantastically enjoyable afternoon, filled with laughter, great tips and delicious food.
Holly and Imogen
Both Senior and Prep School pupils also took part in a cake decorating competition judged by Jo Wheatley. The entries were very creative, and congratulations must go to Alliott and Newbury, the winning Houses.
On 4th February, Stuart Maconie gave his talk The Pie at Night. Senior School pupil Mika reviewed the talk;
Having not been an avid listener to BBC 6 Music, I remained apprehensive as to what I may encounter during Saturday night’s eruption of entertainment by author and radio broadcaster, Stuart Maconie. The anthem of this became the line, ‘I digress’, as we voyaged from Trump’s tabloids to Alan Bennet, to archetypal over-reachers and local chip shop patrons. His expressed audacity towards both public and private figures, that few but he could get away with, elated the audience, who were left breathless by his humour.
After having listened to the compelling, if sometimes controversial, readings from his books, we were allowed an insight into his intentionally rudimentary yet humorous acting talents as he performed a brief one man show.
Digressing further, he proceeded to tell us of his musical passions and of an encounter with The Beatles. He had been reminded of this by his mother in that ever so familiar fashion of parental stories that include every detail imaginable except the story itself, thereby refilling every empty glass in the room with humour and nostalgia. However a divide amongst the audience soon emerged between those left in silence and others who attempted to ease the awkward tension with a brief chuckle upon hearing Maconie’s momentary dismissal of Nirvana. Thankfully this was soon eased by his quick witted explanation of having ‘a chip on [his] shoulder…properly fried with gravy and mushy peas’ that almost begged for percussion accompaniment and seemed to instantly lighten the atmosphere.
Finally we reached the moment upon which we could discuss his literature, or as he vocalised it, ‘a book about what people do for fun in industrial Britain’, and once again I found myself straining to hear any silence amongst the contagious eruptions of laughter.
Due to Maconie’s all too famous urban myths, it was hard to separate fact from fiction but I am sure I can speak for all who attended in praising this as a thoroughly enjoyable night. We impatiently await Maconie’s future literature based around the Jarrow hunger march of 1936.
Julian Sedgwick (Schools Event)
Julian Sedgwick, author of Mysterium and Ghosts of Shanghai uses video, ghost stories, and circus skills to introduce the exotic worlds of his stories, and the people and places that inspired him to become a writer. Prep School pupil Thea wrote this wonderful review of his talk to pupils;
Straight after break on Monday the 6th of February the whole of Form Two and Lower Third hurried expectantly to the Ferguson Lecture Theatre to meet Julian Sedgwick, the author of the ‘Mysterium’ series. He delivered a presentation about his bestselling novels which was accompanied by an exhilarating performance. As this evolved, Julian revealed some of his hidden talents which all had us on the edge of our seats. For example, he juggled with extremely sharp looking knives; I doubt any of us will ever forget that spectacle (but I assume that was his intention).
At the start of the performance he gave us some background information about himself and his family; in fact, the beginning was very sad and emotional. This was because Julian, unlike most authors, included his dad’s young death in his presentation. I found this a unique trait to have which is always an advantage when being an author.
Perched on the stage was a battered, beaten suitcase which seemed to have turned a light dusty brown colour as if it had travelled the globe several times. Stuck firmly on the suitcase were eye-catching stickers from all over the world. I was extremely tempted to fling open the suitcase because I wanted to know what was inside! Tantalisingly, it remained unopened and I guess I will never find out. Maybe this was the point? He must have wanted to ignite our imaginations.
After he told us about himself, he started to introduce ghost stories into his presentation. The creepiest one described how a love-struck young Chinese man broke a promise to his sweetheart and discovered in horrific circumstances that she wasn’t the girl he thought- something much more gruesome! In fact, he refused to divulge the rest of the story for our benefit, assuring us, “You wouldn’t really want to know.”
I found this very interesting because I have always been fascinated by ghosts and the spiritual world. Julian spoke about how Shanghai was always illuminated and looked outstanding although he did mention that there were street gangs and how it was unbelievably dangerous. As Julian stated, "Don’t judge a book by its cover!"
Francesca B exited the room in complete joy stating that, “Julian was extremely humorous and interesting to watch!" Jake A walked out the room in utter shock commenting that, “his magic was unreal!”
I thought that Julian was a very interactive speaker because he invited members of the audience to join him on stage. Frankie was thrilled to be part of one of his magic tricks! Julian was very skilled at entertaining and informing the pupils. I would definitely recommend him to other schools of any age - he has the ability to inspire young people, not only to read but to become budding authors themselves!
Talking Talent: The Art of the Wordsmith
On Monday 6th February, a panel of local writers discussed how they have forged successful careers in journalism, writing, blogging, and performance poetry. Sixth Former Matilda reviewed the evening;
Monday’s ‘Talking Talent’ panel was an evening filled with thought-provoking questions and answers from four well-established writers.
Alice Audley, Editor-in-Chief of Blogosphere Magazine, told us how Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein inspired her passion for writing in her mid-teens and recounted writing an entire short story about an egg for the birthday of her sister. From tales of working for the Telegraph to how her alleged favourite character of David Copperfield, was, in fact, David (despite having never read the book), Audley was a pleasure to listen to and certainly opened the audience’s eyes to the world of journalism.
Performance poet and 2013 UK Slam Champion Sara Hirsch joined the panel, offering up a true level of insight as to how the worlds of poetry and the performing arts mix together to create a wonderful medium of expression. With readings from her debut publication of poems Still Falling, Hirsch offered a tantalising view into the life of a performance poet.
Self-confessed ‘full-time mum, full-time employment lawyer and full-time writer’, Hina Belitz retold how her potential was seen by an old primary school teacher, who inspired her to write in her spare time. Belitz’s debut novel Set Me Free is a testament to her talent and she proved a delightful addition to the panel.
Lucy Saxon, the fourth and final panellist of the night, spoke about how she came to writing through unfortunate circumstances, but ended up with a book deal at Bloomsbury Publishing (whose authors include the world-renowned J.K Rowling), all before she even turned 20 years old. Saxon’s experience of writing proved that if you were brave enough to, in her words, ‘stop playing with other people’s characters and start creating your own’, it could amount to something spectacular, with her Tellus series standing as evidence.
There could not have been a more appropriate name for this panel than ‘Talking Talent’; the writers on Monday night truly were living, breathing, talking embodiments of talent and certainly have had a lasting impression on me, as well as, I’m sure, the rest of the audience present that night.
A light-hearted evening of poetry and comedy with A.F. Harrold, as reviewed by Sixth Form student Barney
A.F. Harrold's sharp wit and excellent comedy helped to make this night a fantastic treat for all who attended. His poetry, although focused mostly for younger children, was a delight to hear and his speech further helped portray his rather unconventional poetic style through his dramatic delivery.
As well as this, his excellent speaking skills translated to a series of comical and well-spoken retorts to a number of crowd members in a series of heckle responses of which Jimmy Carr would be envious. Engagement with the audience in general was a prominent part of the evening; involvement with younger members of the audience gave him subject matter for a quick response and joke which he relished and embraced. He recited a number of poems written for a range of audiences, however was still able to engross all listening, even when performing a poem about eye tests and dogs having baths. His bubbly personality and aura of happiness helped to make this light-hearted evening of poetry one to remember!
With thanks to Hutton Construction Ltd for their generous support of this event
Dave Cornthwaite’ is an adventurer, author and blogger, whose passionate advocacy of the word ‘YES’ has led to countless adventures worldwide. Sixth Formers Louis and Conor reviewed his talk;
Having never heard of Dave Cornthwaite before the Festival of Literature, and having never enjoyed the pleasure of one of his books, I had no idea what to expect going into his presentation. All the information I had at hand was his name, his occupation and the word count for my review. As soon as Cornthwaite stepped onto the stage with a beaming smile across his face and a colourful PowerPoint projected behind him I knew that I, along with the rest of the audience, was in for a treat.
Cornthwaite’s presentation documented his story from being a highly unskilled graphic designer driven by his desire to spend his life contentedly playing video games all day to his introduction to the skateboard. From this moment on his life changed by deciding to skate the length of Great Britain and Australia and dedicating himself to “Expedition1000”, wherein he has promised to complete over 25 journeys around the world of over 1000 miles each on non-motorised transport, 11 of which he has already completed.
Cornthwaite has written three books, each of which revolve around his expeditions and this is where the literature aspect of the talk was incorporated, but the talk itself was not so much about writing or literature itself, but instead was about adventuring and embracing life, with his project, “Say Yes More” being the key concept and idea that he was trying to motivate the audience to seize.
As a speaker, Cornthwaite was enthusiastic and abundantly keen to tell his story, being a motivational speaker himself as opposed to someone who just tours to sell their book. He was professional and had mastered the art of enticing his audience and entertaining them for the full hour and more! In my opinion I thoroughly enjoyed listening to his presentation, and would recommend to anyone that they should attend one of his talks some time, or to visit his website in order to find out more about him.
If you missed his appearance at the festival, just remember one thing, ‘Say Yes More’!
Award-winning foreign correspondent Luke Harding discussed his work as an investigative journalist and writer of books such as WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy with Jason Cowley, Editor of The New Statesman. The evening was reviewed by Sixth Form student Maya;
“I’m going to investigate this until someone bashes me over the head”
I would assume, upon hearing this claim, that this was an exaggeration. I would assume it was a falsehood, an expression of commitment that will ultimately be reneged upon when the moment comes. One hour hearing from Luke Harding and Jason Cowley proved to me that it is possible to say this, and to truly mean it.
Harding, foreign correspondent to The Guardian, embodies the aspects of an ‘investigative journalist’. He has lived in cities such as Delhi and Moscow, has covered wars in the Middle East and received the James Cameron prize for his journalism (including writing about his investigations into WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden). Cowley, editor of the New Statesman and author, acted as Chair.
Harding started by talking through some of his research and experiences: the assassination of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko using radioactive polonium in London in 2006, and his work in Russia. Discussing extracts from his book, ‘A Very Expensive Poison’, and his experiences as a foreign journalist living in Putin’s Russia in (2007-11). What was remarkable to me, was the normalcy with which he described Bond-worthy episodes. The intimidation tactics of the Russian state including the bugging of his own apartment, the unwritten threats to his family members’ lives and his interview by the FSB (the Russian secret service) in the notorious Lefortovo prison in Moscow. Seemingly the stuff of the Cold-War-era which appeared to be a component of every-day existence for Harding, who told these stories with (at least undetectable) trepidation. Not only this, but his extensive research into Litvinenko’s murder was revealed to an incredulous audience in a captivating, often humourous, way, with Harding re-enacting with his own, hopefully non-radioactive, tea, Litvinenko’s last fateful sips.
The second half of the evening allowed for questions to be asked, with topics as general as Trump and as specific as the assassins’ rewards, and Cowley playing devil’s advocate and Trump defender. But it was in answer to the final question on the dangers of Trump’s disparagement of the press that brought out Harding’s passions as an investigative journalist, describing how these restrictions don’t discourage, but “energise” him to keep investigating and reporting. It’s this tenacity, along with his ability to communicate his research and passions in order to captivate and inform his audience, that shows he’s good at his job, and that makes me think not even a bash over the head could stop Harding.
Sixth Form student Ella reviewed Nicola Morgan's educational talk on teenage stress and how to manage it.
With an audience full of a mixture of both parents and teenagers, Nicola Morgan clearly conveyed to us that ‘understanding is more than half the answer’ to managing teenage stress. I came away from the talk with a huge insight into the reasons and remedies for the stress that so many teenagers experience.
Nicola outlined nine different things that families should know, three of which really stood out to me; the importance of sleep, reading and the destruction social media is having on our wellbeing.
Managing stress as a teenager is crucial, high self-esteem, sufficient energy levels and maintaining concentration all come from managing stress, which is guaranteed to make teenagers more productive at school, consequently decreasing some of their stresses and worries. I am adamant that having Nicola come and relay her expert opinions and advice will have benefited the homes of many Bishop’s Stortford families and Year 10 will be very lucky to have her talk further to them in Thursday’s PSHE session this week!
Joanne Harris discussed her latest novel, Different Class, at the 2017 Festival of Literature. The event was reviewed by Sixth Form student Hetty;
Having already read some of Joanne Harris’s novels, including ‘Different Class’ for the Sixth Form book club, I had high expectations for her visit to the College for the Festival of Literature. She surpassed them.
The evening began with the reading of an extract by Joanne from ‘Different Class’. The book is set in St Oswald’s Grammar School, a place that could be viewed as not too dissimilar to our own, with teachers wearing capes to assembly, returning to teach after their childhood days and ultimately staying for the rest of their lives. Joanne took inspiration for this setting from the school where she worked for 15 years before the success of her novel ‘Chocolat’ which went on to become a successful film starring Johnny Depp. Her success was despite the warnings of her mother that writers ‘end up in the gutter with syphilis’ (advice we are all very glad she ignored). The reading was followed by questions from the Sixth Form panel; a group I was lucky enough to be included in, who posed the many questions we had in response to our previous readings. These were met by the thought-provoking and erudite answers from Joanne, which simultaneously proved highly humorous - to me the mark of a wonderful writer.
Joanne ended the evening with some advice for budding writers that I know I, and I’m sure many of the audience no matter what their age, will have taken away with them, “Do not fear the page; a page can only ever be a page if you do not pen the story.”
Our annual reading competition for Senior School pupils made a return appearance this year, with confident readings from all ages groups. We were proud to welcome Roger McGough to judge the readings.
The Bishop’s Stortford College annual ‘Literature Live’ event was once again a thoroughly enjoyable evening. The level of talent was, as always, very high, with all of the contestants and teams participating fully. Roger McGough, poet and voice of Radio 4’s ‘Poetry Please’, acted as judge and emphasised the difficulty of selecting a winner. The Fourth Form entertained us first with stories and poems about growing old, the difficulties of the classroom environment and clever medical wordplay, but it was Anya’s (Tee House) confident reading of ‘Jim’ by Hilaire Belloc that took first prize.
Tee were again victorious in the intermediate round with an emotive performance by Isobel F, Demilade S, Anna B, Heather C and Grace L of Sarah Kay’s ‘If I should have a daughter’, but their competition was again fierce, with other performances covering the adventures of creative writing, education and revamped fairytales.
Lastly, the Sixth Form beguiled us with their readings, dramatic and heartfelt performances about the dangers of love, lust and spellcheck, with Ryan L (Collett House) and his hilarious reading of ‘The The Impotence of Proofreading’ by Taylor Mali winning in this category. This ended a delightful evening displaying a wide array of talent, which the contestants hopefully enjoyed as much as the audience.
Roger McGough is one of the leading lights of British poetry for children and adults alike. Sixth Form student Alexandra reviewed his evening of poetry at the Festival of Literature.
On Thursday night the buzzing Festival of Literature audience was delighted to receive the well renowned Liverpudlian children’s poet and BBC Poetry Please presenter, Roger McGough. As I hadn’t heard a full range McGough’s poetry before, I was apprehensive of what to expect from the dubbed ‘Patron Saint of Poetry’. But we were given an evening of hilarity and deep thought as he lead us through a journey of poems aimed at both the younger audience as well as the adults that filled the theatre.
Whilst McGough managed to get everyone in laughter in the first minute of being onstage, my personal favourite poem read was the very simple poem called Recycling- ‘I care about the environment. And try to do what is right. So I cycle to work every morning. And recycle home every night’. Where the audience was expecting a humorous poem with a deeper meaning about the environment, McGough pulled out this very quick poem and had the audience in stitches. With poems ranging from describing the first day back at school to It’s a Jungle Out There which had the audience really thinking about worldwide issues.
A really comical evening which gave across some meaningful messages within McGough’s poems, as well as giving the audience witty and quirky poetry readings. He engaged the audience at every point, even giving the younger members a chance to voice their opinions in his poem introductions. It was a great way to end the week and I hope that Mc Gough well be welcomed back for another year to the Festival of Literature.