The very first Words Weekend is taking place at Sage Gateshead in December and it’s an event that will thrum to some of the biggest literary names in the UK and beyond.
When the organisers of the Words Weekend – take a bow Fane Productions – were pulling together this extraordinary three-day programme they would have had no way of knowing who this year’s Booker Prize winner was going to be. Of course, the world’s leading literary prize was awarded to two people this year. One of the winners, Margaret Atwood, appeared at Sage Gateshead in October (also courtesy of Fane Productions) and, whether through luck or good judgement, the other recipient of the award will also be appearing at the iconic Tyneside venue this December. Bernardine Evaristo’s – pictured – novel ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ won her huge acclaim, as well as the Booker, for a tale that follows a cast of twelve black British women, all of whom are on their own personal journey. She will be in conversation with David Olusoga, who scored a big hit himself earlier this year for his BBC TV programme, ‘A House Through Time’, in which he traced the history of a single house in Newcastle.
Another Booker winner will also be attendance at the festival in the shape of Ben Okri, who trousered the prize in 1991 for ‘The Famished Road’. He will be making a rare live appearance to read some of his poems and discuss his latest novel ‘The Freedom Artist’, which is both a penetrating examination of how freedom is threatened in a post-truth society, and a powerful and haunting call to arms.
The international phenomenon that is ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ celebrated its 20thanniversary this year and its author, Tracy Chevalier, will be discussing her latest best-seller, ‘A Single Thread’, and chatting about her fascinating career which encompasses ten novels.
Another big-hitting talent at the festival is Michael Morpurgo, one of Britain’s best-loved children’s writers. The author of ‘War Horse’ will be reading from his spellbinding new book ‘The Best Christmas Present in the World’, which revisits the First World War trenches to tell the haunting and true story of Christmas 1914 when soldiers on both sides put down their weapons and suspended hostilities. He will be joined on stage by award-winning actor Virginia McKenna and a choir singing carols in English, German, French and Flemish. This promises to be a festive treat and one of the real highlights of the festival.
Another family favourite is Terry Dreary and the Horrible Histories man will be looking at the past 2000 years of the north-east. Told through anecdotes, songs, poems, jokes and role-play the world’s most popular children’s author will be presenting a funny, entertaining, and, yes, educational, show.
Former Great British Bake Off winner, and best-selling author, Nadiya Hussain, will be chatting about her memoir ‘Finding My Voice’ and considering her roles as mother, Muslim, working woman and celebrity and questioning the barriers which many women must cross to be accepted or heard.
Hussain will need no introduction to foodies and neither will Jay Rayner. The popular Observer food critic’s barnstorming new show ‘My Last Supper’ is based on his new book in which he investigates our fascination with last suppers and tells the stories of the killer dishes that would end up on his table.
I love a good murder, especially when the nights have drawn in, and if you’re similarly enamoured then the Words Weekend will have plenty for you to get your teeth into including Mari Hannah, Fiona Cummins, Trevor Wood and Amer Anwar telling us about writing the perfect crime novel. There will also be an appearance from The Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers featuring Val McDermid, Mark Billingham, Chris Brookmyre, Stuart Neville, Luca Veste and Doug Johnstone. This esteemed bunch of reprobates will host a panel, which will then be followed by – of all things – a gig. Imagine!
One of the most talked about debut novels of the year is ‘Queenie’ by Candice Carty-Williams. This darkly comic and unflinchingly raw depiction of a young woman trying to navigate her way in the world was a real breakout hit and the author will be in conversation with Word Weekend ambassador and founder of ‘gal-dem’ magazine, Liv Little.
Other highlights include presenter Stacey Dooley making her first north-east appearance and talking about her remarkable career; Turner Prize winner Grayson Perry dissecting the nation’s “prejudices, fashions and foibles”; Marian Keyes, best-selling author of ‘Watermelon’, ‘Lucy Sullivan Is Getting Married’, and ‘Rachel’s Holiday’ among many other novels; Philippa Perry sharing thoughts from her latest, ‘The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (And Your Children Will Be Glad That You Did)’; and many more besides.
We’ve just given you an inkling of some of the goodies in store over this stuffed-to-the-gills three day programme so be sure to check the website below for the full lowdown, which – stop press! – now also includes Konnie Huq, Jess Phillips MP and Norman Jay. (Note: Over 40% of the events are free and all are fully accessible and BSL interpreted.)Words Weekend, Friday 6-Sunday 8 December, Sage Gateshead. wordsweekend.com