Preview: 2014 Ilkley Literature Festival

Margaret Atwood.
Margaret Atwood.
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Last year Ilkley Literature Festival, nationally recognised as one of the most prestigious in the country, celebrated its 40th anniversary and it continues to go from strength to strength with more than 240 events scheduled for this October.

“This is the beginning of our fifth decade – so if last year was about looking back, this year is going to be about looking forward,” says festival director Rachel Feldberg.

Headline authors for this year have been announced and the line-up, as always, is very impressive with plenty of award-winning names to set bibliophile hearts racing.

There are a few familiar faces making return visits – such as Will Self, Clare Balding, Sheila Hancock and James Naughtie – but many will be making their first appearance at the festival. “Margaret Atwood is the one we are all most excited about,” says Feldberg. “She is an amazing writer who is always pushing against the boundaries of different literary genres.”

Author of The Blind Assassin, which won the Booker Prize in 2000, The Handmaid’s Tale, Alias Grace and Oryx and Crake, among many others, Atwood will be speaking about Maddaddam, the final instalment of her internationally acclaimed dystopian trilogy.

Best-selling author Jodi Picoult, whose books include the hugely popular My Sister’s Keeper and The Pact, will also be making her festival debut discussing her latest novel Leaving Time. “What’s interesting about her is the depth and complexity of her writing,” says Feldberg.

“Her plots deal with complex situations in thoughtful and sophisticated ways – she is very good at moral and ethical dilemmas – and she may bring in a different audience for us.”

Other authors appearing at the festival for the first time include politicians Diane Abbott, former London Mayor Ken Livingstone and Alan Johnson – talking about Please Mr Postman, the follow-up to his acclaimed childhood memoir This Boy.

Running through the two and half week event are a number of themes including exploring the First World War beyond the trenches, wealth and responsibility, understanding the Muslim world, moorland landscape and history and science.

As usual there will be an array of events for children and young people with three of the UK’s leading children’s fiction writers – Lauren Child, Michael Morpurgo and David Almond – making an appearance. In addition, the annual Words Fest event offers an afternoon of workshops for young people who enjoy writing, plus the opportunity to meet fantasy writer Lucy Saxon and a “read your own work” competition.

“Our work with young people is ongoing throughout the year,” says Feldberg. “We organise workshops and author visits to inner city schools in Leeds and Bradford. Our weekly Young Writers Group, for 12 to 18 year olds, has been going for five years now and we have also set up a children’s writing and book group for 8 to 11 year olds that has been going since February.” There will be free taster sessions for both groups at the festival.

It is a mark of the standing of the festival that it is able to attract writers from all over the world. This year’s programme includes two young authors from Gaza – Nayrouz Qarmout who was born in a refugee camp and is now working in the ministry for Women’s Affairs and Mona Abu Sharekh who has worked for a number of Palestinian NGOs.

Eastern Europe is represented by the presence of Slovakian novelist and filmmaker Peter Kristufek and Albanian novelist and journalist Fatos Lubonja who was a political prisoner in his own country for 17 years.

“The festival has a strong international feel to it this year,” says Feldberg. “We also have a poet from Zimbabwe and writers with Sri Lankan heritage. It is being able to do events like that which is particularly exciting because when else do you get to hear from those writers?”

The full programme will be released tomorrow, (Aug 8) booking opens on August 26.

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