Book lovers delight in festival in French town

Dorothea Shefer-Vanson

CHARROUX, France — In this picturesque village in Central France I was able to attend a literary festival held in French and English. The three-day event was crowded with interesting talks, some in French but most in English, given by a wide range of writers. I wasn’t able to attend all of them, or even most of them, but the few authors whose presentations I attended were undoubtedly accomplished and interesting speakers. The festival organizers had also arranged for the authors’ books to be on sale, and book signings were also held.

The village of Charroux is situated on a rather steep hillside. Some of the sessions were held in a communal building situated on the main street, near the historic remains of an abbey, while other talks were given at a building farther up the hill, near the town hall. This is also where the festival bookshop was situated. Inevitably, this entailed rather a lot of traipsing up the hill and down the hill, to the general delight of all concerned, especially the authors who were assigned specific times for their book-signings.

One of the talks I attended was given by Andrew Lownie, the author of a book entitled Stalin’s Englishman; the Lives of Guy Burgess. Lownie gave a fluent presentation, replete with photographs, recounting the trajectory of Burgess’ life and times. In the 1950s and subsequently, when the news of Burgess’ treason and defection became public, it became clear that members of England’s privileged upper class — men who had attended public school and Oxbridge universities — were involved, and Andrew Lownie has endeavored to provide some explanation for their motivation in betraying their country. Like the other members of the ‘Cambridge Five,’ Burgess was well-connected to England’s governing elite, with influential friends in MI5, MI6, the Foreign Office and the BBC. This is without a doubt a fascinating story and I felt impelled to buy the book and have it signed by the author.

Another fascinating talk was given by Mike Welham, who has written several books exposing conspiracies and underhand activities, whether implemented by governments or big business. In order to avoid libel charges he presents his books as novels, changing names of individuals and places, but essentially using factual information and research as the basis for his stories.

At the end of Welham’s talk he presented all those who had attended with a free copy of his latest book, Death of a Scientist; A Time for War, A Time to Die, A Time for Justice, which also promises to be an interesting read.

The intrepid organizers of the festival, Chris and Kate, were aided and abetted by a host of helpers and/or volunteers, who manned refreshments stalls and the bookshop as well as helping with technical matters. The local bed-and-breakfast establishments, as well as the various bars and bistros, evidently benefited from the influx of literature-loving individuals, whether English or French, and provided a warm welcome to the visitors. At lunchtime on the day we were there, the Irish bistro-cum-bar had run out of fish, salad, and also eventually steak (we managed to order two of the last ones left). But this did not seem to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm, and we overheard a lively discussion between the English waitress and some other customers as to how they would like their eggs and chips.

The weather was warm, the sun shone gently, and throughout the time I was there it felt good to be surrounded by like-minded individuals who, like me, had come from various parts of France to indulge in our passion for books.

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Shefer-Vanson is an author and freelance writer who may be contacted via [email protected]

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