Woodlice, Wiltshire, chemical weapons and the scandalous Windsors

MERE Literary Festival is back this year, from 11th to 15th October, after the 2020 Covid cancellation, and the programme has talks and events for all ages and tastes.

From a child’s delight in tiny woodlice to the horrors of chemical weapons, from the fascinating secrets of Deepest Wiltshire to the very public scandals that surrounded the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the festival is full of stimulating talks and events.

The opening event is a talk by journalists Fanny Charles and Gay Pirrie-Weir (yes, that’s us) about Deepest Wiltshire, the second of their series of books looking beneath the predictable famous places and people to reveal many fascinating and little-known stories.

There is the shocking Lady Meux who rode an elephant to hounds with the Beaufort Hunt, the dramatic ancestry of cheese-maker Keri Cryer, who has revived the historic Wiltshire Loaf cheese, mentioned by Jane Austen, and the true story of Winnie the Pooh. The talk is at the United Reform Church on Monday 11th October at 2pm.

This is followed at 4pm at the same venue, by a dramatic change of mood when Hamish de Bretton-Gordon will be talking about his career as the army’s foremost chemical weapons expert. His experiences include working on the 2018 Novichok poisoning in Salisbury.

Also that afternoon, at the Angel Tea Rooms, there are readings by Patrick Caruth from his delightful story, Woodlice World, a charming introduction to natural history and story-telling for children aged three to six.

In the evening at the UR Church,, historical novelist Lucy Jago will be talking about A Net For Small Fishes, her enthralling story of life at the dark and dangerous court of King James I.

Tuesday’s events include a writer’s workshop with Tom Bromley, at the Lecture Hall at 11am, and two crime writers, Karen Hamilton and Liv Matthews, describing how they keep readers on the edge of their seats, at the UR Church at 2pm. They are followed at 4pm by Keith Stuart talking about his new novel, The Frequency of Us, set in Bath during the 1940s and today.

In the evening, at 7pm at the parish church of St Michael the Archangel,  historian Andrew Lownie will reveal the lives of the Windsors after the abdication. Traitor King is the story of a couple who were obsessed by status and money, manipulating the media to portray themselves as victims.

Unsettled Ground, a story of twins whose isolated lives are turned upside down after their mother’s death, was shortlisted for this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. The author, Claire Fuller will be talking about her book at the parish church on Wednesday 13th October at 2pm. She is followed by naturalist Stephen Moss, whose latest book is Skylarks with Rosie.

In the evening, former doctor Stephen Fabes will describe the background to Signs of Life, his account of six years cycling around the world.

Tree expert and author Robin Walter will be at the Grove Building in the evening at 7.30pm, talking about his fascinating and informative book Living With Trees.

Thursday’s programme begins with a reading workshop with Jo Hall at 11am, followed by Louise Hare, author of This Lovely City, at the UR Church at 2pm, and explorer Robin Hanbury-Tenison at 4pm.

Local author Richard Hopton won the Society of Army Historical Research fiction prize for his 2020 book The Straits of Treachery, set during the Napoleonic wars, on Sicily in 1810. Hopton will ber at the parish church on Thursday 14th at 7pm.

There is a foraging walk around Mere with Dave Hamilton on Friday 15th at 11am, followed by Politics and a Pint, with Ian Dunt at The Butt of Sherry at noon. The afternoon events are British-Chinese journalist Xinran talking about women’s lives in China, at the UR Church at 2pm, and Roger Morgan-Grenville tracing his 50-year obsession with one of the natural world’s great travellers, Manx Shearwater, at 4pm.

The festival finale on Friday at the Grove Building at 7pm features local band Kind of Blue, playing country blues and dance numbers.

For full information and to book for events visit www.mereliteraryfestival.com

Pictured: Deepest Wiltshire, Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, and Chinese journalist Xinran.