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Three northern festivals

During March, I was fortunate to be able to attend three different festivals in the north of Britain, which were all very different.

First, I went to stay with a school friend in Cupar, so that we could go together to some of the events at the Stanza Poetry Festival in St Andrews, on the breezy east coast of Fife, in Scotland. The workshops were sold out before the public had much chance to book, but the presentations I attended were excellent. Eleanor Livingstone is the inspiration and organiser of this festival, which manages to be both intimate and popular.

Of the readings I attended, the three highlights were i) Alice Oswald talking about Homer, ii) her poetry reading in the evening and (iii) the reading by Kathleen Jamie. I had last heard Alice at the finals of theĀ  T S Eliot prize at the Festival Hall in London in January, and I never miss an opportunity to hear her mesmerising readings. But the Homer lecture was an unexpected delight, bringing ancient literary gems to life in the 21st century and raising some fascinating questions.

From there I took a train down to the Lake District, in order to spend a few days in Keswick for the Words by the Water Festival. As usual, we camped on the shore of Derwentwater, in order to walk across the hill each day to the Theatre on the Lake; and we were fortunate to enjoy dazzling sunny weather throughout our stay. The picture above is the view from our little camper van, parked all week within a few metres of the sparkling water.

Because of other commitments, we had to miss both weekends at this lovely festival, but very much enjoyed the days we were able to stay. The first afternoon, I listened to Helen Mort talking about fell running and poetry, a combination which appears to work well for her; and during the week we were treated to a wide range of subjects, from Bronte and Shakespeare to witches and heart surgery; and I even managed to watch the film of Doctor Zhivago, just a few decades after it came out. For me, the highlights here were i) Elif Shafak, the Turkish novelist, who had us all entranced (and one of whose books I bought, despite all my best intentions not to buy any more books!), ii) Raymond Tallis, talking about God, free will and the NHS, and most entertainingly of all, Natalie Haynes, the comedian, presenting a show about Greek drama, which contrived to be both informative and hilarious.

Words by the Water is one of the sister-festivals of Ways with Words in Devon; so as the happy memories of Derwentwater begin to fade, we can begin to look forward to another wonderful festival in July.

We left Keswick and headed across the Pennines to York, where I was giving two presentations at the International Women’s Festival at York Explore the next day. The first of these was a poetry reading, in which I concentrated, appropriately, on poems about women – of which I have a large number. A new collection of my poetry, with the theme of mediaeval women, is due to be published in the next couple of months, but I did not, on this occasion, include any of those. There will be time enough for those particular women when the book comes out.

The main reason for being in York was to launch my first novel, ‘Rapeseed’. I have published eight previous books, all either poetry or non-fiction, but fiction is a new departure for me. It was lovely to find a couple of good friends in the audience, and I was pleased to be able to sign a number of copies of the book. A couple of days later I gave a talk and reading from the book to the Southern Counties branch of the Society of Authors, and there are a number of other readings and presentations coming up in the next few months.


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