Article published on May 12, 2017.
Once again, Hexham book festival has attracted a wide range of writers, covering all genres. From comedy (Sara Pascoe & Arthur Smith) to politics (Chris Mullin & Margaret Hodge); poetry (Adam O’Riordan) to crime (Louise Doughty); children’s events; writing workshops; a Bollywood evening and much, much more. Most events take place in the Queens Hall but some spill over into rooms in the beautiful Abbey.
This year I was only able to attend two author events – Steff Penney and Salley Vickers. Two very different but fascinating writers. The event with Steff Penney was ably chaired by Rebecca Jenkins, local author and daughter of the late Bishop of Durham. Stef Penney is a screen writer turned author, whose first novel Tenderness of Wolves became an almost overnight bestseller and in 2006 won the Costa Book of the Year and the Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year. She admits this was a bit overwhelming and did make it difficult to write her second novel The Invisible Ones. with her third novel, Under the Pole Star we are back in the vast, endless snowy landscapes that she loves. It is a novel about ambition and love and less of a thriller than her first two. set in 1889, it is the story of a female explorer of the arctic, Flora Mackie. with her first novel, there was some criticism that she had never visited Canada but just researched it all, mainly from the British Library. I think this is very unfair – after all she didn’t travel back in time to the 1890s either. She admits to sometimes getting carried away with her research, including watching a North Pole webcam. She finds the nineteenth century a fascinating period; it is moving towards the modern and there are a lot of changes for women.
Salley Vickers writes very different, more contemporary novels. She didn’t start writing until she was 50 and her first novel Miss Garnet’s Angel was an acclaimed success. She has had a varied career; dancer, special needs teacher, psychologist, etc. and she feels this has helped her in her writing, giving different experiences to draw upon. Her new novel Cousins is set in Northumberland and London and is a gripping family history centred upon 2 life changing accidents, survivors guilt and motherhood. She is very interested in transgenerational trauma and the shame that can come from being hurt or abused. This novel is one of her most personal, particularly the parts set in Northumberland, as she has recently discovered her own roots in that part of the world. She spoke well and with real authority and the event was well chaired by Lynn Curtis. at the end, she whetted our appetite by revealing that this is probably the first in a trilogy about the Tye family.
Maddy Broome, May 2017
Find out more at www.hexhambookfestival.co.uk and make sure you sign up for news on next year’s events!