Carlisle is a lovely little city – about as far north as you can go in north-west England without sticking your toe over the Scottish border – which is rapidly turning into something of a literary venue. Just a few months ago I went to a crime writing weekend there with a bunch of friends, and on Saturday it was the turn of the annual ‘Borderlines‘ literary festival.
This is much more varied than the crime weekend and involved writers, poets, historians and even a shepherd, all giving workshops or talking about their books. Speakers included tv historian Kate Williams, Terry Waite, shepherd James Rebanks who wrote a stonkingly popular autobiography about his life with the famous Lakeland Herdwick sheep, and many, many more.
I chose a couple of talks that were about as far removed from each other as possible, while still being on the subject of books. The first, by Jenny Uglow and Steve Matthews, was about the nearby Wreay Church, which was built in the 1840s and most unusually for that time, designed wholly by a woman. The woman in question was Sarah Losh, the daughter of a local land-owner, who was staggeringly well-educated, had been on the ‘Grand Tour’ to Italy, and decided to build a church for her local community when her beloved younger sister died. Not only was this exceptional for a woman back then, but she chose to build in a simple Romanesque style rather than the much more fashionable Gothick, and included various symbols of life and re-birth which are still being discussed today.
The talk would have benefited from a few slides, as I’ve never visited the church and would have loved to be able to picture the architecture that was being described, but it was still a fascinating dip into a subject I’d heard nothing about. I feel a visit to Wreay coming on very soon!
In the afternoon, after a pleasant lunch with a couple of writer friends, I went to a talk by two writers of conspiracy thrillers, Tom Harper and Simon Toyne, who described how they chose their particular settings (the Amazon and the Arizona desert, respectively) and what elements go to make a book a conspiracy thriller.
Throw in catching up with another writer friend who I discovered sitting right behind me, plus a spectacular train ride skirting the Lakeland fells, and it made for a really enjoyable day out. Hats off to Carlisle for organising the whole thing; I’ll be back next year for sure.