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My West Country – Colin Midson

My West Country – Colin Midson


Excitement is building for this year’s brilliant and beloved Port Eliot Festival, the unmissable multi-arts weekend event set in the stunning grounds of the Cornish estate. Colin Midson, the unflappable, charismatic Creative Director of the festival is one of the long standing lynch pins of the operation and responsible for the much lauded literary line up.

When and how did your love affair with the west country begin?

I grew up in North Kent but my parents would regularly take us down the A303 on trips away at half terms, Easter and over the summer holidays. They’d done the same when they were first getting together and as newlyweds in the 60s, travelling down on my Dad’s Norton motorbike. Stand-out memories include family holidays in Mousehole (when we won a sandcastle competition judged by Bucks Fizz!) and a particularly glorious trip to Coombe Martin in North Devon.

What was your life before Port Eliot?

I worked in the publishing industry in London from 1998 until 2013. My first job was at Bloomsbury, and I joined just as the Harry Potter books started gaining traction – looking back it was an incredibly exciting time to have been working there. Over the years I got to work with an insanely diverse range of authors: from Nobel prize winner Nadine Gordimer, to celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal, novelists like Eleanor Catton and William Boyd, and legendary figures from popular culture like Buzz Aldrin and Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart Simpson.

How did you become involved with Port Eliot?

I’d been a regular festivalgoer from 2006. My wife and I would stop off en route to visit her parents on the Lizard, further down into Cornwall. Over the years I ended up chairing some events with various authors I knew through my job in publishing, and got to see the festival grow and got to know the team. When my wife and I moved back to her family home permanently in 2013, to help look after her ageing father, I asked if the festival had any jobs going… and luckily enough for me, they did.

What are your main roles over the festival weekend?

A lot of what I do happens in the months leading up to the festival: meeting with publishers, talking about exciting new authors and books, looking for trends, event ideas, newsworthy hooks and so on. And reading. A lot of reading. But over the festival weekend I can be found mainly looking after the writers onsite – making sure that they know what they’re doing and when/where – and dealing with all sorts of on-the-hoof problems. (Has anyone seen Gloria Steinem!? Do we have chalk for the blackboards? Has someone really stolen all of the backstage milk…?)

What are you looking forward to at this year’s festival?

This is always hard! Of the events on the literary stages, I’m really excited about hearing from Helen Pankhurst, great-granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst and granddaughter of Sylvia Pankhurst, who’s talking about the 100 years since Universal Suffrage. Billy Bragg talking about George Orwell on the Sunday as part of the Backlisted podcast event series will be great. In terms of music I’ve not seen Gaz Coombes or Danny Goffey since they performed as Supergrass at the V festival in Chelmsford in 1996, so getting to see them live is well overdue. And on a personal level, I’m really looking forward to interviewing Garth Jennings, director of Sing, Son Of Rambow and the Hitchhikers’ Guide movie and untold classic music videos – I’ve long been a fan of his work and have enjoyed listening to him alongside Adam Buxton on the radio and on Adam’s podcasts over the years – so it will be fun to meet him and talk about his live in movie-making.

Which walk do you take or place do you go when you need to think and dream?

I count myself very lucky to live less than 100 yards from the South West Coastal path so I often take a walk with our dog either heading eastwards towards Coverack or westwards towards the Lizard. The sea is a restorative whether it’s a roiling stormy swell or a blissfully calm turquoise millpond.

What is your favourite view?

I love the view looking out across to the Lizard from a pile of stones on the coastal path that have become known by the family, over the years, as Castle Rock. Perched 100 feet or so above the sea, it’s a wonderful spot to catch the setting sun on a fine summer’s evening.

What are your top three holiday read suggestions this summer?

Ned Beauman’s Madness is Better than Defeat is the most fun I’ve had reading in quite some time. It’s laugh-out-loud funny and ingeniously constructed – I found myself reading lines out loud to my wife which is always a good sign (though possibly not for her…) A.J. Pearce’s debut novel Dear Mrs Bird is a nostalgic feel-good read set in the Second World war featuring an adorable protagonist with a singularly winning voice – it manages to be both heart-warming and funny, and brings to life that Keep Calm and Carry On attitude of the era. Matthew de Abaitua’s Self and I could have been a really niche memoir about his friendship with the author Will Self, but it’s a compelling and strangely moving look at ambition and the importance of literature in shaping our lives. It too is very funny…

What book are you currently reading?

The Biggerers by Amy Lilwall. It’s a weirdly unsettling dystopian novel set in the near future that manages to be cutesy and disturbing, like the Borrowers re-written by J.G. Ballard.

Do you have a favourite restaurant/café?

We always love going to the Gurnard’s Head near Zennor – some of the best food I’ve eaten in Cornwall and a proper, unpretentious pub atmosphere…

Do you have a favourite south west literary haunt?

Falmouth is the nearest sizable town to my home and it has two great and utterly different bookshops: the Falmouth Bookseller which is a proper independent bookshop, piled high with great books and with knowledgeable staff (the sort one shop doesn’t see enough of on our high streets); and Beerwolf Books is the only Bookshop I’ve ever come across that that manages, simultaneously, to be a pub.

Where is the best place for a campfire beach party or country picnic?

I recently walked the coastal path from Helford to Coverack – about 12 miles or so – and there are many places en route like St Anthony, Porthallow, Lowlands point, that are wonderful for a picnic stop. So long as the weather is on your side.

Can you share a hidden gem/secret with us?!

There’s a small, idyllic white sand beach along the coast from us that only appears for a couple of hours at low tide (and sometimes not at all, depending on what havoc has been wrought by the winter storms). Whenever we go we normally get it to ourselves and it’s the perfect coastal hideaway. But I’m not going to tell you where it is…

It's not too late to come and join Colin at this year’s festival from 26th to 29th July – go to https://porteliotfestival.com/

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