Book Festival 2023 – A Preview

In response to books published recently garnering rave reviews, Book Festival director Vicky Dawson picks out a few authors to look out for taking part in this year’s BIF Book Festival:

Colin Grant was last with us in October 2019 when he shared the BIF stage with journalist Amelia Gentleman both talking of the Windrush scandal and, I remember, leaving our audience horrified and despairing. Colin’s new book I’m Black So You Don’t Have To Be was described by the Guardian as ”an important and timely book for an increasingly diverse and diffuse set of communities, a reminder of those questions of home and belonging, an invitation to parse them….under Grant’s meticulous gaze, layers of historic Black British familial dysfunction are peeled back and subjected to loving scrutiny.” Clear-eyed but loving scrutiny is Colin’s forte. I’m delighted that Colin will also be interviewing award-winning playwright, screenwriter, theatre and film director Sir David Hare for us this year.

Alastair Campbell and Rory Stewart’s podcast The Rest is Politics is one of Britain’s most popular podcasts- downloaded more than 35 million times. Decca Aitkenhead in The Sunday Times (February 11th 2023) reported an audience of “lines of fans, undeterred by snow and a national rail strike, (queuing) outside the Royal Albert Hall” for one of their live stage shows. “For a political audience”, reports Aitkenhead, “they were uncustomarily young and good-looking.” That the duo now enjoy star status is undeniable. Here at BIF, we know, because Rory enjoyed a sell-out audience in Buxton Opera House in 2022 and without a book to promote. His effortless erudition and lucid world view based on astonishing personal experience wowed the auditorium and left many in sparkly-eyed wonder.

And so, in 2023 we welcome Rory’s sparring partner Alistair Campbell to the BIF stage. Agreeing to disagree in the most gentlemanly and informed way, is the schtick of The Rest is Politics and the secret of its success. With this in mind Alistair will be talking about his latest book, But What Can I Do? Why Politics Has Gone So Wrong, and How You Can Help Fix It with another political oppositebroadcaster, podcaster and author Iain Dale. Iain, former Conservative candidate and now LBC presenter enjoys success with his own podcast For the Many with former Labour Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and has previously written a book called Why Can’t We All Just Get Along: Shout Less. Listen More.

That Alice Farnham’s new book In Good Hands: The Making of a Modern Conductor should land in the same week as Cate Blanchett’s current portrayal of an unhinged maestro in the film Tár, is serendipitous only for reinforcing the image of a female conductor. Apparently in 2015 women accounted for only 1.4% of conductors in British professional orchestras. The Daily Telegraph considers Farnham to be “Doing more than anyone to change the face of conducting in the UK”.

Baroness Catherine Ashton is a frequent guest on Radio 4 for her eloquent dissection of modern diplomacy. As the EU’s first High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security from 2009 to 2014, she is well placed to take us behind the scenes at the major international crises of our times. The Guardian describes her new book And Then What? as “carry (ing) lessons for a diplomatic world too often dominated by ego and testosterone.”

Caroline Dodds Pennock is described as the UK’s only Aztec historian and the appeal of this to me as programmer was instant. David Olusoga’s review of Caroline’s new book On Savage Shores: How Indigenous Americans Discovered Europe reinforces the astonishing achievement of assembling “tiny shards of historical detail from which Pennock builds a larger mosaic.”

If non-confrontational engagement is at the core of these events, then my appeal to BIF Friends is polite and non-aggressive – do remember you have priority booking. For as little as £33 a year, a BIF Friend becomes part of the BIF family. Priority booking is just one of the rewards for supporting the Festival alongside special events throughout the year and newsletters. And if you are already a Friend, then your membership has never been more important. Tickets to Buxton International Festival 2023 just became very hot property.