Page Turner: So long, and thanks for all the canapés

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The Independent Culture

But the unstoppable rise of the literary festival is in some ways the most surprising phenomenon. One of the first people I ever interviewed on stage was a debut novelist called Julie Myerson. I wonder what happened to her?

In the old days writers unused to being in the public eye used to quiver with fear before going on. It's all got much slicker now, although there are some authors who prefer you to be the one quivering with fear. I died on stage with Graham Swift, who snapped "no" five times in a row to my questions. Howard Jacobson ticked me off for introducing him as a comic writer. But the kindly Martin Amis helped me rearrange the furniture when the mics weren't close enough. (He might be small, but he sure can shift.)

I've been invited back this year to the impeccable Althorp Literary Festival, where no such disasters are likely to occur. The surliest author tends to melt when bed is a four-poster, dinner overlooks lush parkland and someone's always on hand with the gin. The festival, which runs from 12-14 June, has a pronounced historical flavour, with Simon Schama on America, Michael Wood on India, the novelist Bernard Cornwell discussing Agincourt with the medieval historian Juliet Barker and the dashing triumvirate of Tom Holland, Saul David and Justin Pollard arguing over who's the greatest classical general of all time, respectively Hannibal, Caesar and Alexander. (It's got to be Alexander.)

On a lighter note, there'll also be Fern Britton telling 'Her Story', Artemis Cooper on Paddy Leigh Fermor and a one-woman show by Sandi Toksvig in the State Dining Room. Can't wait. For more information, check out the website,

When you cease to resemble your byline photo you know it's time to move on. As I now have white hair and no teeth, I think I'd better "twitch my mantle blue" and finally turn the page on "Page Turner". So it's farewell to two crates of books a day, Jiffy-bag fluff stuck to my tights, a diet of canapés, and a weekly alcohol unit intake bigger than my bust size. Reigning in hell has been such fantastic fun.