REVIEW: Durham Book Festival @ Various venues (13-16.10.22) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Preti Taneja at Gordon Burn Prize 2022

Durham Book Festival came back post-pandemic with a very inclusive bang! A mix of online and in-person activities that offered subtitled staging, disabled artist networking and new book releases. There was something for everyone across this four day programme. The festival opened with an announcement of the winner of this year’s Gordon Burn Prize, a partnership between the Gordon Burn Trust, New Writing North, Durham Book Festival and Faber & Faber. And what a way to launch this programme, with a celebration of five incredible writers; the winner was Aftermath by Preti Taneja, professor of creative writing at Newcastle University.

Day two saw a series of talks from both popular and local writers, including the launch of Linda France’s new book, Startling. Unfortunately three of the four events overlapped each other in the programme, so it wasn’t possible to see them all in their entirety, but instead the first talk with Alexander McCall Smith and then one other. I opted for Laura Bates’s Fix The System Not The Women, in which she discussed her own first hand account and collections of evidence she used to pull this book together. Anyone who is passionate about feminism and reshaping our world to treat everyone better will enjoy this book and any other Q&As she does in the future.

The third day really opened up the city for creative activity, with a series of workshops for adults and children as well as storytime sessions for the younger ones. The natural world and our place in it was front and centre at these events. Chloe Daykin, author of children’s book Fish Boy, led participants on a journey around the world by using found objects to create new lands. Durham University’s Professor Jeroen van Hunen and Dr Charlotte Adams spoke up in the event Green Energy North East about the way we look at our current local landscape as a way to protect it in the future. Audiences learned more about what is happening over in Seaham with the production of geothermal energy in unused mines. Abandoned mines have huge potential for decarbonising heat, and the pair broke down their own research, showcasing how our own heritage could provide a greener future.

The brilliant Lisette Auton launched her commissioned piece with a film premiere of her work, Writing The Missing: Folding Water. It was fantastic to see an artistic piece which highlighted multiple aspects of the disabled experience which are not just limited to one type of disability. The frustration everyone feels at the lack of access, especially at access being taken post-pandemic after it had been given during the height of the crisis. The piece spoke with a visual, audible and verbal language, with BSL, subtitles, music cues and clearly curated character costumes which ensured everyone there was able to get a full experience out of the event, regardless of ability.

Much loved local author LJ Ross showcased a short story exclusively written for this festival, which has been available to pick up from local libraries, with very limited copies. Ross talks through her career, the journey from Northumberland to London and back again, and what led her to focus her work in this region.

Overall, this festival was just as amazing as it promised to be, encouraging readers both young and fully grown to either pick up a book or get ready to create. Inclusive, a celebration of both literature and Northernness. I can say that I walked away from all of these events feeling enriched and proud of our local community.

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