Ilkley Literature Festival: A world of words

Andrew McMillan.
Andrew McMillan.
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Ilkley Literature Festival returns in October with another exciting line-up and tickets go on sale at the end of this month . Yvette Huddleston reports.

Last week Ilkley Literature Festival announced its programme for this year’s October event. Now in its 43rd year, the Festival is the largest in the North of England, one of the most prestigious in the country and is regarded as a major highlight on the literary calendar.

Tickets go on sale at the end of this month and audiences can once again look forward to a wide range of talks, interviews, debates, performances and workshops with over 240 events, around 45 of which are free, at 21 different venues over the course of 17 days.

“I think what always interests me at this time of year when we announce the programme is that it can be read on many different levels,” says festival director Rachel Feldberg. “You have the well-known household names – and we are very grateful that they come to festivals like ours because the make it possible for us to continue – but then in the festival strands you can find all sorts of interesting events that bring to the fore new ideas or that test your intellect.”

To mark the 200th anniversary of her birth, Charlotte Brontë is the subject of one of the festival strands with a whole series of talks, workshops and even a guided walk exploring her life and work. Others include A Man’s Place – an exploration of modern masculinity, curated by the festival’s poet in residence Andrew McMillan, winner this year of several prizes including The Guardian First Book Award for his outstanding debut collection Physical. McMillan will also be introducing his father and fellow poet Ian who will be reading from his latest new and selected poems.

Other strands include States of Mind with stand-up comedian Susan Calman talking about her candid memoir Cheer Up Love in which she discusses mental health issues and her own struggles with depression, Dr Raj Persaud on obsessive behaviour and broadcaster and trauma counsellor Sian Williams on the impact of acute stress. The Echoes of the Somme strand focuses on long-term implications of the terrible 1916 battle, while Shakespeare Unbound celebrates the work of the Bard in interesting and imaginative ways.

“We will be offering some unexpected perspectives on Shakespeare,” says Feldberg. “And we will be encouraging people to try it for themselves. We have Chicken Shop Shakespeare coming who will be doing pop-up Shakespeare around the town as well as running a workshop. But one of the most exciting events is on the last Saturday of the festival when we are doing an all-day reading of three Shakespeare plays – MacBeth, The Tempest and Twelfth Night –and we are inviting members of the public to come along and say what they would like to read. It doesn’t matter about age or gender. It will be very much in the spirit of enjoying Shakespeare and bringing it to life.”

The opening night features the multi-award-winning screenwriter Andrew Davies – acclaimed adapter of many classic novels for television, including the BBC’s iconic 1990s version of Pride and Prejudice, starring Colin Firth as Mr Darcy. Davies is visiting the festival for the first time and will be discussing his most recent challenge – reworking Tolstoy’s epic War and Peace.

Politically it’s been quite an interesting few months, so the presence at the festival of political heavyweights such as Alastair Campbell, Ken Livingstone, Nick Clegg, Ken Clarke – who will be appearing in a Festival postscript in November – and Alan Johnson is sure to provoke some lively debate. Also appearing is former chairman of the Home Affairs select committee Chris Mullins talking about his revealing memoir Hinterland. “We’re really excited by the quality, diversity and richness of this year’s programme,” says Feldberg. “And the range of writers who will be joining us from across the world. Each and every one will be bringing their own unique viewpoint to Yorkshire.”

September 30-October 16. Tickets go on sale on August 30. For full programme details www.ilkleyliteraturefestival.org.uk

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