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The Crack Magazine

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Storytellers of the World, Unite!

Many of the UK’s top authors are visiting Northumberland this February for Alnwick Story Fest, a three-day literary event that is packing rare thrills.

Alnwick is a real gem in Northumberland’s crown. It already has a magical castle, the incredible Alnwick Gardens, plus bookshops galore (including Crack fave The Accidental Bookshop). But – this February – it will also have the Alnwick Story Fest. This three-day celebration of the written word will completely take over the town with events happening at several venues (including – yes! – the Alnwick Garden Tree House) with a plethora of top authors heading our way. Highlights? Well, there’s quite a few, but I reckon the following should be filed under “Unmissable”.

For my money, Dr Janina Ramirez (pictured) is the best historian on TV, but she’s also published widely on medieval art and literature. Her latest is ‘Femina’. It came about when she realised that the names of women would often be struck out of historical records and replaced with the word ‘Femina’ – a deliberate process that placed women in the margins. Her new book is a narrative history of the Middle Ages, highlighting impactful women and demonstrating how easily histories are manipulated and whose story gets told.

Another historian well worth listening to is Dan Jackson, author of the best-selling ‘the Northumbrians: North East England and its People’. From the Venerable Bede to the prince-bishops of Durham, through to Viz and Geordie Shore, Jackson will take you on a journey, exploring the roots of the distinctive culture of the lands between the Tweed and the Tees. He will also talk about how centuries of border warfare, heavy and dangerous industries, and the sociability and hedonism that so defined the communities of the north-east, has left an enduring cultural impact.

One of my favourite novels of 2017 was ‘Little Deaths’. A gripping tale, based on a real-life crime in New York City circa the mid 1960s, it was the debut from Newcastle author Emma Flint. Her second novel, ‘Other Women’ is published in February. At the festival she will be in conversation with someone who needs little introduction, certainly to fans of crime fiction: Ann Cleeves. Cleeves – who lives in Northumberland – is the author of the best-selling ‘Vera’ books and her latest must-read is ‘The Rising Tide’.

Another crime author with local connections is LJ Ross – her DCI Ryan series of Northumbrian set mysteries is the second best-selling series of all time on Amazon. She’ll be hosting an extra-special night at the festival – a delicious dinner if you please – as she launches the latest in the Ryan series, ‘The Poison Garden’. The menu? Take 100 toxic and narcotic plants and stir in a best-selling crime novelist – a recipe for fun if I ever heard one. (Note: Ross will also be on hand for ‘Fantastic Films and How To Make Them’, featuring a panel of filmmakers who will be discussing how to create and produce films that delight, inspire and transform lives.)

More crime? Writing as Cass Green, Caroline Green has scored huge hits with the likes of ‘The Woman Next Door’ and ‘In A Cottage, In A Wood’. Her new series of novels focuses on a specialist supernatural crime team. At the festival she be talking about her inspirations and asking: can you really talk to ghosts…

If nature is more your thing then a special event at Alnwick Gardens’ Tree House should fit the bill. Here you will be able to join poet and nature writer Mike Pratt (CEO of Northumberland Wildlife Trust) and a panel of award-winning authors who will be chatting about how their relationship with the environment has shaped their work. The panel will include Jesse Greengrass (her second novel ‘The High House’ was shortlisted for the 2021 Costa Novel Award and follows an unconventional family as they try to survive a climate apocalypse), Caro Giles (this Northumberland-based writer is inspired by her local landscape) and Jackee Holder (creator of ‘The Inner & Outer Nature Self-Discovery Card Deck’, which contains 49 nature and tree-inspired journaling questions that help aid journal writing practice).

Newcastle United fans are sure to love hearing from Michael Chaplin. From the late 1950s Chaplin has been an ardent fan of the Magpies, and in ‘Newcastle United Stole My Heart’ the celebrated playwright and screenwriter tells the story of his six-decade love affair with the club, with each chapter focussing on an iconic Newcastle match.

If you’d like to turn your hand to a bit of writing yourself then there are a number of events that should appeal. ‘How to Write for Radio’ sees BBC Radio 4 producer Liz Allard exploring the craft of writing short stories for radio and other aural outlets. ‘How to be a Travel Writer’, meanwhile, has Michael Booth as your guide. Booth – author of several highly acclaimed travel books – will offer tips, and warnings, for those thinking of writing about their travels. Best selling author and writing coach Michael Heppell will also be around for ‘Write That Book’, where he will share with you the five foundations you need to successfully write, publish and sell your book.

The festival will also include a strong selection of children’s events. Among the highlights here will be ‘Goddesses, Witches, Demons’ (again, with the fabulous Dr Janina Ramirez), ‘Wild Writing’ (a fun and playful nature-themed workshop with Chloe Daykin, acclaimed children’s author of ‘Fish Boy’), and ‘Change the World’ (this dynamic, interactive session with Lucy Farfoot – who came top for illustration in for Faber Children’s FAB prize – will let children design a character, based on themselves, who has the ability to, yep, change the world).

The above is just a taster of some of the good things going on at Alnwick Story Fest this year. For the full programme, check their website, which has all the details.

Alnwick Story Fest, Friday 24-Sunday 26 February. alnwickstoryfest.com