Photographing popular authors

October 29, 2018  •  Leave a Comment
Diarmuid Gavin

Last week I was one of the three official photographers of the Wantage Literary Festival.  This was an 8-day programme of events featuring presentations by celebrity authors.  I was assigned to cover ten of the events, nine of them in The Beacon (formerly Wantage Civic Centre).  There was a diverse range of topics, all of them fascinating in their own way.  The events were popular; several of them were sell-outs.

First was TV gardener Diarmuid Gavin who, in conversation with journalist Clover Stroud, related a series of anecdotes about his early attempts to launch his career and get into the Chelsea Flower Show, and his subsequent rise to fame.

Sam Willis and James Daybell explain the timings of the sinking of The Titanic Two more well-known TV faces were in the following event, Sam Willis and James Daybell, who presented an intriguing series of historical investigations based on their book Histories of the Unexpected.
Nick Cope and his young fans Next up was Nick Cope, author of popular children's books and singer-songwriter.  This sell-out event was packed with children, all of whom seemed to know his songs well, from TV presumably.  They went wild with excitement (the parents seemed to enjoy it too).  I felt sorry for those children who turned up hoping to buy a ticket on the door, but were turned away.
Mick Herron quotes from his first novel, Slow Horses Popular spy story novelist Mick Herron talked about the characters and plots in his Jackson Lamb series of books.  He revealed aspects of his creative process, his life as a writer, and how he develops his famously complex plots.
Mike Read Mike Read, DJ, musician, songwriter and prolific author, was very entertaining as he revealed his knowledge of people commemorated by blue plaques on buildings around the UK.  He is chairman of the British Plaque Trust, and his latest book The Writing on the Wall describes his top 100 plaques and the stories behind them.
Dr. Henry Marsh Another sell-out event, and rightly so, saw neurosurgeon Dr Henry Marsh in conversation with former RAF physician Ian McCoubrey.  Dr Marsh's books, including the most recent, Admissions, address difficult issues of medical ethics.  Brain surgery, he said, was easy - anyone could do it - it's the decision-making that is difficult.
Tim Radford (right) interviewed by John Vandore Science editor of The Guardian Tim Radford presented his view of a range of scientific endeavours from space travel to quantum engineering, based on his book The Consolations of Physics.
Diane Atkinson in discussions over tea A sell-out afternoon tea event was the setting for a talk on the suffragette movement by Diane Atkinson, based on her book Rise Up Women: The Remarkable Lives of the Suffragettes.  After the talk, the audience enjoyed tea and cakes while questions and discussion continued.

Ed Vaisey MP and Rt Hon Sir Oliver Letwin MP take a question from the floor Finally, another sell-out, Sir Oliver Letwin was in conversation with local MP Ed Vaisey.  Sir Oliver's recent book Hearts and Minds was the background, and he analysed political events of recent decades in an open and frank manner.  Questions from the floor, inevitably focusing on Brexit, concluded an intellectual hour.

The photography was technically quite challenging, due to the low light levels.  I mainly worked with a long zoom lens (80 - 300mm) at f/2.8 and ISO 1600, mainly around 1/30 s exposures.  This was adequate to produce some very acceptable images, much appreciated by the Festival organisers and some used by the local press.

See a selection of 2018 Festival images here

Postscript: I was back at this event in 2019, photographing many more authors including Lord David Owen.

See a selection of 2019 Festival Images here

Unfortunately the 2020 Literary Festival has been cancelled, like so many events this year.  The next Festival will be in October 2021.





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