WOMEN'S suffrage, being black and British, and growing up in 1970s Gateshead are all topics on the agenda at this year’s Durham Book Festival

THE Durham Book Festival will see some of the country’s most talented writers, artists and thinkers inspiring audiences across County Durham, including headline guests David Olusoga, Sarah Perry, Pat Barker, Carol Ann Duffy and Alan Johnson.

The festival, which kicks off on October 5, features an array of talks, readings and performances, including an evening with one of the UK’s best-loved authors, Sarah Waters. Sarah’s Booker Prize-shortlisted novel, The Little Stranger, is this year’s Durham Book Festival Big Read, and this autumn the festival will distribute 3,000 free copies of the book throughout County Durham to schools, libraries, prisons, businesses, and to university staff and students. Sarah will talk about her modern classic at a special event at the Gala Theatre, and reflect on her incredible career and some of the books that have meant the most to her.

New to the festival for 2018 is the inaugural Little Read, which will see picture books distributed throughout the county and an innovative family story-gig adapted from the picture book Izzy Gizmo, written by Pip Jones and illustrated by Newcastle-based illustrator Sara Ogilvie. The performance will feature new songs written by children from across the county who will attend story telling and music-making workshops with Durham Book Festival favourites Ruth Johnson and Jeremy Bradfield.

The ten-day festival begins on Friday, October 5, with a packed programme of events across Durham City centre. With a diverse roster of speakers ranging from Professor Dame Sue Black, the world’s leading forensic anthropologist, to Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, there will be something to suit every literary taste. The festival also offers far more than traditional literary events: Mercury Prize-nominated musicians Field Music will be playing an exclusive ‘first gig’ for younger readers, performing songs inspired by their favourite children’s books and nursery rhymes; and to celebrate the 80th anniversary of Daphne du Maurier’s Gothic masterpiece Rebecca, the festival will be holding a special screening of Hitchcock’s 1940 adaptation in the atmospheric surroundings of Durham’s historic Town Hall.

Durham Book Festival is renowned for its original commissions. Amongst this year’s selection is David Olusoga’s ‘Black and British: Growing Up in the North-East’, which will see the BBC broadcaster reflect on his experiences growing up in 1970s Gateshead, and his consequently complicated relationship with his home town. The commission is inspired by David’s hit BBC show and bestselling book Black and British: A Forgotten History. Alongside other events celebrating the centenary of women’s suffrage, an original piece has been commissioned from Durham author Lucie Brownlee investigating the crucial role of women activists in the Durham Miners’ Strike, told through the historically overlooked female voices and stories from the world above the pits.

The announcement of the Gordon Burn Prize will take place on Thursday, October 11, in Durham Town Hall. Celebrating bold fiction and non-fiction, this is one of the UK’s most exciting awards and this year’s shortlist features books by Nicola Barker, Jesse Ball, Guy Gunaratne, Olivia Laing, Deborah Levy and Michelle McNamara. Hosted by Mark Lawson, the event will celebrate the shortlisted titles before the £5,000 prize is awarded to the winner.

Booker Prize-winner and Durham resident Pat Barker features in this year’s fiction line-up, introducing her much-anticipated new novel The Silence of the Girls. Other highlights include international best-selling authors Sarah Perry and Kate Mosse, whose new books are two of the most anticipated of the year.

Politics and social issues continue to be a core theme of Durham Book Festival. Highlights this year include the return of festival favourite Chris Mullin as he examines the mishaps and blunders that have shaped the UK’s political landscape as we know it today; broadcaster and author Cathy Newman talking about her new book on the unconventional and unstoppable women who have fought to change women’s place in society; and New Statesman editor Jason Cowley in conversation with Sky News political correspondent Lewis Goodall, discussing the forces driving the current age of unrest and upheaval.

There are new memoirs to be enjoyed from some of the country’s best-loved personalities. Alan Johnson will be discussing the music that made him in In My Life: A Music Memoir, whilst Damian Le Bas appears at the festival to talk about his BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week, The Stopping Places, his enthralling account of what it means to be a Gypsy in Britain today. Stylist columnist Lucy Mangan’s memoir is an exploration of childhood reading, and BBC broadcaster Robin Ince will share his meditations on a life dedicated to comedy and science – and how the two intertwine to make us human.

As always, the festival has a strong poetry element, with this year’s Festival Laureate Jacob Polley introducing his new performance project, Lamanby, based on his TS Eliot prize-winning collection, Jackself. Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy will read from her new collection, Sincerity, a deeply moving exploration of loss and remembrance. Previous Festival Laureate Andrew McMillan also returns to Durham to produce an exclusive new podcast, Rich Seams, celebrating the best of new and emerging poetry in the North of England, and to read from his new collection, Playtime.

The Durham Book Festival Schools’ programme includes the award-winning poet Imtiaz Dharker, whose work features on the National Curriculum. Imtiaz will speak to a teen audience about the ways her work engages with issues such as faith and diaspora, whilst the younger students will be entertained by picture book makers Helen Stephens and Kate Pankhurst, author and illustrator of 2017’s number-one bestselling children’s book, Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World.

Claire Malcolm, chief executive of New Writing North, said: “We are really excited to announce another packed programme for Durham Book Festival, which really does have something for every reader. As a huge Sarah Waters fan, I’m especially looking forward to welcoming Sarah to Durham for this year’s Big Read. Her Gothic novel The Little Stranger is brilliantly chilling, so do pick up your free copy. We hope lots of children take part in the Little Read in their schools and homes and discover the joy of spending time with a good book.”