Readers, Writers and Book Reviews: Catherine Dent on her time as a young programmer at Durham Book Festival

Turn Up for the Books gives 18-25 year olds in County Durham the chance to go behind the scenes of Durham Book Festival and learn more about the arts and literature industry through workshops, talks and hands-on event programming experience. Here, Catherine Dent reflects on how this year’s team played their part in the festival, and everything they learned along the way.

Our young programmers running their festival book swap

Our young programmers running their festival book swap

As a team of young programmers with New Writing North’s Turn up for the Books project, we were tasked with programming a live event for 2023’s Durham Book Festival. Having all come up with different ideas ahead of our first meeting, we quickly agreed on tying this year’s event in with the publication of the anthology Furies, released by Virago in 2023 to mark the iconic feminist publisher’s 50th anniversary – an idea first suggested by my fellow young programmer, Bea Bennett. We got to state our preferences as to which of the anthology’s contributing writers we would invite, and were delighted when Kirsty Logan and Eleanor Crewes (along with Carla Josephson as chair) agreed to come.

Kirsty Logan and Eleanor Crewes in conversation on stage

Authors Kirsty Logan and Eleanor Crewes. Photo by Rob Irish.

This experience gave us something of an insight into just how much work goes into programming – and running – literary events. In addition to the event we programmed, as a group we also decided to run a book swap, which was held in Clayport Library. This proved a welcome addition to the Saturday’s festival events (over 80 swaps were made!) and it was lovely to chat with all the book lovers attending the festival and swapping their pre-loved reads.

In order to promote both the Furies event and the book swap, we wrote copy for printed and digital marketing, as well as drafting posts for social media. To go alongside these posts, we also made videos and took photos around Durham City. The more technologically savvy members of the Turn up for the Books team even made short reels to promote Durham Book Festival on Instagram.

During the Furies event itself, there were opportunities for us to engage with practical tasks such as handing out the ‘roving mics’ to audience members wishing to ask questions and even (for those brave enough) to introduce the event itself in front of our audience.

We were also given free access to any of the other events we were interested in seeing and the opportunity to write up short reviews for two events. I particularly enjoyed attending the events with authors Grace Dent and Pip Fallow (both of which I had got to review for the book festival’s Instagram page) and Edith Hall and Jennifer Saint’s discussion on the current vogue for classical myth retelling and Saint’s latest novel, Atalanta.

There was then an opportunity for each of us to write a slightly longer review of one of the events we attended to be published in The Northern Echo, for which I submitted a review of ‘Comfort Eating with Grace Dent’. It was a great opportunity to get to write a review for publication and we were supported in achieving this ahead of the festival itself through a reviewing masterclass with Lucy Knight, The Guardian’s Books Commissioning Editor.

This, however, was just one of the workshops delivered to us as part of the package of training and development offered through Turn up for the Books: we also had the benefit of hearing from Rosie Gailer, Communications Director at John Murray Press; Alice Mullen, Manager of the Poetry Book Society; and Laura Fraine and Carys Vickers, who make up part of the marketing team at New Writing North.

Catherine DentI applied to Turn up for the Books in the hope of gaining some insight into the world of literary events and the literary industry more generally – and that is exactly what I got. In getting to hear from so many great speakers with such a wealth of knowledge, Turn up for the Books has given me a much greater understanding of – and the confidence to potentially pursue – a range of career paths within the industry. I am hugely grateful to have been given the opportunity to participate, and I would highly recommend the experience to anyone interested in taking part in the years to come!

From Durham, Catherine Dent is a PhD student in the English department at Durham University.

Turn Up for the Books was kindly supported this year by the County Durham Community Foundation and Four Seasons Healthcare.