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Archive for the category “Berwick Literary Festival”

Eating & drinking in Berwick

Of course Berwick Literary Festival 2017 is going to be a gem of a festival. Take a look at the programme and you’ll see why. However, this post and my next one are dedicated to our starry historic host: the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed.

If you’ve not been to Berwick before, you’re in for a treat and if you have been, you’ll no doubt relive past pleasures as well as uncovering new delights.

Berwick has evocative and historic streets to wander, with cute and enticing independent shops as well as the usual suspects. There are also watering holes a-plenty to delight and surprise you.

This post offers a potted lowdown on a some venues where you can chew some fat (literally and figuratively) and sup a beverage or two between Festival sessions. My next post will highlight some short but enjoyable walks to enjoy as you make your way from venue to venue.

The cake display at the brand new quayside café, The Lookout

Cafés

  • You’ll no doubt stop by The Corner House on Church Street which is the Festival hub, home of an open fire and bookshelves to browse, purveyor of fine local coffee (Northern Edge), cakes (fully-leaded and gluten free) and light lunches. Show your ticket and get 50p off a hot drink.
  • Fantoosh on Marygate serves light lunches and lush cakes (it’s my local, I often grab ‘cakeouts’ to serve guests!), and offers dainty trinkets and gifts.
  • Just over the old bridge in Tweedmouth, you’ll find Riverside Café – good scones and what looked like a sensible breakfast (several tables seemed to be reserved). The café will also be providing refreshments at the Festival venue in Spittal, St Paul’s.
  • Mielle Patisserie is an artisan French-style café on West Street serving excellent cakes and light lunches.
  • A new addition: The Lookout on Berwick Quayside. The quiches and soups smelt lovely when I stopped by and a customer told me the coffee was ‘delicious’. It is a bijoux outlet with tables and chairs by the river and great views.

 

Fantoosh at the northern end of Marygate

Riverside Café, Tweedmouth

The Brown Bear

 

Cafés plus

  • Enjoy the view from The Maltings Kitchen over a scone and a cuppa or a fresh-cooked lunch and glass or two of wine – in The Maltings arts centre, Eastern Lane. Open for early evening meals on Thursdays and Fridays.
  • Foxtons on Hide Hill is a café-cum-wine bar which also offers lunch and evening meals using local produce – it has a loyal local following and can get busy.
  • Pier Red on Castlegate is a cake-serving café and gallery by day and a relaxed and elegant wine bar on Friday (cocktails from 5.30!) and Saturday nights. Cheese and meat picking platters are also available.
  • The YHA Granary Bistro in Dewar’s Lane offers a full range of drinks and family friendly meals in a relaxed atmosphere at excellent prices. You can get up to the lovely Granary Art Gallery from here for a quick look.
  • Upper West Street on West Street straddles this category and the one below. It’s a café/bistro serving a tasty range of lunches/evening meals and roasts on Sunday.

More substantial eateries

  • Gasparro’s on Bridge Street is the go-to for Italian staples.
  • Audela on Bridge Street serves reliably good lunch and evening meals using fresh local produce. At time of writing it is about to move to new premises further along the same street so do check first.
  • The Queens Head Hotel – lunches and evening meals which often make inventive use of lovely local produce. Venison is usually a good choice.
  • The Plough on the Hill is a new addition to the area. Four miles out of Berwick at Allerdean, this South African themed gastropub claims 2016 MasterChef Professionals’ winner Gary Maclean as its Executive Chef (allow £18-£20 for a return taxi to Berwick).
  • If curry’s your thing, Amran’s on Hide Hill is the place to go, it offers a great range of fine-tasting Indian food to suit the frailest and the most asbestos palates!

Drinkeries

  • I’ve already mentioned Pier Red and Foxtons – both popular and pleasing drinking haunts.
  • The Brown Bear on Hide Hill is a pub with a heart that serves a super pint and a grand pie and gravy. There is outside seating. It is also a Festival hub and is offering 5% off food and drink to those who show their Festival ticket.
  • The Curfew, tucked down an alley off Bridge Street, is Berwick’s super-popular micropub, serving fab craft beers – including those from excellent local brewery Bear Claw, local game and pork pies, scotch eggs and it’s the only place in Berwick to serve gouda and Dijon mustard – the ideal snack with beer. It has an outdoor patio.
  • The Barrels Ale House on Bridge Street is Berwick’s long-serving real-ale pub and live music venue. It’s a firm favourite with locals and visitors.

Outside the Curfew’s secret alleyway on Bridge Street

This brief meander through the eateries and drinkeries of Berwick is by no means exhaustive. I’ve enjoyed a substantial number of the places listed, others have been recommended by friends. However, just as my shelves are full of books that I have yet to open, the streets of Berwick are teeming with venues that I have yet to sample. If I’ve missed any of your favourites – or if, when you visit Berwick, you find your own hotspot – please do leave a comment below so that we can be sure to check it out!

For those of you who like to keep your step quota up, there are lots of lovely walks in and around the town. Tune into my next post for a few strolls that will wake you up and ensure you get maximum enjoyment form your visit to Berwick Literary Festival 2017.

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Wandering in Berwick

Welcome to part two of my brief look at Berwick as the star of the Literary Festival (fitting, as a new film about Robert the Bruce, ‘Outlaw King’, is about to start filming in the town). My last post encouraged you to wet your whistle and whet your appetite in Berwick’s cafés and eating houses.

After all those stimulating Festival sessions, you’ll probably need some fresh air and the opportunity to wander and ponder. Berwick is the ideal place to do just that, enjoying views and wildlife along the way:

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Berwick to Spittal: Looking back at Berwick from outside Berwick Shellfish, Dock Road, Tweedmouth.

Wanders

  • The Walls: No visit to Berwick is complete without a walk round the historic Elizabethan walls. This 20- to 30-minute stroll offers vistas across the mouth of the Tweed, out to sea (with views to Lindisfarne and Bamburgh on a clear day) and takes in many of the town’s historic highlights including a great view along Marygate from atop Scot’s Gate – as seen and recorded by Lowry.
  • The Lighthouse: Pop down to Pier Road and take a blustery stride out to the lighthouse and back – it’s always possible you’ll see seals or dolphins – you’ll certainly enjoy views out to sea and across to Spittal.
  • The River: New Road is actually a footpath that runs inland from town along the Tweed to the base of the Stephenson railway bridge and beyond. Spot herons, seals and otters (if you’re lucky) and pop back up to town along one of the relatively steep paths leading through the beautiful Castle Vale parks.
  • The Bridges: If you’re pressed for time, why not simply walk over one historic bridge and return by the other? You’ll be rewarded with lovely views of the railway bridge along the river and, the other way, the coast.

  • Spittal: The historic seaside town of Spittal across the Tweed is home of St Paul’s, one of the Festival’s venues. When you pop over there to enjoy the programme, do take a moment to walk along Spittal Prom. It’s a classic Victorian promenade – a place to take in the air and savour the views out to sea and across to Berwick lighthouse. If you’re lucky you may see the pod of dolphins that frequents our coast.
  • Berwick to Spittal via Tweedmouth: The walk from Berwick to Spittal is an interesting and scenic one but do allow 20 to 30 minutes to get round to Festival venue St Paul’s. Turning left off the old bridge you’re in Tweedmouth and you’ll find Riverside Café. As you head on towards Dock Road, several lovely shops including the florist Buds and new additions Dockside Gallery and vintage store, From the Attic are worth a look. You could always stock up on shellfish or grab a seafood lunch at Berwick Shellfish on Dock Road before heading on round to Spittal.
  • The Boat Trip: If your sea legs fancy an outing and you have an hour or so between sessions, why not take a trip out from Berwick quayside? The ‘Border Rose’ makes regular trips up and down the River Tweed and out to sea to the end of October.

Bridge Street with second-hand bookshop, Slightly Foxed, foreground

Cookery & lifestyle shop: Cook+Live+Dream, Bridge Street

Gazing up West Street from Bridge Street

Grieve the stationers on the corner of Marygate & Church Street

  • The Town and Shops: Of course, you may just want to peruse a few shops and take in the general gorgeousness of Berwick. Such a stroll might include a jaunt north through Scot’s Gate and along Castlegate where you’ll find Pier Red (café/wine bar), and some independent outlets including a couple of lovely vintage shops and second hand bookshop Berrydin Books. Walking back through Scot’s Gate take the right turn just before Fantoosh (café/gifts) and drop down Bank Hill past The Loovre ice cream parlour, into Love Lane and on to Bridge Street. This street is packed with delightful independent shops and galleries such as Marehalm (gifts), organic outlet The Green Shop, and The Market Shop and second hand bookshop Slightly Foxed. At the far end of Bridge Street turn left up Hide Hill and poodle up the hill past gift shop Decorum to the Guildhall and Buttermarket. From the steps of the Guildhall take time to gaze along Marygate and the facades above the now predominantly chain store outlets for a hint of what the high street once was. Also, don’t be fooled, there are a number of pleasing independent shops here such as local craft collective Serendipity, the cornucopia that is Vintage upon Tweed and various cafés such as Deyn’s Deli (in the Rum Puncheon building). Another street well worth a look is the cobbled West Street which links Marygate and Bridge Street and is home to Upper West Street and charming independent shops including the jewellery outlet Bijoux and house of handmade artisan chocolates Cocoature.

There are many lovely walks around Berwick and, as you stroll, you’ll probably find some of the narrow back streets and footpaths too enticing to resist. Enjoy!

The Old Bridge

Berwick Lit Fest: How to get published

Northumberland-based writers Caroline Roberts (publisher: Harper Impulse, contemporary romance) and Stephanie Butland (publisher: Bonnier Zaffre, commercial literary) are doing a joint gig at the Berwick Literary Festival in October. They’ll be chatting to Newcastle blogger and creative writing tutor Victoria Watson about writing novels and getting them published. I caught up with these two marvellous and inspiring writers for a sneak preview of that discussion.

Caroline and Stephanie are in the fortunate position of being in-demand: their publishers are clamouring for more words and deadlines are a constant presence in their lives. But it wasn’t always like that. Their ambitions to write started when they were children – but from ambition to reality has been a combination of fate, hard work and sheer bloody mindedness.

‘Dad was a book wholesaler in Cornwall,’ says Caroline, ‘so we were surrounded by books. I was always writing stories and poems and making my own little scrapbooks. I went on to study English Literature at Durham University just because I loved reading so much!’

When her children were older Caroline considered how she might turn her love of writing – and the novels she was crafting – into more of a career. ‘I began looking for an agent or publisher. I lost count of the knockbacks after about 80 rejection letters!’ The breakthrough came when she connected with the Romantic Novelists Association (RNA) at a conference. ‘I realised I’d been going about things the wrong way. I’d been wading through the pages of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook, picking publishers and agents that seemed right. But through chatting with the RNA and people I met at that conference, I realised that publishers or agents attending such conferences were the most likely to be looking for writers. Obviously, I couldn’t go to every conference but I could check out who was going to them.’

Caroline’s current novel. Her new title will be out before Christmas.

‘The childhood passion for making little books was me too!’ says Stephanie. ‘And I did an English degree. I kept writing bits and bobs but didn’t find my niche.’  A breast cancer diagnosis in 2008 was the turning point for Stephanie. ‘I started blogging about cancer as a pragmatic way of managing peoples’ desires to know how I was.’  Blogging morphed into more focused writing when Stephanie began to apply her specialist skills in Edward de Bono’s creative thinking techniques to her writing and to write about them.  ‘Things really took off with the blog and I decided to write a book.’  But where to go from there?

Fate intervened. ‘I saw an auction on Twitter. An agent was offering to read your manuscript. Everyone on Twitter got behind my bid: I think they felt you couldn’t really bid against cancer woman! And that’s how I got my agent, Ollie Munson. He read the first three chapters of How I said Bah! to cancer and wanted the rest of the manuscript… so I got on with writing it!’ A second book on life after cancer followed and then Stephanie decided to write the novel ‘I’d been thinking about all my life’.

Stephanie’s current novel. She is editing her next work.

Stephanie and Caroline agree that it is an amazing privilege to earn a living doing something you dreamt of doing when you were five.

‘But,’ says Caroline, ‘It is a job. Deadlines won’t wait. You can’t say to your publisher: it’s my daughter’s wedding this month (which it was) so can you just wait a bit.  Of course, passion and a good story are essential, but so’s the work ethic.’

Stephanie agrees: ‘No matter how inspired you are, no matter how brilliant your idea, you have to put the work in. And you have to keep going through the drafts until your work is the best it can be.’

Having the idea for the next book, even while they’re working on current drafts, is important to both writers. They’re also keen on ideas files and keep a stash of newspaper cuttings, pictures from magazines, notes and anecdotes, as well as jotting down thoughts and overheard conversations. As Stephanie says, ‘You pour everything into that first novel. But then there’s the next one to write!’

Stephanie and Caroline have helpful things to say about all sorts of aspects of writing and getting published including: working with editors (‘a huge relationship’); recurring themes in writing (Stephanie once panicked that she was writing the same book twice, she wasn’t: like most writers, she has ‘preoccupations’); and about agents (negotiating overseas sales and holding out for bigger deals are not always in a writer’s skills set). Finally, they both agree that the most important relationship for a writer is with readers, and they love meeting them: ‘without them we’d be pointless!’

I asked them for a word of advice for those who’d like to be doing what they are doing. Both women turned to other writers for motivation.

‘I have a sign by my desk that says: Don’t get it right, just get it written. Which is Dorothy Parker. It’s hugely helpful. You’ve got to get that first draft down, get the story written. Then you can edit and polish,’ says Caroline.

For Stephanie, it’s Kingsley Amis’ words of wisdom: the art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.

To apply the seat of your pants to the seat of a chair at their session at the Festival, follow the link below and book a place.

 

At the Festival: Caroline Roberts & Stephanie Butland will be chatting about writing and getting published with Newcastle-based blogger and writing tutor, Victoria Watson.

Where: Holy Trinity Parish Centre

When: Saturday 21st October, 10am

This book will change your life…

Berwick Literary Festival runs from the evening of Thursday 19th October to the afternoon of Sunday 22nd October 2017. There’s a wonderful array of events and speakers. I’m lucky enough to be doing a bit of blogging for the Festival. I thought I’d share my posts here but you’ll also find them over on the Festival website along with loads of other useful programme information.

What’s so great about books and literary festivals?

Well, books really do have the power to change lives and influence the reader in both subtle and startling ways. They also help us set down markers in time: what were you reading thirty-one years ago?

Thirty-one years ago, I was engrossed in Olivia Manning’s The Balkan and Levant Trilogies, collectively known as The Fortunes of War. The BBC was planning to make a series of Manning’s fabulous and complex tale of war-torn Europe. My job back then was to write pre-publicity for potential BBC TV programmes to attract co-production investment.  The Beeb’s serialisation of Fortunes of War was broadcast in 1987. Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson starred as Guy and Harriet Pringle (Ken and Em later married and subsequently divorced).

Wind the clock forward to the year 2000 and I was reading Secrets of the flesh: A Life of Colette by Judith Thurman. Not for work this time, but for sheer pleasure. When I did my French A level, one of our set books was Colette’s Le blé on herbe. I loved the book and was fascinated by Colette’s racy life and works.

 

My eldest daughter was born in 1987. Her name is Harriet. My younger daughter was born 14 years later in 2001. Her name is Colette.

Hence, my daughters both carry monikers from my literary influences (actually, Colette’s middle name is Nancy because the Husband loved Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons). We were moved by these stories, these writers, to such a degree that we incorporated them into our family’s heritage.

A good writer shines a light on the tangible and intangible in a way that can frequently become more meaningful to you, the reader, than the sum of their written words. A good writer tells a story – whether it be fictional or factual – in a way that has you rolling the story around in your mind. A good writer leaves you wanting to know why they chose a subject and why and how they structured it the way they did. In short, good writing leaves you a little bit (and sometimes a lot) changed. And sometimes, when you really think about it, you can trace thoughts, ideas and even actions back to something you read way back when. This is why I love literary festivals and hearing the ins and outs of others’ writing processes.

One of the reasons the Berwick Literary Festival is such a great weekend is that it recognises the importance of reading and writing across the community. And, even if you’re not involved in some elements of the Festival, you can feel its wide-reaching inclusivity and accessibility in the way it’s organised. There are events and competitions specifically for local schools, poetry readings in care homes for the elderly, workshops for aspiring writers and, of course, local and national writers for your delectation and entertainment.

You’ll find information on topics and speakers at our fourth Berwick Literary Festival here and you can book events on The Maltings’ website. Don’t forget to visit our Facebook page, find us on Instagram and follow us on Twitter.

Over the next couple of months I intend to catch up with some of our contributors and give you the lowdown on what they’ll be up to at the festival. I shall also be posting about our lovely town of Berwick and some of the spaces and places you might check out on your visit here.

So, don’t be strangers: there’s plenty to chat about.  why not read a book by one of this year’s writers before the festival kicks off in October? It might just be something you remember years from now. Here’s a selection of books by festival contributors you might like to read before your visit (check out the full programme for more books and authors):

 

 

A force to be reckoned with: Iain Lowson on how not to do things properly

Berwick Literary Festival runs from the evening of Thursday 19th October to the afternoon of Sunday 22nd October 2017. There’s a wonderful array of events and speakers. I’m lucky enough to be doing a bit of blogging for the Festival. I thought I’d share my posts here but you’ll also find them over on the Festival website along with loads of other useful programme information.

Iain Lowson will be chatting about his career as a freelance writer at the Festival and I caught up with him for a preview – and cake, of course!

Iain Lowson says he’s a case study in ‘how not to do things properly’. Considering Iain makes his living as a freelance commercial writer, largely producing work for the Disney Star Wars franchise, it’s an interesting self-analysis. I caught up with Iain at The Corner House café, the Literary Festival Hub.

As I munched my way through a slab of Nutella and Peanut Butter cake (obscenity laws mean I cannot post a pic), Iain explained just how he’s not done things properly all his life. He’s a wannabe actor and university dropout, a drifter who left serial jobs in retail to start writing, a blagger who talked his way into writing a Star Wars column 25 years back, a graduate in Egyptology, a grafter who believes that the only route into writing is to write.

Iain is also extremely droll and, with his twirly moustache, twinkly eyes, trademark waistcoat and warm Scottish burr, pretty much personifies one of the many fictional characters he has helped style over the years. Once upon a time, Iain leapt aboard a Silver Fox Coach (‘like Trainspotting on wheels’) to travel overnight from Edinburgh to London to place his copy into the right hands and ensure he was ‘visible’ to the right people. Nowadays, he leaves his house each morning and walks 15 steps to the garden shed.

In this wooden Tardis, Iain pores over his cornucopia of books, merchandise, papers, trinkets and paraphernalia and develops the ‘in universe’ stories of Star Wars. That is to say, the behind-the-scenes tales, the explorations of character backstories and storylines, and the production narratives. All of his research and creative insight is refined into features for Star Wars partwork subscriber magazines. Yes, from this small shed in Berwick-upon-Tweed, Iain’s work travels all over Europe, Japan, Russia, the States, Argentina… outer space.

Iain’s had the nod that the work from the Star Wars franchise will keep rolling his way to 2020 and beyond. He has good reason to feel confident: Disney (who bought Lucas Film in 2012) gave a Product Innovation Award to a recent project. The huge scale model of the Millennium Falcon, which ran across 100 magazine issues, was one of the most successful partwork series ever.

The Millennium Falcon

Iain’s enjoyed several Star Wars-related magic moments. A favourite is the time the fabulous Christopher Lee (Sith Lord Count Dooku in Attack of the Clones (2002) and Revenge of the Sith (2005)) was handed an Iain Lowson article to help him build his characterisation pre-filming. Iain says, ‘To think that Christopher Lee studied my stuff… that’s a real buzz’.

So, as I say, it’s difficult to see how all this can be construed as ‘not doing things properly’.  Iain thinks that walking away from his job at Wonderland Models in Edinburgh, after a particularly grim Christmas in the early 90s, was maybe not the wisest move. He subsequently endured ‘abject poverty for four years’.

Nevertheless, Iain is pretty much the living embodiment of his own adage: if you want to write, write.  He says you need to ‘Hone your craft by doing it: If you’re not practising, you’re not getting better’.  Iain subscribes to Spy Kids’ creator Robert Rodriguez’ approach of  leaving the big guns to do what they do; while you get on with creative life, make a living doing what you’re good at – and enjoy doing it.

Coincidentally, Iain is currently reading David Mamet: On Directing Film and is working on a project with local improv comedy group Damp Knight. Iain’s written a script (‘I don’t write comedy, I write stuff that’s funny. Drama and comedy improve each other’). I can’t help feeling that the resulting work will be worth looking out for.

Festival info on Iain Lowson (check programme for full details):

At the Festival: Iain  will be chatting about his life as a freelance writer – with a focus on the force that is the Star Wars franchise – with Mark Vevers, a local actor, comedian and performer.

Where: St Paul’s, Spittal

When: Friday 20th October, 12 noon

 

Poetry and tea and cake! A perfect day.

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Do rhyming couplets thrill you? Does blank verse sooth your soul? Does Haiku make you happy? And iambic pentameter lift your senses? Check out the Berwick Literary Festival’s Poetry Café which will be humming with fun, tea, coffee and snacks at St Aidan’s Hall, Saturday 22nd October, 10am to 3pmfree entry. The hall is bang opposite Festival hub, The Corner House Café on Church Street.

Poetry Café – what’s on when:

1. 10am-12pm: Fun workshop for all ages

Colin Fleetwood, poet and primary school head teacher, will be leading an all-age workshop on creating and writing poetry with the emphasis on enjoying words and engaging in poetry together – whilst ensuring you have the opportunity to wrestle with your own poetry.

highwayman

Finding the right word is vital!

 

2. 12pm-2pm: Bookable ten-minute performance slots

For those who love to listen to poetry and/or read it aloud. Poets can pop in to the Café and reserve a slot to read their own work or a selection of their favourite poems. So, sit back, relax and enjoy an eclectic selection of poetry, conversation, snacks, and a nice cuppa tea!

Loss
by Wendy Cope

The day he moved out was terrible –
That evening she went through hell.
His absence wasn’t a problem
But the corkscrew had gone as well

3. 2pm-3pm: Children’s hour

A special time for children to read their own verse or a favourite poem and for adults to read to children – my own current favourites to read to children are ‘Trouble at the Dinosaur Café’ by Brian Moses and ‘An Aussie night before Christmas’ by Yvonne Morrison. What are yours?

dinosaur-cafe

 

Ref: Cope, W., 1992, Serious Concerns, Faber and Faber, London

Literary Festival with a heart (2)

Engaging children and young people in the written and illustrated word has to be a key goal of any literary festival – after all, young people are the festival attendees of the future. Of course, it’s not always easy to lure youngsters along to events. That’s why the Berwick Literary Festival aims to meet children and young people where they are. This year’s schools programmes will do this in three key ways:

1. Primary Schools.

Workshops on Friday 21st October will be led by celebrated local author/illustrator/sketchbooker, Helen Stephens. Four local primary schools will attend morning and afternoon sessions with Helen in the town’s historic Guildhall. Helen will be aiming to enthuse, delight and inspire the children with reference to her latest book: How to find a Lion at School. *


2. Middle Schools & the Academy

The popular ‘illustrate a poem’ competition is also returning in 2016. Readings of Edward Lear’s The Jumblies will take place in the Academy and all local middle schools. Young people will be invited to submit their illustrations inspired by the poem and the winners will be displayed at the Guildhall. For the third year, the Rotary Club of Berwick-upon-Tweed will also be running its successful short story competition in schools around the area.

3. The Grove School

Newcastle-based Seven Stories – The National Centre for Children’s Books – will be leading a multi-sensory literary experience at Grove School, tailored specifically to the pupils at the school.

The overall aim of all three events is to ensure that all local young people, including those unlikely or unable to attend Festival events, will have the opportunity to get hands-on with words in ways that intrigue, inspire and entertain them.

*Helen Stephens will also be running a session open to all children on the morning of Saturday 22nd at 10am – tickets and more information are available for this event from the Maltings Theatre.

‘The Confessions of Stella Moon’ by Shelley Day: review by Vic Watson

Here’s a good taste of one of our Festival authors’ work – Shelley Day’s ‘Stella Moon’ – from Vic Watson (aka Elementary Watson). Vic’s a Newcastle-based writer, blogger, creative writing tutor, copyeditor and proofreader. Her blog is crammed with insightful and thoughtful reviews. She’s very kindly given me permission to reproduce today’s offering below. This really makes me want to hear Shelley Day being interviewed by former ITV Tyne Tees and Border News Political Editor, Gerry Foley, on Saturday 22nd October at 4pm here in Berwick.

Don’t forget, tickets are available for all events at the Festival from The Maltings, Berwick.

Here’s Vic’s review:

Shelley Day’s debut novel, The Confession of Stella Moon, pulls you in from the first page and doesn’t let you go, even after the final page has been turned.

Stella Moon confessed to killing her mother on her eighteenth birthday. Now she’s served her time and is determined to start over but some things need to be put to rest before Stella can begin to think about her future.

A sense of claustrophobia pervades this novel, cloying and at times unbearable. I rushed through this story, partly because I couldn’t bear the tension! Day conjures up a strong sense of Stella’s rattled state of mind. The juxtaposition between the beautiful scenery of Northumberland and the hideous acts that occur is very well developed.

I was completely immersed in the story which is no mean feat. No wonder ‘The Confessions of Stella Moon’ was on the longlist for Not the Man Booker prize. I can’t wait to read what Shelley Day produces next.

Vic x

 

Berwick Literary Festival: a storyjar of delights

My festival co-blogger Dawn and I toured Berwick today and chewed on some Berwick Literary Festival fodder – as well as a delicious Foreman’s pork pie at the Curfew Micropub on Bridge Street. We also enjoyed fab coffee at The Corner House on Church Street. The Corner House will be the Festival Hub: if we’re not out listening to authors, Dawn and I will be there blogging, refuelling on cake, and chatting to fellow festival goers.

As Dawn and I walked and talked, I re-enjoyed the fact that Berwick is an extraordinary town rammed with culture, history and, of course, politics. The Literary Festival itself is also a cornucopia of delights. It reminds me a little of this storyjar made in preparation for a storytelling slot at this weekend’s Berwick Food & Beer Festival.

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Like the jar, the Literary Festival holds many surprises and treasures – something to inspire and entertain you, whatever your interests:

If you want to learn more about writing…

On Friday 21st October local schools will be humming with writerly activity and creative inspiration for young people around Berwick. Barbara Morris will be talking about novel writing v screenwriting and Bea Davenport will be running a creative writing workshop. On Saturday Margaret Skea will talk about writing short stories and Alistair McCleery what authors are worth and Louise Ross will take us from scenery to storyline. On Sunday Sheila Wakefield of Red Squirrel Press will be sharing tips on how to get published, whilst Eve Ainsworth will be tackling challenging issues in young adult fiction. Also on Sunday you can enjoy The Vane Collective –  a writing, performing and publishing collective that specialises in writing workshops for women.

If you’re into history…

Alongside big guns David Starkey and Alistair Moffat you’ll find Richard Hingley talking about his book The Cultural History of Hadrian’s Wall, local historian and retired lecturer Mike Fraser on Sir Charles Trevlyan – Northumberland’s Upper Class Socialist MP (Mike’s session was standing room only last year), and Berwick’s wonderful archivist, Linda Bankier, will uncover hidden treasures and inspiration through some compelling human interest stories from the archives.

If you’re into ways of writing the self…

Former military man Matt Johnson will take us from PTSD to publication, journalist Andrew Hankinson will be interviewed by Bea Davenport about how he took himself into the mind of Newcastle bodybuilder Raoul Moat, who shot three people in 2010 and then took his own life. Former Labour MP Chris Mullen will talk about his critically acclaimed Hinterland – A Memoir, and Berwick-based Stuart Faed will explore how the thread of art has connected his family across generations and continents.

And there’s crime fiction, children’s books, the graphic novel, and much more besides…

The full programme is available here and my fellow blogger Dawn and I will be offering more information as we get to chat with authors and speakers. And, guess what? Tickets are now available for events from The Maltings. Meanwhile, do join the Berwick Literary Festival conversation by leaving a thought below, liking the Facebook page, and following us on Twitter and Instagram.

It's all about the books (nearly). Dawn enjoys a lunchtime pie and pint at Berwick's Curfew Micropub.

It’s all about the books (nearly). Dawn enjoys a lunchtime pie and pint at Berwick’s Curfew Micropub.

Why listen to writers talking about their work? I prepare to blog for 2016’s Berwick Literary Festival in October.

There’s something about sitting at the feet of published authors that is totally compelling. But what is it? Why do we scootle along to literary festivals, writing workshops and book events in droves? Is it for the pearls of wisdom gleaned from authors about the writing process – when they write, where they write, what implements they use to write, how much research they do, where their ideas come from, what they think about point of view, what they eat while they’re writing….? Maybe if we copy them, we’ll get the same results? Or maybe we’ll be inspired… or maybe we simply like to bask in a little celebrity sparkle dust?

Often we invest writers with a kind of mystique – a special insight – over and above the not inconsiderable skill of being able to articulate opinions and stories in a compelling way. Certainly, Victorian poets Wordsworth and Shelley felt they had a calling – had been singled out, if you like – to express the human condition with an almost prophetic perception. I’m not saying this is the case for every writer – but we’ve all read things that have touched us in a way that feels beyond expression.

These are the thoughts and questions I’ve been pondering since I volunteered to be co-blogger for the third Berwick Literary Festival in October this year (21st-23rd). I’m looking forward to working alongside my blogging partner, Dawn Tindle, a tea and book addict from Newcastle. And I’m keen to hang out with fellow writers and festival goers alike to hear their take on the meaning of life, the universe and, of course, books and writing. Maybe I’ll also get to answer some of the many questions I have! In my experience, where there are writers and readers in the same room, fascinating conversations are guaranteed. Whatever the gen, I shall share all on the Festival blog. Some of this I’ll be doing from my home in Berwick-upon-Tweed, and some from the Festival hub: The Corner House Café.

I love chatting to fellow writers and authors and hearing them speak about their work. One of my biggest thrills was popping along to the Cheltenham Literary Festival a few years back and bagging an interview with Radio 4’s James Naughtie (read about that experience here). Naughtie was discussing The Great Tapestry of Scotland with novelist Alexander McCall Smith and historian Alistair Moffatt. By coincidence, Alistair Moffatt (born in Kelso, he is former director of the Edinburgh Fringe) will be closing the first day’s events at this year’s Festival, no doubt chatting about his History of Scotland which The Scotsman dubs ‘commendable’ and ‘a very readable, well-researched and fluent account’. Moffat’s recent appearance at the Borders Book Festival – and impromptu solo talk after Gordon Brown had to pull out following the tragic murder of MP Jo Cox – has been described as a ‘tour de force’. On the Saturday evening here in Berwick, controversial historian David Starkey will take centre stage with his views on the very British Magna Carta – whatever your take on Mr Starkey, it’s not likely to be a dull evening.

David Starkey1David Starkey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Berwick also has a plethora of local writers, historians and illustrators to call upon. The blend of visiting speakers, local/community historians and authors (such as poet Katrina Porteous who’ll be doing a recital with Northumbrian piper Alice Burn, novelist Margaret Skea, and children’s writer/illustrator Helen Stephens), informal events such as the drop-in poetry café, and schools talks, is a huge strength. I shall be tracking down Festival organisers and authors and anticipate sharing more details about writers and events between now and October on the Festival blog.

Meanwhile, what about my literary (or not so literary) credentials? In my mid-20s I was a copywriter at the BBC and wannabee author. I read ‘How to’ books about writing poetry, children’s fiction, novels, radio plays. I wrote copiously in tiny notebooks. My jottings were barely legible. I scribbled down thoughts about the man on the tube with ‘the trellised face and bubblegum nose’; anecdotes about what my toddler said; and details of the habits of the rakish blackbird in the back garden. I went regularly to Swanwick Writers’ Summer School – now in its 68th year. I met fabulous people there – some of whom I’m still in touch with 30 years on. I listened to and questioned many authors – from Mills & Boon writers, to historians, to poets, to children’s authors – some well-known, others less so. Swanwick week was littered with interesting conversations, plenty of beers, much hilarity and some heartache. The return home was marked by fevered writing sessions late into the night and the rustle of ‘The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook’ pages for ‘when the time came’.

By some miracle, in 1991 at the age of 29 I had a deal with Blackie Books (an imprint of Penguin) to publish my first children’s picture book. I’d made it!

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In fact, I hadn’t. Getting number two book accepted proved difficult – okay impossible. Despite the haste with which I’d joined the Society of Authors and got myself a literary agent, my first picture book proved to be my last (so far!). A few years passed and I was contracted to write a couple of pre-teen novels – one of which never saw the light of day because the publisher was bought out just before ‘Star Crossed’ (yep, highbrow stuff) went to press.

Getting books published was hard then and still is today. That’s one of the reasons it’s so fascinating to meet and listen to people who’ve done it. It’s as if for just a moment we step through the magical membrane that separates us the readers from them the writers. As we read a book, we might be touched by its themes or subjects, we may believe we could have done a better job or simply wonder at the cleverness of it all. Through the act of reading and engaging with the work we become part of the story – but the story is not ‘ours’. It’s engaging with the author that somehow gives us a greater stake in their work and their lives as writers. And that’s why I can’t wait to meet the story tellers who will share their work and their selves with us in Berwick during three all too brief days in October. I hope you’ll join us.

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