Judith Spelman

journalist and author

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I was born in the Midlands but I grew up in south Devon. From the time I was a small

child and before I could actually read or write I was making up poems and stories in my

head. This was mostly at night because I could never get to sleep (and it is still the same)

and so I would make up stories and my mother would write them down when she came up to tuck me in. I don’t know what happened to them but I can find only one short poem.


English was my best subject at school and even then, when odd events happened, I would put them into verse – or doggerel. I wanted to work on the local paper when I left school but oh, no! my mother did not approve and I had to go and learn to be a teacher. In those days you did as your parents told you. I became a teacher and guess what? I started writing for educational magazines in my spare time!


I went to Montreal with my husband and baby son where we spent eight years. While I was there I got a job teaching at Miss Edgar’s and Miss Cramp’s School for Young Ladies. It was a very proper and respectable establishment. I reckon I was hired for the job because I spoke English English and not Canadian or American English. I left teaching and for a short while worked as an assistant and researcher to the literary editor of the Montreal Star. He was a brilliant teacher and gave me a good grounding in journalism.


Life moved on and I came back to England with my son, first working for David & Charles as their ‘girl in London’ doing everything from publicity to selling rights and working as a PA to the chairman, David St John Thomas.  That lovely job came to an end and I started working for MMS Publications who published advertising free sheets in Herfordshire and Essex. I provided editorial copy to fill spaces and at one stage was in editorial charge of five papers using three other journalists and two photographers.





I married for the second time and from then on worked freelance – on local papers and for several Emap titles. When David St John Thomas introduced Writers News he asked me to do the lead interview. About the same time I was asked to produce a house journal, Connection, for The Weetabix Food Company. It was a family-owned firm when I started and ‘family’ seemed to include all the employees. When I left after 25 years, the company had been bought by venture capitalists and now it is mainly owned by the Chinese! How things changed! But it was a job I loved doing.


In 2011, I met Roger Johnson whose background is in Public Relations and Marketing.  Together we started Sherborne Literary Society which gives members discounts on books from independent booksellers in the town and discounts on events.  Through the Society we began the hugely successful Sherborne Literary Festival that over the years has gone from strength. Roger had to step down but I continued, first becoming Chairman of the Literary Society and then Festival Director.  


The first year was tricky because people didn’t know what to expect and viewed the events with suspicion. I was lucky to know many authors who supported me and came along to give funny, inspiring and intriguing talks. By 2015 events were selling out quickly and our audience figures rocketed.  Afterwards several people told me the Literary Festival was a great asset to the cultural scene of Sherborne! What an accolade!


Top writers, such as John Julius Norwich, Joanna Trollope, Tracy Chevalier, John Suchet, Michael Dobbs, Simon Brett and Victoria Hislop have all been to speak, along with Gyles Brandreth (who had the packed Digby Hall audience standing up and performing the Hokey-Cokey!), Ann Widdecombe, Benedict Allen and Kate Adie and many more.


My book, A Festival Organiser’s Bible, is published by Little, Brown on 1 February 2018.

about me

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“I write fiction, non-fiction, journalism – or in my diary. Words have always fascinated me!”