Gibraltar Literary Festival 2017

This time last week, ticket in hand, I lined up to have my bag searched before taking my seat in the Convent Ballroom. It was that magical time of the year again when (to me at least) the town centre is buzzing with excitement. Posh cars draw up to venues to deliver public figures to their talks and there’s the chance of bumping into Maureen Lipman or Kate Adie outside M&S. I am of course talking about the annual Gibraltar Literary Festival.

Now in it’s fifth edition, the organisers have said they sold over 3,000 tickets for the events. The whole festival ran over four days with daytime and evening functions. The fact that, as a mum with young children, I can get to some talks during school hours is just wonderful for me.

This year I was only able to attend a handful of talks due to other commitments, but it was still a great highlight to my month.

My first event was a fascinating talk by three members of the same family in the grand surroundings of the Convent. Clive, Geraldine and Stewart Finlayson have produced a coffee table book filled with stunning wildlife photos. Their book ‘Lost World : Secrets of a World Heritage Site’ was born out of the research work they have done in the Gotham’s Cave complex.

The network of caves and area of the Upper Rock Nature Reserve was the site of the first ever discovery of a Neanderthal Skull. In order to better understand the environment that the Gibraltar Neanderthals inhabited, the Finlaysons traveled around the globe to photograph and study creatures as diverse as from leopards to snowy owls, gannets to wolves. Many of the fossilised animal remains found in Gotham’s Cave are now no longer resident in the area due to climatic changes but they can be found elsewhere.

The lengths that the authors went to, to actually capture these beautiful creatures in their natural habitats is quite something. The stories they told of being on the lookout for lions in the Savannah while their guide changed not one, but four wheels on their safari truck or lying in snow in sub-zero temperatures for hours to capture a picture of a snowy owl were inspiring.

The Garrison Library was the venue for my next talk, a conversation with Patrick Gale (above right). The novelist spoke about his childhood, growing up in Wandsworth Prison, where his father was Governor and early career as a piano playing singing waiter in Convent Garden (he had taken the cabaret job in an attempt to gain an Equity card so he could become an actor). It was during down times during his overnight waiting shifts that he began to write and subsequently published his first two novels on the same day.

Since his early night shift writing, he has written prolifically with novels, short stories and TV screenplays to his name. Perhaps the most famous of these is ‘Man in the Orange Shirt’, which featured in the Gay Britannia season on BBC 2.

Patrick’s conversation with Chief Fiction Reviewer at the Sunday Times, Peter Kemp, was funny and at times very touching as he discussed his own sexuality and that of his great grandfather, whom his latest novel ‘A place called Winter’ is based on. Patrick came across as a very generous writer, and was keen to encourage anyone thinking of having a go at writing a novel to be brave and do it.

The John Mackintosh Hall was the location of my last Gibraltar Literary Festival event, Just Laugh a Minute, with veteran broadcaster Nicholas Parsons.

Despite being in his nineties, the entertainer showed no sign of slowing down and was keen to prove that despite his legs not working as well as they used to, his brain is still in good working order. He spoke for an hour (without any notes) reminiscing about his childhood and his first forays into entertainment by impersonating his prep school master which earned him a caning.

His account of his apprenticeship in the Clyde dockyards brought many laughs as he described the communal toilet arrangements. He then went on to recount his first job on wartime BBC radio, broadcasting from a disused cinema in north Wales and his brief career in the Merchant Navy which was cut short (just 5 days in) due to ill health.

Now a Gibraltar Literary Festival regular, Nicolas Parsons was great fun to listen to, and sounded like he could keep going for hours, had he been allowed. He put his good memory down to the fact he is dyslexic, saying he instinctively uses his memory to get by.

I would’ve loved to have gone to see Kate Adie speak, as one of my heroines growing up, I think her talk would have been fascinating. Sadly I left it too late to book my tickets and the event had already sold out. I have a couple of her books though to read, so I shall content myself with that.

One of the big successes of this year’s festival was the launch of a new book all about Gibraltar:

The What on Earth Wall Book ‘The Story of Gibraltar’ which charts the history of the Rock from prehistory to present day sold in excess of 900 copies. That makes it’s author, Christopher Lloyd, the most successful author in the Festival’s history.

Yet again, I had a great Gibraltar Literary Festival this year. I feel so lucky that just a few minutes from my home I can go and see authors, journalists and other public figures speak about their work. Many of whom have succeeded against the odds and their stories inspire us all to never give up.

If you fancy reading my posts from previous Gibraltar Literary Festivals, you can find them here:

Gibraltar Literary Festival 2016

So many books, so little time… Gibraltar Literary Festival 2015

Gibraltar Literary Festival 2016


Wow where do I begin? The Gibraltar Literary Festival went by in a blur for me, I managed to get to a few more talks this year but really would have liked to get to even more. It’s a time when the atmosphere of the place changes, you can wander down Main Street and see Maureen Lipman walk past or be waiting to cross the road and Nicholas Parsons pulls up in a car nearby. You can see someone and say hello to them because you think you know them, then realise they are off the telly!

This year was the fourth annual Gibunco Gibraltar International Literary Festival (to give it it’s full title) and for the first time it ran over four days instead of three. The Festival takes the form of a series of talks, conversations and lectures given by published authors with a few posh ‘dos’ and meals in-between. Here are my highlights…

Ceremonial guard at the Convent

On Thursday morning I attended my first talk given by Dr Sally Bayley on the subject of diaries. With the title of The Private Life of the Diary, it was billed as “an interactive lecture on the nature and art of diary writing”. It was based on her book: The Private Life of the Diary : From Pepys to Tweets and was utterly fascinating. The diarists covered ranged from Samuel Pepys to Virginia Woolf, Anne Frank to Gibraltar’s own Miss World; Kaiane Aldorino.

Dr Sally Bayley
I have written an article all about this event for the Gibraltar based online parenting magazine Mum on the Rock . If you would like to read the article,  please click on this link.

Making the most of my time while the Little Postcards were in school, I treated myself to a second talk on Thursday. This time it was about works of literature in which the Rock of Gibraltar had featured, from Spanish and North African chroniclers in the Middle Ages to more recently, John Le Carre and Stieg Larsson.

Boyd Tonkin

This talk was introduced by Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo who had taken time out between reshuffling his cabinet that morning and heading to Parliament later in the afternoon. In his introduction he talked about the Convent (the Governor of Gibraltar’s residence) which was the venue for the event, and said it was a “place of stories, nuns and soldiers in equal measure, masters and servants, colonialism and emancipation”.  Mr Picardo expanded, saying Gibraltar “is a place where legends have been created – where stories have been spun and stories are still being written”.

After such a big build up, the stage was set for Boyd Tonkin, a writer, broadcaster and Chairman of the Man Booker Prize judging panel. He took us way back into the Middle Ages reading excerpts of ancient literature from North Africa and Spain, then on to writers who have found inspiration here on the Rock including Samuel Taylor Coleridge who visited en route to Malta in 1894 and wrote that it’s “a most interesting place” where you can “sit astride the summit” of the Rock. James Joyce’s Ulysses featured heavily throughout his talk along with the character Molly Bloom whose statue can be found in the Alameda Gardens (you may remember I yarnbombed her earlier this year 😉 )

He went on to reference Gibraltar’s role in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, a series which I enjoyed immensely. I remember reading the final book The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest when we lived for a while in Queensway Quay and read to my amazement that one of the central characters, Lisbeth Salander, had visited the marina to see her solicitor. I couldn’t believe that the heroine of the book I was so immersed in should come to visit the place where I was living at that moment.

Tonkin read this excerpt from The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest:

At 7:00 she left the hotel and set out to buy mangos and apples. She took a taxi to the Peak and walked over to the apes. She was so early that few tourists had yet appeared, and she was practically alone with the animals.

She liked Gibraltar. It was her third visit to the strange rock that housed an absurdly densely populated English town on the Mediterranean. Gibraltar was a place that was not like anywhere else. The town had been isolated for decades, a colony that obstinately refused to be incorporated into Spain. The Spaniards protested the occupation, of course. (But Salander thought that the Spaniards should keep their mouths shut on that score so long as they occupied the enclave of Ceuta on Moroccan territory across the strait.) It was a place that was comically shielded from the rest of the world, consisting of a bizarre rock, about three quarters of a square mile of town and an airport that began and ended in the sea. The colony was so small that every square inch of it was used, and any expansion had to be over the sea. Even to get into the town visitors had to walk across the landing strip at the airport.

Gibraltar gave the concept of “compact living” a whole new meaning.

I’d say that’s a pretty accurate literary portrayal of Gibraltar!

Friday lunchtime meant a trip to the Sunborn to see the great Just a Minute panel show. I went last year and it was so good, I was keen to get to see it again. I was particularly excited to see Pam Ayres, someone I had grown up seeing on the telly and who I find very funny. She was scheduled to speak later in the day at a time I couldn’t make so was looking forward to seeing her in this.

Unfortunately she had been delayed on her way to Gibraltar and wasn’t able to attend. The BBC Radio 4 presenter Sue McGregor from Woman’s Hour and the Today programme filled in for her instead. She was very good replacement, but I was a little bit disappointed to miss Pam Ayres. A friend of mine got to see her solo talk later on and said she was brilliant and very funny.

Nicholas Parsons
Nicolas Parsons, who had celebrated his 93rd birthday recently was on sparkling form and the rest of the panel too. Alongside him and Sue McGregor was the author and comedian Tony Hawks, actress and writer Maureen Lipman and author Felix Francis. After a very funny hour long session which saw the panel discussing subjects like champagne, Casablanca and cruise ships, Nicholas Parsons pledged his intention to return to the festival again next year.

The talk named ‘The Gibraltar Book Club’ piqued my interest as I am a member of a book club and wondered how this would translate to an hour long chat with an audience rather than a cosy evening out with friends and maybe a bottle or two of wine ;-). This book club had three members, Sue MacGregor, Maureen Lipman and Tony Hawks, all of whom had chosen a book for the two other panellists to review.

The Gibraltar Book Club
Maureen Lipman went first with her choice; a selection of essays by the playwright JB Priestley called ‘Grumbling at Large’. She said she’d been drawn to this book in particular as a friend of hers had put the collection together and written the foreword. Saying that when we have such busy lives it’s nice to have something to read which you can pick up and put down easily, and a collection of essays can do just that as you can read some of them in a few minutes. Essay writing is a really good way of “finding your literary voice” she added. The rest of the panel agreed that it was a good book, Sue MacGregor even gave an anecdote of the time when she had met the author.

Next up was Tony Hawkes, his choice was Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. He decided to pick it because he’d been a regular visitor to the Daphne du Maurier Literary Festival and realised to his shame that he had never actually read any of her books. Despite the initial impression that this was a “woman’s book” he said he’d enjoyed it. He liked how the author “led you in” and changed the pace of the story from romance to a whodunit style of thriller.

Maureen Lipman said she’d read it as a young woman and loved it but when she reread it recently, she was disappointed by the “wet woman” in the role of narrator. Sue MacGregor in comparison loved it and enjoyed how the “characters leapt off the page”.

Finally, Sue MacGregor introduced her choice which was Naples ’44, by the travel writer and former intelligence officer Norman Lewis. A great fan of Naples herself, she told the audience that the book was written after Lewis had spent time in the city in 1944 as an intelligence officer. He recounted his experiences in a city where people were starving to death and desparately trying to survive.

Maureen Lipman described it as “fabulous” and “the best type of journalism”. Tony Hawks said Lewis was a “keen observer of everything” and “clearly a compassionate man” but he didn’t reveal much about himself. In summary, the panel said they’d enjoyed the chance to read something they otherwise wouldn’t have picked up, which is definitely one of the joys of book club for me.

During the festival there were a number of events especially for families, all of which were free. Last year I took the Little Postcards along to see Christopher Lloyd and his ‘Complete Plays of Shakespeare in 60 minutes‘ and they enjoyed it immensely. This time we went along to see his latest offering ‘The History of Britain in 60 Minutes‘.

Christopher is a very engaging speaker and manages to hold the young audience’s attention with a series of props he produces from his cloak (not in this picture). Again this time, his talk was great as he picked up on common themes throughout British history like architecture and maritime history. He has a way of making the historical figures come alive and was very well received by both the younger and older members of the audience.

Sunday afternoon was a real highlight for me, I had arranged to go with a few of my book club friends to see the author of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernières.

Louis de Bernières

This hour long conversation between Louis and regular festival host, Paul Blezard was just wonderful. He read several of his poems, including one written in Spanish, and was questioned on whether he would consider rewriting the ending of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin as he was a bit dissatisfied with how it finished. “No!” was the reply to that, as it would make the book an awful lot longer! Louis also revealed that he’s being doing some research while in Gibraltar as the Rock will feature in his next book. I cannot wait to read that!

If you are still with me, thank you for reading this post – it’s been an lot longer than my usual ones! There was so much to see and experience at this year’s festival. 

I couldn’t help noticing that a very large percentage of the audience at all the events I attended (apart from the children’s one) were around retirement age. Quite a few had travelled over to Gibraltar, specifically for the festival, from Spain and the UK. How lovely to be able to spend that much time listening to wonderful speakers and expanding your mind!

I loved my time at the festival, I was lucky enough to see more this year than on my previous two visits. The whole event is growing each year and while it attracts very welcome return visitors, it also brings fresh new speakers each time. Both Nicolas Parsons and Christopher Lloyd said at their talks they’d like to return to Gibraltar next year for the fifth edition, I wonder just who else will be coming to the Rock to entertain us next time?

If you are interested in reading my experiences at the Literary Festival last year, you can find it here : So many books, so little time… Gibraltar Literary Festival 2015