Turning the page

The pandemic has forced this year’s literary festivals online. Chris Moss assesses their new approach

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Like so many events, this autumn’s book festivals are largely going digital. There’ll be a bit less chinwagging with your favourite author or meeting over a signing desk but there’s no travel or queuing for drinks and wherever you are, you can attend, online.

Manchester Literature Festival, on 23-25 October, will be all-digital. Seventeen events are scheduled including in-conversations with Tori Amos, Nick Hornby, Booker prize-shortlisted Maaza Mengiste, Jeanette Winterson and Angela Davis, who’ll be sharing a platform with Jackie Kay. Editors Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené reunite with MLF to talk about their new anthology Loud Black Girls, and a poetry and music showcase, Cabaret for Freedom, will celebrate the life and work of Nina Simone. Info at manchesterliteraturefestival.co.uk.

Liverpool Literary Festival returns for the weekend of 11 October, live-streaming a range of events, including an opening on the Friday evening hosted by the UK’s first female poet laureate, Professor Dame Carol Ann Duffy. Sri-Lankan-born British author – and Liverpool University alumnus – Romesh Gunesekera, reflects on his experiences in 1970s Liverpool and how it shaped his writing.

Other invitees include Costa Short Story Award winner Jess Kidd, novelist Adele Parks, screenwriter and playwright Heidi Thomas, Call the Midwife’s Stephen McGann and Liverpool legend Alexei Sayle. See liverpool.ac.uk/literary-festival/events.

Ilkley Literature Festival is delaying most physical events until spring 2021. Since August it’s been running creative workshops for adults and young people, ranging from writing for wellbeing to crime fiction and creating animated poetry. With a maximum of 20 participants, some of these are delivered in person while others run online. A weekend of digital talks will take place on 24-25 October, focusing on the theme of “in/justice”. Audiences will be able to view free online talks and performances, featuring writers of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Visit ilkleyliteraturefestival.org.uk.

Durham Book Festival 2020 will feature more than 50 online events on 9-18 October, with headliners including local crime writer Ann Cleeves, Ian Rankin (see p10) and Jenny Offill. A series of conversations produced in partnership with Birmingham Literature Festival will tackle contemporary issues. Laura Bates talks about her latest book, Men Who Hate Women, while Alastair Campbell will discuss Living Better and his lifelong struggle with depression. Disabled writer Lisette Auton will showcase a new film created with three other County Durham-based disabled artists.

“Every year new commissions are at the heart of the work we produce,” says Rebecca Wilkie, programme manager at New Writing North, which manages the festival.

“We’re producing the festival digitally this year but will still be profiling exciting commissions from writers including Fatima Bhutto and DBC Pierre, who have both written thought-provoking pieces for our website. We’ve also commissioned a literary guided walk around Durham, which will be both a podcast and short film, so although our audiences won’t be attending events in the city we can bring the city to them. This year’s programme is also our most international so far.”

Events are free; book at durhambookfestival.com. The winner of the £5,000 Gordon Burn Prize will be announced on 15 October.

Harrogate Literature Festival’s ninth edition will be free and broadcast online on 22-25 October, featuring bestsellers Lee Child, Bernard Cornwell and Ken Follett, political scientist, women’s rights activist and author Elif Shafak, and Labour MP Jess Phillips. Kadiatu Kanneh-Mason, mother of Britain’s most musical family, will also be doing a turn. See harrogateinternationalfestivals.com.

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