Henley Literary Festival 2021 – Authors and Books Galore! @henleylitfest

Henley Literary Festival is back for 2021 with a combination of in person and live-streamed events running from 2nd to 10th October. Tickets went on sale to the public on Monday 19th July, following a priority booking period for Friends of the Festival.

Henley-on-ThamesThis year’s venues include Henley Town Hall, Christ Church, the River and Rowing Museum and, new for 2021, the Baillie Gifford Marquee in the grounds of Phyllis Court. Unfortunately there are no events aboard one of Hobbs of Henley’s river cruisers this year – always a favourite of mine in previous years – but fingers crossed for next year.

Here are a few events from this year’s programme that caught my eye, some of which I’ve already secured my tickets for. Links will take you to the event information on the Henley Literary Festival website. In many cases, there is an option to purchase a ticket to access a live-stream of the event.

Snow CountrySaturday 2nd October

Dr Lucy Pollock and Rachel Clarke talking about their books, The Book About Getting Older and Breathtaking: Inside the NHS in a Time of Pandemic

Sebastian Faulks talking about his new novel, Snow Country

Candice Brathwaite and Nikesh Shukla talking about their latest books, Sista Sister and Brown Baby: A Memoir of Race, Family and Home

Sunday 3rd October

Kate Mosse talking about her new historical novel, The City of Tears

Ruby Wax talking about her book, A Mindfulness Guide for Survival

Monday 4th October

Tom Allen talking about his memoir, No Shame

Forensic scientist Professor Angela Gallop talking about her book How To Solve A Crime

Tuesday 5th October

Ed Balls talking about his book, Appetite, billed as ‘part autobiography, part cookbook’

The very popular ‘Crime and Wine‘ event, this year featuring Imran Mahmood, and husband-and-wife team Nikki French, talking about their books, I Know What I Saw and The Unheard. One of the Festival sponsors, Laithwaites, provide the wine.

The Late Train to Gipsy HillWednesday 6th October

Former politician Alan Johnson discussing his first foray into fiction, The Late Train to Gipsy Hill

Robert Webb talking about his debut novel, Come Again

Thursday 7th October

Comedian Jack Dee talking about his book What Is Your Problem?

Friday 8th October

Carol Kirkwood and Jill Mansell talking about their recent books, Under A Greek Moon, and And Now You’re Back

Alexander McCall Smith discussing the return of Mma Ramotswe in The Joy and Light Bus Company

Saturday 9th October

Grace Dent talking about her memoir, Hungry

Talking of being hungry, I hope that taster has given you an appetite for taking a longer look at the Henley Literary Festival website to see the full programme of events. There is also a series of pop-up events – both before and after the Festival – plus a full programme of events for children. And anytime you’re in Henley, pay a visit to The Bell Bookshop, the Festival’s partner bookseller.

Are you hoping to attend a literary festival this year?

#BookReview Dangerous Women by Hope Adams @MichaelJBooks

Dangerous WomenAbout the Book

London, 1841. The Rajah sails for Australia. On board are 180 women convicted of petty crimes, sentenced to start a new life half way across the world. Daughters, sisters, mothers – they’ll never see home or family again. Despised and damned, all they have now is each other. Until the murder.

As the fearful hunt for a killer begins, everyone on board is a suspect. The investigation risks tearing their friendships apart… But if the killer isn’t found, could it cost them their last chance of freedom?

Based on a real-life voyage, Dangerous Women is a sweeping tale of confinement, hope and the terrible things we do to survive.

Format: Hardcover (352 pages)     Publisher: Michael Joseph
Publication date: 4th March 2021 Genre: Historical Fiction

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Dangerous Women

My Review

Conviction The Recovery of Rose Gold Henley Literary FestivalI first heard about this book at Henley Literary Festival in 2019 when it was one of the debut novels featured at the Michael Joseph Proof Party, alongside Stephanie Wrobel’s The Recovery of Rose Gold (which I’ve since read and reviewed). At the time, Dangerous Women was due to be published in 2020 under the title Conviction. For various reasons, publication was delayed but the plot of Dangerous Women is largely unchanged from that which the author described at the time. Indeed the passage from the book which Hope read at the event can be found in the final version. You can read my review of the event here. Be aware it features descriptions of strangers mingling before social distancing was even a thing.

Dangerous Women is inspired by the real life voyage of the Rajah from London to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) in 1841 during which many of the women prisoners, as in the book, worked on the embroidery of an elaborate quilt – now held in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia. You can read the author’s blog post about how she first learned of the quilt here and view pictures of it here.

Although technically sentenced to transportation for a set number of years, for many of the women aboard the Rajah, it will be the last time they see England, leading to heartbreaking scenes as the ship departs. “The ones who have children will yearn for them. The ones who have living parents will fear their deaths, their sicknesses, and being unable to help them.” But it’s not the same for all the women. For Kezia Hayter, who her whole life has felt underappreciated by her mother compared to her sister Henrietta, it’s a chance to forge an independent path in life. Her appointment as Matron on the voyage is also an opportunity to contribute to a cause about which she feels strongly: the welfare and rehabilitation of female prisoners. From the outset Kezia feels sympathy for and a sense of responsibility towards those in her charge, coming to think of them as her women. She goes out of her way to encourage them and to defend them where necessary.

The convicts are perhaps fortunate in that both the captain of the Rajah, Charles Ferguson, and the ship’s surgeon, Mr. Donovan, hold relatively enlightened views. Like Kezia, they are prepared to recognise that circumstances – poverty, abuse, coercion – may have led the women to commit the crimes they have. Clergyman Mr. Davies, on the other hand, subscribes to the less generous view that the cause of the women’s crimes is sinfulness.

For the women chosen by Kezia to work on the patchwork quilt she has designed, it’s not only a means of learning a skill that may benefit them in their new lives but a chance to leave the confines of below decks where the other less fortunate convicts spend their days. It also becomes a shared endeavour. Despite their different backgrounds and life experiences, by the end of the voyage they have become, as the author so imaginatively describes it, “a patchwork of souls”.

Although we’re told the Rajah is transporting one hundred and eighty women, for narrative reasons the reader only really gets to know the eighteen women chosen by Kezia to work on the quilt, and even then only to varying degrees.  The plight of the remaining women and the cramped and claustrophobic conditions that must have existed below deck remain largely in the background, except for a vivid scene in which the Rajah encounters a storm. However, within the circle of women working on the quilt, the reader gets to see friendships formed and severed, stories shared and secrets revealed.

A vivid account of an epic voyage, Dangerous Women is also a cleverly constructed “locked room” mystery. As well as trying to work out who might have carried out the vicious attack that takes place early on in the voyage, I enjoyed looking out for clues to the identity of the individual onboard who is not entirely what they seem. To be truthful, the answer to the latter was revealed a little earlier than I expected but that still leaves plenty of dramatic events to unfold.  There are revelations that bring redemption for some and unexpected possibilities for others.

I received an advance review copy courtesy of Michael Joseph via NetGalley.

In three words: Intriguing, compelling, dramatic

Try something similar: Fled by Meg Keneally or The Tides Between by Elizabeth Jane Corbett

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About the Author

Hope Adams is a pseudonym of Adele Geras. Adele was born in Jerusalem and spent her early childhood in many different countries, including Nigeria and British North Borneo. She went to Roedean School in Brighton and from there to St Hilda’s College, Oxford.

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Dangerous Women