Nostalgia and hope on the North Foreland

I have a deep affection for the north Kent coast. As an expat Yorkshire lad who went to secondary school in Kent, I missed the moors and the North Yorkshire fishing villages. The compensation was the long Kent coastline. My favourite part ran from the haunting Roman twin towers of Reculver to the narrow sandy beach at Joss Bay on the North Foreland. The oystercatchers and the plovers near Minnis Bay, with their piping calls and darting flight; the swimming at high tide and the rock pools at low, meant that I could find my precious slivers of wilderness, on the fringes of the crowded south east of England, with its farmland, motorways and housing estates.

So I return to Margate’s Book Festival for the third year in a row, with nostalgia in my private memories, as well as excitement at the prospect of meeting new readers. On Saturday 5 May, I host Louis de Bernières’ talk at 2pm. Louis was kind enough to give a generous quote for my second novel Marching on Together. I hope that I will not be so awe-struck as to be speechless in the presence of a living literary legend (so many of my other favourite authors are no longer with us), and I want to emphasize, on the day and before, that there is more to his work than Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, majestic a novel as it is.

Then, in the evening, I host my own gig of readings and songs, from my novels and short stories. I’ve always liked to feature ‘people like the folk I know’ in my books, rather than fantasy or historical figures. Those who had an okay start in life, but still struggle all the same; people who fear mediocrity more than death, who take moral choices seriously, who pause to wonder at what is and what might be. I like someone to discover the magical in the everyday; like Yvonne in Marching on Together who examines the complex beauty of a single dandelion flower and then quietly puts her weed-killer away.

And I am drawn to people who form a band, like Johnny, Terry and Craig in the book, and in its short story prequel Gringos Can’t Dance. They do covers as well as their own material, and they have good taste. So the soundtrack to my modest canon features songs by REM, the Kaiser Chiefs and the Beatles. On the night, they’ll be performed by real musicians, not me, I hasten to add. I’ll also have professional actress Lucy Freeman to help me with readings. This is all at the 6pm slot. It’s a fundraiser for my crowdfunded third novel The Rooms We Never Enter, and it promises to be a huge amount of fun.

Philip Whiteley.

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