This summer a new literature and film festival is bringing a top talent line-up to one of the county’s most renowned public schools . Fiona Finch discovers why Stonyhurst College believes it is the perfect venue.
School’s out for summer.
Which means it is time to do something completely different.
In the case of Lancashire public school Stonyhurst College that means laying out the welcome mat to visitors to its very first Literature and Film Festival.
Having seen the success of Blenheim Palace’s Festival of Literature, Film and Music and the Oxford Literary Festival the college decided it was time to make sure north west audiences had a literature and film event of their own.
The festival has been a year in the planning and will, on August 16 and 17, welcome such luminaries as actor, author and director Simon Callow, writer and producer Debbie Horsfield, and author and comedian Dr Adam Kay, writer of the best selling ‘This is going to hurt: Secret diaries of a junior doctor’.
There is also a full cast of local writers, from Preston born novelist Jenn Ashworth and Stonyhurst English teacher Dr Catherine Robinson to former Prestonian David Hatton, who recently published his debut book ‘The Return’, and will talk about the challenges of writing a fictional account about the aftermath of 9/11.
College Enterprises Coordinator Olivia Dawson, a former Stonyhurst pupil, said: “We realised we are very much an establishment with a rich literary heritage. It’s the perfect place to hold an event like this.”
That rich literary heritage includes past pupils such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Emmy award winning filmmaker David Barnes, poet and priest Gerald Manley Hopkins who studied for the priesthood here and returned as a classics teacher.
The three historic libraries at Stonyhurst contain rare literary works, including a First Folio of Shakespeare’s works and first editions of works by Ben Johnson and Edmund Spenser.
There are also first editions of Charles Dickens’ ‘Oliver Twist’ and Lewis Carroll’s ‘Through the Looking Glass’.
Olivia continued: “ We want to appeal to everyone so there is something for everyone to see, talk, listen to and ask questions. We don’t want it to be a one age range festival.”
The college, sited near Hurst Green in the county’s Ribble Valley, is the oldest surviving Jesuit school in the world . It created its own press, the St Omers Press, which published its first book ‘The English Martyrology’ in August, 1608. Today the press is still publishing books and supporting the work of the College’s collections.
Dr Jan Graffius, Curator of Collections and Historic Libraries at the College will be giving a talk in the Festival entitled “Alternative, subversive and revolutionary: Four centuries of poetry, drama and literature associated with Stonyhurst College.’
Another home grown speaker will be former pupil Samantha Leach, who has also joined the festival team as its Literary Festival adviser.
Now an English teacher, she will be returning to the subject of her university dissertation which examined the music composed for Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings series.
Meanwhile her Durham University tutor, Associate Professor Martin Richardson, will also be speaking on ‘Harry Potter’s Moral Messages’.
MEP and former MP Ann Widdecombe in a talk entitled’ Strictly Ann’ will be talking politics and TV’s ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ as well as sharing insights into programmes such as ‘Have I Got News For You’.
Back to local roots and it’s the turn of veteran hairdresser Nigel Womack who has penned children’s story ‘The Angry Giant’ and his ‘Tales from the Washbasin ‘ will be released in September.
There will be a special exhibition accompanying the festival and marking the 425th anniversary of the school. Throughout the weekend it will be possible to book tickets to visit the college’s Old Chapel Museum.
Olivia added: “People are very curious to come and see the different objects and artefacts we have and obviously we want to welcome them into Stonyhurst. Through the year as a boarding school we are closed off to the public. When we can we want to welcome others to see this beautiful place.”
Another festival highlight is the Young Filmmaker competition. The winner will have their work showcased on the final night of the festival.The festival finale will be an outdoor showing in the college grounds of the award-winning film ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.
Headmaster John Browne is certainly not modest in his ambitions for the event. He said: “Stonyhurst’s rich literary heritage and unique history make it the perfect setting for what we hope will be the finest Literature and Film Festival in the north of England.”
* Other festival speakers include: Henry Jeffreys on ‘British history told through booze', Olivia Beirne, Dr Sara Brown on ‘The World of J.R.R. Tolkein’, cyclist and creative writer Emily Chappell, children’s novelist Andy Mulligan, crime novelist Neil White, novelist Andy Mulligan and Lancashire war veteran sisters Patricia Davies and Jean Argles in conversation about their father’s wartime experiences in ‘1,000 days on the River Kwai.’
•Tickets for festival events cost from £7.15 to £22 and can be purchased through the Stonyhurst Enterprises website at https://enterprises.stonyhurst.ac.uk
•The Old Chapel Museum is open on Wednesdays throughout July and August from 10am to 3pm. Admission £5.