Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Charleston Literary Festival - calm in the chaos

The Orchard at Charleston

Last weekend I escaped home to Sussex for some much needed peace and to see Carol Ann Duffy at The Charleston Festival. Duffy has been one of my favourite poets for a long time - alongside Alice Oswald - and I have heard her read her poems before but seeing her at Charleston was truly delightful. We all bundled into the marquee thankful that it wasn't the usual howling wind and rain accompanying the event. Just as Duffy started to read a poem, the cows in the neighbouring field decided to pipe up. I am not sure that such things happen at the slick Hay Festival but these messy, honest occurrences are what keep Charleston charming.

Going to Charleston is an annual event for me and my ritual is to have a slice of lemon drizzle cake with my tea before the event.
Lemon Drizzle at Charleston

The tea tent was bedecked in bunting this year and the cow parsley even more abundant than my memory of it from last year. Sitting in the orchard sipping on tea and scoffing cake is one of my favourite things and I look forward to it every year. May in Sussex is a perfect month as everything is fresh and abundant ahead of the withering power of the summer sun. The burnt tinge of August is a future concern and the countryside sparkles with shades of green.

I love the way that the trestle tables and chairs are scattered as if they naturally appear in the orchard.

Carol Ann Duffy read for nearly an hour and, along with the cows, held the audience spellbound as she read both old and new poems. Her dry humour and subtle delivery had us in paroxysms of mirth, particularly 'from Mrs Tiresias' which recounts the myth of Tiresias from the point of view of his wife - the poem is from the collection The World's Wife which I will talk more about in another post as I could write reams about the collection.

During the past week my life has turned completely topsy-turvy (self-inflicted I hasten to add) - I have set many exciting changes in motion which I will elaborate upon as time goes on and things become more certain. So, going to Charleston was a moment of peace before the (hopefully organised) chaos that the next couple of months will be. After my tea and cake I found something pink and fizzy with which to celebrate in the sunshine; heavenly.


  1. Oh my, I am so envious!! I love Charleston Farmhouse but have never been to the Literary Festival there - I will definitely book a weekend in Sussex for next year. Your photos are so enticing, not to mention the lemon drizzle cake ...

    The World's Wife is a tremendous collection, I'm so glad you enjoyed the readings.

    I'm intrigued by mention of your 'exciting changes' - don't keep us in suspense for too long:-)


  2. I loved your very descriptive post!

  3. You truly make me yearn for Sussex, I am so fond of Charleston, and all the beauty that surrounds it. Thank you for sharing it with us and allowing us Londoners a moment’s escape.

  4. That sounds like a lovely weekend - I like the way they iced the cake! Yum!

  5. Oh I would love to hear Carol Ann Duffy read one day. Did she read Little Red-Cap? It is a great favourite of mine.

    Thank you for letting us experience the festival vicariously!

  6. Looks divine...wish I could have been there. Though frankly I had enough of Carol Ann after GCSEs - 'my love is like an onion' - snore. Not a fan I'm afraid!

  7. That's a lovely looking tea! I've seen/heard Carol Anne Duffy read her work a few years ago - mostly from The World's Wife which had just come out at the time. She is a very, very entertaining reader and it is a treat ot get the chance to see her whether you are normally a poetry person or not.

  8. Yes, Carol Ann Duffy is a wonderful Poet Laureate.

  9. Carol Ann Duffy pops up every now and then on my Woman's Hour podcasts. I'm slowly coming around to the world of poetry since discovering Keats this past winter.

    What a perfectly lovely afternoon and whatever your plans are they do sound of luck with everything!

  10. I just discovered your blog and I'm looking forward to spending more time here...I've loved reading about the Bloomsbury Group and Charleston (I have a beautiful book about it), and I'll visit it someday. I'm determined!

  11. I've never been to a literary festival but this sounds fabulous. Beautiful photos.

  12. Lucky, lucky to be able to go. I especially like the tables. I would love to visit Charleston but just bought a book that will have to suffice - the one by Quentin Bell and Virginia Nicholson.