Durham Book Festival highlights 2013: The programmer’s pick

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I’ve been asked to identify my personal picks of the festival – events that I’m looking forward to but which might have escaped your attention in the big festival programme. As you might imagine of someone who works with writers all year round, my tastes are wide-ranging, and I know that as curious readers, you’ll be keen to hear of the festival’s hidden gems, so here are my tips…

I grew up watching Widows and Prime Suspect on TV and loved them both so it’s a real treat that this year I’ll get to meet Lynda La Plante and interview her for the book festival. I’ve been reading through her recent novels and they’re every bit as gripping and detailed as any crime fan could ever want. She’s an impressive writer and an inspiring woman, so this should be a fun event. Also on my must-see crime list is Walter Mosley, whose visit to Durham will be a very special occasion. He’s here to talk about his latest novel, Little Green, which welcomes back LA private eye Easy Rawlins to the world of hard-boiled fiction. His talk will be accompanied by a film screening so it’s a great evening out.

We’ve been trying to lure Stephen Baxter to the festival for some time now and it’s fantastic that he’ll be here this year. He’s one of the UK’s most prolific sci-fi writers and a close collaborator of Terry Pratchett, so I’m sure he’ll have some interesting stories to tell.

If you like both sci-fi and crime, you can experience a little of both in our Q&A with Lottie Moggach (author of unputdownable debut novel Kiss Me First) and Matt Haig (author of the novel that’s capturing everyone’s heart’s this year, The Humans). Although we hope to see many of New Writing North’s book group members there, the event is open to all and is a great opportunity to identify new novels to read, either on your own or with your book group.

One of the real pleasures of running a book festival is the behind the scenes work that we get to do with the writers and artists that we commission. I’ve had some fantastic conversations with musician Kathryn Williams about Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, which she is composing new songs in response to and have been able to listen to some of her work in progress, which is a real thrill. I’ve learnt more than I thought I ever would about cricket thanks to Benjamin Markovits and was thrilled to read a preview of the essay that Iain Sinclair has written for the Hearing the Voice project – they are all very special events not to be missed.

For poetry lovers there is much in store at the festival this year, with Paul Muldoon arriving as our Festival Laureate, the TS Eliot Prize tour with Sinead Morrissey, Deryn Rees-Jones and Philip Gross, and a special event with local writers Stevie Ronnie and Linda France, Voyages of Discovery. Both poets were commissioned by the book festival to travel, with Linda doing botanical research around the world while Stevie took a boat trip to the Arctic. At their event they’ll be reading some of the work from their commissions and talking about their experiences. 

I could go on, and am very tempted to, but I’ll leave off here so that you can go and explore our website and hopefully book some tickets for yourself. I hope that you are looking forward to Durham’s annual celebration of books as much as I am and hope to see you at the festival this October.

Claire Malcolm

Programmer, Durham Book Festival

Chief executive, New Writing North

PS Oh, and whatever you do, don’t miss our badger walk!