Could up-market Knutsford be Cheshire's literary hot spot?
PUBLISHED: 00:00 10 August 2016
There are many tales to tell about Knutsford and its people, as Janet Reeder discovers on a recent visit
Knutsford’s appetite for the written word is embodied in its annual festival, which was launched as a millennium project and is now in its 17th year.
A four-strong committee of volunteers are busy pulling together another fantastic programme of events, ranging from an appearance by the TV newsreader John Suchet who has written a book on the Strauss dynasty, to Adam Sisman author of the first authorised biography of Night Manager writer John Le Carré.
‘The festival was set up for the millennium to be a one-off event but it proved so popular that it’s still going on to this day,’ says co-organiser Liz Kempster.
‘It’s all voluntary and we are trying to get as much variety in there as possible, catering for different interests and age groups.
As well as readings and signings there will be a special literary lunch at the Mere Golf Resort and Spa, held during the festival which runs from October 7th-16th.
They are hoping to get a very special guest speaker and the date will be announced soon. For further details you can visit the website on www.knutsfordlitfest.org
Of course, Knutsford’s literary heritage stretches back much further than the end of the last century. Victorian novelist and short story writer Elizabeth Gaskell is the town’s most celebrated scribe. She spent much of her childhood in the town which she immortalised as Cranford and lived with her aunt Hannah Lumb in a large redbrick house called Heathwaite on what has been renamed Gaskell Avenue in her honour.
The town continues to inspire other creative people too, writers such as Timothy Claydon-Butler, whose books for younger readers are helping to explain the town’s heritage.
Timothy always enjoyed drawing when he was younger and now his childhood passion has taken him on another path - as an illustrator and writer of children’s books about Knutsford.
‘ I was going through a difficult time at work and turned to drawing to help me. I soon realised that I really enjoyed doing it,’ says 40-year-old Timothy.
‘So I thought I would like to do a little project, something that could be put into production and wasn’t just my scribbling. I became interested in the notorious local figure Highwayman Higgins. My next door neighbour worked at the Knutsford Heritage Centre and said they had nothing really for children, so that’s how it all started.’
Now Timothy has taken on other literary projects about the area including a book about King Canute and an illustrated poem for Egerton Primary School about the link between the Egerton family of Tatton and a school in Kenya, called A Tale of Two Schools.
‘There is a wealth of stories here and unless we interest people in them and make them accessible they will disappear, ‘ he says.
‘So I am on a bit of a heritage mission. What is special can easily be lost if we are not careful.’
Mollie Blake is another writer who has been inspired by the town but who is seeking an audience at the other end of the spectrum.
Mollie is an adults-only writer of erotic fiction and like Knutsford’s famous literary legend, Mrs Gaskell, has used the town as her inspiration.
Her latest book, The Secret of Arnford Hall was recently snapped up by an American publisher called Black Opal Books
‘They emailed to say they loved my style of writing, they loved the story and they wanted to offer me a contract,’ says Mollie.
‘And they plan to publish it this year. It’s called The Secret at Arnford Hall and Arnford is this imaginary village that I’ve created near Knutsford.
‘It inspired me as a location because of its upmarket feel. There’s a lot of money around here and of course a lot of land around Tatton which in effect is the hero’s estate. The Cottons Hotel also features and there’s a lunch which ends up with him having to buy a pair of trousers from the Ronan shop, which is just not him as he’s a Hugo Boss type of man!’
Mollie is also part of the Knutsford Literary Society, which meets every first Thursday of the month at Corks Out on King Street, 7.30pm.
‘It’s a book club with a difference.’ she says.
‘You don’t have to have read a book, you just have to love books. There are talks and readings from writers and it’s all very enjoyable.’ w
Knutsford Literature festival: www.knutsfordlitfest.org.
Mollie Blake: www.mollieblake.co.uk
Timothy Claydon-Butler: www.cranfordtails.co.uk