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With some well-known names coming to the Berwick Literary Festival this autumn, Mike Fraser, one of the programme organisers, was interviewed by Michael Gallico, next year’s Chair of the Steering Group.

Tell me more about the Festival 

We’re in our sixth year and proud to be part of Berwick’s exciting Autumn Festival season.  It’s run by volunteers and we aim to make a real contribution to the town – culturally and economically.

We are more than the annual four-day Festival: we also bring words to life in Berwick through other activities, such as the school’s programme and poetry reading in the town’s care homes. This year we also have a joint production of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando in the Maltings, a story-telling evening in Pier Red and an exhibition of early twentieth century photographs.

Who are 2019’s big names? 

James Runcie, the writer of the Grantchester TV series; Jeremy Dronfield, whose book on Auschwitz is a best-seller; and Salley Vickers (the well-known author of Miss Garnet’s Angel).  Chris Mullin returns to discuss his new novel, ‘The Friends of Harry Perkins’ (the long-awaited sequel to his 1982 classic, ‘A Very British Coup’) which he says is “a  tantalising human drama skilfully woven around the big issues of the day: Brexit, the rise of English nationalism and the looming confrontation with China”.  Andrew Lownie is talking about his biography of Mountbatten and Ursula Buchan introduces her major new study of her grandfather, John Buchan. Katy Brand’s session will be popular – her book I Carried a Watermelon is described as a “… warm, witty and accessible look at how her life-long obsession with Dirty Dancing has influenced her attitudes to sex, love, romance, rights and responsibilities”.

I hear Berwick is a ‘hotbed’ of literary talent?

Yes, Jessie Greengrass, already the recipient of major literary awards, will speak on Friday. Many other exceptional local authors will also contribute – there’s just not space to list them all!

What subjects will be included this year?

History, local and national, biography, organised crime, nature writing, music, current affairs. Then there’s also Sri Lankan cookery, the Vikings, nuclear submarines, Martin Luther King … a tantalizing menu!

What are the Festival dates?

October 17-20, 2019

Tell me more about the Schools Programme

Activities are organised in schools in September and October. On Saturday morning, there’s our awards ceremony for the short-story competition, sponsored by Berwick Rotary Club – it’s always packed with children and proud parents.  The special Schools Programme in Spittal on Friday is free to students.

What about poetry? 

Because the Festival is about words, not just books, poetry plays a major part. This year’s poetry hub includes award-winning poets Jacob Polley and Katrina Porteous, with Stephen Platten talking on Thomas Hardy’s poetry; there’s a poetry-writing workshop, ballads with Poppy Holden and an open-mike performance.

Why do you do poetry readings in care homes? 

Many older generation residents learned poetry by heart at school: they enjoy listening to and reciting well-loved poems evoking long-lost memories.

Who else is involved

We have talks in partnership with the Berwick Educational Association, the North-East branch of the History Association, and Berwick Archives and District Museums. In future years we’d like to link with more organisations, like the Maltings.

How can I get involved?  

You can become a Patron and also volunteer to help with events; there’s information on our website.

We are very grateful to the businesses that sponsor the Festival – their names are on the website. And we’re always open to more offers!

What is the website?  Keep visiting it for up-to-date information and follow us on and Twitter (@BerwickLitFest).

How can I book tickets? 

Tickets will be available from the Maltings Box Office when the programme is released in the summer. We aim to keep prices low.

You’re obviously very excited about this year’s Festival – why? 

Every year the reputation of the Festival grows. We are known as ‘The Small and Friendly Festival in a Historic Walled Town’. We attract many visitors to Berwick who are welcomed by local enthusiasts: everyone enjoys a great weekend in our town. This year we have a fantastic cross-section of speakers and subjects…so come and join in!

Mike Fraser