http://www.pzlitfest.co.uk/events/ Well what fun!
I must confess that fellow BookEater Rachel and I have been gorging ourselves at this year’s Penzance literary fest. We decided that for starters, and in order to work up an appetite huge enough to cope with all the delicious offerings that followed, we’d better begin with a good walk – and a good walk was exactly what we got.
We gathered with a handful of others – both locals and visitors outside the Acorn at 6pm on a sunny evening. Our guide was the knowledgeable and entertaining Anna McClary who speaks with a charming lisping Germanic accent. Anna had clearly spent much time researching in the archives and journals of the amazing private but public Morrab Library (anyone can join for £3 per day or £30 py) that is a treasure trove of local knowledge.
Opposite the Acorn is the picturesque Phoenix House. Once the Registrar’s Office for Penzance it was here that Dylan Thomas finally managed, on the third attempt, to marry Caitlin – the two earlier intended visits had been abandoned in favour of drinking. Anna read Thomas’ poem ‘The hand that signed the Paper’ which seemed most appropriate in this week of Brexit fall-out.
We strolled through the quaint footlanes of central Penzance towards the Art School and alongside the leafy, almost hidden gardens of the tall pastel houses that have been home to so many writers, painters, musicians, poets, actors and artists. We traced the streets and paths that feature in Patrick Gale’s novel ‘Notes from an Exhibition’ and stood gazing at blue, white and pink houses wondering if it was this house or that he was picturing as he wrote of Rachel’s studio. Anna skilfully handed out photographs of old Penzance and read poems and snippets from other writers while casually throwing out comments such as “Of course Morwenna’s first attempt at suicide was in the lido” as we admired the sight of the wonderful art-deco Jubilee swimming pool framed against the indigo sea. Little gems of local history were shared and stories exchanged including my tale of how I was offered the Branwell house for £1 – an offer that had I taken it up would have put me on a very different path through life. Maria Branwell was born and raised here – but in 1812 she married Rev Patrick Bronte and moved to Yorkshire where she had six children including the famous Charlotte, Emily and Anne.
Charles Dickens, Rosamunde Pilcher, Dr Johnson, Oscar Wilde and Virginia Woolfe amongst others were all mentioned but the purpose of the walk was entertainment rather than a lecture so great detail and lengthy explanations were avoided. Instead our group ambled and chatted, soaking up the ambience and laughing at the gossipy anecdotes and razor sharp observations garnered from the letters and diaries of authors who have visited or resided in Penzance.
Everyone enjoyed the walk and for Rachel and I it was a delightful hors d’ouvre before the authors’ talk (Patrick Gale and Julie Myerson) and the Shackleton lecture that we had booked for the next day.