Conversations with Colin from Falmouth Book Festival

Posted: 2nd October 2023

At Heather & Lay we love books, and you’ll often find a member of our team nosing through the latest bestsellers and new releases at Falmouth Bookseller. We are pleased to be sponsors for Falmouth Book Festival again this year and were excited to catch up with Colin from the festival to find out all about what is on offer…


Hi Colin, can you tell us a little bit more about the Falmouth Book Festival?


I certainly can! This year is our third Falmouth Book Festival and it’s running from 16-22 October. There will be onstage events with authors in conversation a children’s programme with authors going into schools and a free events programme at the weekend for kids featuring storytelling, illustration and even manga workshops – there’s something for everyone really. 

We would love to know what authors will be attending?


We have a really diverse range of authors coming along: novelists, travel writers, chefs, essayists, poets and comedians. I’m very excited that we have Louis de Bernieres coming along. He famously wrote Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and his new book, Light Over Liskeard, (which is based in Cornwall, obviously!) is being published the week of the festival. This will be his first event in Cornwall post-publication and he will be our launch event on Monday 16th.

On Tuesday we will have Robin Ince, the stand-up comedian and raconteur who you’ll probably know from the Radio 4 programme The Infinite Monkey Cage. There is a lovely story behind his new book, Bibilomaniac. He was meant to be doing a huge tour in 2021 with Brian Cox and it was cancelled due to Covid, so he decided to do a tour around the UK doing talks in bookshops, to small crowds.  Bibliomaniac is all about his love of books and book shops, something that I think we can all relate to!  

We also have historian, James Holland, arguably the best of a new generation of Second World War historians. He’s also a Radio 4 presenter and podcaster, in fact. Lots of history books can be very old school and fusty but he’s very entertaining and impassioned. He’s focussing on the story of the Italian invasion and really brings it to life in his new book. 

We have an event on Friday with renowned feminist and campaigner Natasha Walter who’ll be talking with celebrated Falmouth author Cathy Rentzenbrink. Cathy is a Sunday Times bestselling author, most famous for writing about grief. She also wrote an award-winning memoir about her brother’s death. She will be interviewing Natasha about her new memoir which recounts how she and her family coped with her mother’s recent suicide. I think this will be an emotive and powerful event featuring 2 writers who are both so eloquent and moving about how we all struggle to cope with loss.

We have a particularly interesting event with Charles Clover too. He wrote The End of the Line, a book that was been turned into a documentary feature film that really started the conversation we’re all having around fishing practices around the world. His new book, Rewilding the Sea is the next chapter of that conversation and is all our stewardship of the sea. This is such a great topic for Falmouth , I think, given that we all know people who work in or alongside the sea. 

Someone I’m particularly excite about is the New Zealand novelist Eleanor Catton, who became the youngest winner in Booker Prize history when she won the Prize back in 2013. There’s a strong personal connection for me there, as I was actually working as her publicist back in 2013, which was also the year that I moved down Cornwall. That was an amazing experience in my publishing career and as Eleanor has taken ten years to write the follow-up, it’s like a reunion for us from a personal perspective. The new book is a novel called Birnham Wood – it’s an eco-thriller about a tech billionaire in New Zealand and the relationship he strikes up with a local gardening collective while building an underground bunker. It’s page-turning stuff, but it’s also all about taking care of the land that we live on.

Locally based author Nina Stibbe will also be coming along. She wrote a book 10 years ago called Love Nina which was a huge Sunday Times bestseller breakthrough. It was a non-fiction collection of letters from when she was an au pair in London and was suddenly thrust into the literary world and was turned into a TV adaptation starring with Helena Bonham Carter. Nina has written a follow up – a memoir about last year when she returned to London – and Falmouth Book Festival will be her first event for the book. It is partly about taking time out from her marriage and it’s suffused with her unique and eccentric way of looking at life. And in an interesting turn of events, she’ll be interviewed by Cathy Rentzenbrink, who also stars as a character in the book!

To close the festival, we have Comedian Tim Key, who you may know as Sidekick Simon from the Alan Partridge franchise or from his appearance on Taskmaster. He is a great stand-up comedian and poet. He has a new book of poetry in November and he’ll be reading from it and talking about his ideas, inspirations and comedic experiences.

Wow, that is quite a line-up Colin, and we can see that’s only some of the authors on the agenda. How did Falmouth Book Festival come about?

I set it up with a friend and former colleague Helen Waters. I’ve worked in books and publishing for 25 years. I spent the first 15 years of that in London and then moved down here in 2013 and started working on the Port Eliot festival, eventually becoming Creative Director. I really loved making book-related things happen in Cornwall so when the festival sadly came to an end in 2019, my colleague Helen and I worked turned our attentions to Falmouth. Cornwall is amazing, but it’s hard to get authors to come down here sometimes – it’s a long way away from the centre of gravity of the publishing world. But while we always wanted this to be an event for local authors, we also wanted it to bring big name talent to the area. I truly believe there is no better place in Cornwall than Falmouth for a book festival - we are such a creative hub, and we are thrilled to be able to consistently welcome national and international writers to the festival. 


And you mentioned events for children?


Yes, I was particularly keen to make sure we do that. I remember from my time living there that authors doing school visits is pretty normal in London. But it’s less common in Cornwall, which seems unfair. These sorts of events can transform children’s lives. It’s all about making a difference to people and encouraging kids to read. Lots of children don’t have books around at home and are missing out on a rich imaginative world. The children’s side has been a small part of the festival so far, but we really want to grow that and invest more into it. This year we have a free programme of children’s activities and events along with authors appearing in local primary schools to ignite that love of literature in the next generation. 

Can you tell me a bit about your sponsors?


Absolutely! We have Falmouth University which is great – it’s lovely because the Creative Writing, Journalism and Photography students come and help out for the festival and get involved with the social media and promotion. The university also run some workshops for the event in their venue on Wood Lane We are also sponsored by the local council, Falmouth Bid and by the Falmouth Bookseller. Ron from Falmouth Bookseller is a really big supporter of ours and they know the book business inside out. Falmouth Creates, Reynolds and Slater Opticians and St Michael’s Resort also sponsor the event. Of course, we have Heather & Lay as well! I remember meeting John Lay a couple of years ago and he was lovely and – no offence meant! – not like your typical idea of an estate agent. I liked him and he seemed to be a big reader, so it was a meeting of minds. It’s great that you have come back to sponsor us for a second year running as well.

Can people attend just one or two events, or do they need to attend the entire festival?


Each event is ticketed separately so people can attend as much or as little as they choose. Hopefully there will  be something for everyone!

And can anyone attend?


Absolutely. It was really important to us that it wasn’t an exclusive event. That’s one of the reasons we didn’t call it a “literary” festival. We felt it could be a bit alienating. Books are for everyone and hopefully we’ve included something for everyone in the line-up. We have historical, analytical, investigatory, highbrow books, laugh-out-loud books, memoirs, novels – there’s a huge range and it will appeal to everyone and anyone.

Wow, well we are sure it will be as incredible and inspirational this year as it was last year. People can buy tickets directly from The Poly or via the website: You can also follow Falmouth Book Festival on Instagram @falmouthbookfestival We’ll see you at the festival! 


Image of Falmouth Book Festival by Jenna Hinton

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