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Why arm-wrestler Les Clayden can inspire wannabe authors at a Whitechapel bookworm festival

PUBLISHED: 07:00 08 November 2019 | UPDATED: 10:45 08 November 2019

Tough arm-wrestler Les Clayden turned his musle to writing for his 'Swimnmming With Stingrays' autobiography launched at 2018 Writeidea book festival. Picture: BNBS Books

Tough arm-wrestler Les Clayden turned his musle to writing for his 'Swimnmming With Stingrays' autobiography launched at 2018 Writeidea book festival. Picture: BNBS Books

BNBS books

A writers' festival where wannabe authors are inspired to put pen to paper returns to Whitechapel next week with bookish events for reading and studying.

Rertired Whitechapel market trader Les who launched his career as an author in 2018. Picture: Frank PittalRertired Whitechapel market trader Les who launched his career as an author in 2018. Picture: Frank Pittal

The aptly-named Writeidea festival opening November 15 is a platform for those with a story in their head waiting to go into print—or writers like retired Whitechapel market stallholder Les Clayden revealing their life story.

The one-time Commonwealth arm-wrestling champ packed audiences at last year's festival with the first public reading of his autobiography Swimming With Stingrays.

Les, who was guest author at the 2018 Writeidea Festival, had spoken about growing up in poverty in Stepney and leaving school to be a nightclub bouncer and a tough bobby on the beat in Soho's gangland, before returning to help run his dad's fruit'n'veg stall in Whitechapel.

This year's three-day festival with 40 free events put on by Tower Hamlets Council at the Whitechapel Idea Store also has live ballet and klezma folk-music as well as book readings.

It opens November 15 with Colin Grant at 7pm reading from his Homecoming book of memoirs from the first immigrants arriving from the West Indies in the post-War years.

Other events over the three days include Ayisha Malik on her romantic comedy Sof'ia Khan Is Not Obliged—billed as "a Muslim Bridget Jones".

Youngsters training at the new Blackwall HQ of English National Ballet which is performing at Whitechapel's 2019 Writeidea book festival on November 17. Picture: Danilo MoroniYoungsters training at the new Blackwall HQ of English National Ballet which is performing at Whitechapel's 2019 Writeidea book festival on November 17. Picture: Danilo Moroni

Historian David Rosenberg leads a "walk and talk" about radicals in Brick Lane from the 1880s to the 1970s in an area rich in social and political struggle, he will tell you.

Other authors also tell stories of "home front" girls during the war years and about pie'n'mash down the Roman Road.

Louise Doughty talks about her latest novel Platform Seven and Jill Dawson explains her thought provoking novel The Language of Birds, inspired by the sensational Lord Lucan affair in 1974 when the fugitive peer went on the run after the murder of his children's nanny in Mayfair.

But it's not just a bookworms' bonanza. English National Ballet is staging a Sunday performance on November 17 at 1pm to celebrate its new London City Island headquarters in Blackwall, after moving to east London from Royal Kensington. The festival finishes with Klezma folk songs and dances performed at 7pm by Klezma Klub.

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