Hexham Book Festival just keeps growing, expanding its audience and attracting a more impressive author line-up every year.
Susie Troup, festival founder and director, says one reason is that agents and publishers now know that their authors get well looked after in Hexham.
Another, I would suggest, is that the festival is neither too small to be insignificant nor too big to be overwhelming.
“Every year we offer a wide range of events so there’s something for everyone,” says Susie. “This year we’re particularly proud of the contributors. There’s fierce competition among book festivals round the country to attract the best authors, and I’m glad that we’re so highly rated.”
Apart from the authors, this year’s festival boasts a yurt in the Abbey grounds. It makes, suggest the festival team, a “quirky and intimate” venue and it is all thanks to the Gillian Dickinson Charitable Trust.
Yurt in the Park is scheduled for May 2 and 3 when the structure will host workshops, storytelling and talks.
Among those yurt-bound are Tony Singh, presenter of BBC2 series The Incredible Spice Man, Lucinda Hawksley, a descendant of Charles Dickens who has written about Queen Victoria’s sixth child, Princess Louise, and Patrick Barkham who will be speaking up for badgers.
Also under canvas on May 3 will be Janette Jenkins whose latest novel, Firefly, imagines the last days of Noël Coward, dreaming of a London where his star once shone from a secluded Jamaica hillside.
On May 3 at the Queen’s Hall, a veteran Conservative politician will probably rub shoulders with one of the historians whose quest to identify the final resting place of Richard III led them to a carpark in Leicestershire.
Douglas Hurd, who was Home Secretary under Margaret Thatcher, will talk at 5pm about Benjamin Disraeli, subject of his new book, Disraeli: Or the Two Lives. Philippa Langley, following him into the theatre for a 6.30pm session, will discuss The King’s Grave: the Search for Richard III.
Many more authors are bound for Hexham. Penelope Lively, Booker Prize winner, will be at the Queen’s Hall on May 2 to talk about the experience of old age, a place, she says, where “one arrives with surprises”. You will find this theme writ large in her latest book, Ammonites and Leaping Fish.
This is a festival of pleasant surprises, as illustrated not just by that yurt but by the presence of people like Brett Westwood and Sarah Blunt, co-presenter and producer of the Tweet of the Day on BBC Radio 4.
At the Queen’s Hall on May 3 they will explain how the modern phenomenon of Twitter inspired a ‘back to basics’ daily broadcast of birdsong on the BBC channel which became a huge success and has spawned a book.
The Queen’s Hall will also play host to two celebrated Scots.
On May 4 broadcaster Kirsty Wark will talk about her first novel, The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle. Then on May 5 Ian Rankin will field questions about his popular creation, DI John Rebus, who returns to pound his Edinburgh beat in Standing in Another Man’s Grave.