The Joy of Literary Festivals: Meet Authors, Meet Readers, Bump into Old Friends and Make New Ones

Hello all,

Yesterday, I woke at the crack of dawn (well 5:50 am), drove from County Durham to Aberdeen and then all the way home again by 8:45 pm. As day trips go, it was pretty exhausting. Why did I do a day trip? Because other commitments meant I couldn’t stay overnight. Why did I drive? Because Network Rail had announced they would be carrying out essential works and that severe delays should be expected.

Bishop Elphinstone's Tomb at King's College, University of Aberdeen

Bishop Elphinstone’s Tomb at King’s College, University of Aberdeen

I was taking part in the Aberdeen May Festival, and I read an excerpt from my historical novel, Widdershins, which is all about the Newcastle witch trials. Literary festivals are a great opportunity for authors to meet their readers and to talk about their books. It’s quite nerve-wracking getting up in front of a crowd to read out your work, but audiences are always friendly and kind, even if you do stumble on the odd word.

But the real joy of festivals is that you get to hear the work of other writers that you might not necessarily come across otherwise. Time does not permit me to mention all the writers I heard yesterday, but I’d like to mention three Australian writers that really struck me.

In particular, I heard an astonishing piece by Tom Byam Shaw. Both the content of his writing and the performance of his surreal writing completely blew me away – he is certainly one to watch!

It was exciting to find out that I wasn’t the only person talking about witches. Ashleigh Angus read her beautiful work on the witch trials in Orkney. Her work was deeply touching, and I’m looking forward to reading more from her.

Adam Keally began his piece by saying that his was not a happy story and that the suicide rates of young men in his country are very troubling, more so in rural areas and even more so for gay men. His work was real and ethereal by turns, and it moved me greatly.

At the 2017 Newcastle literary festival, Books on Tyne, I was terrified when I faced a audience of over 150 people – my knees were definitely knocking when I went on stage. But once again, everyone was very welcoming and my nerves soon vanished. I also went along to the Polari Salon event as part of that festival. There, I heard a wonderful poem by Paul Forbes – its startling and emotive imagery stays with me even now. And there was a very memorable session with performance poet, Sophia Blackwell. To close the festival, I saw Val McDermid reading a short story, and got her to sign my book!

Me with lovely Susan Heads from The Book Trail Literary Travel Agency

Me with lovely Susan Heads from The Book Trail Literary Travel Agency

My third book festival will be the Derwent Valley Literary Festival 2018. This will be the first litfest in the area, stretching from Consett to Blaydon. I have the honour of opening the festival on 16th June, and I’m really looking foward to meeting people who’ve read Widdershins, and people who are interested in witches, witch trials and witchfinders.

This event is free, but it’s best to book a ticket to reserve a place at Eventbrite.

The festival is showcasing lots of other local authors. Come and check out historian Max Adam, author of best-selling Aelfred’s Britain. Renowned poet, author and playwright, Tom Kelly, will appear in an online event. Several poets will perform at Poetry in the Park, including multiple-slam-winning poet, Steve Urwin. You can also catch up with local history with Val Scully, author of Molly Bowes. Phil Mews will be coming along to talk about his forthcoming book, Orphan Boys, and there will be lots of much-loved children’s authors, including Neil Sullivan, author of Ollie and Nina and…

Poster for Derwent Valley Litfest 2018

Poster for Derwent Valley Litfest 2018

Derwent Valley Litfest has something for everyone, young or old, so please check out the full programme at

I’ll be going to lots of the events to see local authors and poets, so I hope to see you there!

Best wishes, Helen

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