Our Free 2020 Virtual Festival – 15th to 18th October!

Berwick Literary Festival goes Virtual in 2020!

Jackie Kaines-Lang writes:

Berwick Literary Festival’s seventh season will go live online in 2020. Festival chair, Michael Gallico says: ‘Since a ‘normal’ festival is not practical this year, it’s vital that we keep Berwick in festival-goers’ minds. We’ve been developing a virtual festival and are aiming to create an accessible and dynamic online programme. The overarching aim of the Festival is to entertain, engage and provoke debate across age ranges.’

Berwick Literary Festival has grown steadily since its launch in 2014 with last year’s festival attracting a record number of visitors. Programme co-ordinator Mike Fraser says: ‘We’re always seeking to attract new audiences and the online Festival offers us a chance to reach out to a wider local, national and international population. Attracting visitors to Berwick is part of our remit and we’re looking to ensure that online visitors get a taste of our town – we want them to visit in person when that’s possible.’

The Literary Festival styles itself as a festival of words – written, spoken, performed – and the programme reflects that with themes such as poetry, history, and current affairs. Performers include world champion slam poet Harry Baker whose quirky, poignant poems tap into today’s world in a modern, accessible way. Political broadcaster and columnist Steve Richards’ acclaimed book The Prime Ministers: Reflections on Leadership from Wilson to Johnson will be the basis for his session on the recent incumbents of Number 10. Brian Ward, Professor of American Studies at Northumbria University, spoke last year about the Martin Luther King’s extraordinary visit to Newcastle. This year, when Black Lives Matter is such a potent slogan, he’ll explore the life and times of Frederick Douglass, the black slave whose freedom was bought by two Quaker women in Newcastle. And former NME media editor, Stuart Cosgrove, will be talking about his book Cassius X: six months that shaped the sixties.

Harry Baker
Photo Credit: Gary Cook

Writer and biographer Ann Thwaite will join the Festival. She published a version of her 1990 biography of A.A Milne to coincide with the major 2017 film ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’, as well as acclaimed biographies of, amongst others, poet Edmund Gosse, his father naturalist Philip Henry Gosse, and writer Frances Hodgson Burnett. Writer, social historian and horticulturist Ursula Buchan – whose talk about her grandfather author John Buchan attracted plaudits in 2019 – will share her passion and expertise in gardening and gardening history in 2020. Food events are always popular and Pauline Beaumont’s session on bread-making and therapy will attract many even without the smell of baking bread.

Organisers say that the online Festival will continue to be participative with audiences very much encouraged to engage in the creative and interactive dynamic. Poet Anne Ryland will run her hugely popular poetry workshop, and author, journalist and lecturer Barbara Henderson will lead a creative writing workshop.

Asked for his highlight of the online Festival, Mike Fraser said: ‘The launch of a Bloodaxe anthology in the Staying Alive series is always a major event so we are delighted that its editor, Neil Astley, will be reading from the latest edition, Staying Human.‘  Major poets David Constantine and Vicki Feaver will join Neil to read from the new collection. The collections have attracted many plaudits, including from actor Meryl Streep who said:

‘I love ‘Staying Alive’ and keep going back to it… But this new book feels even more alive – I think it has a heartbeat or maybe that’s my own thrum humming along with the music of these poets.’

Michael Gallico states: ‘We’re really excited about our developing programme which taps into many of today’s pressing issues – further information will be available on social media and the website as we have it. Part of our success as a festival is our wider engagement with our community in schools, care homes and through our partnership with the Rotary Club and their story competition for young people. Clearly, it is more complicated this year but we’re in talks with speakers to try to put together a package for schools, but maybe for next year.’

Berwick Lit. Fest runs from 15th-18th October 2020 online from Berwick-upon-Tweed. For up-to-date information on events, speakers and performers visit the Festival website (www.berwickliteraryfestival.com) and find it on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Mike Fraser