Maids, Wives, Widows

Sara Read May 11thTamworth resident and lecturer in the Department of English and Drama at Loughborough University Sara Read will be appearing at Tamworth Town Hall to talk about her book Maids, Wives, Widows: Exploring Early Modern Women’s Lives 1540-1740.

Sara’s appearance on Wednesday 11th May 2016 from 7pm will be an opportunity for anybody who has an interest in the stories of everyday people, to hear tales of daily life as seen through the eyes of women during over two hundred years of history.

Tickets cost £3 and can be bought on the door on the night, in advance from Tamworth Information Centre, Corporation Street, Tamworth or by emailing LitFest directly (see ‘Keep in touch’ elsewhere on this website).


Peel Society Event Success

On Tuesday 13th October Dr Richard Gaunt, from Nottingham University, delivered a lively presentation on his publication ‘Peel in Caricature: The ‘Political Sketches’ of John Doyle (‘HB’),’ at Tamworth Town Hall.

The presentation, well received by an audience which included the Mayor of Tamworth Cllr Maureen Gant and her consort Mr Ken Gant, put the artist’s work in the context of both the artistic and technical developments in caricature which occurred throughout the nineteenth century. This period encapsulated a move from the hard edged etchings of earlier satirists such as Gillray, to the softer lines made possible by lithography.

The combination of the gentle humour and scurrilous undertones characteristic of John Doyle’s work was celebrated. Dr Gaunt presented a number of examples from the artist’s portfolio featuring Peel, which passed satirical judgement on the major political events of the time. These included caricatures featuring the role of Peel (and his contemporaries) in Catholic emancipation, free trade and the introduction of the police force. Excerpts from correspondence between the artist and Peel, when the latter was Prime Minister, were also shared with the audience.

Dr Gaunt highlighted how caricature became increasingly commercialised as an art form which (notwithstanding the scurrilous window displays enjoyed by all classes) had previously been marketed primarily at the metropolitan elite.

Following the presentation and questions from the audience, refreshments were served and Dr Gaunt participated in a book signing.

Peel Society Showcases ‘Peel In Caricature’ – Author Book Signing

LitFest is pleased to announce that we’ve been invited to co-host an event with The Peel Society and author Dr Richard Gaunt at Tamworth’s historic Town Hall.

Tamworth Town Hall
Tamworth Town Hall – copyright TMC Photographs –

The event, on Tuesday 13th October between 7:00 and 9:00pm, will showcase the book “Peel in Caricature: The ‘Political Sketches’ of John Doyle” – edited by Dr Gaunt – which contains 149 hand coloured prints by the 19th century caricaturist ‘HB’ (John Doyle), 147 of them with an image of Sir Robert Peel.

Dr Gaunt, Associate Professor of Modern History at Nottingham University, will make a presentation on the caricatures and his interpretation of them, after which the event will be opened up to questions from the audience. Hopefully, there will be some lively debate around the political and social issues raised, not to mention the characters of Peel, the caricaturist John Doyle and their contemporaries.

Entrance to the event at the Town Hall, outside which stands a statue of Peel, is priced at £3 and tickets are available on the door. Refreshments will be provided and hardback copies of the book, priced at £40, will be available to purchase.

Member of LitFest and the Peel Society will be available at the event should you wish to find out about future events and information for either organisation.

About the Book

Book: Peel In Caricature ‘The Political Sketches of John Doyle'
Peel In Caricature ‘The Political Sketches of John Doyle’

Edited by Dr Richard Gaunt, it gives an illuminating introduction to the sketches and their place in the political history and art history in the first half of the C19th. Each sketch is accompanied by text which identifies the figures in each plate and gives a background to the politics at play behind each image. Alongside the caricatures of Peel we find other major political figures such as Wellington, Grey, Brougham, Melbourne, Palmerston and Russell.

What reviewers are saying:

…while the focus is on Peel, the brilliant conservative politician who dominated the politics of these decades, the other leading figures of the age – Wellington, Grey, Brougham, Melbourne, Palmerston and Russell – make numerous and memorable appearances. This is a book to be enjoyed and savoured by anyone with even a passing knowledge of British politics of the 1830s and 40s, and we will never look at the period in quite the same way again.

Catching the spirit of past ages can be difficult, but this book, with its high production standards, delightful images, and thoughtful text offers a fine view of high politics in the 1830s and 1840s.

Map of venue and nearest car park

Jo McMillan Reading

An Evening With Jo McMillan

By Tina Williams

Local author Jo McMillan addressed a packed Tamworth Town Hall on Monday evening, at the launch of her debut novel Motherland.

Jo, interviewed by LitFest Secretary Philip Hall, beguiled the audience, which included the Mayor of Tamworth, with her poignant, informative and often humorous recollections which inspired her to pen the partly autobiographical novel Motherland, which she touchingly described as ‘a love letter to my mum.’

Jo’s reminiscences drew on her experiences as the ‘only young communist in Tamworth’, her visits to East Germany whilst accompanying her mother, a passionate Communist Party member, and the profound personal impact the fall of the Berlin Wall had on her marriage, her relationship with her mother and her political beliefs.

As the novel is partly autobiographical part of Jo’s address focused on her own life experiences (the characters of Jess, the young girl in the novel and Jess’ mother Eleanor are based very much on Jo’ s own reminiscences). Moving to Tamworth from Hemel Hempstead with her mother in the 1970’s, Jo explained that she very much felt the outsider. She not only had to come to terms with a whole different vocabulary – ‘cobs’ instead of ‘rolls’ and ‘pumps’ instead of ‘plimsolls’, but more fundamentally had to contend with living where she was the only young communist in town.

School history lessons were particularly challenging, the version of the Cold War she was taught being at odds with the one championed by her beloved Communist Party. Whilst other girls in her year group entertained themselves by singing along to the latest hits from Top of the Pops, Jo regaled the audience with how she herself sang along to Communist Party songs from Nazi concentration camps and focused on how she might die heroically for the Revolutionary cause.

Jo McMillan
Jo McMillan – image courtesy of Rob Morgan

Keen to find kindred spirits, Jo explained how, through the pages of the Morning Star, she secured a number of pen pals from East Germany, one of whom she modelled the character of Martina on in Motherland (although as characters invariably do, Martina soon developed a will of her own as the plot unfolded).

Jo explained that Communism was in her family’s blood and that she joined the Young Communist League at a very young age, immediately being made Minute Secretary. She also attended the Communist Party Branch meetings in Tamworth, ran by her mother, meetings which were often so poorly supported that her own attendance was crucial in deeming them quorate.

Jo described her visits to East Germany, accompanying her mother who, at special invitation from the Ministry of Education, attended summer camps to teach German English teachers English. She remarked upon the beautiful surroundings of Potsdam and eating ice cream – to her, as a teenager Socialism seemed to have it all!

The fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 was a profound shock to Jo and her mum and represented a major turning point in her life. Jo explained how it brought both her dreams of a career as a party official and her marriage to a Party member to an abrupt end. It also drove a wedge between her and her mum: whilst her mum stayed in Berlin, in denial at the collapse of Communism, a disillusioned Jo remained in London, embracing all that Capitalism had to offer. Jo stated that she drew on her experiences of disillusionment with the Communist ideology in Motherland, through the character of Jess, but that in the book this disenchantment and Jess’ own rift with her mother Eleanor occurred before the fall of Communism in 1989.

Feeling that she had been sold a false promise, Jo ignored politics for a couple of decades. It was not until 2009 (the year after the financial crash indicating perhaps that Capitalism too was not a perfect ideology), when Jo broached the subject of her past with her mother, a past which Jo describes as feeling ‘almost dreamlike’, that the rift between mother and daughter began to heal. Jo explained that she recorded these discussions and when she read the transcripts the story that was to become the novel Motherland took shape. The pain of the past dissipated and the distance between mother and daughter was breached, the book being poignantly described by Jo as ‘a love letter to my mum.

Jo delivered three separate readings to the audience: the first where Jess is tasked by the Young Communist League to think about who are the peasants and workers in Tamworth; the second where Peter, a Party member visiting the UK from the East, is given a guided tour of Tamworth by Eleanor, Jess’s mum and the third where Jess’s mum moves out of Tamworth and does her final sale of Morning Star newspapers

There were a number of questions from the audience which gave rise to a lively discussion on the following themes:

Jo’s experiences of visiting Berlin after the fall of Communism:

Jo explained that in 2009, when she first visited Berlin to research Motherland, she initially found it extremely difficult to cross into the East, as her past was so tied up in what it represented. Once there, Jo explained how she was able to ‘become’ Jess and tried to think and believe as a teenager would when entering Communist East Berlin. Jo stressed that she had to try to ignore the fact that Capitalism had replaced the Communist ideology and the physical changes this had brought, so that she could immerse herself in the character. Jo sated that after travelling back and forth to Berlin, she now lives there.

The integration between the West and East Berliners:

Jo stated that she was not there when Communism fell but that her mother’s reaction was to immerse herself ever more fully in life in the East. The impression that Jo gained from others was that whereas many of the young embraced the fall of the Wall and Capitalism, celebrating the opportunities it gave them, the older citizens felt a great sense of loss. Jo stated that her mother remained in East Germany until the end of the 1990’s, when it became clear that Communism there had gone, she returned to the UK.

What Jo is currently working on:

Apart from publicising Motherland, which Jo informed the audience is to be translated into German and launched there in 2016, Jo stated that she has plans for another book, with a similar protagonist to Jess from Motherland, which draws on her experience of living in China.

Images from the evening:

Jo McMillan: Motherland Launch Event

We have a LitFest exclusive!

Jo McMillan - Motherland - Flyer
Jo McMillan – Motherland

Former Tamworth resident Jo McMillan – who now resides in Berlin – is coming back to the town as part of the launch of her debut novel Motherland.

Set in late-70s Tamworth and cold war East Germany, this partly autobiographical tale relates how thirteen year old Jess and her mother leave England and head out into the unknown.

Jo will be talking about the book at a ticket-only event at the fabulous Town Hall on 6th July between 7 – 8:30pm.

Tickets cost £2 and can be bought from Tamworth Information Centre on Corporation Street or on the door on the night. Though, note that there are only 50 tickets available. Best get a move on then!

BSL Interpretation
BSL Interpretation

All money raised will be donated to charities chosen by Tamworth Mayor Cllr Maureen Gant, who will be in attendance too.

For further details, click on the poster to view or download it.

For more information on Jo and Motherland, visit her website.