The name’s Lit: WhitLit

Beachside literary types are in for a treat next week, as Whitlit, Whitstable’s annual literary celebration, breezes back into the seaside town for its third year, with a James Bond theme running across the five-day festival.

PrintFrom Wednesday 11 to Sunday 15 May, literature lovers can indulge in a riot of literary events, including an appearance by the author of Chocolat, Joanne Harris; Steve Cole talks about his first Young Bond book, Shoot to Kill; there’s a panel discussion of Fleming’s Goldfinger, set largely in Kent (and, if you ask me, perhaps the best of the Fleming canon); Whitstable’s own crime writer, Julie Wassmer, talks about writing crime for television and novel (see our review of the first novel in her series, The Whitstable Pearl, here). The festival opens with a musical celebration of James Bond at the Community College, Whitstable, from the 1st Whitstable Scout Group Band, whilst there are events and activities for younger children throughout the day on Saturday 14 May.

Plenty to which to look forward: find out more about the festival here.

The smell of a Whitstable summer: The Whitstable Pearl Mystery by Julie Wassmer

Julie Wassmer’s big-hearted crime novel, The Whitstable Pearl Mystery, reads like a love-letter to the seaside town of Whitstable, infused as it it with deft touches of local colour that can only be painted by someone who knows the area intimately. The very sea-air permeates the novel, bestrewn with vivid depictions of seaside beach-huts, thronging Oyster Festival hordes, and an empathy with the rise and fall of the tide, that breathes in time with the town itself.

Anyone looking for the gritty melodrama of Wassmer’s time as a screenwriter for EastEnders might be disappointed, for this novel is infinitely warmer, more generously-spirited than the television series. If the novel has any flaw, it’s that it perhaps relies so much on attention to geographical detail to give it sense of place, with roads, streets, shops, landmarks, dropped so often that it starts to feel as though the exactitude of the local geography is something of a crusade for verisimilitude. But perhaps this is only evident to those who know the terrain, and it is a meagre thing when measured against the vividness with which local colour is evoked.

The gentle denouement works well, and draws to a close with a pleasing knotting-up of loose ends. There are nods to Seasalter’s people-smuggling past (a key factor also in James McGee’s period thriller, Rapscallion, too), the history of the Red Sands Forts, and plenty of tourist-thronging scenes to ground the novel in a firm sense of the region’s history and its bustling present. Read the novel and inhale the warm breeze of a Whitstable summer.

Whitstable’s Pearl: WhitLit returns next month

Literature-lovers are in for a treat next month, when WhitLit returns to set Whitstable abuzz – and this year it looks bigger and better.

WhitLitBuilding on the success of its inaugural festival last year, this year’s programme promises a veritable literary feast, including a mixture of national and local writers, writing workshops, and there’s also space for younger bookworms with events for younger readers.

There’s a focus on crime literature on Weds 13 May, with Peter James in the evening, whilst author David Nicholls will be in conversation at Whitstable Community College on Thursday 14 May. Patrick Gale and local author Peggy Riley Gale’s appear on Sat 16 May to talk about Gale’s A Place in Winter.

Poetry also features as part of the festival, including an Open Mic night at the Horsebridge Arts Centre on Sat 16 May.

WhitstablePearlLocal author Julie Wassmer talks about her recently-published The Whitstable Pearl; and on the final day of the festival, Kate Mosse (of Labyrinth fame) will be taking part.

Writing for younger readers is also a focus of the festival, from toddlers to teens,  including workshops on writing and the graphic novel.

The festival will also pay tribute to Whitstable’s famous literary son, W Somerset Maugham, on Sat 16 May in an evening in which Penny Vincenzi will also be talking about her new novel, A Perfect Heritage; earlier that evening, writer, presenter and broadcaster Sandi Toksvig appears. Maugham’s novel The Painted Veil also forms the basis of this year’s book debate and the festival’s ‘town read.’

The most appealing aspect of WhitLit is that it manages to embrace both national writers alongside its own local writers, celebrating both the wider literary sphere as well as its own home-grown writing talent;  there are also many free events (see here); and there is something to appeal to literature-lovers of all ages, all at venues throughout the attractive seaside town. Find out more about the festival here and see for yourself why the festival is Whitstable’s very own literary pearl.

Doing The Continental: dining at Whitstable’s best-kept secret

Don’t tell anyone, but The Continental in Whitstable might just be the seaside town’s best-kept secret in terms of dining out.

The_CtinentalSituated smack on the sea-front, the high-ceilinged and generously-windowed ground-floor rooms that comprise the bar and dining-rooms afford tranquil views of the sea off the North Kent coast, and a step over the cul-de-sac allows for a post-prandial walk either westwards past the harbour into town, or eastwards along the coastal path past The Spit and onwards past Tankerton Slopes. The Continental also functions as a hotel, though we weren’t availing ourselves of this facility. There is also seating available outside, including a small balcony.

The menu offers French-style cuisine, including a miniature cauldron of moules mariniéres with locally-roped mussels positively wallowing in a rich and creamy garlic sauce. (There would have been a photograph of this sumptuous dish, but it didn’t last long enough to capture, alas…) The beefburgers, presented on wooden trenchers accompanied by thin French fries and a salad garnish, rise to vertiginous heights; the locally-caught cod arrived in generous portions, clad in a light, crisp batter, and was melt-in-the-mouth delicious (and, according to one of the diners, good enough to rival (whisper it) Harry Ramsden’s…) A vegetarian option was available.

The_Continental2The only down-side to this immensely enjoyable experience was the rather limited children’s menu which didn’t include burgers (which, naturally enough, those children present on this occasion immediately wanted).

The_Continental3This was the second time of visiting The Continental, and on both occasions street-side parking has been readily available (although metered) and there were tables aplenty; for such a well-situated, well-appointed and rewarding dining facility, this is extremely surprising. It must be one of Whitstable’s best-kept secrets. Don’t tell anyone else..

Whitstable Regatta this weekend

With the promise of an air-display involving a Hurricane and a Spitfire, live music, family events, and an epic fireworks display out at sea, this weekend’s 219th Whitstable Regatta has something for everyone. There’s even an RAF SeaKing helicopter and the RNLI on Sunday, together staging a mock air-sea rescue.

The 219th Whitstable Regatta

Events on land, in the air and on the water all weekend: find out more online here.