Monday, 7 October 2013

Ellis Peters and Wellington Literary Festival

This year sees the centenary of the birth of Edith Pargeter, better known to crime lovers as Ellis Peters, the creator of Brother Cadfael. Although she often travelled abroad, set many books overseas, and was a noted translator of works written in Czech, she was first and foremost a woman of Shropshire, the county where she was born and spent nearly all her life, and which featured in many of her best books. Pleasingly, Wellington Town Council in Shropshire decided to celebrate her at its Literary Festival this year and I was honoured to be asked to be the guest speaker, discussing her life and work.

I imagine the invitation stemmed in part from the fact that I edited a collection of obscure Peters stories for a book published by Crippen and Landru some years ago, The Trinity Cat, and in part from the fact that I've written about her work on a few occasions, for instance in Following the Detectives, edited by Maxim Jakubowski. So I was glad to accept, although as I journeyed down the M6 to Wellington through ghastly traffic, I reflected that travel hasn't improved as much as it should since Cadfael journeyed around in the twelfth century.

One thing that impressed me enormously was the venue for the Festival. This is a large and recently built leisure centre which includes a public library, and much else besides. The very pleasant town councillor who introduced my talk was clearly proud of the centre, and quite right too. This is exactly the sort of project that provides tremendous benefits to a community, and my impression was that the facilities are well used and much appreciated.

Putting a library together with other leisure resources may sometimes be complicated and far from cheap, but the social dividends can be hugely rewarding if it is done well (in a more modest way, it's been done in my home village,Lymm, and again the results have been admirable.) In the 21st century, when maintaining social cohesion is, in many ways, as important as ever it has been, a high calibre venue such as this brings people together and ensures that events like the Literary Festival are not only possible but likely to be successful and greatly valued.

The festival committee had certainly done a good job in getting an eclectic list of speakers: it's not often that Germaine Greer and I are metaphorically rubbing shoulders in the same programme. Although I've visited nearby Ironbridge before, I 'd never stopped in Wellington previously, but I was really struck by what the local people, and their authority, have created. And I'm sure Edith Pargeter would have been impressed as well.

3 comments:

paulbeech said...

Martin, your talk was simply terrific and certainly gave me – and many other members of the audience, I’m sure – a much better appreciation of Edith Pargeter’s achievements and importance in 20th century letters, especially of course, as Ellis Peters, in the field of crime fiction. Brother Cadfael, George Felse, historical novels, translations from Czech classics… what an industrious and brilliant writer she was. You’ve fired me up. I want to immerse myself in her work. And what better place to start than ‘The Trinity Cat and Other Mysteries’, her short story collection edited by yourself with the late Sue Feder. I’m so glad I bought a copy from you along with the other books.

Like you, I was greatly impressed with the new Leisure Centre. It is indeed an amenity for the people of Wellington to take pride in and enrich their lives with. Hats off to the Town Council!

Best wishes,

Paul

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Paul, it was good to see you there and of course I'm very grateful for your generous comments about the evening. Hope you enjoy The Trinity Cat.

Ralph said...

I used to visit Edith Pargeter on a regular basis when her latest Brother Cadfael novel was published. She kindly agreed to sign copies for customers and by the time she had got to her penultimate book the pile had grown to over a 100 copies. On my last visit I spotted four titles on her shelves written by "Jolyon Carr" and published by Herbert Jenkins between 1938-1940. I asked her why she had them in her library. She answered with a twinkle in her eye that she had been "Jolyon Carr" and had forgotten all about them! On leaving she presented me with the four books.
Subsequently I reissued "Murder in the Dispensary" - her first Carr novel - in a limited edition (and still available to purchase!)