Susie Troup would be the first to admit that when she started the Hexham Book Festival in 2006, it was more of a toe-dipping affair than anything else.
But in a clear demonstration of how to turn a one-off taster event into a much-looked-forward-to fortnight in the North East’s cultural calendar, this year the Festival will celebrate its 10th year in impressive style,
Since realising there was absolutely a gap in the market - and the market town - for an annual jam-packed programme of literary events, festival director Susie has expanded its offering in terms of speakers, audience and ambition.
And this trend continues for the 2015 event, which kicks off on April 20.
As ever, the collection of gatherings are varied and promise to take their audiences on a journey. They can accompany long-distance walkers, bird-watchers and wine-makers on their meandering ways; discover the deadly secrets of high society murderers and artistic vagabonds; and find out more about the history of caricature and satire.
Susie says: “What started as a one-day festival - quickly put together and with no idea of how successful it might be – has become an annual landmark in the event calendar of the region, and now attracts a host of high-profile authors and speakers to Hexham.
“The festival runs across eight venues throughout Hexham and the surrounding area, and the programme features over 50 authors.”
Clearly we don’t have room to tell you about all of them here, but we’ll get in as many as we can.
Audiences will be able to hear from and meet speakers including poet Simon Armitage, who will be reading selected poems from his 25-year career; leading cartoonist and political satirist Martin Rowson; and agony-aunt Virginia Ironside presenting the latest instalment of her fictitious rebellious granny, Marie Sharp.
Andrew Graham-Dixon, presenter of the BBC’s Culture Show, will introduce his book on the life and work of artist Caravaggio, and Springwatch and Autumnwatch presenter Martin Hughes-Games will do a special event for families discussing some of the most interesting (and revolting) animals he’s filmed over his 30-year career.
Christopher Frayling will talk about Western suspicion of China; novelist Alexander McCall-Smith introduces the latest in his much-loved Isabel Dalhousie series; author, diarist, and former MP for Sunderland Chris Mullin assesses the qualities needed for successful political leadership; and columnist, broadcaster and political commentator Steve Richards takes a sideways look at the impending election.
Broadcaster Andy Kershaw will reveal his top 10 musical moments of his long career – expect some candid stories – and historian David Starkey will ask, in this 800th year of the Magna Carta, if it really is the basis of our modern liberties.
The book festival is also an opportunity to sate your curiosity about a new aspect of history.
Journalist Sarah Helm will expose Ravensbrück – the only concentration camp solely for women and children, which is barely known today; biographer Laura Thompson will investigate the events leading up to the murder which led to the disappearance of Lord Lucan, one of the UK’s most notorious unsolved mysteries; and religious thinker and social commentator Mona Siddiqui will discuss what it is to be a western Muslim woman in an age of religious polarisation.
There will also be a special event with six debut authors sharing their journey from first writing attempt through to publication as well as a workshop on how to get published – a must for any budding writer in the region.
Meanwhile as well as the main events, the Festival also features a comprehensive programme of activity in schools, as well as reader development programmes throughout the year with two audio reading groups.
Didn’t we tell you it had grown?
Susie says: “I’m immensely proud of this festival, and the support it’s received from audiences, local businesses and charitable trusts. Without that support – and the audience’s enthusiasm – the festival just couldn’t survive and thrive in the way it has and continues to.”
* Hexham Book Festival will run from April 20 to May 4 in venues across the town. For full programme details and booking information, visit www.hexhambookfestival.co.uk
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