Thank you to our guests, sponsors, visitors and speakers

The 2019 Penzance LitFest has now passed. In a changing world, the theme we chose for our 2019 festival – our tenth edition – was Borderlines.  We had an eclectic and fascinating collection of wonderful talks, events and workshops taking place in Penzance in early July.

The team will take a break for a couple of weeks and will then start the planning for 2020!

We hope you enjoy the rest of the Summer.

The Penzance LitFest team


A poem for Penzance

The Penzance LitFest team commissioned Gray Lightfoot to write a poem celebrating 10 years of the LitFest and life in Penzance. It was performed for the first time at the 2019 Launch Party. The complete work follows below:

PENZANCE – THE REASONS IN RHYME
(on the Penzance Literary Festival’s 10th birthday)

“Isn’t Penzance at the end of the line?”
“Land’s End is close by…so that’s quite a clue.”
“But the broadsheets say ‘it’s the place to be’.”
Come closer my dears…I’ll edify you.

If you’ve only heard of the pirates here,
Prepare to be boarded and take your chance.
For here be writers, with their pens unsheathed…
You might just meet the poets of Penzance.

For this headland has always charmed authors
Each one in search of their own Lyonesse.
Defoe, Collins, Lawrence and Ballantyne.
Eliot (that’s George of course, not T.S.).

And we can’t forget Dylan Thomas, who
Was both inspired by and loved living here.
Go down to Mousehole, look round and tell me
That he didn’t set Under Milk Wood there.

Visitors come from all over the globe
Not only to listen but to take part…
Write, illustrate…even make their own book.
At the very least they’re making that start.

Because isn’t that what we’re all here for
To see the emperor without his clothes?
We want to know how the magic is done;
Not just to marvel and offer applause.

We hope you’ve not only brought yourself here
To seek intellectual arousal.
Make the most of Penzance and her neighbours
Of Marazion, Newlyn and Mousehole.

Watching over our cerulean bay
Stands Sir Humphry Davy, in all his pomp.
Discoverer of diverse elements,
Inventor of the miners’ safety lamp.

This Cornish Da Vinci, marbled marvel,
Held in place by a granite anchorage
Was also a poet much admired by
Such as Wordsworth Southey and Coleridge.

As your feet wend their way down Chapel Street,
Imagine those that stepped there before you…
Barbary slavers, Spanish invaders,
Smugglers, press gangs and a Bronte or two.

And while you’re a guest in this town of ours
Don’t be afraid of raiding the pantry…
There’s pasties, cream teas, ‘Ansome!…and some of
The best fish restaurants in the country.

The people are our town’s greatest asset
Warm and inviting and eager to give
Of themselves whether born here or blown here;
A mindset mindful of live and let live.

Penzance loves to turn its world upside down;
At the blast of a horn we’re off marching
With flaming torches or greenery-strewn.
We like to dance as if no one’s watching.

We’ve got an iconic art deco pool;
We’ve got pubs full of music and chatter;
Open-topped buses and streets paved with gold.
Sorry…sorry…I made up the latter

But that’s only because I love this place,
It’s become a part of me I hold dear.
Now is there anything else I’ve forgot?
Oh…did I say they film Poldark ‘round here?

It’s so beautiful surrounded by sea.
Our coastal paths become the gilded frame
Where the light is perfect for painting and
The rain only raineth now and again.

But then if it didn’t, we wouldn’t have
Our gardens of sub-tropical flora.
Which year round keeps our town dressed to impress
And it easy for us to adore her.

So, here’s a heartfelt welcome to Penzance;
We’re sure before long you’ll be Kernowphiles.
Because if you want ‘best and friendliest’,
Sometimes you need to go the extra miles.


Browse all events  


Featured events

You Will Be Safe Here: Damian Barr in conversation with Patrick Gale

You Will Be Safe Here is the powerful debut novel by Damian Barr, which The Guardian, Observer and Financial Times have included in their Books to Watch 2019. Set in South Africa, it uncovers the hidden history of the British concentration camps of the Boer War and links it to a present-day secret. Damian talks […]

All Art Is Political In The Age Of Trump And Border Walls, with Hanna Jameson

Tipped as ‘One to Watch in 2019’ by The Observer and Stylist, Hanna Jameson’s thriller, The Last, is one we guarantee you won’t be able to put down. She was inspired to write the book partly by the non-stop discussion of nuclear war since Trump’s election and was also influenced by growing up into 9/11 […]

Some kids I taught and what they taught me, Kate Clanchy in conversation with Patrick Gale

An award-winning writer in several genres, a teacher and a journalist, Kate joins Patrick Gale to discuss England: Poems from a School – an anthology of poems by her students at Oxford Spires Academy – and her new book, Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me, praised by Philip Pullman as “The best […]

Brenda, Beyond Borders: Sue Ellery-Hill in conversation with Mike Sagar-Fenton

Author Sue Ellery-Hill’s other claim to fame is that she is the daughter of Brenda Wootton: the ‘Voice of Cornwall’. She talks to Mike Sagar-Fenton about how she came tell to her mother’s story in Brenda – For the Love of Cornwall. Despite her large size, her past-middle-age and her quiet village upbringing in the […]

Rebellion Adrian Rodda, An Gof and Special Guests

When does a protest movement become a rebellion? How does it feel to leave your home for unknown territory? What happens when you have to rely on the kindness of strangers? This performance, featuring aptly-named musicians ‘An Gof ’ (the term used to describe a Cornish patriot), tells in verse the story of the Cornish people’s march to London in 1497, to present […]

The Bad Bugs Bookclub: using fiction to engage with science, with Joanna Verran

Don’t be put off by the fact that Joanna Verran is Emeritus Professor of Microbiology at Manchester Metropolitan University. She has a passion for using arts and the humanities to help audiences engage with science. The Bad Bugs Bookclub gets scientists and non-scientists reading fiction that features infection and contagion – and that means vampires […]

In conversation: Bestseller Jane Corry tells the story behind her new thriller and reveals her top writing tips

Jane Corry tells the story behind her gripping new thriller, I Looked Away. The Sunday Times bestselling author of My Husband’s Wife and The Dead Ex will also give her ten top tips to help you succeed with writing your own bestselling novel. Jane’s experience as writer in residence for a high-security male prison helped […]

Everything you can think of is true, with Petrus Ursem

The border between children’s and grownups’ literature is fluid. A good story works for all readers – children have as much need to explore themes of life and the meaning of the world as older readers. Petrus Ursem reveals how the Cornish landscape released his love of writing, weaving past mysteries into heart-beating new adventures, […]

Why I live in a shed, with Catrina Davies

Faced with a personal housing crisis – part of a country-wide system of inequality – Catrina Davies took the radical decision to make a dilapidated shed into a home of her own, as told in her latest book, Homesick: Why I Live in a Shed. She talks – and sings – about how simplicity can […]

Alan Hollinghurst in conversation

The distinguished novelist Alan Hollinghurst discusses his life and work with the LitFest’s Rachel Viney. Alan is the recipient of numerous awards, among them the Somerset Maugham Award (The Swimming-Pool Library), the James Tait Black Memorial Prize (The Folding Star) and the Man Booker Prize (The Line of Beauty). His most recent novel, The Sparsholt Affair, […]

Body and Soul: Cornwall detective Frank Elder’s last case, with John Harvey

For many years, award-winning crime writer John Harvey lived in Zennor and remains a frequent visitor to the Cornish coast. In Body and Soul – the final novel of his career and the last case for his Cornwall detective Frank Elder – John explores the beautifully drawn borderlines between father and daughter, city and country […]

King of dust: adventures in forgotten sculpture, with Alex Woodcock

In King of Dust, Alex Woodcock explores the Romanesque sculpture of the south-west that inspired him to become a cathedral stonemason. Weaving together his own story of learning to work stone with the potency of the stone carvings and stories of their medieval carvers, his book is a meditation on craft, the importance of the […]

From the blog…

Cornish National Anthem

In the recent film ‘Fisherman’s Friends’ there is a scene where the group were asked to sing the National Anthem live on a morning TV programme. However, the anthem they sung was not the one what was expected but the Cornish anthem Trelawny. And shall Trelawny live? Or shall Trelawny die? Here’s twenty thousand Cornishmen will […]

Borders I’ve known

With cold beer in my hand, I watched the sun setting over southern Angola just across the Kavango River flowing at the bottom of the Guest House garden. Behind me lights were coming on, the town market buzzing with activity, optimism returning now SWAPO had freed Namibia of South African rule. But across that border […]

Wordsmiths of West Cornwall

We all have our favourite local authors –  Patrick Gale perhaps, or Liz Fenwick, or another of the host of other contemporary writers  who know and represent West Cornwall. New voices are coming in all the time – during the 2018 Festival we were delighted to introduce (amongst others) Raynor Winn, Noel O’Reilly, and Ken […]