A good read

Simon Scarrow

Simon Scarrow - Credit: Archant

Louise Denyer previews the inaugural Suffolk Libraries Bookfest taking place all over the county in March with a host of renowned authors and literary figures

Catherine Johnson

Catherine Johnson - Credit: Archant

It seems the time has finally come to rewrite Suffolk’s past status as a somewhat understated hive of literary activity. After all, it wasn’t too long ago that residents of the county who enjoy a good read had to travel to nearby cities or further afield to enjoy a varied programme of renowned speakers and other book-related events.

Now, such opportunities are regularly available and celebrated annually on our doorstep.

This year there’s a further addition to the local literary scene – the inaugural Suffolk Libraries Bookfest, March 6-22, at a host of different cultural arts venues across the county. It is hoped that the festival’s diverse programme will appeal to a wide range of audiences and assorted reading tastes, and will ultimately be a positive way of showcasing what local libraries have to offer everyone.

Alison Wheeler, Suffolk Libraries general manager, says: “We wanted to organise a book festival which was a bit different – something accessible and enjoyable for everyone. The aim is to invite a mix of popular, local, and up and coming authors to our libraries and run a series of events around Suffolk. I’m delighted with the programme we’ve been able to put together and am looking forward to welcoming some top authors to our libraries.”

Charlie Haylock

Charlie Haylock - Credit: Archant

The start of the Festival will follow World Book Day (March 5) and coincide with World Storytelling Day (March 20). Lots of activities are already planned and there are more in the pipeline, which will be advertised on social media throughout the festival.

The current programme is certainly an exciting prospect that should appeal to all ages, enabling people to discover new authors and genres, and maybe even inspire the next generation of writers. The different events also remind audiences that writing comes in a variety of formats, such as fiction, screenwriting, blogging, poetry, rap music, and the distinctive Suffolk dialect.

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There are a number of key highlights in the programme that will no doubt prove popular and sell out quickly. Simon Scarrow is internationally acclaimed and a Sunday Times No 1 bestselling author of historical fiction. He will be answering questions and speaking in Ipswich Library about his Eagle series of Roman Military fiction based on the second invasion of Britain by the Roman Empire.

Continuing with this theme, Beccles Library will be hosting the ‘History Girls’, Alison Weir and Kate Williams. Weir is the biggest selling female historian in the UK having published 20 books totalling sales of over 2.7 million. Her works include The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Mary, Queen of Scots, and Isabella: She-Wolf of France. Williams is a social historian, royal expert, broadcaster and novelist. The medieval music group The Pearl in the Egg will provide backing music for the evening.

Erica James

Erica James - Credit: Archant

Screenwriter and novelist Catherine Johnson will be running a workshop to encourage budding talent and offering tips to help and inspire new writers. At Lavenham Village Hall radio presenter Lesley Dolphin will be in conversation with Suffolk-based author Erica James, who has written 18 successful novels including Gardens of Delight, which won the Romantic Novel of the Year Award. (You can read an interview with Erica James in the April issue of Suffolk Magazine).

Poet Luke Wright will be performing captivating stories in visceral verse from neglected corners of Britain as part of his Stay at Home Dandy tour at the John Peel Centre in Stowmarket. By turns funny, poignant and political, Wright celebrates ordinary people experiencing extraordinary moments.

Charlie Haylock is a firm favourite with local audiences and will be delighting people once again at Bury St Edmunds Library. His informative and hilarious one-man shows are legendary across the county and his books have all flown off the shelves.

As well as being able to reduce people to tears of laughter, he has a serious side, and especially when talking about the history of the English language.

Alison Weir

Alison Weir - Credit: Archant

The increasing popularity of inclusive events such as Suffolk Bookfest are giving lovers of all things literary the opportunity to interact with writers they admire as well as introduce them to new experiences that they might not otherwise have considered. They also demonstrate just how relevant reading is in an age of competing forms of entertainment.

As a newly independent organisation and in a time of ongoing budgetary cuts in local government, Suffolk Libraries are keeping everything crossed for the success of this event, but I suspect they had better start planning for the next one soon.