Cambridge Literary Festival – Winter Festival Online | @camlitfest

The Cambridge Literary Festival – Winter Festival Online

After being invited by Alison at the Cambridge Literary Festival to spread the word about the Winter Festival being fully online this year I was given access, with many thanks to the CLF, to the Festival.

I posted about the Festival here on my blog although most of the activity was through social media on Twitter. I thought it would be good to highlight the Winter Festival Online events that I attended.

What I watched

Stations Without Signs: Dame Gillian Beer in conversation with Alex Clark: 17 Nov, 6.30pm

What a lovely session this was! Stations Without Signs is a memoir of a specific period in Dame Gillian’s life which included her evacuation during the war. She told the story of a young lad with whom she was at school, amongst other memories, which was incredibly moving and immediately made me not only want to go and buy the book but find out more of this fascinating and delightful person.

FROM THE PUBLISHER (Hazel Press): A few days after her eighty-sixth birthday, Gillian Beer decided to write a few fragments about her childhood in England just before and during World War II. As is her custom, she applies her precise and inquisitive nature to recall that time with the fullness of sensory memory, rather than as history as an abstract. ‘Uneasy memories stay folded. Some unfold like a sad story listened to, which implants experience never received directly’. Beer’s writing takes us from her early life, almost to the present day when she discovers previously unknown close relatives that cast light into the time and tides of her remarkable life and career.

Author: Dame Gillian Beer was educated at St Anne’s College, Oxford. A Fellow at Girton College, Cambridge, between 1965 and 1994, Gillian Beer began lecturing at Cambridge in 1966 and became Reader in Literature and Narrative in 1971. She was made Professor of English in 1989 and in 1994 became King Edward VII Professor of English Literature and President of Clare Hall at Cambridge. She is a Fellow of the British Academy and a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Her books include Darwin’s Plots: Evolutionary Narrative in Darwin, George Eliot and Nineteenth-Century Fiction (1983, 2nd edition 2000) and Virginia Woolf: the Common Ground (1996).

You can buy Stations Without Signs at LBR, the Festival bookshop, or at your local bookshop. (published by Hazel Press : 23 September 2021 | ISBN: 9781838081690 | Paperback)

Sterling Karat Gold: Isabel Waidner in conversation with Kamila Shamsie: 18 Nov, 8pm

From what it feels like to live in the U.K. to the amazing and award winning Karat Gold Sterling the conversation with Isabel Waidner and Kamila Shamsie is charming, funny, earnest and fascinating making this a book to seek out and it’s author someone to keep at the top of your ‘authors to follow’ list.


Sterling is arrested one morning without having done anything wrong. Plunged into a terrifying and nonsensical world, Sterling – with the help of their three best friends – must defy bullfighters, football players and spaceships in order to exonerate themselves and to hold the powers that be to account.

Sterling Karat Gold is Kafka’s The Trial written for the era of gaslighting – a surreal inquiry into the real effects of state violence on gender-nonconforming, working-class and black bodies.

Following the Goldsmiths Prize–nominated We Are Made of Diamond Stuff, Isabel Waidner’s latest novel proposes community, inventiveness and the stubborn refusal to lie low as antidotes against marginalisation and towards better futures.

Author: Isabel Waidner is a writer and academic. They are the author of three novels: Sterling Karat Gold (2021), We Are Made of Diamond Stuff (2019) and Gaudy Bauble (2017). They are the winner of the Goldsmiths Prize 2021, and were shortlisted for both, the Republic of Consciousness Prize (twice) and the Goldsmiths Prize in 2019. They are a co-founder of the event series Queers Read This at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, and the programmer and presenter of This Isn’t a Dream, a fortnightly literary talk show, also hosted by the ICA via Instagram live.

The Last Train to Gypsy Hill: Alan Johnson in conversation with Alex Clark: 20 Nov, 12.30pm

In this conversation with Alex Clark about his debut novel The Last Train to Gypsy Hill Alan Johnson about how he decided to write a crime fiction novel, why it was set in London, life today and more. A politician, now retired, Alan Johnson comes across as an amiable and happy man.

The DEBUT novel by Alan Johnson – An implicitly British and warm-hearted thriller.

Gary Nelson has a routine for the commute to his rather dull job in the city. Each day, he watches transfixed as a beautiful woman on the train applies her make up in a ritual he now knows by heart. Then one evening, on the late train to Gipsy Hill, the woman who has beguiled him for so long, invites him to take the empty seat beside her.

From that moment, Gary’s life is turned on its head. He finds himself on the run from the Russian mafia, the FSB and even the Metropolitan Police – all because of what because this mysterious young woman may have witnessed…

Author: Alan Johnson served in the Blair and Brown government’s as Work and Pensions Secretary, Trade and Industry Secretary, Education Secretary, Health Secretary and Home Secretary. Having left school aged 15 and failed in his attempts to become a rock star, he joined the Post Office as a postman and became a local official of the Union Of Post Office Workers rising through the ranks to eventually become the Union’s youngest ever General Secretary in 1992. Five years later he became the Member of Parliament for Hull West and Hessle, a position he held through five general elections standing down when the 2017 election was called.

Memoirs – experience his life in the slums Kensington during the post-war 50’s through to reaching one of the highest offices of State. His childhood memoir ‘This Boy’ was published by Bantam Press on 9th May 2013. It won the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize, and the Orwell Prize, Britain’s top political writing award. His second volume of memoirs. ‘Please Mr Postman’, was published in September 2014 and won the National Book Club award for Best Biography. The final book in his memoir trilogy, ‘The Long and winding Road’, was published in September 2016 and won the Parliamentary Book Award for Best Memoir. On 20th September 2018 his book, ‘In My Life – A Music Memoir’ was launched at Studio 2, Abbey Road where the Beatles made almost all of their records.

Alan retired as an MP before the 2017 general election after 20 years as an MP. He and his wife Carolyn live in East Yorkshire.

Orwell’s Roses: Rebecca Solnit and James Rebanks: 20 Nov, 3.30pm

A wonderful conversation and a book that should be on everyone’s list from Orwell fans to lovers of gardening and everyone in between – all will enjoy Orwell’s Roses.

REBECCA SOLNIT… an independent writer since 1988.

Outside my work the thing I care most about is gardening

– George Orwell

Inspired by her encounter with the surviving roses that Orwell is said to have planted in his cottage in Hertfordshire, Rebecca Solnit explores how his involvement with plants, particularly flowers, illuminates his other commitments as a writer and antifascist, and the intertwined politics of nature and power.

Following his journey from the coal mines of England to taking up arms in the Spanish Civil War; from his prescient critique of Stalin to his analysis of the relationship between lies and authoritarianism, Solnit finds a more hopeful Orwell, whose love of nature pulses through his work and actions. And in her dialogue with the author, she makes fascinating forays into colonial legacies in the flower garden, discovers photographer Tina Modotti’s roses, reveals Stalin’s obsession with growing lemons in impossibly cold conditions, and exposes the brutal rose industry in Colombia.

A fresh reading of a towering figure of the 20th century which finds solace and solutions for the political and environmental challenges we face today, Orwell’s Roses is a remarkable reflection on pleasure, beauty, and joy as acts of resistance.

Author: Writer, historian, and activist Rebecca Solnit is the author of more than twenty books on feminism, western and indigenous history, popular power, social change and insurrection, wandering and walking, hope and disaster, including Whose Story Is This?, Call Them By Their True Names (Winner of the 2018 Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction), Cinderella Liberator, Men Explain Things to Me, The Mother of All Questions, and Hope in the Dark, and co-creator of the City of Women map, all published by Haymarket Books; a trilogy of atlases of American cities, The Faraway Nearby, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster, A Field Guide to Getting Lost, Wanderlust: A History of Walking, and River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West (for which she received a Guggenheim, the National Book Critics Circle Award in criticism, and the Lannan Literary Award). Her forthcoming memoir, Recollections of My Nonexistence, is scheduled to release in March, 2020. A product of the California public education system from kindergarten to graduate school, she is a columnist at the Guardian and a regular contributor to Literary Hub.

Barbara Hepworth – Art & Life (forward: Ali Smith) by Eleanor Clayton: 21 Nov, 12.30pm

I enjoyed this conversation with Eleanor Clayton, which I watched retrospectively, who seeks to pull Hepworth out of the shadow of her male contemporaries and show her as the important twentieth century artist that she was. Her book is the first cradle-to-grave account with access to Hepworth’s papers.

Forward by Ali Smith

Barbara Hepworth is one of the most important artists of the 20th century, yet she has been the subject of relatively few monographs in comparison to her male counterparts. This biography moves beyond the traditional narratives of modernism, truth to materials, and the landscape to provide a penetrating insight into Hepworth’s remarkable life, work and legacy.

Barbara Hepworth was reproached for single-mindedness in her lifetime, with critics and commentators framing both the artist and her work as ‘cool and restrained’. A continued focus on her modernist abstract sculpture of the 1930s and its relation to her male contemporaries has left vast swathes of her work and related passions overlooked. This fully illustrated biography reflects for the first time Hepworth’s multi-faceted, interdisciplinary and networked approach, shedding light as never before on her interests in music, dance, poetry, contemporary politics, science and technology; her engagement with these fields through friends and networks as well as her artistic practice; and the ways in which she synthesized sometimes seemingly conflicting disciplines and ideas into one coherent and inspirational philosophy of art and life.

With 178 illustrations

Author: Eleanor Clayton is Curator at The Hepworth Wakefield and a Barbara Hepworth specialist. As Assistant Curator: Exhibitions and Displays at Tate Liverpool (2010-14), she curated displays around Hepworth’s work and contributed to the Tate’s Hepworth Research Forum in the development of the exhibition ‘Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture for a Modern World’ at Tate Britain in 2015. Ali Smith is one of Britain’s leading contemporary novelists.

In the Dream House: Carmen Maria Machado in conversation with Marina Scott: Fri 19 Nov 2021, 8:00pm

In this engaging conversation with Carmen Maria Machado, which I watched retrospectively, was a wonderful display of the strength of an author to write about a very difficult period in their personal life in order to fully move on and be able to write freely about the things that are now more important to them. The conversation was far from being morose and is well worth watching. A harrowing time but sharing this experience seems to be as much to help those in similar situations as to be a cathartic process for the author. The book sounds amazing.

The fleeting image of a woman triggers memories of an abusive relationship, leaving a grieving speaker to reflect on the painful necessity of separation, in this hauntingly beautiful poem by Marina Scott.

Winner of the Rathbones Folio Prize 2021

In the Dream House is Carmen Maria Machado’s engrossing and wildly innovative account of a relationship gone bad. Tracing the full arc of a harrowing experience with a charismatic but volatile woman, this is a bold dissection of the mechanisms and cultural representations of psychological abuse.
Each chapter views the relationship through a different lens, as Machado holds events up to the light and examines them from distinct angles. She casts a critical eye over legal proceedings, fairy tales, Star Trek and Disney villains, as well as iconic works of film and fiction, infusing all with her characteristic wit, playfulness and openness to enquiry. The result is a powerful book that explodes our ideas about what a memoir can do and be.

Author: Carmen Maria Machado’s debut short story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, was a finalist for the National Book Award and the winner of the Bard Fiction Prize, the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction, the Brooklyn Public Library Literature Prize, the Shirley Jackson Award, and the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Prize. In 2018, the New York Times listed Her Body and Other Parties as a member of “The New Vanguard,” one of “15 remarkable books by women that are shaping the way we read and write fiction in the 21st century.”

Her essays, fiction, and criticism have appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, Granta, Harper’s Bazaar, Tin House, VQR, Conjunctions, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, The Believer, Guernica, Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy, Best American Nonrequired Reading, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and has been awarded fellowships and residencies from the Guggenheim Foundation, Michener-Copernicus Foundation, Elizabeth George Foundation, CINTAS Foundation, Yaddo, Hedgebrook, and the Millay Colony for the Arts. She is the Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania and lives in Philadelphia with her wife.

Carmen Maria Machado Website

CLF Player

Access the Cambridge Literary Festival archive with over 120 hours of audio and video recordings of past events with the worlds best authors.

CLF Player lets you can catch up on festivals, one-off events, book Club and podcasts. On any device from anywhere in the world, whenever you like for only £10 a year. New content is added every month.

Official Bookshop

All the books mentioned here and all those included in the Winter Festival Online can be obtained from LRB in person or via their website. Alternatively, from your local independent bookshop or from

One Comment on “Cambridge Literary Festival – Winter Festival Online | @camlitfest

  1. I really liked Carmen Maria Machado’s conversation and have just finished reading her book, which I finally felt brave enough to read after hearing her talk. Alan Johnson also comes across as a genial character.

    Liked by 1 person


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