Literary Programme 2017

Melissa Harrison & Sarah Perry

Melissa Harrison & Sarah Perry

Melissa Harrison
Sarah Perry

The Bantry Bay

Fri 21 July 2017



Melissa Harrison’s non-fiction Rain and The Essex Serpent, a novel by Sarah Perry both celebrate the natural world and the joy of walking out into it. Given our magnificent setting here on the Wild Atlantic Way we are delighted to welcome Melissa and Sarah to the festival.

Rain: Four Walks in English Weather is an evocative meditation on the English landscape in wet weather by the acclaimed novelist and nature writer, Melissa Harrison. Whenever rain falls, the countryside changes – and we understand this just as well in Ireland. Fields, farms, hills and hedgerows appear altered, the wildlife behaves differently, and over time the terrain itself is transformed. In Rain, Melissa explores our relationship with the weather as she follows the course of four rain showers, in four seasons, across Wicken Fen, Shropshire, the Darent Valley and Dartmoor. Blending these expeditions with reading, research, memory and imagination, she reveals how rain is not just an essential element of the world around us, but a key part of our own identity too.

Longlisted for the Wainwright Prize for UK Nature and Travel Writing.

‘Harrison is the perfect walking companion: informed, inquisitive and insightful with a way of conjuring the natural world on the page that, at times, verges on magical.’Rob Cowen

Exhilarating.’The Guardian    ‘Wonderful.’New Statesman

Melissa Harrison is a nature writer and columnist for The Times, the Weekend FT and the Guardian. Her debut novel Clay (2013) won the Portsmouth First Fiction Award and was chosen by Ali Smith as a Book of the Year. Her second novel, At Hawthorn Time, was shortlisted for the 2015 Costa Novel Award and was longlisted for the 2016 Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction. Her first book of non-fiction, Rain, was published by Faber with the National Trust and was longlisted for the Wainwright Prize for Nature and Travel Writing. She lives in South London. 

Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent opens in London in 1893. When Cora Seaborne’s husband dies, she steps into her new life as a widow with as much relief as sadness: her marriage was not a happy one, and she never suited the role of society wife. Accompanied by her son Francis – a curious, obsessive boy – she leaves town for Essex, where she hopes fresh air and open space will provide the refuge they need.

When they take lodgings in Colchester, rumours reach them from further up the estuary that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming human lives, has returned to the coastal parish of Aldwinter. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist with no patience for religion or superstition, is immediately enthralled, convinced that what the local people think is a magical beast may be a previously undiscovered species. As she sets out on its trail, she is introduced to William Ransome, Aldwinter’s vicar.

Told with exquisite grace and intelligence, this novel is most of all a celebration of love, and the many different guises it can take.

Waterstones Book of the Year 2016

‘I loved this book. At once numinous, intimate and wise, The Essex Serpent is a marvellous novel about the workings of life, love and belief, about science and religion, secrets, mysteries, and the complicated and unexpected shifts of the human heart and it contains some of the most beautiful evocations of place and landscape I've ever read. It is so good its pages seem lit from within. As soon as I'd finished it I started reading it again.’Helen MacDonald

‘Had Charles Dickens and Bram Stoker come together to write the great Victorian novel, I wonder if it would have surpassed The Essex Serpent? With only her second outing, Sarah Perry establishes herself as one of the finest fiction writers working in Britain today.’John Burnside

Sarah Perry was born in Essex in 1979. She has a PhD in creative writing from Royal Holloway, and has been a writer-in-residence at the Gladstone Library and from January-February 2016 was the UNESCO World City of Literature Writer in Residence in Prague. Her first novel, After Me Comes the Flood, was longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Folio Prize, and won the East Anglian Book of the Year Award in 2014. Her second novel, The Essex Serpent, was Waterstones Book of the Year 2016. It was shortlisted for the Costa Best Novel Prize 2016, the Royal Society of Literature Encore Award 2017 and the Dylan Thomas Prize 2017 and longlisted for the Wellcome Book Prizes. She lives in Norwich. @SarahGPerry #TheEssexSerpent

After this reading Melissa and Sarah will join us on our Festival Walk. Please check our website and social media for further details in the coming weeks.

Melissa’s photo is by Brian David Stevens and Sarah’s is by Jamie Drew.

Melissa Harrison and Sarah Perry will be in conversation with Sinéad Gleeson. Sinéad’s essays have appeared in Granta, Winter Papers, Gorse and Banshee. She is the editor of the award-winning short story anthologies The Long Gaze Back: an Anthology of Irish Women Writers and The Glass Shore: Short Stories by Women Writers from the North of Ireland. She is currently working on a collection of essays and presents The Book Show on RTÉ Radio 1.