Join BBC Radio Gloucestershire's Jo Durrant in conversation with Sarah Franklin the author of Shelter an acclaimed first novel set in the wartime Forest of Dean.
Friday 23rd March 1.10pm-2pm
The Library, The Main Place, Coleford
Sarah Franklin's first novel, Shelter, was published in 2017 (available in paperback this summer). The idea for Shelter began when the Conservative government announced that they were going to sell off some of Britain’s forests, including the Forest of Dean, where Sarah grew up.
‘The concept that my formative landscape could be sold off randomly was just unfathomable.
I wrote about it for The Guardian and realised that this, maybe, was the book I needed to write.
I didn’t want to knock out an angry contemporary polemic, so I started to think about other times in history when this centuries-old forest might have come under threat.’
Sarah turned to the Second World War, when the Forest served the national purpose as a sanctuary and a timber resource. Italian prisoners were brought to work in the Forest and the newly-formed Women’s Timber Corps had its training HQ in the Forest of Dean, bringing hundreds of young women into the Forest to learn how to manage Britain’s timber stocks.
Against this background people were thrust into an alien environment, sometimes against their will, and from this the characters in Shelter were born. The story of loss, identity and new beginnings - centred on the experiences of the independent, wilful Connie - are told against the turmoil of the changing forest.
Sarah is senior lecturer in publishing at Oxford Brookes University, promoter of literary events and judge for the Costa Book Awards.
Jo Durrant has interviewed authors at the Cheltenham Literature Festival and around Gloucestershire. She recently interviewed Andrew Taylor. Jo is familiar with the tradition of Forest authors from her work on BBC Radio Gloucestershire's programme on Leonard Clark and more recently, Winifred Foley. She is currently researching and recording a series that illustrates the influence of women’s writing from the Forest of Dean over the last century.
Humphrey Phelps’ 1993 book A Forest Christmas is a fascinating, heart-warming compendium of reminiscence, poems, stories, fact, fiction and pictures reflecting Christmas in the Forest of Dean. The book features the memories of well-known local personalities such as Cinderford stalwart Elsie Olivey (co-founder of the Dean Heritage Museum); ex-newspaperman and then reverend to Ruardean Cliff Davies; and freeminer Eric Warren as well as many more. The work of local authors such as F. W. Harvey, Winifred Foley, Leonard Clark and Harry Beddington, Ralph Anstis and many others feature too. In this extract from the book Harry Beddington (in a poem that first appeared in his own book Forest Humour) fondly extolls the virtues of the Forest's brass and silver bands traditions at Christmas:
It’s allus bin the practice ‘ere
Amongst the photographs in the book several show seasonal snow-bound Forest scenes. Newspaper clippings date as far back as the nineteenth century. This one from the early twentieth century reminds us of a much loved Forest business.
If you're ever struggling to get into the Christmas spirit this is the book for you - within minutes of delving into its covers you'll be humming carols and glowing with festive cheer and good will to all! For anyone interested in the Forest, Humphrey Phelps is a great story teller, historian and researcher - for all seasons of the year.
We’re celebrating this year’s National Poetry Day with Forest of Dean poets and poems in voice. Rather than reading the Forest we’ve got recordings of poets speaking, expressing the very essence of The Forest. #SpeakingtheForest will see videos and audio released throughout the day (Thursday 28th) on Twitter @readingthefod and on Facebook /readingtheforest
National Poetry Day began in 1994 with the aim of celebrating excellence in poetry and increasing the audience for it. BBC local radio, poets, community groups and schools up and down the country get involved every year.
The Forest has a great tradition of poetry with its earliest mention in poetic print appearing to be Michael Drayton’s epic Poly-Olbion that sets out to describe the landscape and history of England and Wales - including the Forest:
Here (The queen of forests all, that west of Severne lie);
Her broad and bushy top Deane holdeth up so high,
The lesser are not seen, she is so tall and large.
And standing in such state upon the winding marge.
To more recent times and significant local poets include F W Harvey whose work became known around the UK in part due to his MANY BBC radio broadcasts. His young protégé Leonard Clark would go on to publish many books of his own poems, as well becoming a specialist in poetry for young people. He surely would have appreciated the aims of National Poetry Day! Both writers feature in our digital celebration, as well as the work of more contemporary Forest poets: two firm local favourites Maggie Clutterbuck and Keith Morgan, as well as rising star Stewart Carswell. So if you’ve not done so already, sign up to Twitter or Facebook to enjoy a day of #SpeakingtheForest.
This Saturday (9th September) All Saints Church Viney Hill celebrates the village’s connection to a remarkable, larger than life character: Xavier ‘Gypsy’ Petulengro. Author, showman, broadcaster and mail order businessman, Petulengro was a widely known and loved personality in the inter-war and post-war years – so much so that up to 1,500 people from the Forest and across the UK attended his funeral at All Saints in 1957. As well as his many other interests and enterprises he was a prolific author, writing memoirs, fiction, and several books on Gypsy traditions, food and remedies. As part of the fantastic Heritage Open Days programme across the Forest of Dean, Reading the Forest is putting on an exhibition exploring his life, works, influence, and his Forest connections. We’re particularly interested in meeting anyone who remembers his visits to the Forest, his close friends Mr & Mrs Vine who lived opposite the church, and his funeral.
The event is free, and runs from 12noon until 6pm.
The exhibition is being put on with the support of University of Gloucestershire, The Foresters’ Forest, All Saints Church, and Heritage Open Days.
"The world was alive out here, the scent of bud and blossom in every breath a stark contrast to the thus of bombs into sandbanks, or worse, the iron smell of blood and the screams when a shell hit a target.
This was a place where you could start again."
The Forest of Dean and its familiar woodland is central to Sarah Franklin’s debut novel, Shelter. The Second World War provides the context for this lovely, well written story of the coming together of an Italian prisoner of war and a ‘Lumbergill’ seeking refuge from the Coventry blitz. These characters are, in their different ways both refugees, and like so many before they are taken into the bosom of a Forest family. They become part of the collective effort to fell the great oaks and woods of the Dean to support the war effort. Sarah Franklin, with an insight born of her own Forest heritage, captures the sanctuary that the woods offered and the mixture of emotions generated when swathes of great oaks were felled.
The understanding of Foresters’ ways, their sheep, mines and dialect and the geography of the Forest are perfectly captured in this well researched book. For anyone familiar with the Forest the landmarks are well known; Parkend Memorial Hall and the Forestry Training School feature as part of the books landscape. The war time resilience, stoicism and compassion of the family at the heart of the book rings true. Their portrayal undermines the false representation of Foresters as traditionally being antagonistic to ‘vurriners’. Foresters may have been wary of exploitative capitalists but they were always willing to give ‘shelter’, as the name of the book implies, to those seeking refuge and the dispossessed.
Connie, the central character, represents someone traumatised by the war. She is given the opportunity to make a new start and occupy a role that had traditionally been the prerogative of men. The training and experience of women employed in Forestry described in the book has a factual basis, researched by the author at Dean Heritage Centre. The unmarried Connie bears a child, an event that her surrogate family embrace - with less condemnation than was probable in the 1940s - but the author gives the Forest family a generosity that makes this believable. The ‘old Foresters’ in the book ring true and Amos, a sheep badger who supresses his emotions and appears to have a higher regard for his sheep and dog than people, is superbly realised and familiar. This is not a simple love story; Connie is restless and struggles with the comfort of her refuge in the Forest and has an ambition to ‘live the dream’, so the reader is never quite sure of a happy ending.
The Italian participation in this story is built around the PoW camp at Wynols Hill. The legacy of the Italian presence in the Forest has been arguably more lasting than that of the American occupation. The wartime experience helped forged a bond that saw many Italians remain or return after the war and make names such as ‘Marangon’ as familiar as Smith or Virgo. This well written debut novel may draw the reader less familiar with the Forest to visit or investigate the impact of the war on the area. Sadly, the one memorable physical legacy of the camp – the Marconi monument – was a victim of Council short-sightedness and demolished in the 1970’s. The trees have thankfully recovered from the ravages of war.
However, Forest heritage is built on stories not monuments, and this story of love, identity and finding happiness will appeal to a local audience and contribute to our idea of ourselves and our past.
Shelter by Sarah Franklin, published by Zaffre, available from 27 July, 2017.
Sunday (9th July) saw the culmination of this year's fantastic Coleford Festival of Words. After a week of readings, talks, and performance in Coleford, the festival decamped for its final day to Hopewell Colliery Museum for a celebration marking 800yrs of the Forest Charter. The day included a historical 'street' theatre performance lead by festival instigator Roger Drury telling the story of the Forest of Dean from Roman times to the prsent day. There was music, exhibition, stands, and art as well as tours underground. Speeches came from people involved in the HOOF and FOOF campaigns, including one Peer, and one of Her Majesty's Verderers! The event was opened by no less than the one Lord Lieutenant. A stand out moment was the performance of Vorest Miner by Hawks class of Lydbrook Primary School.
Reading the Forest were very pleased to be asked to take part in the festival - as well as simply enjoying the many of the events!
Amongst many highlights of the previous week, the fantastic Hollie McNish performing to a full house at Coleford Baptist Church stood out. Another has to be the first Forest performance by the fabulous Project Adorno of their mixed media live show Dennis Potter in the Present Tense.
And the festival was not just established writers - it included a writing competition to spot new talent. Winner of the Reading the Forest sponsored youth category was 13 yr old Izzy for this fabulous piece in response to call for entires on the theme of 'reading'.
Read Izzy's entry here:
A browned envelope lay on the table. Part of me knew what it was, so I don’t really know why I looked. But part of me was longing, optimistically hopeful that I was mistaken in its purpose. I sat down in front of it, and neatly sliced it open with my letter opener. It just seemed the most respectful thing to do. Two other parts were now peeking out, crumpled at the edges but still formal. Gently, I pulled on the corners. Out flew a letter, neatly addressed to Mother and I; the remaining, a picture of him. Out that came too, and rested silently on the table. It was certain. No more pretending, hoping. An ocean-full of tears swam in my eyes, but only one fell; one in a hundred; him.
I didn’t read all of the letter. There was no point. I could see the first paragraph or so from its folded position on the table, enough to know. I pushed it to one side, unable to bear to look at it any longer, its black, heartless writing, and neatly pressed edges. Instead, I looked at the picture - a brilliant photograph of him and his steed. A beautiful chestnut mare - I knew from his letters. A worthy horse for him. His face was cheerful, his uniform smart and new. It was like he knew, but, like me, didn’t want to. Around him, other men were busying themselves with chores - cleaning stables, brushing horses and polishing guns - their moustached faces contrasting perfectly with his clean-shaven one. His face, round, smiling, loving.
I walked unsteadily to my room, the little box room on the side of his. Carefully I placed his photograph on top of a shelf beside my bed. Next, I tore off a sheet of my precious writing paper - it was worth it for him - I proceeded to, in my neatest writing, write seven words and fold the paper to stand next to his picture. His last words to me before he’d gone - ‘stay strong, and hope will find you’.
Then I unceremoniously collapsed onto my bed and wept. The reality had reached me. My father. Dead. He seemed to watch me from his perch, and comfort me. He would always be there for me.
My father. In heaven, guarding me.
Fifty years ago a remarkable book was published that explored the life of a country GP and his relationship with his patients. That book was A Fortunate. Written by the acclaimed artist, critic, novelist and broadcaster John Berger, with photographs by Jean Mohr, the book would, for years to come, become recommended reading for trainee doctors. The book was about a real GP living and practising in the Forest of Dean. On Friday July 7th Reading the Forest’s Jason Griffiths and Roger Deeks will be delving into the book and the real lives behind it: the authors, the doctor, and the Forest community where the story unfolds. With lots of opportunity for questions and discussion, the project will also be looking ahead to a bigger event in 2018 and seeking people's recollections of the making of this book, the village, and it's doctor. On the night there will also be copies of the book available for loan to anyone who would like to read this fascinating book and write a short review for the Reading the Forest website. The talk is part of The Coleford Festival of Words and takes place at Coleford Baptist Hall. Tickets cost £3 on the door, or £2 booked in advance (via Eventbrite, Coleford Library or Coleford Tourist Information).
Coleford Festival of Words 2017 programme of events is now available. Time to book your tickets!
This year's Coleford Festival of Words has a real blockbuster feel about it. As well as high profile stars - poet Hollie McNish, comedian, actor and writer Miles Jupp, best selling crime writer M R Hall - there's a wealth of workshops, writing competitions, and locally focused talks and celebrations. Project Adorno bring their thought provoking and entertaining show Dennis Potter in the Present Tense, and the festival marks the 50th anniversary of John Berger's book A Fortunate Man about a St Briavels doctor. And to round it all off a celebration at Hopewell Colliery marking the 800th anniversary of the Forest Charter. Lots to see, hear and do - find out more online via Coleford Hub or pick up a flier from your local library.
When reporter Sarah Daily heard about a mammoth tooth found at Cannop Ponds she knew she was on to a story. Imagine her surprise when she discovered that far from being an ancient fossil it was actually a modern Indian elephant tooth! How did it get there? Never having a zoo or safari park, surely, there wouldn't ever have been an elephant in the Forest of Dean...would there? After an appeal on social media Coleford poet Keith Morgan was one of the people stepping forward with an answer. As Sarah's article in this week's Forest of Dean and Wye Valley Review explains, travelling circuses would often come through the Forest of Dean. A photograph on the fascinating SunGreen website shows a local landlord offering one such visiting elephant a beer to drink. It seems this could well have been the very same elephant described to Keith years later, immortalised his poem Ivor and the Elephant.