Felixstowe Book Festival goes digital with TV favourite Carol Drinkwater in the line-up
PUBLISHED: 11:00 30 May 2020
‘All Creatures Great and Small’ star Carol Drinkwater is among a stellar collection of authors who will be appearing in a virtual Felixstowe Book Festival during the Coronavirus lockdown
Whether she’s on stage in the theatre or in front of a TV camera on location, scribbling down experiences in a diary in her garden or conjuring characters to life at her keyboard, it’s all the same to Carol Drinkwater. “I am a storyteller,” she says. “I don’t see any difference between acting and writing. If I’m in front of an audience of hundreds, or just one person with my book in their hands, I want to take people on a thrilling journey.”
Indeed she’s delighted millions of us over the years through plays, television dramas, documentaries, memoirs, children’s books, and novels. But she’s possibly still best known for playing Helen, wife of vet James Herriot (played by Christopher Timothy and Peter Davidson) in the hugely popular series All Creatures Great and Small. Since the programme aired in 1975-85, she is recognised throughout the world.
So, she would have been hugely popular at this year’s Felixstowe Book Festival, where she was due to appear at the end of June. As Coronavirus forced organisers to cancel the event they’ve reorganised as a virtual online festival over the weekend of June 27-28 and fans will be able to ‘meet’ Carol when she takes part in a live streamed interview at 4.30pm on the first day.
What does she make of her fame as the Yorkshire vet’s wife? “I had no idea at the time that it was going to be such a success,” she says. “They did say it was going to make me a household name, but what does that mean to a 26-year-old?
“I remember, just after series one had gone out, I was standing on the Great Wall of China. People walked past and I heard them say ‘that’s Carol Drinkwater from All Creatures Great and Small. Then it hit me – the power of television and what one story can do.”
Having previously enjoyed solitude while travelling, she says she was never able to be alone again. “I’d be eating in restaurants on my own and people would ask me to join them. My presence and my identity was out there in a way I never expected.”
Although she decided to leave the series and took a step back from acting, it wasn’t long before she once again found herself regarded with a particular affection. Her series of memoirs about being newly married and living in the south of France became hugely popular.
“When I got married, my husband asked if there was anything I still wanted to achieve. I told him that I’d like to take my writing more seriously.” She began documenting her new life in Provence, where she and film producer Michel Noll, had bought 10 acres of overgrown land with a dilapidated farmhouse and were seeking to reinstate it as an olive farm.
The idyllic setting and her very personal take on the ups and downs of getting to know her step-daughters, becoming integrated in the local community and claiming back the land struck a chord with her audience. The trilogy of books were bestsellers.
“I feel blessed,” she says of living on the farm, and has been particularly grateful for it during the Corinavirus pandemic. “Lockdown for us is far less onerous than for many others because we have the farm land and the weather is mild and sunny. We can work outside on the land, prepare new terraces for fruit tree planting later in the year. There is always so much to do.
“It is just the two of us and the dogs so I have very little to complain about. Of course, it is all a worry and I feel a little frightened but we are both attempting to turn it into a positive rather than a negative experience. I can gaze at the sea from the balcony even if I cannot walk alongside it for a few weeks.”
She also has a home outside Paris and in both places there are offices for her to work. “The writing has to come first. I have two spaces in both homes. It’s important to me to close myself away, to set aside space that’s quiet and away from other people. I get up either very early or I work very late.”
Since the Olive Farm memoirs, she has focused on fiction and has now published eight novels. The latest is The House on the Edge of the Cliff. It’s a story set in Paris during the student riots of the 1960s and at a beautiful clifftop property in the south of France, and features an ageing actress. Carol admits that she draws on elements of her life to infuse her novels, but says this isn’t a story about her.
“This is about a woman who has made a mistake,” she says. “It’s not my mistake, but we all get it wrong sometimes. I’m very honest, I write from the heart. Even as an actress, I was known for being quite open about who I was, and within the role.
“A story comes from where it comes, and for me that’s a very deep, dark place, even if it’s a happy story. It means that, when I come to talk about the books at festivals I can feel rather exposed, just like the actor’s nightmare – standing there with no clothes on, not knowing your lines!”
Carol is sorry she won’t be returning to Suffolk and reviving her long held connections to the county. “While I was at the National Theatre many years ago, I met an actress who had a lovely little cottage in Sibton Park. It was quite a long drive to get there, but was frequented by many actors and people in the theatre world. Gillian became one of my dearest friends, rather like a big sister to me.
“My memories of that time in my life, in my early twenties, are very dear to me. We used to go walking by the sea, and Snape Maltings too. I loved Felixstowe with its bookshop and sometimes wild seas.”
While she has to remain in France for the summer, Carol will be working on her new novel. “My books are for women and about women. But my next book is a bit of a departure. My agent has read it and said that it’s magical but he gets very nervous when I change genre.
“I don’t think about the type of book I’m writing. Every book has its challenges and you don’t necessarily know what they are until you’re in it. You dig underground not knowing what you’re going to find. It’s like building a house or an extension – and I’ve done a few of those now. But each time I feel it’s a story that needs to be told. . . and I’ve told it.”
Carol Drinkwater will be speaking in a live-streamed event for Felixstowe Book Festival on June 27 at 4.30pm. Log on at felixstowebookfestival.co.uk
The virtual Felixstowe Book Festival - July 27 &28
Star names, engaging guests, lively discussions, great reads Felixstowe Book Festival is refusing to be subdued by the Covid-19 pandemic. Festival director Meg Reid said that despite the lockdown the festival, now in its eighth year, is to be revived as a ‘Virtual Festival’ for 2020. “We’re going digital,” says Meg.
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It’s an opportunity to create something positive out of what has been a very frustrating year so far. Her ambition is to have booklovers across Suffolk (and beyond) meeting up at the festival’s online events and enjoying a virtual get-together and relishing the opportunity to ‘meet’ various authors and personalities via streamed discussions.
She says it’s a way of bringing people together and creating sense of community and belonging even during a period of isolation.
“It was a huge relief that everyone – the committee, our enthusiastic volunteers, sponsors and the authors – have been able to work together to create a virtual Felixstowe Book Festival for the weekend of June 27/28.
“The new-style festival is very exciting, and I hope that everyone enjoys hearing the authors being interviewed and talking about their work.”
The Felixstowe Book Festival Book Group kicks off the on-line festival when author Ruth Dugdall, and librarian and book lover Liz Rastrick, invite everyone to a birthday party to celebrate Anne Bronte’s 200th birthday.
On Friday June 26, at 7.30pm, on Zoom (ID: 858 5444 7275) Nick Holland, a leading authority on the Brontës, will join in to talk about his latest book Crave the Rose: Anne Bronte at 200. He is also the author of In Search of Anne Bronte. Nick will reveal Anne’s brilliance as a writer, her tragic death and her life with genius sisters Charlotte and Emily.
There will be six live streamed interviews across Saturday and Sunday June 27-28. They are with BBC newsreader George Alagiah, author of Burning Land, set in the new South Africa; Nick Cottam, creator of a virtual illustrated tour of the River Deben, Life on the Deben; author Liz Trenow, her novel Under A Wartime Sky is set at Bawdsey Manor; Harriet Tyce will be talking about her tense crime novel, Blood Orange; Paul French, writer of a Shanghai Noir, City of Devils will be talking about his latest work while writer and actress, Carol Drinkwater will be introducing her latest novel The House on the Edge of the Cliff.
The festival website also has videos from Iain Dale talking politics and Paul French answering questions from book group members about China.
The tech-heavy online replacement festival has been costly to organise, soMeg and her team have launched a JustGiving page to help cover the costs of the virtual festival. “Any donation, however small, will be much appreciated,” she says. “We are hoping to raise £1,000.”
Click here to donate to the Felixstowe Book Festival Just Giving Page
Audiences can tune in to listen and to ask questions on the Festival’s Facebook page and on the website.
The streamed authors will be broadcast live at the following times:
Saturday June 27
11am: Harriet Tyce
2pm: Paul French
4.30pm: Carol Drinkwater
Sunday June 28
11.30am: Liz Trenow
2pm: George Alagiah
4pm: Nick Cottam