Border Lines

Berwick, North Northumberland: Food-Travel-Culture-Community

Archive for the category “Berwick Literary Festival”

What links Gordon Brown, Simon Armitage, William Dalrymple and Salley Vickers?

Big news from the Berwick Literary Festival team: poet laureate Simon Armitage, former prime minister Gordon Brown, best-selling novelist Salley Vickers and acclaimed historian William Dalrymple will all be celebrating words – written, spoken and performed – with us in October 2021.

Read on to discover more about our programme and the stunning line-up we’ll be presenting this autumn from historic Berwick-upon-Tweed. The Festival will be online again this year, with a couple of fabulous live events in association with The Maltings Theatre & Cinema.

As ever, The Friendly Festival in a Walled Town will be kickstarting debate across age groups, with a wide-ranging programme showcasing a blend of genres and topics – from poetry to politics, environment to science and technology, and history to social justice.

Gordon Brown

Programme co-ordinator Mike Fraser says: ‘It is the most exciting programme we’ve created to date. There really is something for everyone. From poet Hollie McNish (winner of the Ted Hughes Award) to poet laureate Simon Armitage, from William Dalrymple the authority of the history of India, to acclaimed novelist Salley Vickers and from Gordon Brown to journalist and political commentator Steve Richards. Our topical sessions include technology, conspiracy theories, the environment, the impact of Covid-19 and human rights issues.’

Gordon Brown will explore concerns raised in his impressive new book Seven Ways to Change the World (June 2021). Poet laureate Simon Armitage will be reading live on stage at The Maltings Theatre from Magnetic Field, his recent collection inspired by the West Yorkshire village where he grew up and began life as a writer. Hollie McNish will delve into her new collection Slug – expect strong language and adult content wrapped in caringly and carefully sculpted poetry.

William Dalrymple’s ambitious and extensive book The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of The East India Company tells a timely cautionary tale of the first global corporate power. Celebrated novelist Salley Vickers will introduce her new work The Gardener, to be published in November 2021.

Michael Taylor, author of The Interest: How the British Establishment Resisted the Abolition of Slavery, highlights issues around Black Lives Matter themes in his story of the ferocious campaign of the British pro-slavery lobby in the nineteenth century. Gemma Milne will provide answers to questions such as whether robots really will steal all the jobs in her critical examination of technology hype and conspiracy theories.

Humankind’s 15,000-year love affair with the canine race is the basis of Simon Garfield’s book Dog’s Best Friend – another timely topic given the rush for lockdown dogs during the past 18 months. The pandemic is on GP Gavin Francis’ mind in his examination of caring for a society in crisis: Intensive Care: A GP, a Community & Covid-19. And nature-loving friends Anna Deacon and Vicky Allan present a fresh perspective on the environment in For the Love of Trees – their book telling stories of people’s relationships with trees from across the UK.

Gemma Milne debunks technology hype and conspiracy theories

Northumberland-based international poetry publisher Bloodaxe Books will again join the Festival. Poets David Constantine and Heidi Williamson will read from their recent collections and explore the passing of, and passing on, of memories and experience.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Williamson-Constantine-photo-1-1024x683.jpg
Poets David Constantine and Heidi Williamson both published by Bloodaxe Books

The age of disillusionment and the rise of anti-establishmentarianism – taking in the invasion of Iraq, phone hacking, the banking crash and Big Brother – is the theme of Alwyn Turner’s book All in it Together: England in the Early 21st Century. The fascinating life of sporting polymath Lottie Dod, the World’s First Female Sports Superstar is Sacha Abramsky’s subject. Diarmaid MacCulloch’s acclaimed biography shines new light on the life of Thomas Cromwell.

Alwyn Turner

And a final word from Festival chair Michael Gallico: ‘Given the uncertainty about live events and venue capacity when we planned the schedule, we’re again offering a free online programme, but with the addition of two live headline events in association with the Maltings Theatre. Dyad Productions were a great success in 2019 and we are delighted they’re returning in 2021 with Female Gothic – lauded as ‘how horror ought to be done’. To have poet laureate Simon Armitage on the Maltings’ stage is real recognition of this Festival’s reach. We’ll be building on the strong online presence we established last year – and we’re very fortunate to have Gordon Brown as one of our online speakers in 2021. As ever, we’ll be promoting Berwick as a tourist destination to all festival goers.’

For full programme details visit the website here. To be sure of keeping up-to-date with Festival news and insider information join our mailing list here. If you’re not already a Patron of the Festival, why not sign up? There are all sorts of benefits and you’ll be supporting our Friendly Festival in a Walled Town to keep on celebrating words here in North Northumberland.

Berwick Literary Festival free online offer ranges from poetry to politics

Berwick Literary Festival will go live online in 2020 with a programme of free events showcasing a range of genres and topics – including Black Lives Matters themes. Organisers are excited about the potential of the virtual festival to attract a wide audience in October.

With Berwick hard hit economically by coronavirus and many summer and autumn events cancelled this year, the Literary Festival is an exciting opportunity to open the doors of the town to a varied national and international audience – and to offer a treat to local visitors old and new.

Festival chair, Michael Gallico says: ‘Since a ‘normal’ festival is not practical this year, it’s vital that we keep Berwick in festival-goers’ minds. The overarching aim of the Festival is to entertain, engage and provoke debate across age ranges.’

The Festival is all about words – written, spoken, performed – and the programme includes themes such as poetry, history, and current affairs. Performers range from world champion slam poet Harry Baker whose quirky, poignant poems tap into today’s world in a modern, accessible way to political broadcaster and columnist Steve Richards, whose acclaimed book ‘The Prime Ministers’ will be the basis for his session on the recent incumbents of Number 10: from Wilson to Johnson.

World champion slam poet, Harry Baker (photo credit: Garry Cook)
Broadcaster and political commentator: Steve Richards

Black Lives Matter themes will feature in this seventh Berwick Literary Festival. Brian Ward, Professor of American Studies at Northumbria University, will follow on his 2019 talk on Martin Luther King’s visit to Newcastle with a look at the life and times of Frederick Douglass: the black slave whose freedom was bought by two Quaker women in Newcastle. Former NME media editor Stuart Cosgrove will talk about how black music lit up the sixties. This remarkable musical revolutions is set against a backdrop of social and political turmoil and the extraordinary transformation of boxer Cassius Clay into Muhammad Ali.

52568259

Other contributors include writer and biographer Ann Thwaite whose biography of A.A Milne led to her being consultant on the major 2017 film ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’; writer, social historian and horticulturist Ursula Buchan – who spoke about her grandfather John Buchan in 2019 – will share her passion and expertise in gardening and gardening history; and Neil Astley, editor of Bloodaxe Books, will be joined by poets David Constantine and Vicki Feaver for his session which will also feature readings from the highly-acclaimed ‘Staying Human’.

Anne Thwaite’s ‘The Secret Garden: The Life of Frances Hodgson Burnett’

Programme co-ordinator Mike Fraser says: ‘We’re always seeking to attract new audiences and the online Festival offers us a chance to reach out to a wider local, national and international population. Attracting visitors to Berwick is part of our remit and we’re looking to ensure that online visitors get a taste of our town – we want them to visit in person when that’s possible.’ Organisers say the online Festival will offer plenty of opportunity for interactivity, with poetry and creative writing workshops also on offer.

Berwick Lit Fest runs from 15th-18th October 2020 online from Berwick-upon-Tweed. For up-to-date information on the programme as it unfolds, visit the Festival website.

Berwick Lit Fest: a feast of words for autumn

The Friendly Festival in a Historic Walled Town 15th-18th October 2020 hopes to be something for us all to look forward to post Covid-19

Berwick Lit Fest’s seventh season runs from 15th to 18th October 2020. The programme for this year’s Festival is all but complete and looks set to have the widest appeal yet. From world champion slam poet Harry Baker to Borders historian Alistair Moffat; presenter and political correspondent Steve Richards to historian and academic Diarmaid MacCulloch; and garden journalist and social historian Ursula Buchan to poetry publisher and editor Neil Astley – it’s a programme to entertain, engage and provoke debate across age ranges.

Michael Gallico, Festival chair says: ‘The unpredictable nature of the Covid-19 pandemic means these are uncertain times for all events and festivals. We very much hope that our community – and communities across the world – will be through this terrible time by October, and that the Lit Fest might be something to look forward to in these difficult times.’

Mike Fraser, Lit Fest programme co-ordinator says: ‘The Festival has grown steadily since 2014 and we’re always seeking to attract new audiences. The Lit Fest is all about words – written, spoken, performed – a blend that’s drawn increasing audiences from across the Borders and beyond.’ Mike says that the Lit Fest seeks to attract more visitors from towns such as Newcastle, Alnwick, Hexham, Edinburgh and Glasgow – all within easy reach for day trippers or weekend visitors – and to engage more book festival and literary festival enthusiasts from both south and north.

Mike explains that each day of the Festival’s run has a themed strand that both day and weekend Festival attendees can track – for example: poetry, history, and writing and environment.  ‘Comedian Katie Brand pulled in an eager audience in 2019,’ says Mike. ‘It’s great to schedule events that attract a cross-section of ages. Slam-poet Harry Baker’s quirky, poignant poems speak of today’s world in a modern, accessible form. Whilst local journalist and author, Christopher Ward, will dip into the world of the Titanic via the story of his grandfather: a violinist in the band that continued to play as the tragic vessel sank.’

Berwick Lit Fest prides itself on the use of the town’s historic sites as venues – from the Guildhall to the Berwick Visitor Centre (the former Methodist Church). Local community engagement and support is also an integral part of the Festival. Michael Gallico says: ‘From day one, the Festival team looked at anchoring the Lit Fest in Berwick – we’re hugely fortunate to  live in such a historic and attractive town – and we aim to help visitors to enjoy every aspect of our location, whilst developing a compelling programme offer. Clearly, we want our visitors to attend our range of fascinating events but it’s also an opportunity for them to get a taste of our town’s beautiful riverside, coast, and historic sites such the unique Elizabethan Ramparts.’

No photo description available.
A historical reenactment on Berwick’s historic ramparts
Berwick Lighthouse at sunset with the town silhouetted behind
No photo description available.
The Royal Border Bridge across the River Tweed with Berwick Castle and the driftwood boat sculpture popular with walkers, children and would-be seafarers

Part of ‘anchoring’ the Festival in the community is the schools programme, which includes events and workshops in local schools; a partnership with Berwick Rotary Club ensures a well-subscribed story competition for children to enter; and poetry reading in local care homes is a fundamental part of the Festival’s community offer.  

For up-to-date information on events, speakers and performers visit the Festival website and find it on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Autumn Festivals: Save the dates

My family arrived in Berwick-upon-Tweed from North London on the last Saturday of August 2010. Our new house was piled high with packing cases and all the loose shoes, clothes horses and pillows that seem to self-seed when you move house. The Husband announced that he had signed us up for litter picking duty at some Food & Beer Festival in a place called The Barracks the following day.

I wish I could say I merely waved an arm at the mountains of unpacking  that needed to happen before our then eight-year-old started her new school in a few days’ time. Over the sound-blast of my fury, The Husband said: ‘It’ll be a way of getting to know people.’ And, of course, he was right. Eight years later, we know an awful lot of people in Berwick, the now 16-year-old is well-established – and we’ve nearly finished unpacking!

And here we are again, looking forward to the Berwick Autumn Festivals. History and buildings, film and media arts, the written and spoken word in all its forms and genres, eating and drinking ethically and locally – Berwick’s got a festival for that! So get the dates in your diaries and plan your trip and stay.

20180312_120442

Eating & drinking in Berwick

For last year’s (2017) Literary Festival in Berwick I compiled a post about Berwick’s eateries. It was by no means exhaustive and was a personal take on eating and drinking in and around Berwick. As we approach the tourist season this year, I thought I’d update my listings. There’s also a post about wandering in Berwick – again tailored to the Literary Festival – but useful enough if you just want to make sure you’ve got the town covered on foot.

If you’ve not been to Berwick before, you’re in for a treat and, if you have been, you’ll no doubt relive past pleasures as well as uncovering new delights.

Berwick has evocative and historic streets to wander, with cute and enticing independent shops as well as the usual suspects. There are also watering holes a-plenty to delight and surprise you.

This post offers a potted lowdown on a some venues where you can chew some fat (literally and figuratively) and sup a beverage or two between Festival sessions. I’ve tried to provide links to websites/Facebook pages where possible – obviously things can change quite quickly in the hospitality trade so do check for updates and opening hours. My next post will highlight some short but enjoyable walks to enjoy as you make your way from venue to venue.

The cake display at the brand new quayside café, The Lookout

Cafés

  • The Corner House on Church Street which is a super haven and delightful bohemian retreat. It’s home of an open fire and bookshelves to browse, purveyor of fine local coffee (Northern Edge), cakes (fully-leaded and gluten free) and light lunches with vegan and vegetarian options.
  • Fantoosh on Marygate serves light lunches and lush cakes (it’s my local, I often grab ‘cakeouts’ to serve guests!), and offers dainty trinkets and gifts.
  • Just over the old bridge in Tweedmouth, you’ll find Riverside Café – good scones and excellent breakfasts – but beware it gets busy so it may be wise to book.
  • Mielle Patisserie is an artisan French-style café on West Street serving excellent cakes and tarts and light lunches.
  • The Lookout on Berwick Quayside has been open a year now. The quiches and soups smelt lovely when I stopped by and a customer told me the coffee was ‘delicious’. It is a bijoux outlet with tables and chairs by the river and great views.
  • On the opposite corner of Berwick Quayside, you’ll find Lowry’s a popular café serving light lunches and with outside riverside seating.
  • Not a café or a substantial eaterie, but if you continue along Dock Road towards Spittal Point from Riverside Café (above), you’ll come to Berwick Shellfish – it would be hard to resist one of their crab/lobster snack platters, particularly on a fine day when you could sit and enjoy the view back across the Tweed to Berwick.

    20170922_104616 (2)

    The perfect bench to sit and enjoy your shellfish snack pack – and it’s bang opposite Berwick Shellfish

Fantoosh at the northern end of Marygate

Riverside Café, Tweedmouth

The Brown Bear – on Hide Hill due to re-open at the end of August 2018 as a pub and venue

 

Cafés plus

  • Enjoy the view from The Maltings Kitchen over a scone and a cuppa or a fresh-cooked lunch and glass or two of wine – in The Maltings arts centre, Eastern Lane. Open for early evening meals on Thursdays and Fridays.
  • Foxtons on Hide Hill is a café-cum-wine bar which also offers lunch and evening meals using local produce – it has a loyal local following and can get busy.
  • Pier Red on Castlegate is a cake-serving café and gallery by day and a relaxed and elegant wine bar on Friday (cocktails from 5.30!) and Saturday nights. Cheese and meat picking platters are also available.
  • The YHA Granary Bistro in Dewar’s Lane offers a full range of drinks and family friendly meals in a relaxed atmosphere at excellent prices. You can get up to the lovely Granary Art Gallery from here for a quick look.
  • The Mule on Rouge a new addition to the Bridge Street scene, The Mule has become a firm favourite. It boast the best and most authentic (possibly the only!) bagels in Berwick and offers great light lunches including vegan options – and holds regular pop-up supper clubs.
  • Upper West Street on West Street straddles this category and the one below. It’s a café/bistro serving a tasty range of lunches and evening meals.
  • Deyn’s Deli on the corner of Marygate/Golden Square is a split-level café that service sandwiches and light lunches.
  • Food collective Northern Soul on West Street also deserves a mention. Here they use unsold food from supermarkets to cook healthy affordable meals on a pay-as-you-feel basis – their strapline is: Feed bellies not bins.

More substantial eateries

  • Gasparro’s on Bridge Street is the go-to for Italian staples.
  • Limoncello originally opened within the refurbed King’s Arms on Hide Hill. It now occupies a prime site on the corner of Hide Hill/Silver Street and boasts an open air patio for you sip your drinks al fresco on globally-warmed summer evenings (the bar ‘As good as it gets’ is as close to urban cool as you’ll get in Berwick!). Limoncello has built its popularity on big portions of pretty basic food and a friendly vibe. Service can feel rather stretched at times.
  • Audela on Bridge Street is a tad more expensive than some Berwick eateries but the prices are matched by quality food. Lunches and evening meals – fabulous local fresh produce cooked imaginatively and beautifully.
  • The Queens Head Hotel – lunches and evening meals which often make inventive use of lovely local produce. Venison is usually a good choice. Again at the top end of the price range.
  • If curry’s your thing, Amran’s on Hide Hill is the place to go IMHO. It offers a great range of fine-tasting Indian food to suit the frailest and the most asbestos palates!
  • I should also mention Magna Tandoori on Bridge Street which I know has many fans too.
  • On West Street is Grill on Hill which serves good-value steak and seafood.
  • In the last couple of weeks we have a new addition on Golden Square heading towards the road bridge by the bus stop: Lock, Stock ‘n’ Burgers which by all accounts serves great burgers and pizzas.

Drinkeries

  • I’ve already mentioned Pier Red and Foxtons – both popular and pleasing drinking haunts.
  • The Curfew, tucked down an alley off Bridge Street, is Berwick’s super-popular micropub, serving fab craft beers – including those from excellent local brewery Bear Claw, local game and pork pies, scotch eggs and it’s the only place in Berwick to serve gouda and Dijon mustard – the ideal snack with beer. It has an outdoor patio.
  • Bridge Street is rapidly becoming a go-to eating and drinking quarter in Berwick and now Atelier has joined the throng. A fab selection of beers and wines, it also serves delicious platters of local cured meats and local cheeses as well as pots of moules. It has a friendly, fun vibe – it can get noisy in the evenings.
  • The Barrels Ale House on Bridge Street is Berwick’s long-serving real-ale pub and live music venue. It’s a firm favourite with locals and visitors.
  • It’s been pointed out to me by a reader that I have neglected to mention three pubs at the northern end of town: on Castlegate you’ll find The Free Trade. The exterior was restored to its original beauty a few years back. Inside it’s a classic ‘brown pub’ with real ale and friendly locals – although the opening hours are rather unpredictable, so do check. Also on Castlegate, on the corner by the station is The Castle Hotel where artist LS Lowry stayed during his trips to Berwick. It has a popular bar and a good value restaurant – large portions, low prices. Heading to the east off Castlegate along Low Greens you’ll find the Pilot Inn, another classic pub which serves draught beers and has a truly local community feel.

Free Trade

The Free Trade public house on Castlegate

Outside the Curfew’s secret alleyway on Bridge Street

This brief meander through the eateries and drinkeries of Berwick is by no means exhaustive. I’ve enjoyed a substantial number of the places listed, others have been recommended by friends. However, just as my shelves are full of books that I have yet to open, the streets of Berwick are teeming with venues that I have yet to sample. If I’ve missed any of your favourites – or if, when you visit Berwick, you find your own hotspot – please do leave a comment below so that we can be sure to check it out!

For those of you who like to keep your step quota up, there are lots of lovely walks in and around the town. Tune into my Wandering in Berwick post to get some ideas.

Wandering in Berwick

Welcome to the (updated) second part of my brief look at Berwick as the star of the Literary Festival (fitting, as a new film about Robert the Bruce, ‘Outlaw King’, was filming in the town when I wrote this in 2017). My last post encouraged you to wet your whistle and whet your appetite in Berwick’s cafés and eating houses.

After all the stimulating Festival sessions, you’ll probably need some fresh air and the opportunity to wander and ponder. Berwick is the ideal place to do just that, enjoying views and wildlife along the way:

20170922_104616 (2)

Berwick to Spittal: Looking back at Berwick from outside Berwick Shellfish, Dock Road, Tweedmouth.

Wanders

  • The Walls: No visit to Berwick is complete without a walk round the historic Elizabethan walls. This 30-40-minute stroll offers vistas across the mouth of the Tweed, out to sea (with views to Lindisfarne and Bamburgh on a clear day) and takes in many of the town’s historic highlights including a great view along Marygate from atop Scot’s Gate – as seen and recorded by LS Lowry.
  • The Lighthouse: Pop down to Pier Road and take a blustery stride out to the lighthouse and back – it’s always possible you’ll see seals or dolphins – you’ll certainly enjoy views out to sea, across to Spittal and to the north.
  • The River: New Road is actually a footpath that runs inland from town along the Tweed to the base of the Stephenson-designed Royal Border railway bridge (opened in 1850 by Queen Victoria) and beyond. Spot herons, seals and otters (if you’re lucky) and pop back up to town along one of the relatively steep paths leading through the beautiful Castle Vale parks.
  • The Bridges: If you’re pressed for time, why not simply walk over one historic road bridge and return by the other? You’ll be rewarded with lovely views of the railway bridge up river and, the other way, the coast. The modern Royal Tweed bridge was opened in 1928 and was ground-breaking in its use of reinforced concrete – it’s certainly of an era and usually elicits a Marmite-response from people. The 17th-century Old Bridge replaced the wooden bridges (which were variously swept away or destroyed in conflict) and was funded largely by James VI/I (Scotland/England). It opened in 1624.

  • Spittal: The historic seaside town of Spittal across the Tweed is home to St Paul’s, one of the Festival’s venues. When you pop over there to enjoy the programme, do take a moment to walk along Spittal Prom. It’s a classic Victorian promenade – a place to take in the air and savour the views out to sea and across to Berwick lighthouse. If you’re lucky you may see the pod of dolphins that frequents our coast.
  • Berwick to Spittal via Tweedmouth: The walk from Berwick to Spittal is an interesting and scenic one but do allow 20 to 30 minutes to get round to Festival venue St Paul’s. Turning left off the Old Bridge you’re in Tweedmouth and you’ll find Riverside Café. As you head on towards Dock Road, several lovely shops including the florist Buds , Dockside Gallery and Nannies Attic are worth pausing your stroll for. You could always stock up on shellfish or grab a seafood lunch at Berwick Shellfish on Dock Road before heading on round to Spittal.
  • The Boat Trip: If your sea legs fancy an outing and you have an hour or so between sessions, why not take a trip out from Berwick quayside? The ‘Border Rose’ makes regular trips up and down the River Tweed and out to sea to the end of October.

Bridge Street with second-hand bookshop, Slightly Foxed, foreground

Cookery & lifestyle shop: Cook+Live+Dream, Bridge Street

Gazing up West Street from Bridge Street

Grieve the stationers on the corner of Marygate & Church Street

  • The Town and Shops: Of course, you may just want to peruse a few shops and take in the general gorgeousness of Berwick. Such a stroll might include a jaunt north through Scot’s Gate and along Castlegate where you’ll find Pier Red (café/wine bar), and some independent outlets including a couple of lovely vintage shops and second hand bookshop Berrydin Books. Walking back through Scot’s Gate take the right turn just before Fantoosh (café/gifts) and drop down Bank Hill past The Loovre ice cream parlour, into Love Lane and on to Bridge Street. This street is packed with delightful independent shops such as Marehalm (gifts) and Cook, Live, Dream pictured above), galleries such as Foldyard and The Irvine Gallery. There’s a marvellous organic outlet The Green Shop, and The Market Shop a gallery-cum-foodstore-cum-card shop. You won’t be able to resist second hand bookshop Slightly Foxed nor the new paper-making outlet and workshop, Tidekettle Paper. At the far end of Bridge Street turn left up Hide Hill and poodle up the hill past gift shop Decorum to the Guildhall and Buttermarket. From the steps of the Guildhall take time to gaze along Marygate and the facades above the now predominantly chain store outlets for a hint of what the high street once was. Also, don’t be fooled, there are a number of pleasing independent shops here such as local craft collective Serendipity, the cornucopia that is Vintage upon Tweed and various cafés. Another street well worth a look is the cobbled West Street which links Marygate and Bridge Street and is home to Upper West Street and charming independent shops including the jewellery outlet Bijoux and house of handmade artisan chocolates Cocoature.

There are many lovely walks around Berwick and, as you stroll, you’ll probably find some of the narrow back streets and footpaths too enticing to resist. Enjoy!

The Old Bridge

Berwick Lit Fest: How to get published

Northumberland-based writers Caroline Roberts (publisher: Harper Impulse, contemporary romance) and Stephanie Butland (publisher: Bonnier Zaffre, commercial literary) are doing a joint gig at the Berwick Literary Festival in October. They’ll be chatting to Newcastle blogger and creative writing tutor Victoria Watson about writing novels and getting them published. I caught up with these two marvellous and inspiring writers for a sneak preview of that discussion.

Caroline and Stephanie are in the fortunate position of being in-demand: their publishers are clamouring for more words and deadlines are a constant presence in their lives. But it wasn’t always like that. Their ambitions to write started when they were children – but from ambition to reality has been a combination of fate, hard work and sheer bloody mindedness.

‘Dad was a book wholesaler in Cornwall,’ says Caroline, ‘so we were surrounded by books. I was always writing stories and poems and making my own little scrapbooks. I went on to study English Literature at Durham University just because I loved reading so much!’

When her children were older Caroline considered how she might turn her love of writing – and the novels she was crafting – into more of a career. ‘I began looking for an agent or publisher. I lost count of the knockbacks after about 80 rejection letters!’ The breakthrough came when she connected with the Romantic Novelists Association (RNA) at a conference. ‘I realised I’d been going about things the wrong way. I’d been wading through the pages of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook, picking publishers and agents that seemed right. But through chatting with the RNA and people I met at that conference, I realised that publishers or agents attending such conferences were the most likely to be looking for writers. Obviously, I couldn’t go to every conference but I could check out who was going to them.’

Caroline’s current novel. Her new title will be out before Christmas.

‘The childhood passion for making little books was me too!’ says Stephanie. ‘And I did an English degree. I kept writing bits and bobs but didn’t find my niche.’  A breast cancer diagnosis in 2008 was the turning point for Stephanie. ‘I started blogging about cancer as a pragmatic way of managing peoples’ desires to know how I was.’  Blogging morphed into more focused writing when Stephanie began to apply her specialist skills in Edward de Bono’s creative thinking techniques to her writing and to write about them.  ‘Things really took off with the blog and I decided to write a book.’  But where to go from there?

Fate intervened. ‘I saw an auction on Twitter. An agent was offering to read your manuscript. Everyone on Twitter got behind my bid: I think they felt you couldn’t really bid against cancer woman! And that’s how I got my agent, Ollie Munson. He read the first three chapters of How I said Bah! to cancer and wanted the rest of the manuscript… so I got on with writing it!’ A second book on life after cancer followed and then Stephanie decided to write the novel ‘I’d been thinking about all my life’.

Stephanie’s current novel. She is editing her next work.

Stephanie and Caroline agree that it is an amazing privilege to earn a living doing something you dreamt of doing when you were five.

‘But,’ says Caroline, ‘It is a job. Deadlines won’t wait. You can’t say to your publisher: it’s my daughter’s wedding this month (which it was) so can you just wait a bit.  Of course, passion and a good story are essential, but so’s the work ethic.’

Stephanie agrees: ‘No matter how inspired you are, no matter how brilliant your idea, you have to put the work in. And you have to keep going through the drafts until your work is the best it can be.’

Having the idea for the next book, even while they’re working on current drafts, is important to both writers. They’re also keen on ideas files and keep a stash of newspaper cuttings, pictures from magazines, notes and anecdotes, as well as jotting down thoughts and overheard conversations. As Stephanie says, ‘You pour everything into that first novel. But then there’s the next one to write!’

Stephanie and Caroline have helpful things to say about all sorts of aspects of writing and getting published including: working with editors (‘a huge relationship’); recurring themes in writing (Stephanie once panicked that she was writing the same book twice, she wasn’t: like most writers, she has ‘preoccupations’); and about agents (negotiating overseas sales and holding out for bigger deals are not always in a writer’s skills set). Finally, they both agree that the most important relationship for a writer is with readers, and they love meeting them: ‘without them we’d be pointless!’

I asked them for a word of advice for those who’d like to be doing what they are doing. Both women turned to other writers for motivation.

‘I have a sign by my desk that says: Don’t get it right, just get it written. Which is Dorothy Parker. It’s hugely helpful. You’ve got to get that first draft down, get the story written. Then you can edit and polish,’ says Caroline.

For Stephanie, it’s Kingsley Amis’ words of wisdom: the art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.

To apply the seat of your pants to the seat of a chair at their session at the Festival, follow the link below and book a place.

 

At the Festival: Caroline Roberts & Stephanie Butland will be chatting about writing and getting published with Newcastle-based blogger and writing tutor, Victoria Watson.

Where: Holy Trinity Parish Centre

When: Saturday 21st October, 10am

This book will change your life…

Berwick Literary Festival runs from the evening of Thursday 19th October to the afternoon of Sunday 22nd October 2017. There’s a wonderful array of events and speakers. I’m lucky enough to be doing a bit of blogging for the Festival. I thought I’d share my posts here but you’ll also find them over on the Festival website along with loads of other useful programme information.

What’s so great about books and literary festivals?

Well, books really do have the power to change lives and influence the reader in both subtle and startling ways. They also help us set down markers in time: what were you reading thirty-one years ago?

Thirty-one years ago, I was engrossed in Olivia Manning’s The Balkan and Levant Trilogies, collectively known as The Fortunes of War. The BBC was planning to make a series of Manning’s fabulous and complex tale of war-torn Europe. My job back then was to write pre-publicity for potential BBC TV programmes to attract co-production investment.  The Beeb’s serialisation of Fortunes of War was broadcast in 1987. Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson starred as Guy and Harriet Pringle (Ken and Em later married and subsequently divorced).

Wind the clock forward to the year 2000 and I was reading Secrets of the flesh: A Life of Colette by Judith Thurman. Not for work this time, but for sheer pleasure. When I did my French A level, one of our set books was Colette’s Le blé on herbe. I loved the book and was fascinated by Colette’s racy life and works.

 

My eldest daughter was born in 1987. Her name is Harriet. My younger daughter was born 14 years later in 2001. Her name is Colette.

Hence, my daughters both carry monikers from my literary influences (actually, Colette’s middle name is Nancy because the Husband loved Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons). We were moved by these stories, these writers, to such a degree that we incorporated them into our family’s heritage.

A good writer shines a light on the tangible and intangible in a way that can frequently become more meaningful to you, the reader, than the sum of their written words. A good writer tells a story – whether it be fictional or factual – in a way that has you rolling the story around in your mind. A good writer leaves you wanting to know why they chose a subject and why and how they structured it the way they did. In short, good writing leaves you a little bit (and sometimes a lot) changed. And sometimes, when you really think about it, you can trace thoughts, ideas and even actions back to something you read way back when. This is why I love literary festivals and hearing the ins and outs of others’ writing processes.

One of the reasons the Berwick Literary Festival is such a great weekend is that it recognises the importance of reading and writing across the community. And, even if you’re not involved in some elements of the Festival, you can feel its wide-reaching inclusivity and accessibility in the way it’s organised. There are events and competitions specifically for local schools, poetry readings in care homes for the elderly, workshops for aspiring writers and, of course, local and national writers for your delectation and entertainment.

You’ll find information on topics and speakers at our fourth Berwick Literary Festival here and you can book events on The Maltings’ website. Don’t forget to visit our Facebook page, find us on Instagram and follow us on Twitter.

Over the next couple of months I intend to catch up with some of our contributors and give you the lowdown on what they’ll be up to at the festival. I shall also be posting about our lovely town of Berwick and some of the spaces and places you might check out on your visit here.

So, don’t be strangers: there’s plenty to chat about.  why not read a book by one of this year’s writers before the festival kicks off in October? It might just be something you remember years from now. Here’s a selection of books by festival contributors you might like to read before your visit (check out the full programme for more books and authors):

 

 

A force to be reckoned with: Iain Lowson on how not to do things properly

Berwick Literary Festival runs from the evening of Thursday 19th October to the afternoon of Sunday 22nd October 2017. There’s a wonderful array of events and speakers. I’m lucky enough to be doing a bit of blogging for the Festival. I thought I’d share my posts here but you’ll also find them over on the Festival website along with loads of other useful programme information.

Iain Lowson will be chatting about his career as a freelance writer at the Festival and I caught up with him for a preview – and cake, of course!

Iain Lowson says he’s a case study in ‘how not to do things properly’. Considering Iain makes his living as a freelance commercial writer, largely producing work for the Disney Star Wars franchise, it’s an interesting self-analysis. I caught up with Iain at The Corner House café, the Literary Festival Hub.

As I munched my way through a slab of Nutella and Peanut Butter cake (obscenity laws mean I cannot post a pic), Iain explained just how he’s not done things properly all his life. He’s a wannabe actor and university dropout, a drifter who left serial jobs in retail to start writing, a blagger who talked his way into writing a Star Wars column 25 years back, a graduate in Egyptology, a grafter who believes that the only route into writing is to write.

Iain is also extremely droll and, with his twirly moustache, twinkly eyes, trademark waistcoat and warm Scottish burr, pretty much personifies one of the many fictional characters he has helped style over the years. Once upon a time, Iain leapt aboard a Silver Fox Coach (‘like Trainspotting on wheels’) to travel overnight from Edinburgh to London to place his copy into the right hands and ensure he was ‘visible’ to the right people. Nowadays, he leaves his house each morning and walks 15 steps to the garden shed.

In this wooden Tardis, Iain pores over his cornucopia of books, merchandise, papers, trinkets and paraphernalia and develops the ‘in universe’ stories of Star Wars. That is to say, the behind-the-scenes tales, the explorations of character backstories and storylines, and the production narratives. All of his research and creative insight is refined into features for Star Wars partwork subscriber magazines. Yes, from this small shed in Berwick-upon-Tweed, Iain’s work travels all over Europe, Japan, Russia, the States, Argentina… outer space.

Iain’s had the nod that the work from the Star Wars franchise will keep rolling his way to 2020 and beyond. He has good reason to feel confident: Disney (who bought Lucas Film in 2012) gave a Product Innovation Award to a recent project. The huge scale model of the Millennium Falcon, which ran across 100 magazine issues, was one of the most successful partwork series ever.

The Millennium Falcon

Iain’s enjoyed several Star Wars-related magic moments. A favourite is the time the fabulous Christopher Lee (Sith Lord Count Dooku in Attack of the Clones (2002) and Revenge of the Sith (2005)) was handed an Iain Lowson article to help him build his characterisation pre-filming. Iain says, ‘To think that Christopher Lee studied my stuff… that’s a real buzz’.

So, as I say, it’s difficult to see how all this can be construed as ‘not doing things properly’.  Iain thinks that walking away from his job at Wonderland Models in Edinburgh, after a particularly grim Christmas in the early 90s, was maybe not the wisest move. He subsequently endured ‘abject poverty for four years’.

Nevertheless, Iain is pretty much the living embodiment of his own adage: if you want to write, write.  He says you need to ‘Hone your craft by doing it: If you’re not practising, you’re not getting better’.  Iain subscribes to Spy Kids’ creator Robert Rodriguez’ approach of  leaving the big guns to do what they do; while you get on with creative life, make a living doing what you’re good at – and enjoy doing it.

Coincidentally, Iain is currently reading David Mamet: On Directing Film and is working on a project with local improv comedy group Damp Knight. Iain’s written a script (‘I don’t write comedy, I write stuff that’s funny. Drama and comedy improve each other’). I can’t help feeling that the resulting work will be worth looking out for.

Festival info on Iain Lowson (check programme for full details):

At the Festival: Iain  will be chatting about his life as a freelance writer – with a focus on the force that is the Star Wars franchise – with Mark Vevers, a local actor, comedian and performer.

Where: St Paul’s, Spittal

When: Friday 20th October, 12 noon

 

Poetry and tea and cake! A perfect day.

007

Do rhyming couplets thrill you? Does blank verse sooth your soul? Does Haiku make you happy? And iambic pentameter lift your senses? Check out the Berwick Literary Festival’s Poetry Café which will be humming with fun, tea, coffee and snacks at St Aidan’s Hall, Saturday 22nd October, 10am to 3pmfree entry. The hall is bang opposite Festival hub, The Corner House Café on Church Street.

Poetry Café – what’s on when:

1. 10am-12pm: Fun workshop for all ages

Colin Fleetwood, poet and primary school head teacher, will be leading an all-age workshop on creating and writing poetry with the emphasis on enjoying words and engaging in poetry together – whilst ensuring you have the opportunity to wrestle with your own poetry.

highwayman

Finding the right word is vital!

 

2. 12pm-2pm: Bookable ten-minute performance slots

For those who love to listen to poetry and/or read it aloud. Poets can pop in to the Café and reserve a slot to read their own work or a selection of their favourite poems. So, sit back, relax and enjoy an eclectic selection of poetry, conversation, snacks, and a nice cuppa tea!

Loss
by Wendy Cope

The day he moved out was terrible –
That evening she went through hell.
His absence wasn’t a problem
But the corkscrew had gone as well

3. 2pm-3pm: Children’s hour

A special time for children to read their own verse or a favourite poem and for adults to read to children – my own current favourites to read to children are ‘Trouble at the Dinosaur Café’ by Brian Moses and ‘An Aussie night before Christmas’ by Yvonne Morrison. What are yours?

dinosaur-cafe

 

Ref: Cope, W., 1992, Serious Concerns, Faber and Faber, London

Post Navigation