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Books Editorial

Deborah Moggach.jpg Can we have a word…?

Words! There will be plenty of them at this year’s Hexham Book Festival, which, since it first saw light of day back in 2006, has flowered into one of the most significant literary events in the north.

Oh my! How you’ve grown! I think it’s fair to say that the Hexham Book Festival can now officially be put into the category of: A Very Big Deal. And this year it’s expanded to such an extent that the organisers have had to secure extra space to squeeze everything in. Alongside usual venues such as the Queen’s Hall Arts Centre, Hexham Abbey, Bouchon Bistrot, Beaumont Hotel and Linnels Farm, in 2020 we’ll see the first appearance of the magnificent Spiegeltent. This specially built construction will be set up in Sele Park, and, as well as hosting performances, this will be the place to head if you’re in need of, among other stuff, circus fun (yep, circus fun. Brace yourself for workshops for both adults and children).

The line-up this year is packing significant thrills and when my eyes flitted excitedly over the programme I was drawn to a multitude of delights, not least Hollie McNish. The performance poet extraordinaire will lead a special evening with topics ranging from guilt to sex, politics to parenthood (with maybe some school disco action thrown in for good measure). Always candid, always insightful, always funny she will be joined by Dean Atta (named as “one of poetry’s greatest modern voices” by Gay Times) and Michael Pederson who won huge plaudits for his acclaimed debut collection ‘Play with Me’. 

Another woman who always make me smile (read: wet myself) is Jenny Eclair. This multi-talented lass has not only won the prestigious Perrier Award for her stand-up but is also a best-selling author. Her latest, and fifth novel, is ‘Inheritance’. It deals with a premature death and the tremors it sends through generations of the Carmichael family. She describes it as, “a fruitcake of a book”, which sounds like something I can really get my teeth into.

There will be plenty of well-known faces at the festival, none more so that BBC news presenter George Alagiah. His debut novel is ‘The Burning Land’, which is set in modern day South Africa and shaped by the author’s first hand experiences and real life events. It’s a fast-paced political thriller that centres on the hunt for a murderer. Crikey! The night will be chaired by the former MP Chris Mullin, who, earlier in the festival, will host a special night on why Labour lost the last election, and what it must do to recapture the centre ground (my question: where do you think the centre ground actually is? And is it a place where public services are run for private profit?)

Paul Mason probably has his own views on where the centre ground is and the political broadcaster and journalist will be on hand to talk about his new book ‘Clear Bright Future’. In it he argues that we need to think about our own identity as humans, which, he believes, is currently being eroded. 

There will be more political chit-chat with Gavin Esler. The former BBC man – and Change UK candidate – will be presenting ‘Brexit without the bullsh*t’. Will it create more jobs, or punch holes in the NHS? And what about food and drug shortages? From bendy bananas to border controls, Esler will be drawing on personal anecdotes, reportage and expert reports (experts! Remember them?).

Deborah Moggach (pictured) will be among the big-hitting novelists in attendance. The bestselling author of ‘The Best Marigold Hotel’ and ‘Tulip Fever’ will be chatting about her new novel ‘The Carer’. In this witty and poignant work she considers family, ageing, the stories we construct to protect ourselves and the idea that life most definitely does not stop for the elderly – it just moves on to a very different plane, full of surprising twists and turns. 

Another modern literary great is AN Wilson who is rightly lauded for his many biographies. In Hexham he will look back at Charles Dickens’ early death aged 58 to reveal the key events that shaped his life and work. Wilson goes beyond the standard narrative biographical approach to brilliantly revisit the source of Dickens’ exuberant and vivid imagination and reveal why his novels captured the hearts of the Victorian public.

There will also be plenty of laughs to be had at the festival including the ‘Comedy Words Gala’, featuring a stellar line up including Britain’s Got Talent winner Lost Voice Guy, Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalist Jonny Awsum, the award-winning Ada Campe, top Geordie comic Gavin Webster, the popular Steve Shanyaski and star of Channel 4’s ‘The Tez O’Clock Show’ Tez Ilyas

These comics really know their stuff but the visual and performance artist Victoria Melody is a beginner when it comes to the funny stuff. Her new show ‘Professional Stranger’ is all about her attempts at becoming a stand-up comedian. Wearing technology that shows in real time what happens to the brain when you tell jokes, Victoria will spill all about her attempts at launching herself into the world of British amateur stand-up. 

I’m only scratching the surface of everything that is happening this year – there are literally dozens of events taking place over the ten days of the festival (I haven’t even mentioned the food tasting, children’s stuff, or ‘Game of Thrones’ quiz…) – so be sure to visit the website, below, for the full caboodle.

Hexham Book Festival, Friday 24 April-Sunday 3 May. hexhambookfestival.co.uk