Durham Book Festival 2017: what to see

By Julia Atherley

Founded in 1990, the Durham Book Festival is one of the country’s best established literary events. Following on from the success of last year, the 2017 programme promises big names including David Almond, Rachel Joyce, Harriet Harman, Jenni Murray, and Peter Snow. The event stretches across Durham in venues ranging from the cathedral to Claypath Deli. From 7th to 15th October, Durham is to become awash with high profile authors as well as lesser known but equally intriguing events. I have selected only a few of my must-see events but find the full programme here to see the wide array of choice available at the Durham Book Festival 2017.


David Almond: The Books That Made Me

14th October, Gala Theatre

Author of Skellig and My Name is Mina; David Almond’s Half a Creature from the Sea is this year’s Big Read book.  The festival is distributing 3000 free copies of the book to the university as well as to schools, libraries, and the prison. The book is a collection of short stories each based in the North East, making it a brilliant celebration of the region and the stories it possesses.

Almond’s event at the Gala Theatre will focus upon the books which have been most important to him during his lifetime and will also discuss the tales that inspired Half a Creature from the Sea. Chaired by Caroline Beck, this event is a great opportunity to hear what inspires the Carnegie Medal winning author in what is sure to soon be a sold-out evening.


Jenni Murray: A History of Britain in 21 Women

8th October, Gala Studio

What better way to mark the beginning of Michaelmas term than by hearing Dame Jenni Murray, presenter of BBC Four’s ‘Woman’s Hour’, discuss her book: A History of Britain in 21 Women. Ranging from Boadicea to Emmeline Pankhurst, Murray’s latest publication describes the lives and impact of 21 women who have come to symbolise hope and empowerment. There has been a surge in interest in women’s history, particularly with the recent translation of Svetlana Alexievich’s ‘The Unwomanly Face of War’.


The Gordon Burn Prize 2017

12th October, Durham Town Hall

The Gordon Burn Prize is an annual award which celebrates daring works of fiction and non-fiction. The six strong 2017 shortlist included stories written about marriage, war zones, and the reality of borders. The event will introduce each of the six finalists and then announce the winner of the £5000 prize. This event should be both challenging and entertaining with a gin and tonic included in the ticket price, an avant-garde jazz performance from composer David McLean’s ‘Crime Scene’ ensemble, and the discussion of six highly daring works of fiction and non-fiction alike.


Rachel Reeves and John Tomaney: Labour in the North

8th October, Palace Green Library

This event will explore the origins of the Labour Party’s dominance in County Durham with Rachel Reeves, Labour MP for Leeds West, and John Tomaney, Professor of Urban and Regional Planning in the Bartlett School of Planning, University College London. They will explore the social and economic grounding of the support for the Labour Party locally and discuss the present and future sustainability of the party’s power base.  This talk is a brilliant opportunity to engage with the politics of Durham city all within the Palace Green Library.


Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

6th and 7th October, Durham Cathedral

To mark the 20th anniversary of the publication of debut novel, Durham Cathedral with host three exclusive screenings of the first Harry Potter film. The cathedral served as a filming location for the first two films so where else could be better to enjoy this experience. Fancy dress is highly encouraged for this one of a kind event. Tickets are on sale from 21st August from Durham Cathedral.


Poetry Book Society Showcase: Sinéad Morrissey, Colette Bryce and Tara Bergin

7th October, Palace Green Library

This event celebrates three of the most interesting poets to release work this year. T.S. Eliot Prize-winner Sinéad Morrissey’s collection On Balance is set against the backdrop of economic instability and explores multiple crises. Colette Bryce, an Irish poet based in the North of England, will present her Collected Works, drawing upon four previous excellent publications. Tara Bergin is also an Irish poet and will be discussing her latest release: The Tragic Death of Eleanor Marx, which draws upon fairy tales and folksong.


Tracy Chevalier and Kamila Shamsie: Retellings

15th October, Durham Town Hall

Both of these authors have reimagined classic drama and brought it to the modern world of fiction. Tracy Chevalier is the author of Girl with the Pearl Earring, and her latest novel New Boy reimagines Othello to a 1970s schoolyard. Kamila Shamsie’s Man Booker prize longlisted novel Home Fires is a reworking of the classical play: Antigone. The event promises to be a discussion about the connections between the classical roots of fiction and the novels we read today.


Harriet Harman: A Woman’s Work

14th October, Durham Town Hall

Harriet Harman is a prominent campaigner for women’s rights and is Britain’s longest serving female MP. Her book A Woman’s Work, tells the story of her efforts to put women’s issues at the heart of the Labour Party and chronicles her life fighting for equality and social justice. Check out our review of Harman’s book here. This is definitely an event not to miss as it promises to be a refreshing look at the last 30 years of British politics.


Tickets for the 2017 Durham Book Festival can be found here.

Image: University of Salford Press Office, Sara Jane Palmer, and Andrew Lih via Wikimedia Commons

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