Why do I feel so excited about the Borderlines Book Festival?
I’ve been to many a book festival over the last 2 or 3 decades. I’ve been to Hay, to Edinburgh more than once; I’ve been closely involved with Manchester’s over its lifetime and I’ve attended one-off festival events in a number of NW locations. But to me there seems to be something special about Borderlines.
Partly its because its so new but seems so brave and ambitious.
Many festivals start small and aim to grow. Borderlines started big and seems determined to continue to grow and attract attention. In his introduction to this year’s programme Hunter Davies, Honorary President, acknowledges this. It is now so well established and embedded that it feels as if it has been going for ever…
Last year’s inaugural festival saw over 1,300 people attend events across the city of Carlisle, with names including Alan Johnson, Rory Stewart, Grace Dent and Stuart Maconie entertaining and inspiring visitors. Attendees came from all over Cumbria, and as far afield as Newcastle, Gateshead, Hexham, Barnard Castle, North Yorkshire, Leeds and London, as well as Scotland.
This year the festival is even bigger, with 27 author events and 13 writers’ workshops taking place at the Crown & Mitre Hotel, Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery, Carlisle Library, Carlisle Cathedral, Waterstones and Bookcase between September 3rd and 6th.
Another reason that appeals to me is that it seems properly embedded in its location.
It isn’t only trying to attract “celebrity” names with a book to promote, though these always matter to festivals. It is also trying hard to balance local concerns and interests, with writers who will appeal to a wide-range of readers. So this year’s programme includes James Rebanks talking about The Shepherd’s Life and there are talks on walking, climbing and fishing as well as historical topics with local resonance. Sue Allan’s lively talk, Echoes of Old Cumbria: Traditional Songs, Music & Dance of the Lake Counties will be illustrated with both recorded and live
There are local celebs; e.g. Broadcaster and writer Fiona Armstrong (pictured) who presents Border Life, a current affairs programme for ITV Border. She is a former ITN and BBC News presenter/reporter, who has also fronted a TV series, ‘Fiona on Fishing’, as well as writing 2 fishing books.
There are national celebs too e.g. Charlotte Green & Roger Bolton, Terry Waite, Owen Jones. Some well-known writers e.g. Salley Vickers, Juliet Barker: too many to list them all so please take a look at the website for all the details.
Appropriate to its Borders location there are events reflecting Scotland as well. I wish I could hear Karen Campbell talk about her book Rise- and have added it to my “to read” list. In a Scotland on the cusp of change, Justine, a desperate runaway, flees the city to wind up in a village in Argyll…sounds topical.
The venues sound attractive: spreading events around the city, gives a sense that the whole place is involved. It isn’t an outlying event taking place on the edge of town. It is properly embedded in appropriate cultural venues; familiar to locals and of interest to visitors.
A final reason for me to be enthusiastic is the breadth of content of this year’s programme.
The best festivals to me, entice you to hear & learn from new writers or about subjects you don’t know already. I wish I could hear Jenny Uglow (pictured) talk about Sarah Losh, a name not known to me. The Pinecone tells the story of Romantic visionary and architect, Sarah Losh of Wreay, Carlisle. Or Cate Haste talk about Craigie Aitchison: A Life in Colour or Esme Whittaker’s talk on Arts and Crafts Houses in the Lake District.
For keen writers there is a whole Writers' Quarter to take part in, as well as a Poetry Breakfast which offers the opportunity for attendees to read their own work.
There is plenty of fun - a Murder Mystery Evening the ever-entertaining raconteur Gervase Phinn and Taffy Thomas, First Laureate for Storytelling, to enjoy.
And all forms of writing seem to be covered; short stories, poetry, fiction and non-fiction.
The organisers deserve congratulation.
As I hope you can tell, I am keen on this festival. I have booked some tickets and an overnight stay, as I hope many others will. By bringing visitors to the city who will spend money in hotels, restaurants and shops, the event will prove its value in economic terms as well as cultural ones. Long may it thrive!