Voewood Festival – a Norfolk literary festival

Snuggling down under the duvet, I turned to the man I was in bed with.

‘Will you read me a story?’ I asked. He smiled and picked up a book. As he began to speak, I closed my eyes and felt myself beginning to drift off. Then I felt a tap on the shoulder.

‘Mind if I hop in too?’ asked a man I’d never met before.  

Reader, it isn’t what it looks like. Honestly. You see, I was attending the opening day of the first ever Voewood Festival, and my companion was literary wunderkind David Whitehouse, who had nobly volunteered to read from his debut novel, Bed, while sitting in an actual bed, for three whole days. ‘I’ve been here for six hours straight,’ he told me, rubbing his eyes.


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This, as you may have guessed, was a weekend full of wonderful surprises. We had plenty of tales of the unexpected from the speakers, who chatted away as unselfconsciously as if they were in the pub. Rowan Pelling’s microphone broke, but it didn’t matter because, as she told us, she was a publican’s daughter and was used to shouting. Mark Logue and Peter Conradi, authors of The King’s Speech (on which the film was based), let us in on the secret that George VI had issues with the letter ‘K’, but got round this by referring to himself as the ‘monarch’, and Richard Long, the Turner Prize-winning land artist famous for his epic walks, did some myth-busting (‘I don’t think of my walks as performances. They’re just a way I like to make art’). Then there was the four-person unicycle, the adorable pop-up bookshop and the tiny van that dispensed coffee.


The pace was relaxed and informal, and those finding themselves with an hour to kill between talks could easily hop in their cars and explore nearby Holt’s antique shops. Not that we wanted to leave the festival site, with so much fabulous food on offer. We cooed over Cromer-crab sushi from Simply Sushi Norfolk, munched on pork-and-onion-marmalade pies from Samphire, whose rare-breed meats Giles Coren has praised to the skies, and somehow found room for the most heavenly homemade carrot cake.

While tucking into my second slice of the latter, I bumped into Voewood’s owner and the festival’s co-organiser, rare-book dealer Simon Finch, resplendent in a pair of Vivienne Westwood tartan trousers. Hastily wiping crumbs from my mouth, I asked him how things were going.

‘The response has been amazing,’ he told me. ‘Everyone says it shouldn’t really be called a festival, because here people get the chance to say hello to authors in a proper way, and that’s working really well.

‘Practically all of this year’s speakers want to come back, and a whole load of new ones are interested, too. Among those queuing up Alan Hollingshurst, Sebastian Faulks, and a really huge band,’ added Mr Finch.

Voewood is a festival with a heart, raising money and awareness for the hospital at Kelling and the cancer charity Love Hope Strength -this year, visitors were invited to consider signing up to the International Bone Marrow Registry.

As the sun began to set, festivalgoers sipped G&Ts and prepared for the evening’s entertainment-a set from Norfolk lass Beth Orton. Exhausted from all the excitement, we headed home to The Saracen’s Head in Wolterton, a picture-perfect, family-run Georgian inn with six recently renovated en-suite bedrooms and a hugely popular restaurant serving seasonal, locally sourced dishes. As we sat down to a superb meal of ham-hock terrine, slow-cooked pork belly with mustard mash and warm chocolate brownies, you’ve have been forgiven for thinking that we were overdoing things on the food front. But with talks from Louis de Bernières, DJ Taylor and DBC Pierre to look forward to the next day (not to mention a barnstorming performance from Adam Ant), we needed to keep our strength up.

* Voewood Festival

* The Saracen’s Head, Wall Road, Wolterton, Norfolk, NR11 7LZ. 01263 768909;