Buxton Literary Festival Bookstack19

Discover new authors at Buxton's literary festival

I am as guilty as anyone of taking a sweeping overview of a literary festival looking for household names and literary heavyweights. A glance through the Buxton International Festival back programmes for the literary series is both inspiring and intimidating for me as the new book festival programmer. While BIF is 40 years old this year, the literary series is but a teenager, having been started by Roy Hattersley in the year 2000.

With a long-standing arts festival such as Buxton, our big hitters have subtly changed over the decades. Some authors are sadly no longer with us; some authors, I adore but (astonishingly) I am in a minority and they have never enjoyed the commercial success I believe they deserve; some appeared with us when they were at their peak, never to publish again; and some, were little known or fledgling authors when they joined us, yet have gone on to significant literary recognition and its these writers who I’d like to celebrate. The wonderful writer Andrea Levy died this year, tragically young at the age of 62. I was privileged to host one of her first events in a small Waterstones store on the south coast. The book was Every Light in the House Burnin’ and what struck me listening to critics discussing her sad death and on reading her obituary, is that the Andrea Levy I met never appeared to be altered by her success. Even after the subsequent triumph of her novels Small Island and The Long Song (both made into acclaimed TV drama) Andrea apparently remained delighted that she could earn a living by her writing. And that is how I remember her, warm and wide eyed that people would want to hear her speak about her book let alone buy a copy. And, I can report, customers were, utterly charmed by her and her intimate yet expansive story telling.

At Buxton International Festival we rightly celebrate our nurturing of young operatic talent. Our link with Chethams, the Royal Northern College of Music and our young and dynamic company are much admired. But what of our authors? Some of our debut writers may not be in their twenties, but they are starting out on their literary lives after long careers in journalism or academia and wouldn’t it be great if you could claim to have discovered them at Buxton International Festival?

Our ingenues this year include, Martin Moore, Kate Devlin, Gina Rippon, Naoko Abe, Gillian Moore, The Revd Fergus Butler-Gallie, Isabel Hardman, Saliha Mahmood Ahmed and Sophie Therese Ambler. Isabel Hardman has already won Best Political Book by a Non-Parliamentarian in the 2018 Parliamentary Book Awards and is a former Journalist of the Year.  Saliha Mahmood Ahmed won Masterchef in 2017 which is probably as good as a literary prize.

Our ingenues don’t lack gravitas. Martin Moore is director of the Centre for the Study of Media, Communication and Power, and a senior lecturer in the Department of Political Economy at King’s College London. Kate Devlin is a British computer scientist specialising in Artificial intelligence and Human–computer interaction also at Kings College London. Gina Rippon is professor of cognitive neuroimaging at the Aston Brain Centre, Aston University, Birmingham. Naoko Abe is a Japanese journalist based in London. She was the first female political writer to cover the prime minister’s office, the foreign ministry, and the defence ministry at one of Japan’s largest newspapers. Gillian Moore is Artistic Director of the Southbank. The Revd Fergus Butler-Gallie is an Anglican Minister in the Diocese of Liverpool and once appeared on television’s Only Connect. And Sophie Therese Ambler teaches Medieval History at Lancaster University in England and is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

Let’s sprinkle some Buxton magic on this years ingenues and hope they go on to win glittering prizes and set the literary world alight. Successfully nurturing talent as well as presenting notable literary names will help Buxton International Book Festival reach its own significant birthday.