One of the stellar events in the English literature calendar returned at the end of November as a host of novelists, historians, politicians, academics and thinkers were welcomed back under the shadow of the Rock for the 2022 Gibunco Gibraltar International Literary Festival.

An event like so many that had to take a two-year hiatus due to bad dream that was the Covid pandemic, it was held over a number of grand and stately locations that were seeping with the history of the rock. 

Among the luminaries present were Professor Dame Mary Beard, former British Home Secretary Alan Johnson, and culinary personality Loyd Grossman, as well as a host of writers on topics as varied as domestic abuse, spies, international relations, health and politics.

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People stream in and out of Gibraltar across the border all day. Credit: Walter Finch

Novelists Patrick Gale and Maggie Gee kicked off the literary side of things in the grandiose Town Hall among the portraits of past governors and grand rooms, discussing the locations and inspirations for their novels Mother’s Boy and The Red Children respectively.

Each book has a strong link to Gibraltar. Gale wrote about the working-class poet Charles Causley, who was stationed on the Rock during World War Two, while Gee, who spoke via videolink, was inspired by Gibraltar’s neanderthal history to write a novel set in 2030 about migration and global warming.

Gale explained that for Causley, although the war was hugely traumatic, it was also the making of the man. 

He broke out of his cosseted Cornish village life to discover a world of cabaret and adventure and even the opportunity to embark on one or two gay love affairs.

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Author Patrick Gale’s new book, Mother’s Boy, dramatises the life of working class poet Charles Causley, who was station on the Rock during World War Two. Credit: Walter Finch

The poet, who died in 2003 at the grand old age of 86, was a protagonist that Gale wanted to keep alive.

“I was worried that the new generation of readers would forget who Causley was,” the author told the Olive Press

Journalist-turned-novelist Charlotte Philby, granddaughter of the infamous ‘third man’ Kim Philby, the MI6 operative who spied for the communists, wrote the fictional account Edith and Kim, about Edith Tudor-Hart, who was the woman behind her grandfather’s turn to the Soviets.

She wanted to tell the story of her grandfather’s defection – told many times before – from the perspective of this fascinating woman whose story had perhaps got lost in the noise surrounding the notorious case. 

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Charlotte Philsby, granddaughter of the infamous Soviety spy, wrote Edith and Kim, a novel about the woman who turned Kim to the Soviets. Credit: Walter Finch

This was, after all, a man who abandoned his family of five to flee to Moscow after he was unmasked – yet he was not “vilified in the way that a woman would have been if she had walked out on her family.”

What does she think about her traitorous grandfather? “It doesn’t matter what I think,” Philby tells the Olive Press defiantly. 

“He did not consider himself to be a traitor to his country, he considered himself to be loyal to his beliefs.”

Although she doesn’t deny that having an infamous grandfather helped move her career forward, she now wishes to get off that particular bus and to never be known as ‘the granddaughter of Kim Philby’ ever again.

“But you open the floodgates, and then you can’t close them!”

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Lord Peter Ricketts, retired British diplomat, gave a rather gloomy verdict on Britain’s place in the world, although with that reality check the rest of his prognosis about the world was not so dire. Credit: Walter Finch

Turning to international relations, retired British diplomat Lord Peter Ricketts’ book Hard Choices: The Making and Unmaking of Global Britain assesses the diminishing strengths and growing weaknesses of the UK on the global stage.

Lamenting a political class that rewards hustlers and persuaders over thinkers and strategists, Lord Ricketts warned that Britain was no longer a Great Power but a mid-rank one, and she should huddle close to her allies in Europe and around the world.

Eventually, he foresaw a new generation of British politicians that would come in and repair relations with the European Union, and prepare to face off against the looming threat from China.

Whether the British electorate will vote this future into reality, however, is another question.

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The Rock of Gibraltar at dawn, a trail of steam running off its peak in at the crack of dawn. Credit: Walter Finch

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