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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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’.
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.
I wrote this poem following the recent death of my mum. It somehow seems appropriate to share it today when people are remembering those who have died in conflict. My mum remembered World War 2 well: her school was bombed and she was evacuated. We spend our lives trying to make sense of death and yet it always seems to take us by surprise wherever, whenever and however it comes.
Death is dry.
Dry bones sliding
like unruly stacks of kindling.
Death is light as light itself.
Death is a look of surprise and
a long pause where no breath
and a sudden gasped
Death is unfinished business
a glass half empty.
A sip through a straw
that makes you
cough the cough you don’t have the strength
Death is a puff of air
released when your body
Death is men in dark coats
zipping you into a bag on a low stretcher.
Death is your purpled hand
beneath the zip.
Death is a puff of dust
from an urn perched in
a hole in the ground.
A puff of you
free from bones and breath and air
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 3pm –free 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.
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?
Ref: Cope, W., 1992, Serious Concerns, Faber and Faber, London