Berwick LitFest: the silver lining to lockdown’s dark clouds

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Every dark cloud has a silver lining: here's ours!

THERE IS A SILVER LINING to the dark cloud of lockdown. If, like me,  you enjoy the immediacy and access provided by some of the country’s really good live events, such as the upcoming Berwick Literary Festival, they are now online at a computer near you and are FREE!

Reader Chris Stevens wrote from Windsor recently to ask if I thought that the much-praised Red Lion takeaways might be delivered from Milfield in Northumberland to his neck of the woods and I had to disappoint him. . . but Chris, you can certainly attend any of the fantastic events at Berwick’s literary festival without ever leaving your armchair in Royal Windsor.

And what a festival it promises to be! Programme co-ordinator Mike Fraser says: “We have a superb and diverse line up with several sessions already attracting a lot of attention. We’ve picked up on a number of themes which are very much on people’s minds right now.”

Timely themes such as Black Lives Matter: Professor Brian Ward talks about Frederick Douglass, a black slave whose freedom was bought by two Quaker women from Newcastle.

And what more timely subject than the transformative power of bread-making? Pauline Beaumont’s book Bread Therapy and her upcoming talk chime precisely with the sourdough explosion brought about by lockdown; or the healing qualities of the natural world with Tamsin Calidas, whose talk based on her book ‘I Am An Island will detail how she dumped London in favour of a derelict Hebridean croft.

Bread therapy: Pauline Beaumont’s session on bread and her books

Closer to home, and in keeping with its status as a disputed town with roots in both England and Scotland (Berwick changed hands 14 times it was finally settled as being in England in 1482), the Festival enjoys contributions from both sides of the border. As well as Tamsin Calidas’ redemptive island memoir, writer/historians John Sadler and Rosie Serdiville explore the gruesome fate of 5,000 Scottish soldiers marched from Dunbar to Durham after Oliver Cromwell’s decisive victory in 1650,

Not inspired yet? Log on to Scottish broadcaster and journalist (and former NME editor) Stuart Cosgrove as he  delves into Sixties US soul music and its impact on boxer Cassius Clay Or to social historian and gardener Ursula Buchan, who asks: ‘Did we really dig for victory?’. And to Wigtown bookseller Sean Bythell talking about his books that are ‘guaranteed to offend anyone who has ever crossed the threshold of a bookshop’.

Other contributors include master biographer Ann Thwaite, whose subjects include AA Milne (she was consultant on the successful 2017 film Goodbye Christopher Robin) and Frances Hodgson Burnett; Bloodaxe Books’ editor Neil Astley who is joined by poets including David Constantine for his session of readings from the acclaimed Staying Human – New Poems for Staying Alive; and political broadcaster and columnist Steve Richards whose book The Prime Ministers is the basis for his session on the incumbents of Number 10: from Wilson to Johnson; and the immediacy of the spoken word with world slam poetry champion Harry Baker, whose work is intrinsically of-the-moment.

Festival chair, Michael Gallico says: “We always aim to be dynamic in our engagement with words – written, spoken and performed and this year will be no different. Our workshops are always popular – we have poetry and creative writing sessions. And there will be an opportunity to question speakers after each event.”

Decent folk  like you and me will probably feel inclined to make a small donation towards next year’s (hopefully live and face to face) festival when we register to take part (that’s essential); Berwick’s festival registration is open NOW and you can get the full programme and all details HERE.

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