Poet Roger McGough to headline Lancaster’s 40th literary festival

Roger McGough with the band Little Machine

Roger McGough with the band Little Machine - Credit: Nick Wright

2019 Litfest will run from March 8-31

Roger McGough is arguably Britain’s favourite poet and he will be helping Lancaster’s literature festival celebrate its 40th anniversary this month

He is the author of more than 70 books of poems and editor of scores of anthologies, he is a broadcaster, he has had a number one record – and a string of other chart successes – with The Scaffold, and at the age of 81 he is showing no signs of slowing down. His new collection of poetry, Joined up Writing, has just come out and two children’s books will be released next year.

‘This is my first performance since the new book came out, so it’s a big deal for me,’ he said. ‘I’ll be reading some new poems – some of them for the first time. Some of them deal with serious issues, death, politics and the like, some are funny.

‘I’ll select some that give a flavour of the book and hope people like them but it’s a voyage of discovery for me. I think I’ve written four or five better poems since the book went to print, but we’ll have to see what the audience’s reaction is. Those new poems are on the list for the next book.’

The Litherland-born writer now lives in London but has been a regular at Litfest since it launched in 1978 (there was one year without a festival, but organisers can’t recall which year it was). He will not only be reading from his new collection, but also performing some poems to music with the band Little Machine.

‘When I’m not at my desk I feel I’m wasting my time,’ he said. ‘I sit at my desk and write with pen on paper. I have got better at using a screen but I prefer pen and paper.

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‘Writing is the important thing, not getting published. People have said it’s all right for me saying that, but I don’t go to my desk every day to write something that will be published. I write to find out about myself.

‘It’s nice for me to attend festivals and to see other writers and performers. Festivals are important for writers and performers because audiences discover other people. You might go along for one thing, but see three or four and find new people, acts or genres you like.

‘It’s a good line up in Lancaster, but unfortunately I can’t stay, I’m just there for one night, I have got to go to Liverpool to do something for BBC radio. Usually I would hang around and take advantage of everything that’s going on.’

And there will be plenty going on. Litfest, which is the third oldest literary festival in the country, used to run for a week but has now been extended, with events, readings, workshops and talks taking place over weekends throughout March.

Poetry has always been high on the agenda, with heavyweights Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes among the impressive roll call on the bill for that first festival in 1978. Artefacts and photographs from that year and subsequent Litfest events will be on display this year as part of the 40th anniversary celebrations.

Bill Swainson, who helped his friend Michael Reynolds get the event off the ground, said: ‘It’s good news that there are so many literary festivals now – and that Litfest is still going strong – because it means audiences are keen to hear from authors. It proves there is an active interest in writing, and music, which has always been a big part of the festival in Lancaster.’

Jacqueline Greaves has been on the Litfest board for 30 years and has been its chair for the last 20, but will step down from the role after this year’s festival. She said: ‘I don’t feel it’s good for an organisation to have the same person in position for too long.

‘The city council have been very supportive and we are endlessly grateful to them but after we lost our funding in 2012 we had to scale down our office and our ambitions but we are now starting to get bigger again and to be more ambitious.’

This year’s festival runs from March 8-31. Go to litfest.org for the full programme, ticket prices and more details.

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