Preview: A host of bookish treats at Ilkley Literature Festival

Sarah Millican.
Sarah Millican.
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There is another feast of literary treats in store at this year’s Ilkley Literature Festival which, over 17 days, presents a packed programme of 250 events featuring novelists, broadcasters, poets, journalists and performers.

It all kicks off in style with Yorkshire theatre legend and national treasure Alan Bennett on September 29. “We are very happy that Alan is opening the festival for us again,” says festival director Rachel Feldberg. “The last time he came was in 2009, so it has been a little while, and he is always very popular with our audiences.”

As ever the festival’s themes offer up the opportunity for valuable debate and reflection on the issues of the day, as well as marking siginificant literary and historical anniversaries.

A key strand is Jane Austen and Her World, commemorating the 200th anniversary of the author’s death. “There are are a number of events associated with that,” says Feldberg. “We will be looking at the big part that landscape plays in Austen’s work, we will also be considering her early work and how her writing style altered and there will be a reading of Deborah Moggach’s screenplay of Pride and Prejudice for anyone to take part in.”

Another theme is Borders, Boundaries and Partition, to tie in with the 70th anniversary of the creation of the independent states of India and Pakistan in 1947.

“We have interpreted the theme in a loose way,” says Feldberg. “So we have people talking about historical events but also under that strand we have the work of visual poet Ian Hamilton Finlay whose work crosses the boundary between sculpture and poetry.” The work of Hamilton Finlay, who died in 2006, will be showcased in an exhibition which runs throughout the festival at the Manor House.

Also included in that theme will be an event with BBC foreign correspondent Fergal Keane who will be talking about his book Wounds: A Memoir of Love and War, the story of his grandmother, an activist with the IRA in the 1920s. Another strand, Making or Faking? New approaches to the News, includes contributions from Evan Davis, Martin Bell and Polly Toynbee. “They will be reflecting on a real moment of shift, how we view democratic processes and considering the future of democracy,” says Feldberg. “Will it disappear, change or be overidden?”

It is exactly the kind of discussion that demonstrates the way in which literature festivals today provide a much-needed forum for debate. The Ilkley festival combines some of the biggest names in literary fiction and poetry with a range of topical discussions, as well as performance, family events and plenty of opportunities for aspiring writers in a whole host of workshops and masterclasses. Some of the acclaimed writers appearing this year include Apple Tree Yard author Louise Doughty talking about her new work Black Water, Alan Hollinghust will be speaking about his long-awaited sixth novel The Sparsholt Affair and Orange and Baileys Prize shortlisted author Kamila Shamsie returns to Ilkley to talk about her Booker Prize longlisted novel Home Fire. Poet-in-residence Daljit Nagra has curated an array of poetry events including Simon Armitage reading from his new collection The Unaccompanied and a Multi-lingual Mushaira featuring some of the most prominent South Asian poets in the North presenting poetry readings in Urdu, Hindi, Bengali, and Gujarati – with English translation. Stand-up comedians Sarah Millican, Shazia Mirza and Viv Groskop will be appearing; broadcaster Victoria Derbyshire and tennis coach Judy Murray will be speaking about their memoirs; Tim Brooke-Taylor will be sharing anecdotes from his career on stage, screen and radio and supreme satirist Armando Ianucci will be talking about his love for classical music.

This year has been a significant one for literature in West Yorkshire – Ilkley has retained its National Portfolio Organisation status with Arts Council England and has been joined by Bradford Literature Festival and the Brontë Parsonage Museum as NPOs. “It is a fantastic move forward,” says Feldberg. “I hope people can see there are really exciting things going on in literature here, fed by the communities we represent but also by the incredibly rich literary heritage of our region.”

September 29-October 15. For details and to book visit