What to Expect From York Literature Festival
Bookworms, this one’s for you.
York Literature Festival returns to the city from Friday 18th–Sunday 27th March celebrating written and spoken word – and the line-up is jam-packed with talent from across Yorkshire and from further afield.
The festival started in 2007 and has grown to become one of the foremost literature festivals in the North. There’s currently a board of just six trustees and the event is supported by volunteers. This team aim to provide an exciting literature festival for York every year, while also providing a showcase for local writing talent. ‘We have quite a lot of writing groups based here in York, and it’s all about us bringing high quality literary events to the city to highlight what a great place it is for literary talent in its own right,’ says festival chair Rob O’Connor, one of the trustees.
‘It’s a really important part of my life and it’s something that I’m constantly working on,’ Rob says of the festival. ‘I’m a lecturer at York St John University as well and I do the two things side by side. I’m a great lover of books. It’s something I’ve been doing for more than a decade now and I’m not losing my interest.’
This year, Rob has been in charge of the programming too, and he’s just as excited as we are about the line-up. ‘There’s a wide range of authors on the programme, and we’re really proud of it: everything from spoken word and poetry workshops to memoir and historical fiction,’ he explains.
The festival is preluded by an event with Alexander McCall Smith on Monday 14th March. He is the author of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series (which has sold more than 25 million copies) and he’ll be joined by Fiona Lindsay to discuss the new instalment in his much-loved Scotland Street series, Love in the Time of Bertie.
The festival opens on Friday 18th March with Sarah Hall in Conversation. She’ll be talking about her work and her latest novel, Burntcoat. ‘She was with us eight years ago and we’re really pleased she’s coming back to York to talk about her latest novel,’ Rob says.
Brenda Hale, Baroness Hale of Richmond, also joins the line-up, with writers Helen Mort, Michael Stewart (who’s been following in the Brönte’s footsteps with his book Walking the Invisible) and Sarah Maine. Yorkshire Shepherdess Amanda Owen will be at St Peter’s School sharing anecdotes about her farming family life on Sunday 20th March. ‘She was scheduled to be in the 2020 festival but that was cancelled because of Covid, so we’re really pleased she’s coming back too,’ says Rob.
More local talent will be celebrated in the form of student showcases and local authors. You can also join Magid Magid for an evening celebrating his book The Art of Disruption. He came to Sheffield from Somalia as a refugee at the age of five and is the youngest and first refugee and first Green Party Lord Mayor of Sheffield – and he became an MEP for the Green Party in 2019. Children won’t be left out either – there are plenty of activities and story times to keep them entertained. Then, on the final day of the event, Queen of crime Val McDermid will be talking all things 1979 (her new novel following Allie Burns, an investigative journalist whose stories lead her into world a corruption, terror, and murder).
The festival’s strong links with York venues mean, although there’ll be fewer than usual to ensure Covid safety, visitors can enjoy the events in person – something they’ve missed out on since the in-person events were cancelled when the pandemic began. ‘We feel the festival has really found its place in the literary festival calendar, especially here in the North of England,’ Rob says. ‘I think it’s one people are really aware of and want to come to. For us, that’s why it was so important to get back to being face-to-face as soon as it was possible to do so. That interaction between the author and the audience, and public signings – where they get a chance to meet – is so important.’
To book tickets and for more information about all the events taking place this year, visit yorkliteraturefestival.co.uk.
If you’d like to volunteer as a steward email email@example.com.
What are you reading right now?
‘I’ve got two books on the go! I tend to read multiple books at once. I’m actually reading Sarah Hall’s short story collection called Sudden Traveller which is a phenomenal piece of work, but I’m also reading a fantasy book called The Name of The Wind by Patrick Rothfuss which I’m really enjoying. I’m a fantasy fiction fan and I’ve been wanting to read that for a long time.’
Your favourite genre?
‘In my job at York St John, I’m a specialist in publishing and genre fiction. I’m a real fan of body horror, which is where a lot of my research lies.’
What makes the perfect novel?
‘That’s the killer question isn’t it? For me, with the novels that I really enjoy, it’s all about character. Whether it’s a fantastical, magical world in a fantasy novel or representative of our world in the 21st century, everything is delivered through character. The key for me is that characters feel realistic in the context of the story.’
Your favourite thing about York?
‘It’s just such an inspiring city. I’ve lived here for about 12 years now and every time you turn a corner you feel like you know the street you’re walking down, but then you’ll spot something you’ve never seen before – a shop or part of a Roman wall you never knew still existed. It’s such an engaging place. The cobbled streets, the medieval buildings, the Minster – every corner has something inspiring.’