2015 Ilkley Literature Festival: Words and ideas

Jenny Eclair.
Jenny Eclair.
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Tickets went on sale this week for Ilkley Literature Festival which returns in October. Yvette Huddleston takes a look at this year’s programme.

At the beginning of this year the future of Ilkley Literature Festival was under threat. Bradford Council had announced a proposed 100 percent cut to its annual funding – had they gone ahead, it would have had serious consequences.


Happily, partly thanks to a huge public outcry, the council eventually made the decision at the end of February to continue its contribution and the festival is back again this October with another packed programme of over 230 events. “It was a huge relief to all of us when we heard about the funding,” says festival director Rachel Feldberg. “It’s also been a very heartening year because of the level of support we got which has been fantastic. It gave the whole team a real boost.”

One of the possible casualties of a funding cut would have been the performance pieces that are featured each year and which are an important part of what makes the festival such a diverse cultural event. “The funding has enabled us to programme events like Epic Tales from Finland with storyteller Nick Hennessey and three Finnish musicians – which you don’t see at every other festival,” says Feldberg.

Other performance pieces this year include Nine Lives about the experiences of a young asylum seeker in the UK, written by Leeds-based playwright Zodwa Nyoni and We are Brontë, a knockabout comic physical theatre show about the real and imaginary worlds of Yorkshire’s most famous literary siblings.

Headliners include John Suchet who will open the festival talking about his book The Last Waltz about the Strauss family, Brian Blessed talking about his autobiography Absolute Pandemonium, politicians Caroline Lucas and Vince Cable, comedians Jenny Eclair and Helen Lederer and broadcaster and historian Simon Schama.

The Brontës provide one of the festival’s seven key themes this year – After Waterloo: The Brontës and Their World. “We have a whole range of Brontë anniversaries coming up and we wanted to do something the set the stage for that,” says Feldberg. “The Battle of Waterloo happened a few years before the Brontës were born and they were fascinated by Napoleon and Wellington. I thought it would be interesting for audiences to see what the world the Brontës came in to was like.” Events that come under this strand include Clare Harman talking about her new biography of Charlotte Brontë, while novelist Patricia Dunker considers Charlotte’s lesser known novel Villette, once described as ‘too subversive to be popular’. Another theme is Books and Reading: from the Romans to the Digital Age which looks at the future of the book. A strand which includes debates, talks and workshops, it has been put together in collaboration with the University of Leeds. The long-running First World War theme this year focuses on Hidden Voices from the Frontline. Academic David Omissi will be talking about his book of letters from Indian soldiers during the Great War and historian and documentary filmmaker David Olusoga will be discussing the wider context of the conflict, beyond the battlefields of Northern France.

The Shaping the Future theme is a great example of one of the things the festival does really well – combining different disciplines to create stimulating discussion. “I was being offered, by publishers, books that seemed to be exploring what we do next – from an economic, geographic and social point of view,” explains Feldberg. “It seemed to me it would be exciting to have a cross-cultural strand. Our audiences really want to engage with and participate in debate – and the authors really appreciate that.”

Children and families are well catered for, as usual – one of the big draws this year will be Julian Clary who will be introducing youngsters to his first children’s book The Bolds, with illustrator David Roberts. And the Fringe has a wide range of events – performance pieces, poetry, talks and workshops – all free. As always, there is plenty to look forward to.

* October 2-18. www.ilkleyliteraturefestival.org.uk