Bradford has had its fair share of bad publicity over the years, and it might not be the first place that immediately springs to mind if you’re thinking of cultural events. But a few years ago, Bradford Literature Festival (BLF) burst onto the scene – and I love it! This year’s festival is fast approaching. Here’s why I’m looking forward to it.
1. Big names
For such a young festival, BLF attracts some notable speakers. This year there’s Akala, David Starkey, Suzy Quatro and Jeanette Winterson (to name but four). In previous years I’ve been to events featuring Will Self and Lemn Sissay. And at last year’s festival, I happened to fall into conversation with none other than Germaine Greer as she took refreshment in the bar before a panel event. The hot topic she chose? The traffic diversions and snarl-ups she’d encountered on her way home from an event the previous night. Not quite what I was expecting.
2. Professional interest
As an editor, I’ve loved being able to hear experts like linguist David Crystal and The Times columnist Oliver Kamm talking about language and usage. I’ve attended panel discussions on English as a global language, getting published and how not to write bad sex. And at this year’s BLF I’m looking forward to hearing about the author–editor relationship, a subject close to my heart. I’ll also be finding out what’s in store for the publishing industry from some of those who are in the know: the editor of The Bookseller magazine and the cofounder of crowdfunding publisher Unbound.
I’m always impressed by the wide range of events at BLF. There’s classic literature and contemporary crime fiction, there’s poetry and rap, there’s manga and magic, there’s Brexit and religion, there’s music, comedy, film, heritage tours, walks... It’s a great opportunity to immerse yourself in something you love, or dip your toe into something new. Expect to laugh, cry, think, enjoy and relax, and come away inspired, informed and challenged. What more could you ask for?
4. The local angle
Bradford has a rich literary heritage, and that plays a part in BLF. Inevitably, perhaps, the Brontës are often featured – and this year is no exception – but there’s always a real desire to explore their work in new and interesting ways. Other local talents also come under the spotlight. Last year I enjoyed a fascinating discussion on the work of Bradford playwright Andrea Dunbar (of Rita, Sue and Bob Too fame), herself the subject of a novel by another Yorkshire writer, Adelle Stripe. The 2018 programme includes events on J.B. Priestley, Sylvia Plath and David Hockney, all of whom have local connections. And local publishers are often represented, both in panel discussions and through the authors they publish. It’s a great way to learn about the area’s history and discover new local talent.
Say ‘literature festival’ and many people would think it wasn’t for them. But I’m sure at least some would reconsider if they took a look at the programme and maybe tried out an event or two. There’s a great variety of stuff that’s designed to appeal to all age groups and to reflect Bradford’s diverse communities. Most events take place in or around the city centre, and some are free. And I’ve recently discovered that as well as the usual discounts for students, senior citizens and disabled people, there are special tickets for refugees, asylum seekers and benefit recipients (the cost of a ticket refunded on attendance = free entry!).
6. Educational focus
Bradford has a chequered history when it comes to education, and many of its schools still struggle with literacy and educational attainment. I think BLF can only be a good thing in this respect. Apart from a programme that’s chock-full of stuff for children and young people – with plenty of free activities, including a Baby Rave, for which I’m considering borrowing a baby – BLF has a great schools programme, which includes author events, performances, writing workshops, and author visits to schools. I was really interested to hear about the school exchange with the long-established Hay Festival, and I’m so glad the students who took part enjoyed their visit.
7. Celebrating what’s best about Bradford
I think the fact that Bradford can put on a festival of such quality is a demonstration of what’s best about this vibrant city and its culture. During previous festivals I’ve spent time in the Festival Hub in City Park, and it’s a great place to hang out, grab a coffee and enjoy the buzz. I’ve been interested to see the inside of some of the city’s great buildings, such as City Hall and the Midland Hotel, and I can confirm that there’s more to Bradford than riots, sink estates and dark satanic mills. And even if only a fraction of the city’s population comes to BLF events, many more – especially children and young people – will surely benefit from its effects.
So, there it is. I can’t wait for BLF and for the chance to learn something new, be challenged and entertained, and perhaps even find out about visiting celebrities’ travel headaches. Bring it on!