London Literature Festival #londonlitfest

Late last week I was working in London and had a free Saturday to enjoy the delights of the city.


The Providores + Tapa Room

I was meeting a friend for brunch in Marylebone High Street, ironically it is London’s French quarter, many of the shops and cafés and boulangeries are very familiar; however we weren’t heading for a French café, we couldn’t help but be tempted by one of New Zealand’s greatest exports, chef Peter Gordon and his restaurant The Providores with its excellent downstairs Tapa Room, the all-day restaurant, café and wine bar.

London's South Bank Centre

London’s South Bank Centre

Before heading out, a quick google search “literary events London” informed me that the London Literature Festival was on, I couldn’t believe it!

So after a terrific brunch, off I went to the South Bank Centre and the Royal Festival Hall, always a hive of activity at the weekend, and hive  an apt metaphor, as the festival was using the image of a bee and honeycomb in its publicity.

Don’t you just love those sun loungers outside Foyles bookshop. Bliss!

To my delight and surprise, the American essayist and writer of non-fiction Rebecca Solnit, was speaking in the late afternoon, so I avoided the pull of Foyles to buy a ticket and then decided to check out The Spectacular Translation Machine, a collaborative attempt to translate an entire book from French into English.

CIMG4524The book On Les Aura! was the private diary of a French solider written in 1914 , which the renowned illustrator Barroux discovered and published in France, adding his line drawings to bring the story to life. It has never been translated into English, so each illustration along with the short paragraph of text was hung on a line around a room in the Royal Festival Hall and members of the public invited to choose an image and attempt the translation.

I chose an illustration of the solider lying in bed and a steaming cup of coffee beside him. The paragraph underneath the illustration read:

Je m’éveille après une bonne nuit de sommeil et je trouve un bol de café fument. Quel changement ! J’écris a ma chère femme pour la rassurer et lui envoyer mon adresse. Vers 10 heures, le Major passe la visite.

Along with children, a couple of students, a woman who could speak 15 languages and anyone else wanting to give it a go, we sat at the table and worked on our translations in a wonderful community approach. Such fun!

From there, a quick scout of the bookshop Foyles where I picked up a copy of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and a copy of The Artist’s Way.

CIMG4528Then on to the Queen Elizabeth Hall for an inspiring talk by Rebecca Solnit, author of The Faraway Nearby, hosted by the literary critic Alex Clark. Solnit’s book was already on my list and downloaded to the kindle to read, but jumped to the top of the pile after an engaging talk about apricots, Alzheimer’s, Iceland and the significance of stories in our lives. A very poised and engaging speaker with scores of anecdotes and quotes that she repeats without hesitation.

It must be the season for book readings, because I am back in Aix and today we have had Jonathan Coe participating in an excellent and well hosted and translated discussion. More on that soon!



22 thoughts on “London Literature Festival #londonlitfest

      • Dear Claire – I loved reading your blog about London Litfest.
        And just wondered if there is any chance you might be back in London next weekend? 22/23 June. We are holding a wonderful North London LitFest featuring Kate Atkinson interviewed by Times Literary Editor Erica Wagner,Sandra Howard with writer and broadcaster Penny Smith, Sir Tim Smit (inspirational speaker and founder of the Eden Project), Ed Sourton with Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Sir Michael Holroyd with broadcaster Sue MacGregor, Baroness Susan Greenfield with Guardian science editor Alok Jha, Simon Garfield and last but by no means least chef Antonio Carluccio with renowned restaurant critic and journalist Giles Coren. In addition we have wonderful guided walks around an area of outstanding architectural merit, 7 free lunchtime concerts and 9 evening concerts. And the best bit? The festival is organised by volunteers and raises money for Toynbee Hall and North London Hospice.
        If you are in London, try us – you won’t be disappointed! Help spread the word too


  1. I was just in London. Looks like I left too soon. I did squeeze in an afternoon of bookstore hoping. LOVED. IT. I have always loved this about London, the number of bookstores and the volume of books. Jealous of your perfectly timed trip.


    • I was in luck I must say given I only had one day free, but being London there is always something happening and bookstore browsing one of my favourite pastimes there! If my daughter had been with me, it would have been shopping not books I am sure 🙂


  2. Claire, I have been to Providores with the Gordon chef v.impressive. You certainly fell on your feet in London. I would be interested in your view on what is going on in Istanbul. Cheers, Brian


    • Hi Brian,
      London is always good to me 🙂
      It’s hard to speak about a country where one knows very little of what it really is like to live there and to know the impact of government policies, but from the little time I worked within a government organisation myself, I do understand the absolute importance of consultation with the citizens who are to be impacted by decisions it will make, whether it is planning bus routes or in this case destroying on of the last remaining green spaces in the city. That in itself is sufficient reason for people to protest, as to whether it signifies another layer of discontent, I don’t know, but continue to read with interest.

      Here is a link below to a comprehensive article by the author Elif Shafak writing in The Guardian recently on the subject.

      The View from Taksim Square: Why is Turkey in Turmoil? by Elif Shafak


  3. Nice to know that you had a great time in London, Claire. You got Julia Cameron’s ‘The Artist’s Way’? That is so cool! Rebecca Solnit sounds like a wonderful writer. Hope you enjoy reading her book. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts. Enjoyed reading about the fun translation that you did with others at the festival. Must have been wonderful.


  4. Pingback: The Faraway Nearby | Word by Word

  5. Sounds like an amazing experience. I especially love the idea of the community working together to translate a book. It sounds like a great way to make connections and bond over a mutual love of words and their meaning.


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