Heading for Hexham

Hexham’s nothing of a trip for book lovers in north and east Cumbria, and many will be heading into Tynedale for the town’s seventh annual book festival, which runs from 23 April – 3 May.

It almost didn’t happen. Funding from the Arts Council and the Northern Rock Foundation ran out last year, and there were serious concerns about the festival’s future – until the local Gillian Dickinson Trust stepped in with a grant of £60,000 over the next three years.

The programme serves up the usual running buffet of fiction, gardening, food, and travel writers, plus small helpings of art, politics and philosophy.

Novelist Iain Banks (pictured) will be talking about his new novel Stonemouth, and tyro novelists S. J. Watson, Rachel Joyce, and Corbridge-based crime writer Mari Hannah will be discussing their auspicious debuts.

As seen in Keswick, veteran politician Tam Dalyell does his ‘importance of being awkward’ act, and political commentators Polly Toynbee and David Walker do their ‘did New Labour make a blind bit of difference’ routine.

Moving on to art, pithy plum-in-the-gob art critic Brian Sewell has written his memoirs – he’ll be talking about his childhood and his relationship with art historian and Soviet spy Anthony Blunt; Hockney confidant Martin Gayford draws on nearly a decade of conversations with the celebrated painter to present a detailed portrait in words.

Foodies get the woman who introduced hummus to Britain, Claudia Roden, plus Gerard Baker and Joanna Blythman. For philosophers, there’s A. C. Grayling on The Good Book – A Secular Bible, and acclaimed writer and former bishop Richard Holloway talks about Leaving Alexandria – A Memoir of Faith and Doubt, in a special event at Hexham Abbey.

There are also events for writers to draw inspiration from, with workshops from Sarah Moss, Meg Rosoff and Helen Oyeyemi.

The festival’s Words Across Northumberland initiative brings events even closer to Cumbria, with Frances Wilson talking about her fascinating biography, How to Survive the Titanic, or The Sinking of J Bruce Ismay, at Haltwhistle Library.

Capping it all is Andrew Motion on Silver, his sequel to Treasure Island, on the final day of the festival.

For the full programme and further details on how to book, visit www.hexhambookfestival.co.uk.