***This page currently contains information about the 2016 festival. The 2017 festival will take place on 25 – 26 March. As soon as this page is updated for 2017, this message will be removed.***


To download the programme planner above, click here: Weymouth Leviathan programme

Full descriptions of festival events appear below, listed in alphabetical order by surname.

Our children’s festival information is here.

If you see something, or several things, you fancy going to, you can buy tickets here:

Eventbrite - Weymouth Leviathan: Maritime Literary Festival

Emma Bamford, ‘Casting Off’, Royal Dorset Yacht ClubSaturday 12 March, 18:30 – 19:30

Sick of working 12-hour days, Independent journalist Emma Bamford packed up her life, answered an ad on the internet for ‘crew wanted’ and bought a one-way ticket to Borneo to live on a boat with a man she’d never met (and his cat).

Casting Off follows her on her sailing travels through southeast Asia, from chasing wild pygmy elephants in the jungle to running from Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean, and living among billionaires on an Italian superyacht.

In this illustrated talk, Emma not only tells of her adventures, she also explains how she was able to be brave enough to leave behind the rat race and follow her dreams into the wide blue unknown and what she learned from her experiences.

Former news editor of the Independent and i newspapers, Emma spent two years living on boats and sailing through remote and exotic locations, from the Andaman Islands to the Turks and Caicos. Emma is now deputy editor of Sailing Today.

Steve Belasco, ‘Dorset from the Sea’, Old Rooms Inn, Saturday 12 March, 15:30 – 16:30

Step aboard and join marine photographer Steve Belasco on a virtual boat trip along the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Jurassic Coast. Enjoy a visual feast captured entirely from offshore, an angle few people experience. The presentation is accompanied by commentary of the events that shaped this magnificent coastline over millions of years.

Sailor and photojournalist Steve Belasco has lived in Dorset for nearly 30 years. He has built a unique collection of images of the county’s stunning World Heritage waters, all shot from the best viewpoint… the sea. His much-acclaimed photobook ‘Dorset From The Sea’ was published in 2015.

Philip Browne, ‘The Unfortunate Captain Pierce and Wreck of the Halsewell’, Old Rooms Inn, Sunday 13 March, 12:30 – 13:30

At first it was hoped the Halsewell would hold together until dawn when they might be rescued, but the ship had broken in half and her sides were giving way. Some of the crew clung to rocks or hurled themselves towards the back of a cave in the cliffs. For twenty minutes they watched the waves pounding the wreck, then a huge wave smashed the deck cabin to pieces…

The shipwreck of an East Indiaman, the Halsewell, on the Dorset coast in 1786 was a national sensation. At the time, its Captain, Richard Pierce, was both hailed as a martyr and castigated for losing his ship. While seventy-four seamen were rescued from the rocks, 60 died of cold or were washed out to sea, and a further 100 were lost on the wreck itself.

Based on Philip’s recently published book of the same name, this talk will examine that fateful voyage and reassess the role of the ’unfortunate’ Captain Pierce.

David Childs CBE, ‘Mary Rose: Fighting the French’, Royal Dorset Yacht Club, Saturday 12 March, 11:00 – 12:00

You know the Mary Rose sank but did you know she had a glittering, 25-year career before that fateful event? David Childs argues that the Mary Rose represented the beginning of British naval greatness. Hear about the battles she fought and won, mainly against the French, in her position as the pride of the Tudor Navy. David will also bring the story right up to the present day, with insight into her recovery, and the fresh knowledge thrown up by the massive programme of archaeological work since undertaken.

After a successful naval career David took on the role of Development Director of the Mary Rose Trust, masterminding the building of the stunning new Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. He is also the author of “The Warship Mary Rose”.

Lizzie Church, ‘The sea, Jane Austen, and me’, Old Rooms Inn, Saturday 12 March, 17:00 – 18:00

The three books that form ‘The Weymouth Trilogy’ – ‘The Body on the Beach’, ‘An Indelicate Situation’ and ‘A Devilishly Difficult Decision’ – follow the lives of a group of fictional characters during the period of the Napoleonic wars.

In her talk, Lizzie will discuss how, though writing in the 21st century, she’s been able to bring to life the routines and battles of a square-rigged ship and in the thick of a 19th century naval engagement by answering, what would Jane Austen do?

Weymouth. Dorset. What novelist, living here, could fail to be inspired? Lizzie Church moved to Weymouth four years ago and it spurred her into completing a novel she first started 30 years before. After that, came her second. And after that… well, more and more ideas came along, inspired by a love of Weymouth and a fascination for Regency history.

Fiona Clark Echlin, ‘Symbolism and the Sea’ writing workshop, Ship Inn, Saturday 12 March, 11:00 – 12:50

Imagery and symbolism are used extensively in maritime fiction. Understanding the use of figurative language and motif is essential for the close reading of a text and, more especially, for writers in the genre. The session focuses first upon the nature of symbolism and how it works. Participants will be invited to respond as readers and writers to a range of symbols before exploring the use of figurative devices in a variety of texts.  In a workshop format, the group will experiment with the use of devices in their own work.

Fiona Clark Echlin is an award winning poet, playwright and storyteller. Born in London, she has lived and worked (never far from the sea) in England, Turkey, the U.S.A. and Ireland, where she now resides.  Fiona teaches Creative Writing, Literary Appreciation and Academic Writing at the University of Limerick and is a Director of the Limerick Writers’ Centre. She runs workshops in a variety of genres in the UK and Ireland, not least at the renowned Killaloe Hedge School of Writing in Co Clare.  Fiona is also a European editor for Seaways Publishing Inc., and contributes a regular column on historic ships and maritime museums from around the world in the magazine Ships in Scale.

Well-known as a performer, Fiona Clark Echlin has read and presented her work at a wide range of venues, occasions and festivals throughout Ireland and the UK. Her distinctive delivery will be familiar to many and her voice has also been heard on radio, reading and discussing her own work and that of many other writers.  Fiona’s writing and inspiring methodologies are coloured by her background, which has strong theatrical and nautical roots.

Anne Collier, ‘Raleigh and Religion: Weymouth and the New World’, Old Rooms Inn, Sunday 13 March, 14:00 – 15:00

Weymouth’s position as an important 16th century port town meant it was an embarkation point people leaving these islands for the New World seeking their fortunes and religious freedom. Some sailed with the help of Sir Walter Raleigh, one English history’s most prominent privateers, as well as a local landowner and Weymouth MP. Weymouth’s connection with the Americas continued with its fishing fleet, which brought huge quantities of seafood from Newfoundland to England and Europe. The sea, greed and religion all come together into a compelling story in this talk, with Weymouth linking them all.

Anne is a well-known local historian, published author, public speaker and University Lecturer with 30 years’ experience in research and writing.

Tom Cunliffe, ‘In the Wake of Heroes’ Royal Dorset Yacht Club, Sunday 13 March, 15:30 – 16:30

Tom’s “In the Wake of Heroes” talk will highlight the stories and nautical literature that inspired him to set off on the long salty road and end up writing about the sea.

Tom started sailing back in 1961 when his Dad shoved him and a pal off on the Norfolk Broads in a 22-foot gaff sloop with no engine. Since those days he has sailed extensively and is now one of the country’s foremost sailing instructurs.  A prolific author, he’s a regular columnist for Yachting Monthly and international sailing publications. In the last decade, he’s presented two major TV series.

The Fisherman’s Daughter, family theatre by the AsOne Theatre Company, Warehouse Theatre, Sunday 13 March, 11:30 – 12:30 and 14:30 – 15:30

‘Waiting for her fisherman father’s return one stormy night, young Jess faces her fears dreaming of ship-wrecks, sea-monsters, treasure, and  survival. Through a chance meeting with retired librarian, Moira, and the hilarious one-legged seagull, Harold, Jess discovers the healing magic of books; intimate, family theatre with a creative dusting of AsOne magic.’


AsOne’s play, The Fisherman’s Daughter, is written by experienced playwright, Peter John Cooper, and with songs and music by Joe Butcher, who as a singer songwriter in Bath is making his name writing for theatre. The hilarious seagull puppet is designed by the talented Polly Beestone, daughter of Dorset folk performer, Tim Laycock.

Dr James Davey, ‘In Nelson’s Wake’, Royal Dorset Yacht Club, Saturday 12 March, 14:00 – 15:00

The Battle of Trafalgar, fought in October 1805, is often considered to be the final act in the naval war, a crushing victory that ended French maritime ambitions. In this talk I will argue that the conflict at sea continued, that it grew both in scale and intensity, and that Napoleon’s ultimate defeat owes much to the vital contribution of the Royal Navy.

James is Curator of Naval History at the National Maritime Museum.  By researching the National Maritime Museum’s unrivalled naval collections, he is able to illustrate the importance of the Royal Navy to the broader sweep of British history.  His research, with others, in recent years has begun to unpick the layers of myth and legend that still surround the sailing navy.

J D Davies, ‘Samuel Pepys and Charles II’s Navy’, Royal Dorset Yacht Club, Sunday 13 March, 12:30 – 13:30

Imagine being given command of a warship at the age of twenty-one, despite having virtually no knowledge or experience of the sea. Imagine being only a little older when you’re flung into the middle of some of the largest and hardest-fought battles of the entire age of sail.

That was the experience of the hero of my naval fiction series, Matthew Quinton- but his story is based very closely on those of real historical figures, the ‘gentleman captains’ of Charles II’s reign.

How did they, and Matthew, cope with the astonishing demands placed on them, including fighting an enemy skilful enough to inflict on the Royal Navy some of the worst defeats it ever suffered? How did they interact with the very different, but equally skilful, foe they faced ashore – Samuel Pepys? Ultimately, how did the elusive concept of ‘honour’ provide such men with the courage to overcome adversity, and to drive out the fear they must have felt?

J D Davies is an award winning historian and author of the acclaimed naval historical fiction series, The Journals of Matthew Quinton, as well as five non-fiction books, including Pepys’s Navy (which won the Samuel Pepys Prize for 2009), Britannia’s Dragon: A Naval History of Wales (shortlisted for the Mountbatten Maritime Literary Award 2014), and the forthcoming Kings of the Sea: Charles II, James II and the Royal Navy. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society; chairman of the research committee of the Society for Nautical Research; formerly Vice-President of the Navy Records Society and chairman of the Naval Dockyards Society.

Moby Dick Big Read, Holy Trinity Church, Saturday 12 March, 09:00 – 16:30 and Sunday 13 March, 11:30 – 16:30

Moby-Dick is the great American novel. Sprawling, magnificent, deliriously digressive, it is an explosive exposition of one man’s investigation into the world of the whale, and the way humans have related to it.

As part of a whale symposium at Peninsula Arts, the dedicated contemporary art space at Plymouth University, artist Angela Cockayne and writer Philip Hoare invited artists, writers, musicians, scientists and academics to respond to the theme. The result is Moby-Dick Big Read, with each of the book’s 135 chapters read out aloud and recorded.

We will be playing the all 135 chapters throughout the weekend in the nave of the magnificent Holy Trinity Church, a fitting and atmospheric building for the power of the word.

Richard Dunn, ‘Re-finding Longitude’, Royal Dorset Yacht Club, Sunday 13 March, 11:00 – 12:00

Drawing on his research into the longitude story – the tale of how one of seafaring’s greatest challenges was solved in the eighteenth century – this talk will re-examine some of the elements of what has become a hugely popular narrative. Richard Dunn, author and editor of several books on the discovery and deployment of new methods for navigating at sea, will tackle some of the myths that have accrued over time. What were the reasons for passing a Longitude Act in 1714? How did the Board of Longitude operate to encourage invention? And what effects did finding the longitude have on the practice of seafaring?

Richard Dunn has worked at the National Maritime Museum for over ten years, principally on the history of navigation at sea, including the history of the British Board of Longitude, which has been the subject of a major research project in collaboration with the University of Cambridge. He was lead curator of the Museum’s award-winning exhibition, Ships, Clocks & Stars: The Quest for Longitude (2014), and co-author of Finding Longitude (2014), a new account of the longitude story.

Church of England, Maritime Service, Holy Trinity Church, Sunday 13 March, 10:00 – 11:30

Revd. Richard Franklin, will lead a special maritime service, the penultimate Sunday service of his career before retiring. Even if the Church is not your usual port of call, there’s no denying that some of the most beautiful writing in the English language is to be found and heard reverberating around in its naves.

Philip Hoare, ‘The Sea, the Whale, and Me’, Royal Dorset Yacht Club, Saturday 12 March, 17:00 – 18:00

We seem to turn our backs on the sea, even though we might see it everyday. The sea gives us life, air, trade. Yet for some it can mean disaster and death. In the 21st century, it is the last frontier, the last wilderness – literally, our last resort.

In his illustrated lecture, drawing on his extensive experience, Philip Hoare asks what the sea means to us today, using the symbol of its most majestic inhabitant. The whale is the ultimate shape-shifter. From creation myth to ecological emblem, it has become whatever we want it to be: monster of the deep, industrial resource, stranded carcase on a beach, pathetic emblem of fragility and threat. In our startling disconnexion between natural history and human history, no other creature is so freighted with our demands.

Philip examines the amazing way we have changed our attitude towards these animals, and wonders if, like Herman Melville in Moby-Dick, we might still conclude of the whale, ‘I know him not, and never will’.

Philip is the author of six works of non-fiction, including the ‘Leviathan or, The Whale’, which won the 2009 BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction.

An experienced broadcaster and curator, Hoare wrote and presented the BBC Arena film The Hunt for Moby-Dick, and directed three films for BBC’s Whale Night.  He is Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Southampton, and Leverhulme Artist-in-residence at The Marine Institute, Plymouth University, which awarded him an honourary doctorate in 2011. He is also co-curator, with Angela Cockayne, of the Moby-Dick Big Read.

Brian Lavery, ‘The Birth of Naval Aviation’, Royal Dorset Yacht Club, Saturday 12 March, 09:30 – 10:30

British naval aviation might be said to have begun in Weymouth Bay in May 1912, when Lieutenant Charles Samson was the first to take off from a moving ship, HMS Hibernia. It was perhaps a publicity stunt by Winston Churchill, the young First Lord of the Admiralty, who desperately wanted money for naval aviation in the teeth of the hugely expensive battleship building programme. However, The Royal Naval Service flourished after that – as well as leading the world in naval aviation, it invented the armoured car, tank, fighter defence of cities and the strategic bomber.

Brian Lavery was born in 1945 in the shipbuilding town of Dumbarton. He began to write books in the 1970s, and worked for 16 years in museums, starting at Chatham Historic Dockyard and then in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, where he is currently a Curator Emeritus. Though he is best known for his work on sailing ships of the seventeenth to nineteenth century, he has also published several books on nineteenth and twentieth century ships and navies.

Lavery was an historical consultant on Peter Weir‘s 2003 blockbuster, ‘Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World’, starring Russell Crowe. In 2007, he was presented with the Desmond Wettern Maritime Media Award for contributing ‘to our understanding of the social structure of Britain’s maritime power and all maritime aspects of British national life’. In the following year he won the Anderson Medal of the Society for Nautical Research. In 2009, he wrote The Sunday Times bestselling book to accompany the BBC series Empire of the Seas.

Gordon Le Pard, ‘Dorset and the Sea’, Old Rooms Inn, Sunday 13 March, 11:00 – 12:00

Dorset has a long and complex relationship with the sea. People have travelled, traded and used the sea for millennia. This relationship has left its mark on the county, and it is the traces of this long relationship that will be explored in this talk. From the earliest model of a boat in Britain, carved out of Dorset rock, to the remains of a 200-year-old whale that can be found on a rural footpath, the objects are varied and curious. In a varied tour along, around, above and under the coast the audience will be intrigued, amazed and amused at what the history of the coast has to offer.

Gordon Le Pard is a marine archaeologist. He created the innovative record for the county, ensuring that Dorset’s maritime archaeology is better recorded than any other British county.

Sam Llewellyn, Britain and the Sea, Ship InnSaturday 12 March, 15:30 – 16:30

Britain is an island, but if you listen to the radio or read the newspapers you could be forgiven for not noticing this fact. In this anecdote-packed and highly amusing talk, Sam Llewellyn proposes a scheme for national regeneration based on spending time on the far side of the horizon. He also explains how it fits in to the editorial policy of the Marine Quarterly, the antidote to yachting magazines, of which he is the editor.

Sam is author of some 20 sea novels. He’s also a columnist for Practical Boat Owner, the RYA website, Classic Boat, Classic Sailor, as well as editor of the Marine Quarterly. He frequently sails between the Inner and Outer Hebrides on a boat he bought for £900 on eBay.

Stuart Morris, ‘Royal Navy at Portland: Henry VIII to today’, Old Rooms Inn, Saturday 12 March, 11:00 – 12:00

The story of Dorset’s maritime involvement from Henry VIII’s time, through the Armada and Dutch battles off Portland; confronting France; Trafalgar, sail to steam, the ironclads; the formation of the Portland Harbour & breakwaters; the advent of torpedoes; the first flight from a moving ship; the First World War and the early 20th century.

Stuart Morris was born on Portland in 1942, and his roots on the Island go back many generations. His interest in Portland’s history was fostered by the discovery of his family’s involvement with quarrying, the Breakwater, fishing and even smuggling.

Stuart is the author of multiple books including, ‘Portland: An Illustrated History’, ‘Dorset and The Royal Navy’, ‘Storms, Shipwrecks, Floods’ and ‘Portland, A Portrait in Colour’.

Nicola Rodriguez, Ship Inn, ‘Sail Away: How to Escape the Rat Race and Live the Dream’, Sunday 13 March, 14:00 – 15:00

Would you like to sail away from it all for a long, long time? This interactive talk will cover all the practical guidance you need to buy a yacht and sail away, out onto the deep blue sea to your dream destination.

Nicola and her husband set set sail from the Hamble and straight into an intense learning curve. Their crew jumped ship in Dartmouth but the couple carried on to Gibraltar and onwards through Atlantic storms and the destruction of their yacht in Grenada.

And so, a new boat, and their second experience of leaving the Hamble. This voyage headed towards the Med via the French Canals, and then another ten thousand miles to the West Indies, Bahamas and USA.

As if sailing was not challenge enough, during their 8 years voyage their two sons were born.

Nicola’s book, ‘Sail Away: How to Escape the Rat Race and Live the Dream’, published by Fernhurst books, gives illustrated, practical guidance for anyone planning extended sailing passages.

Sam Scriven, ‘Leviathans of the Jurassic Ocean’, Ship Inn, Sunday 13 March, 15:30 – 16:30

Between 200 and 150 millions years ago, what is now Dorset was a warm, shallow ocean.  Sam will be talking about abundance of life in these Jurassic oceans – life that dominated the planet for millions of years. His talk will celebrate these remarkable creatures – from the giant pliosaurs, to the tiniest ammonites – and describe the wonderful, thriving ecosystem that we can only glimpse at through their fossilised remains.

Sam grew up on the Jurassic Coast and, after gaining a Masters in Geology from the University of Plymouth, worked as assistant warden at the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre, before taking the position of Earth Science Manager for the Jurassic Coast. His first book, ‘Fossils of the Jurassic Coast’, will be published in 2016 and will be a fascinating journey through the remnants of ancient life that are revealed along Dorsetand East Devon’s coastline.

 Julian Stockwin, ‘The Real Jack Tar’, Royal Dorset Yacht Club, Saturday 12 March, 15:30 – 16:30

Love Hornblower and Patrick O’Brian?  Get closer to Thomas Kydd and his rise from Seaman to Captain and understand the trials, tribulations and joys of life in the 18th Century Navy with best-selling author, Julian Stockwin.

The legendary heroes of the quarterdeck are justly famous, Nelson, Howe and Pellew. But justice has not been done to the common seaman. Our perceptions are too encrusted with myths and stereotypes. Julian’s talk will examine and dispel these myths.

Julian is the acclaimed author of the Kydd series of historical novels, now numbering 16 titles with the release of “TYGER” in October 2015. He joined the sea-training school INDEFATIGABLE, at the tender age of 14, and the Royal Australian Navy as a sailor when his family emigrated. After 8 years service he left to continue his education, returning to UK in 1990 where he joined the Royal Naval Reserve, was awarded the MBE and left as a Commander. His writing career began and the rest, as they say, is history!

“In Stockwin’s hands, the sea story will continue to entrance readers around the world” – The Guardian

Barbara Tomlinson, ‘Rock and Tempest’, Royal Dorset Yacht Club, Sunday 13 March, 09:30 – 10:30

Barbara will talk about heroism during shipwrecks and the heroism of lifesavers, how they have been commemorated and how that reflects social changes over the past 200 years.

Her book, ‘Commemorating the seafarers: monuments, memorials and memories’ has recently been published. Within it, she discusses memorials – stained glass windows, church, cemetery and public monuments – commemorating British seafarers, shipbuilders and victims of shipwreck from the sixteenth century to the present. Memorials vividly illustrate the hazards of seagoing life and the impact these had, both upon the family of the deceased and the general public. The book has a cultural historical focus. Each chapter includes case studies of both high status and popular memorials, showing how iconography such as the depiction of the wrecked ship was widely transmitted. The book covers both naval and commercial aspects of seafaring and includes memorials to naval officers, merchants, explorers, fishermen, leisure sailors, victims of shipwrecks and lifesavers, with around 100 illustrations of memorials.

Barbara was for many years Curator at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, and is now Curator Emeritus.

Antoine Vanner, ‘Hazard in Nautical Fiction: Facets of Fear and Courage’, Royal Dorset Yacht Club, Sunday 13 March, 14:00 – 15:00

The challenge to any novelist is to keep the reader asking “What happened next?” and this demands that appealing characters are placed in some form of unavoidable jeopardy, physical or moral or both. Nowhere is this more relevant than in nautical fiction for its background is an element that can never be taken for granted. These themes will be explored by reference to the very different challenges posed in each of the four Dawlish Chronicles novels published to date.

Antoine is an established author, based in Surrey. His ‘The Dawlish Chronicles’, are set in the 19th century world of change, uncertainty and risk and they involve projection of naval power to meet complex social, political and diplomatic challenges. They are set in an era not widely covered in nautical fiction – the late Victorian period when the transition from sail to steam is far advanced and a range of new naval technologies are appearing. It is also a time of shifts in the international power-balance, with the main players often confronting each other indirectly through proxy conflicts.

Antoine Vanner, ‘Idea to Plot’ writing workshop, Ship Inn, Saturday 12 March and repeated on Sunday 13 March, 9:00 – 10:50

An interactive creative writing workshop on the process and craft of plotting a nautical adventure novel.

Selwyn Williams, ‘Treasure of the Golden Grape’, Old Rooms Inn, Saturday 12 March, 12:30 – 13:30

As any diver will tell you, the first question you’re asked is “Do you dive on wrecks?” If so, this is followed swiftly by “Have you ever found any treasure?” They have all heard of doubloons and pieces of eight yet very few would recognise them. We didn’t.

In 1641, the Golden Grape sailed from Holland to Cadiz, where they loaded barrels of raisins, jars of oil, sherry, tent and other wines. A fairly mundane cargo so far but it is then that they slipped into the bullion port of Sanlucar de Barremeda and took on a cargo of treasure. On her return journey the ship encountered a fierce storm and was wrecked on the Chesil Beach and lay there for four days to be plundered. Selwyn will tell the tragic story of the shipwreck, the foreign and local lives that were irrevocably changed as a consequence, and the rediscovery of her treasures by him and his diving buddies many hundreds of years later.

Selwyn was born on Portland, overlooking Dorset’s enigmatic Chesil Beach where over 300 ships have been wrecked.

We’d like to offer a huge thank you to our sponsors, who’ve made the festival possible: thank you!

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We’re also grateful for the support of  Weyforward.