Life in Books: Jessica Fellowes

With just over three weeks until she appears at the historic Fawley Court (which, incidentally, opens its doors to the public for the first time in 175 years to welcome the Henley Literary Festival audience), multi-talented writer Jessica Fellowes shares with us her #lifeinbooks.

You can join us on Saturday 3rd October to discover The Wit & Wisdom of Downton Abbey, the latest in Jessica’s fascinating series.

As official Downton chronicler, niece of the hit series’ creator, Julian Fellowes and much sought-after speaker on both sides of the Atlantic, Jessica’s own sharp wit and impressive wisdom ensure a fun and enlightening hour.


You’re appearing at the Henley Literary Festival for the first time in 2015 – who or what are you most looking forward to seeing while you’re in town?

Ooh! Such a lot to choose from! I’m lucky I live just down the road, so I can pop in and out.

I want to hear Candace Bushnell because ‘Sex & the City’ was absolutely my generation. There are a few writers there, too, that I’ve met over the years, whether at festivals or on Facebook (writers love connecting because we get quite lonely at our desks): Anne de Courcy, Santa Montefiore, Rachel Johnson, Polly Samson.

Gyles Brandreth and I have been on a panel show together and Tim Bentinck is an old friend. I can’t wait!

Which three authors (dead or alive) would appear on your dream literary festival line-up?

Dorothy Parker, Donna Tartt and George Eliot – I’d love to hear what it’s like being a writer in each of their different eras.

Authors are often asked to give advice to young writers – what do you wish you’d known when you were starting out?

To just do it – there’s nothing to be afraid of, it’s just putting words on a page and practice is what makes you better.

Tell us your best books of 2015

I read rather a hodgepodge of old and new but this year my best books have been: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, Still Missing by Beth Gutcheon, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee by Rebecca Miller, Maggie & Me by Damian Barr and Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon.

Which debut authors or emerging writers are you most impressed by?

Miriam Toews is not a debut novelist, as she’s written two or three, but her book ‘All My Puny Sorrows’ is extraordinary – beautifully written and almost unbearably sad in parts, yet without a drop of self-pity. I was really impressed by Emma Healey’s ‘Elizabeth Is Missing’ and I’ve got Laura Barnett’s ‘Versions of Us’ waiting to be read – I’m told it’s technically very good.

What would be the title of your life story? Who would play you in the film adaptation of your life story? 

The title would have to be something like ‘So Sorry For The Slow Reply’ as I seem to write that in most of my emails…I’m constantly playing catch up. I’d cast Jennifer Saunders – apparently we share something of the same sense of humour, according to a friend of hers I know (though I don’t claim to be as funny!).

If you were in charge of the Henley Children’s Literary Festival for a day, which children’s books would you add to the line-up?

Pippi Longstocking – I adored those books.

Book festivals are on the up – what’s the best thing about them? Have you had any funny or surreal experiences?

My first ever talk was also my worst – I was given a whole hour to talk, straight after lunch, on my book ‘Mud & the City: Dos and Don’ts For Townies in the Country’. It’s full of rather young, urban humour (there’s a line about someone walking into a pub wearing a gimp mask – need I say more?) and the audience of largely sleepy 80 year olds were either completely bemused or loudly snoring….

What’s your top literary festival tip?

For the speakers: prepare three good stories for the audience to take away with them and SMILE on the stage. If you look happy to be there, everyone will relax.

For the attendees: just pick people at random to hear. Surprising discoveries are the best things – don’t worry about getting the ‘hot’ ticket.

If you were stranded on a beach with a single book, what would it be? Desert Island Discs rules apply (The Bible and the Complete Works of Shakespeare are already miraculously at hand)…

The Complete Works of Somerset Maugham, please.



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