The Gibunco International Literary Festival

in Features
The Gibunco Gibraltar International Literary Festival

14th – 17th November

This year will see the seventh edition of the Gibunco Gibraltar International Literary Festival taking place on the Rock. Jo Ward talks to Chief Executive of the Tourist Board and Festival Director Nicky Guerrero who together with teams from the Tourist Board, Gibraltar Cultural Services, The Gibraltar Garrison Library, The Convent and the University of Gibraltar are pleased to be welcoming a diverse and vibrant mix of speakers to take part once again in what has become a mainstay on the Gibraltar cultural calendar. 

The Gibunco Gibraltar International Literary Festival

“We are all set,” Nicky tells me. “We continue to build on the success of previous years and have now achieved a tried and tested formula, so why change a recipe that is working really well?”   

Literary festivals are an opportunity for people to listen to established authors and speakers from many different spheres and to discover new ones who will educate, inspire and open minds. One of the things that Nicky wants to stress is that although you may not have heard of some of the authors, it doesn’t mean that they are not well known in their own right. “This year we have decided to categorise talks by subject, with themes including Contemporary Society, Philosophy, Politics and History to name a few, and that has drawn in people to sign up for events where they may not necessarily have known the name of the speaker.”

Amongst 2019’s excellent line-up are two life peers, Lord Chris Patten and Lord Mark Price, talking about two very different subjects. 

What we have got this year are very strong themes, a great range of subjects, with people who in their own right are very proficient. We have really found our feet and it will be a solid and mature Literary Festival.”
 Nicky Guerrero

Nicky Guerrero

As the last British Governor of Hong Kong, Lord Patten is ideally suited to give his views about the current political crisis and the demonstrations taking place there, and as a former European Commissioner for external affairs it will be interesting to hear his views on Brexit. Lord Patten is also the Chancellor of Oxford University. “It is an exciting prospect to think that the Chancellor of one of the greatest universities on the planet will be going to visit the University of Gibraltar as part of his stay,” Nicky comments. 

After more than three decades working for the John Lewis Partnership; lastly as Managing Director of Waitrose and Deputy Chairman before joining the U.K. Government as Trade Minister, Lord Price is convinced that there has to be a better and fairer way of running a business. Something to note is that for people who have bought tickets for this event, buses will be available from The Garrison Library to the Gibraltar University where Lord Price will be speaking.

With a good contingent of women speakers this year, one iconic female guest, remembered by many of us as the ‘Green Goddess’ from the 80s, is fitness guru Diana Moran. Now in her eightieth year, Diana is still fit and active and an inspiration to many. “Unfortunately, Diana couldn’t make it last year so we are very happy to welcome her this time,” Nicky remarks. 

Entrepreneur, author and equality campaigner Paola Diana will be giving The Gibraltar Lecture ‘Saving the World. Women: the XXI’s Century Factor for Change’. “I saw her in Oxford and she is incredibly professional and very engaging. She talks about her life story alongside her philanthropy and anybody who is interested in women’s rights should go along to see her speak,” Nicky states. 

“We also have two entrepreneurial women: business coach, former dancer and choreographer Claire Dale, and performance improvement consultant Patricia Peyton, coming to talk to us about Physical Intelligence and how to improve your performance and wellbeing using techniques employed by top performers in the arts and sport.”


Author of many highly acclaimed novels including The Librarian, Salley Vickers will be discussing her new novel Grandmothers. Telling the story of three very different women and their relationship with the younger generation, Nicky says that this is one that will appeal to all generations – from grandmothers to grandchildren. 

International bestselling author of Ice Trap, Kitty Sewell will be launching her latest thriller The Fault at the Festival. “For those who enjoy fiction set in Gibraltar, The Fault features St. Michael’s Caves,” Nicky comments.  

Music will feature when novelist Alba Arikha, in conversation with Suzi Feay, will be discussing her book Where to Find Me and singing a song she wrote about one of the two main characters, Flora Dobbs.

Bart van Es, author of the Costa Book of the Year winning biography The Cut Out Girl, which traces the life of a Jewish Girl who lived in hiding with his family in the Netherlands during World War II, will be in conversation with Suzi Feay.

Gibraltar Authors

Gibraltar authors and celebrated members of the community make up an important part of the Literary Festival. Nicky outlines just some of those who will be appearing. “Clive Finlayson is coming back to talk to us about his book The Smart Neanderthal, and in relation to that two people with whom he has researched the Neanderthals – biological anthropologists Dr. Larry Sawchuk and Dr. Lianne Tripp from Canada – will be talking about tracing the origins of the Gibraltar macaques and launching their book Monkey Tales.”

Someone whom Nicky has been trying to get involved in the Literary Festival for a while now is playwright Julian Felice, who is also Head of Drama at Westside and Bayside.  “Julian’s plays are published internationally and he will be talking about the Imposter Syndrome – and his attempts to overcome his initial insecurities with being labelled a ‘playwright’. 

Schools Programme

As in previous years, guests have been invited to take part in the Schools Programme and Nicky has been very pleased with the positive reaction, with some of them agreeing to go along to talk in the schools.  There are several events that will delight children who enjoy reading. Star of children’s contemporary fiction and author of more than 160 works for children, Geraldine McCaughrean will be talking about her Carnegie Medal winning novel Where the World Ends (children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult).

Ann Bryant, author of about 125 books, mostly children’s fiction but also some primary music resources, has been to Gibraltar before when she was brought out by the Department of Education. “As well as taking part in the Schools Programme, Ann will also be holding an interactive musical workshop which should be fun,” Nicky states. 

Gibraltarian author Sam Benady has recently launched a book with illustrations by Sarah Devincenzi – A Pictorial History of Gibraltar – a fascinating overview of Gibraltar history that will appeal to both children and adults alike. 

Literary Tribute to Mary Chiappe

At 5 pm on Thursday afternoon at the Garrison Library there will be a Literary Tribute to Mary Chiappe, celebrating her life and work as a writer, teacher, and – at only twenty five years of age – Gibraltar’s Minster of Education. “Mary participated in the Literary Festival several times since it began,” Nicky informs me. “There will be readings and poems from her work by Mary’s husband and daughter Gaby, and her great friend poet Ruth O’Callaghan. 

Guest Chefs

Always a highpoint are the popular lunches and dinners with food prepared by top chefs. “Jeremy Lee is very entertaining,” Nicky says. “He is a man with a lot of experience and a wonderful sense of humour Jeremy will be preparing the opening dinner alongside the team at the Caleta Hotel as well as a lunch with the team from Bistro Point restaurant at the University of Gibraltar the next day. 

Ching He Huang, known to many from the series she did with Ken Hom ‘Exploring China: A Culinary Adventure’, and a frequent guest on BBC’s  Saturday Kitchen, will prepare a lunch with the team at the O’Callaghan Elliot Hotel on Saturday 16th November at 1.00pm as well as the closing dinner at the Sunborn. Both chefs will speak to Donald Sloan of the Oxford Cultural Collective about their work during the two lunch events.

A final word from Nicky Guerrero:

“We think we have achieved a good balance of entertainers, politicians, journalists and writers from different genres, all incredibly nice peoplewith a lot of life experience who are all really pleased to be coming to Gibraltar.”


in Culture Insight/Features
Gianni Ocana
Gianni Ocana

Fresh from publication in the avant-garde South-East Asian literary magazine Outcast (Volume III, Once Upon a Time) with his short story ‘City of Bridges’, twenty-one-year old Gianni Ocaña is now testing his creativity with a first novel, titled ‘Protagonista’, to be posted in regular instalments on Wattpad throughout summer and beyond.

“Every so often, hopefully weekly but more realistically fortnightly, I will post a new chapter to this online platform that affords exposure to writers and illustrators. I am introducing every chapter with my hand-drawn illustrations, to highlight the salient parts of the cepisode,” the young author says.

The novel fits in the romance genre with some forays into horror and fantasy. Its most captivating stylistic trick is narrating the storyline in first person, but from the perspective of both protagonists, so that each chapter is split in two parallel narratives, one delivered by the Dreamer, closely followed by his love interest (even before knowing it), the Millionaire, offering his own rebuttal.

In other words: a story so nice you gotta read it twice! And because it is delivered feuilleton style, it will contain plenty of cliff-hangers to keep readers hooked and hungry for more, so that they return to Wattpad regularly.

Gianni Ocana

Gianni claims this to be a loosely autobiographic story, largely based on his recurrent dreams: “Set in Gibraltar and in a make-believe metropolis the readers won’t have any trouble to identify with the real one that inspired it, this is an intense love story between two young men, developing throughout their twenties, but there is no definite ‘happily ever after’, so I can leave my options open for the sequel, and perhaps a trilogy.”

The main character concocts his love interest in his dreams and falls in love with him. Later, through some spectacular shifts in reality, he bumps into him in person over and over again, and has to overcome many obstacles to conquer his heart.

“I prefer writing in first person and past tense, because it is easier to identify in the narrator and explore his thoughts and actions, but first person obviously poses some limitations in the story’s objectivity, and makes it unilateral when it comes down to analysing other characters’ feelings, motivations or actions when the narrator isn’t present.

“There are always two or more sides to one story: I reckon that telling them both or all helps readers learn about twists in the plot gradually, with each side highlighting what is most relevant for them and altogether contributing to the bigger picture.”

Gianni wants to portray all facets of his characters, as he believes that we are different people to different people: “For example, I was bullied a lot in school, but I learnt not to regard them as ‘just bullies’ when I saw them laughing with, and not at, their friends, or hugging their parents: I realised that deep down they were decent people to someone else, friendly to their friends, and devoted to their families.”

Unrequited, tempestuous at first, his romance is also marred by an atypical triangle with a ghostly presence that lurks in the shadows of both protagonists’ lives: “There is another central figure who is the reason behind the Dreamer’s reality shifts and the dark aura haunting the Millionaire, who isn’t rich on his own credit, but because he inherited his fortune from his orphaned best friend, self-made businessman with no family but the (future) Millionaire to leave his wealth too, when premature death strikes.”

Gianni continues: “The dark character can alter reality because he is a writer and illustrator – and there is a bit of myself in him too, although I tend to identify the most with the Dreamer. There are two versions of him in this world, one is the antagonist of the protagonist, so to speak, whom readers will love to hate, but he will take up a complex role in the sequel, where he will be likeable.”   

He analyses how the characters fall in love with personality and how their physical appearance and emotional history come into the equation to affect it, and mould into a uniquely shaped piece of the puzzle into which only one other person(ality) fits perfectly.

Hence his characters steer clear from the clichés of romance fiction – no tall, dark and handsome brooding heroes or blonde beauties, which are conversely tipped to make an appearance in his forthcoming fantasy series ‘Emerald Kingdom’. Here, the protagonists are a beautiful golden-haired princess and her suitor, moulded upon Gianni’s parents, whom he describes as fully supportive of who he is and the dreams he follows.

The drafts of this series, or better said, saga, date back to his childhood when he imagined an Emerald Club, populated by magical and extraordinary creatures. “These stories are all interconnected, and already fleshed out in my mind; I just need to find the time to write them down, between my studies and part-time job.”

Gianni is in fact hoping to pursue an academic career in creative writing soon, while he works as a cameraman to film local football matches, which gives him the opportunity to learn how to narrate epic battles, such as the ones he is planning for his ‘Ivory Kingdom’, a fantasy novel based on chess, where he adds a red army to the standard black and white ones, for extra suspense in a love-war triangle.

He is not intentionally writing a roman à clef, but his work does contain positive messages sprinkled around so sparingly that you blink and you miss it. Yet, they don’t get lost on shrewd eyes, and his stories have been praised by the sternest critics, his friends and teachers at the College, who got an exciting sneaky peek into a world where everyone is a protagonist.

Like his Facebook pages Protagonista: Dreamer
Side and Protagonista: Millionaire Side and
follow him on Instagram as just_another_wolf .

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