Hexham’s festival brings authors to book
Last updated at 08:14, Wednesday, 06 March 2013
WHETHER they have conquered a mountain, or experienced a spectacular fall – sometimes from grace – the authors at this year’s Hexham Book Festival will run the gamut of human experience.
The programme, unveiled today, reveals an action-packed mix of politics, history, crime, nature and children’s events during the eight-day festival that begins on April 24.
Mountaineer Joe Simpson, whose lifeline was so famously cut in the true story Touching the void, will be talking about his new book, The sound of gravity. A novel this time round, it opens with a beloved wife plummeting to her death.
At the other end of the spectrum, there’s Edwina Currie, hot-footing it to Hexham to talk about the publication of the second volume of her diaries.
You can’t help thinking that her torrid affair with John Major (Spitting Image's grey man in a grey suit), her 1980s appointment of sexual predator Jimmy Savile to head a taskforce in charge of Broadmoor, and the salmonella comments that scrambled an (egg) industry have left her with a mountain to climb in terms of restoring her reputation.
But not as far as she’s concerned, it appears. For her second volume is as candid as the first, complete with lashings of saucy wit.
And then there’s Radio 4 broadcaster Edward Stourton with his Second World War story of escape across the Pyrenees, historian Anthony Everitt’s rise and fall of the Roman Empire and the peaks and troughs of Europe’s single currency with BBC economics editor Gavin Hewitt.
Stir into the mix best-selling author Kate Atkinson, biographer Claire Tomalin, outspoken politician Chris Mullin, the hilarious Michael Frayn and queen of the psychological thriller Sophie Hannah and you have a literary banquet fit for a king.
The founder and director of the annual Hexham Book Festival, Susie Troup, said: “The calibre of the authors just goes to show that they like coming to Hexham – the word is definitely out that this is a great place to come!”
Joe Simpson had been a difficult catch to land, such was the demand for him at big speaking occasions.
But he had been lured North thanks to his other big passion. “He wanted to come to Northumberland for the fishing,” said Susie.
Husband and wife team Michael Frayn and Claire Tomalin had similarly been wound in with their love of walking. Ms Tomalin is known to be particularly keen on Northumberland’s green and rolling landscape.
Susie said: “I’m really pleased to have got Claire Tomalin and Michael Frayn, because I love biography and I’m also very interested in theatre – she’s biography and he has a background in theatre.
“And, of course, I’m delighted that Kate Atkinson is coming, because I simply love her books!”
Her personal favourites also include Wendy Moore and Neil McKenna, who will be evoking the Victorian era with their true tales of transvestites and the Pygmalion-style fashioning of a perfect wife.
Susie said: “I also like Edward Stourton as a radio presenter, and particularly his Sunday show, so I’m going to be interested to hear him speak about his book Cruel Crossing – Escaping Hitler across the Pyrenees.”
When drawing up the festival programme each year she always aims to create a number of chunky themes.
And she has certainly achieved that this time round, with five or six speakers in each of the categories of politics, biography and crime.
The addition of three history heavyweights and several big-batting novelists has surely confirmed Hexham Book Festival’s stature on the national stage.
However, Susie said: “This is our eighth festival and I do think it’s becoming harder, in this economic climate, to get the bigger names.
“We used to be able to go through publishers for the most part, but now a lot of authors have agents and they charge massive fees.
“The publishers route was always so much cheaper!”
Ticket prices have gone up marginally this year as a result, but £12 is the maximum charge.
Most of the tickets are much cheaper than that and the festival is running its popular “four for the price of three” scheme again this year.
But Susie does worry about the future.
Two years ago, the festival was saved from folding thanks to a three-year sponsorship deal from the Gillian Dickinson Trust.
That has secured next year’s festival, but Susie is already preparing for the year after that.
“We did think last year was going to be bad for ticket sales, because of the recession, but in reality we did very well.
“Maybe this is the year the recession will hit us ...
“I do think the future of the festival is going to be an issue after next year, but that’s why we are pricing tickets so keenly now.
“We want to build up our reserves; we want to keep going!”
The programme and tickets for this year’s Hexham Book Festival events are available now at the Queen’s Hall box office.
First published at 07:36, Wednesday, 06 March 2013
Published by http://www.hexhamcourant.co.uk