Conference After Dinner Speaker: Jenny Downham

In this fourth post in the run up to conference, the Chair of the FCBG, Sarah Stuffins, writes:

One of my favourite parts of the FCBG conference is the gala dinner on the Saturday night. For the organisers, making sure conference runs smoothly can sometimes be stressful (especially ensuring any issues are not evident to the other delegates) so the gala dinner is a welcome opportunity for everyone to get dressed up, relax, enjoy some great food and wine, and finish off the evening listening to a fantastic speaker.

When I heard that Jenny Downham was to be our after dinner speaker this year I was thrilled as I’ve never heard her speak before – in spite of knowing about her since her powerful debut novel “Before I Die” – and the fact that I go to several literary festivals a year. It’s always a treat to hear an author speak about their work, especially one I haven’t heard before.


When I knew I’d be meeting Jenny, I immediately got hold of a copy of her new book “Unbecoming”. I loved this story of three generations of women, such a subtle account of the interwoven and developing relationships between them all and the courage it can take to be honest and be yourself. While I also enjoy the vast canvasses of some YA fantasy and dystopian fiction, it is refreshing to read something closer to life as we live it ourselves. At various points in the story I identified with all three women, but I found the passages about grandmother Mary the most moving; the choices she has made in the past and her current struggle with dementia – perhaps because they have resonances with events and characters in my own family.

My daughter has been a fan of Jenny Downham since she read “Before I Die” and when she heard that Jenny was coming to conference she immediately asked me to book her a place so she could meet her. I’ve also passed on my copy of “Unbecoming” and am looking forward to hearing what she makes of it.


By the way, if you haven’t yet read “Before I Die”, both my daughter and I  recommend it highly – but be warned it is a very powerful read and you’ll need a box (or possibly more) of tissues to hand!


Thank you to Sarah for her thoughts.


Jenny Downham will be speaking after the gala dinner, which is included in the price for all weekend delegates, and can be added to the day rate for anyone coming on the Saturday only. For details of the whole programme and how to book see


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