Festival of Literature 2018

We welcomed a fantastic line up of authors, illustrators, storytellers and adventurers to our 9th Festival of Literature, between Thursday 1st - Thursday 8th February.  Luckily the Festival is not quite over yet as we look forward to welcoming architectural historian and BBC television presenter Dan Cruickhank on Saturday 24th February.  Dan's visit was moved from the week of the Festival due to a prolonged investigative trip to historic sites in Syria.

Dan cruickshank updated poster 

Tickets are still available but are disappearing fast, so be quick if you would like to hear first-hand about the state of Palmyra and other sites in war-torn Syria.  Please click here for tickets.  We are grateful to Taylor's Service Centres for sponsoring this event.

Ferguson Lecture Theatre
Saturday 24th February
7.30pm – 8.30pm
Tickets £12

Suitable for all the family.

You can read all about the Festival of Literature events here:

James Mayhew and the College Orchestra

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Illustrator, artist and college favourite, James Mayhew launched the 2018 Festival of Literature with a unique union of the arts; painting live to music performed by the Bishop’s Stortford College Orchestra and Choirs.   College pupil Inez performed in the Orchestra on the night:

Our guest, James Mayhew, explained how performing art accompanied by various music ensembles inspires him to create pieces which not only reflect the music but the story behind them and how the music makes him feel.  As a member of the orchestra, it was interesting to be performing alongside Mayhew as I could see how detailed and intricate the paintings were.

As he drew while the College Orchestra played pieces such as Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from Verdi’s opera Nabucco, he remarkably achieved a wonderful piece of art within the period of time the music took, conveying what the music was about and the mood of the piece using appropriate colours.

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I and many others found his paintings, Mountains in Russia and London Bridge, especially impressive and were taken aback by the sheer simplicity of how he created a monumental place in a few gentle brush strokes.  My favourite piece of his art was a painting of a night sky in Venice, featuring punters and the moon’s reflection on the water. The use of colour beautifully complemented June, from Tchaikovsky’s Seasons, played by our very own music teacher, Señor Nunez.

This particular piece created a calm and peaceful atmosphere among the audience and allowed them to relax and enjoy the experience, knowing that whatever Mayhew created after the drawing was finished was going to be remarkable.

After the orchestra’s final performance, Mayhew auctioned his paintings, which went down very successfully, proving that they were truly appreciated by the audience. Overall, it was a wonderful evening which demonstrated that both genres can work together so beautifully. I look forward to next year’s event and hope Mayhew returns for a fourth time to show how music and art can have such a mesmerising impact on viewers of all age.

Inez P

Thank you to Savills for sponsoring this event. Savills logo

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Gyles Brandreth

Festival of Literature event Gyles Brandreth 2018 Gyles Brandreth sold out event at Festival of Literature

On Saturday 3rd February we welcomed the fantastically funny Gyles Brandreth, former MP and Government Whip, regular on Just A Minute and longest surviving member of the Countdown team.  As you can from College pupil Imogen's review below, Gyles entertained his audience from start to finish:

Gyles Brandreth entertains at Festival of LiteratureWatching Gyles Brandreth leap up on stage was impressive for a man who is almost 70.  At that point, at the start of his appearance at the Bishop’s Stortford College Festival of Literature on Saturday evening, I really did not know what to expect. I thought it might be heavily political, as he was once a Tory MP, but, in fact, this was merely a backdrop to his effervescent prose.  He amused his audience for 90 minutes and took us on eloquent and humorous journeys through his many interactions with, and observations of, people and life.

He regaled the audience with his story of euphemisms for going to the loo; for example, take a whizz, visit the ladies, go to the bathroom et cetera. Therefore, he was delighted when he shadowed the Queen and Prince Philip for a few days to find that the Queen takes ‘an opportunity to tidy’.

Often, Mr Brandreth sailed close to the wind and touched on recent events such as equality for women, equal pay and harassment. Then he told us how he knew his good friend, the actor Donald Sinden, would be so glad to be here instead of him, particularly because it would mean that he would still be alive!

He shared many anecdotes about language and gave us top tips on how to always speak clearly and how he was proud to have an Oxford accent. He reminded us of the importance of how we present ourselves, instructing us always to adjust our posture and to remember that words have power and can change our meanings.

He recalled how he once interviewed the famous writer, Kingsley Amis, who opened the door and told him he had just hit his son with a hammer. The Telegraph, at the time, went to press with this news, only to be put straight by Amis’ publicist, who explained that he had in fact hit his thumb with a hammer. Therefore, we must enunciate clearly and not mumble.

I was surprised that I enjoyed this evening quite so much and my words of the night were ‘relish’, ‘discombobulated’ and ‘euphemisms’.

Imogen D

We are very grateful to Novo Contractors for sponsoring this event  Novo logo

Literature Live 2018

Individual performances

The Senior School reading competition Literature Live is always one of the highlights of the Festival of Literature. Each year sees stirring performances across all age groups, with fierce competition between the Houses, and this year was no different, as you can read in the following review by Upper 5th pupil Elizabeth: 

Having participated in the House Reading Competition annually since Fourth Form, I anticipated 2018’s Literature Live to be a night encompassing powerful poetry, moments of communal laughter and others of captivated silence - I was not disappointed.

Ian mcmillan judging literature liveIan McMillan, nicknamed the “bard of Barnsley”, was our charismatic judge. He is a poet, writer, playwright and saviour of dialect - especially that of his native south Yorkshire - best known as presenter of “The Verb” on BBC Radio 3. On Monday, Mr McMillan expressed his passion for spoken words commending all entrants on their use of tone, commanding stage presence and, in one instance, writing skills as Simrhan Khetani read an original poem. 

Despite all the fantastic readings, only one entry could win in each category: 

In Fourth Form, Eric from RPH won with, “I Must Not Tease Rebecca Grimes” by Dave Crawley, due to excellent comedic timing, highlighted by Mr McMillan.  

In the group category for Lower and Upper Fifth, Harry B, Joshua C-S, Tom W, Tom P-M and Freddie C from Sutton House won with “59” by Harry Baker. Although there was occasional groaning following some mathematical puns, the audience enjoyed the unconventional love story between “59” and “61”. Ian McMillan admired how the boys relayed the narrative via fluidity of lines. 

Groups in literature live 2018

I found the Sixth Form round was of a particularly high calibre - rather tough to judge - but ultimately, Young House student Simrhan's own “Wake Up Humanity” won. Ian McMillan praised the originality of her poem, commenting, “People who write these sorts of poems tend to stick in a bunch of abstract nouns; you haven't.” Indeed, I found her use of shocking statistics spotlighted the scale of current global issues - inspiring me to research how individuals could contribute to resolve them. 

Literature live senior performers

Congratulations to the winners and well done to all participants. We look forward to Literature Live 2019!

Sutton House with Ian McMillan Literature Live 2018 Literature live winners 

Elizabeth, Upper 5th

Ian McMillan

Ian McMillan speaking at Festival of Literature Ian mcmillan event at Festival of Literature

Ian McMillan - poet, author and presenter of The Verb on BBC Radio 3 entertained an Open Event audience on Monday 5th February. College pupil Sam describes this hugely enjoyable event:

Funny, witty, bonkers: All words that come to mind as I write this review of poet Ian McMillan’s performance. When I first walked in, I expected someone a bit taller than the person I saw handing out postcards at the start. What he lacked in height, however, he made up for in sheer jolliness and humour.  After pointing out that he was pleased to see a “younger one” in the audience (me!), he discussed some of the Ian McMillan at Festival of Literaturefunniest signs he had come across in village halls around the country. He continued in this fashion for almost 30 minutes and never seemed to pause for breath, nor let the audience either, for the laughter never ceased.

He then proceeded to tell hilarious anecdotes behind some of his poems, such as his Uncle Jack and his infamous rubber tarts.  With this humour, however, came a very important message for the younger generations. A strong advocate for language and poems, McMillan believes everyone can write poems, even if they think they cannot. It is this message that I believe is imperative for the younger generations, to expose their inherent creativity.

It is also with this message that I acknowledge the demographic of the audience. For a wonderfully witty man with such a powerful message, there were all of two people below 18. I implore younger people either to follow his message or find a way to see him – you will not be disappointed.

Ian McMillan signs off with a question time, and was asked if he would ever write a novel. He replied: “No, I don’t have the intellectual capacity for that.” From what I saw from his performance in Bishop’s Stortford, I wholeheartedly disagree.

All in all, this was a brilliantly packed hour led by one of the funniest people I have ever met.

Sam G

The Bishop's Stortford Picture Book Award

Following the voting in which 16 local schools took part, we are pleased to announce the results of the ninth Bishop’s Stortford Picture Book Award as follows:

3rd Place: Dogger (the 40th anniversary edition) by Shirley Hughes.

Dogger book cover

2nd Place: Kevin by Rob Biddulph


And the winner, voted favourite by 12 schools:

1st Place: Bathroom Boogie by Clare Foges and Al Murphy.

Bathroom boogie

This is a second win for this partnership. Their previous book Kitchen Disco also won the Picture Book Award two years ago. Many congratulations.

Martin Brown, illustrator of Horrible Histories announced our winner after an hour in the company of the shortlisted authors and illustrators who introduced a cast of pigs, wolves, grannies, cats, frogs and a rather dim dog. The audience learned to draw Kevin, an imaginary friend and boogied on down to the Bathroom Boogie. Everyone had a whale of a time and are eagerly anticipating the 10th anniversary event.

Sixteen local schools in Hertfordshire and Essex took part and over three and a half thousand votes were cast. Any other local schools who wish to take part next year are invited to get in touch.

Maggie Garrett, Senior School Librarian said, “It was lovely to meet local primary schools involved for the first time this year as well as the stalwarts who have been with us since day one. This event just keeps on growing, and the picture book choice just gets better and better too. We have some of the best illustrators and writers in the country coming to this event and it was great to see three previous winners returning.”

Picture Book Award Shortlisted Authors

The 2018 Bishop's Stortford Picture Book Award was generously sponsored by Tees. Tees logo small

Martin Brown

Martin Brown at Festival of Literature

How do we draw? From cave painting to the Dutch Masters to the present day - Martin Brown, illustrator of Horrible Histories, took his audience on a rollicking ride through drawing history on Wednesday 7th February, persuading us that we can all draw.  College pupil Harrriet enjoyed meeting Martin:

One of the headliners at the Bishop’s Stortford College Literature Festival this year was Martin Brown, the celebrated illustrator of the popular Horrible Histories series. Brown’s art style exudes energy and humour, qualities which he also possessed in his talk, often having the audience laughing.

Martin brown festival of literature eventBrown started off by telling us some “plain horrible” and some “horribly inconvenient” facts, much like those found in the Horrible Histories books. He got the audience involved, rallying young volunteers to re-enact the famous ‘British’ victory at Waterloo, which turned out to be a very German victory; a fact that we found very amusing!

The majority of his talk focused on how anyone can draw. He explored styles of art though history, showing us how they were not always accurate, but were still considered as “great” art. It was the impact of the Renaissance, which encouraged accurate anatomical drawings, that has influenced how we perceive art today – usually considering the more accurate art to be better. But Brown was keen to strongly emphasise that you do not have to draw realistically to be able to draw brilliantly. He referenced many other great illustrators such as Axel Scheffler (The Gruffalo) and Nick Sharratt (Tracy Beaker) as key examples.

Lesser spotted animals characterBrown’s new book, “Lesser Spotted Animals”, is a non-fiction book that spotlights unusual animals, some of which are endangered. For example, the Southern Right Whale Dolphin and the Dagger Toothed Flower Bat.  Bet you have never heard of those! Brown is also planning a sequel, as he feels it is important to bring to young people’s attention these unusual animals, in order to protect them from extinction. One of my highlights of the night was when he taught us how to draw a Solenodon – one of the few poisonous mammals on the planet. He finished with the poignant words: “with drawings you can do anything”.

His talk truly inspired me not to stop drawing, even with A levels this year, as “drawing is joy”. I highly recommend his new book and seeing him live, if you have the opportunity.

By Harriet G

Thank you to Simpsons Creative for their sponsorship of this event.

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Sarah Outen

Festival of Literature talk by Sarah Outen

Adventurer, author and motivational speaker Sarah Outen MBE came to the College on Tuesday 6th February, speaking to Upper 5th pupils in the afternoon and addressing an Open Event audience in the evening.  College pupil Victoria was there to hear, and be inspired by, Sarah's amazing story:

Exhilarating, emotional and hilarious. Three words to describe Sarah Outen’s discussion about her many adventures. Her engaging, humorous style made sure that Sarah Outen speaking at the Festival of Literaturethe younger members of her audience could understand the sometimes tough topics that she was discussing, such as fear and depression.  Her stories focused on her amazing times rowing, kayaking and cycling around much of the world, which in itself is an incredible feat, not least because she achieved it solo. However her talk often held wider themes and allowed me to think about the role of fear and how it’s normal to have ‘butterflies in your tummy’, or as Sarah put it, ‘elephants’.

Fear was a natural part of her journey, especially fear of the unknown, but it was often outweighed by the spectacular things that she experienced. Her courage and resilience are a lesson to all of us, not just in beginning an adventure but in our daily lives too and I, for one, will not forget the emotion with which she spoke about the people she encountered on her journey.  This was punctuated by a humorous story about her experience of Russia and the amount of vodka consumed. It was clear that she felt strongly attached to the people that had helped her, but what most clearly struck me was her description of a young Chinese man called, Gao, who joined her on her journey. Gao symbolises all of us, starting out with noting and ending with the exhilarating feeling of having achieved something incredible. Finally I think that her ability to hold an audience was so clearly shown by the fact that by the end of the talk, almost every person in the hall stayed behind to buy her book and to get it signed. I also bought one, have begun reading it and I am hooked!

Victoria J

Thank you to Taylor's Service Centres for sponsoring this inspirational event.

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Chris Whitaker

Chris Whitaker chatting to students at Festival of Literature

Local author Chris Whitaker was our headline event on Wednesday 7th February.  The award-winning writer chatted to the Sixth Form Book Group, who had recently read his book All The Wicked Girls and were delighted to meet Chris in person. Chris then hosted the Open Event, as described here by College pupil Heather:

On Wednesday, the Festival of Literature welcomed author and ex financial trader gone rogue, Chris Whitaker, to talk about his recent crime fiction thriller, All the Wicked Girls.  Set in the dysfunctional small town of Grace, Alabama, the novel explores the “Briar Girls” case about the abduction of young Christian girls by the illusive “Birdman”. Whether it is the novel’s complex and detailed network of characters, or his thought-provoking approach on religion within the Deep South, the locals of Bishop’s Stortford seemed to engage with Whitaker immediately. What most people wanted to know is how Whitaker managed to effortlessly intertwine the intricate southern dialect into the narrative of his novel, having not even visited this area of America before: through online dialect tutorials it seems.

Chris Whitaker on stage for Festival of LiteratureA panel of Bishop’s Stortford College A - level English students conducted the majority of the interview, before finishing the session with an array of questions from the floor. The overall discussion seemed to include a mixture of hypothetical character debates, as well as practical conversation concerning the realities of authorship, all of which Whitaker handled in an enjoyably humorous and friendly manner.

However, the most interesting part of the evening had to be Whitaker’s advice to “aspiring authors” which highlighted the need for balance between the expertise of the publisher and the creative flare of the author, as well as the importance of completing the first draft before the editing process commences. Such advice, I find, cannot come without first hand experience within the industry and is almost unattainable within the classroom.

What I also walked away with from this evening was a sense of inspiration. Whitaker’s sudden transformation, from financial trader to established author, reminds me that writing is not simply reserved for the ‘writers’. Instead writing remains free for everyone who has something to say.   

By Heather C

We are grateful to Simpsons Creative for sponsoring this event.Simpsons creative logo smaller

Laura Bates in Conversation with Hina Belitz

Laura Bates in Conversation with Hina Belitz

On Thursday 8th February, feminist activist, author and journalist Laura Bates shared her thoughts on Everyday Sexism in an interview with local lawyer and author Hina Belitz. Laura Bates is the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, an ever-increasing collection of over 100,000 testimonies of gender inequality and writes for The Guardian newspaper.  College pupil Lucy was at the event:

It seems fitting that on the centenary of female suffrage one of the main attractions for this year’s Festival of Literature were two inspiring women speaking on feminism.

The evening commenced with Hina Belitz, a successful employment lawyer, asking Laura Bates, a well-known activist, as to why she started the ‘Everyday Sexism Project’.  Her response – simply the sheer number of women who have been sexually harassed.  This raises the question as to whether sexual harassment has become a part of being a woman.

Laura Bates at the Festival of LiteratureBates went on to stun her audience with numerous statistics illustrating not only the level of sexual harassment in the UK today but also the amount of inequality and discrimination that still prevails.  For example, 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence, 85,000 women are raped per year and just 1/3 of all Parliament members are female.  

Topics such as everyday sexism, the unconscious bias, discrimination against women in the workplace, pressures on the younger generation, online trolls, the media’s representation of women and how to appropriately parent “a generation of digital natives” – were all covered.

Yet between the statistics, shocking anecdotes and extracts from Bates’ book, “Girl Up”, there were laughs shared between the audience, sometimes just because of the utter ridiculousness of what we were hearing. Whatever the reason, it seemed clear that the talk had captured us all - male and female.

I left the talk feeling enlightened, having learnt so much about what it means to be a feminist, how to try to tackle sexual harassment and more importantly to not treat sexism as the norm.

In a society where feminism is often stigmatised and many still use the argument that girls are ‘asking for it’ when they have been raped, I only hope that activists such as Laura Bates continue to fight for equality.

By Lucy B

Our thanks to Delta2020 for their generous sponsorship of ths event.   Delta logo

Schools Events

College pupils and pupils from local schools like enjoyed meeting a wide range of authors during this year's Festival of Literature, each author offering something different. Here is an overview of the authors who met with pupils from the College and local schools between Friday 2nd and Thursday  8th February:

Friday 2nd February

Jeanne Willis, one of the UK's biggest names in picture books, met with Shell pupils in the morning and Year 3 pupils in the afternoon.

Monday 5th February

Margaret Bateson-Hill, a talented storyteller and author, entertained Pre-Prep and Form 1 pupils and local Year 1 and 2 pupils with origami and stories from her books.

Bestselling children's mystery writer Robin Stevens read from her books and shared writing tips with Form 2, Lower Third and local Year 6 pupils.

Tuesday 6th February

Performance poet Joseph Coelho captivated pupils with poems and stories in the Pre-Prep and the Prep School.  His visit in the Pre-Prep coincided with the pupils dressing up as their favourite book characters, making it an extra special day.

The adventurous and daring fantasy author Marcus Alexander inspired both Lower and Upper Third pupils with his "cool" style as he encouraged them to write and shared writing tips. In the afternoon, Marcus met with local Year 7 and 8 pupils.

Thursday 8th February

Jo Cotterill engaged pupils in Form 1 and 2 and local Year 4 pupils with stories about superhero Electrigirl, while the final author of the week, Laura Bates, stimulated Lower and Upper Thirds with her accounts of Everyday Sexism.