Record-breaking audiences at this year's Berwick Literary Festival

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The packed programme at this year’s Berwick Literary Festival provided challenge and entertainment, laughter and tears, and music and poetry.

There were record-breaking audiences at what was the 10th festival and, working in a new and welcome partnership with The Maltings, there was a great reception for the headline speakers.

A full house gave a standing ovation to Karine Polwart, the renowned Scottish singer/songwriter, and rapturous applause also met the pathos and humour of poet Lemn Sissay, who introduced both his extraordinary life story and his recently-published volume of four line poems.

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The ever-popular novelist Alexander McCall Smith gave those in attendance more anecdotes from his prolific writing whilst his publicist, Anna Marshall, gave insights into the eating habits of Scotland Street residents; and Polly Toynbee, the journalist and political commentator, was poignant and pungent in telling the story of her family and in her comments on politics today.

The headline speakers included Lemn Sissay.The headline speakers included Lemn Sissay.
The headline speakers included Lemn Sissay.

There was much to enjoy in other venues around the town as varied as Berwick Baptist Church, Coxon and Coxon wine bar and the Guildhall, and, once again, there were some online sessions.

Anecdotes galore from the world of celebrities and the pop world from former hairdresser Leslie Cavendish sat cheek by jowl with a controversial assessment of colonialism by Professor Nigel Biggar and Steven Veerapen brought alive the chaotic personal life of King James VI and I, helping to sort fact from the lurid fiction offered by his contemporary detractors, among the wide range of interesting speakers.

The schools’ programme included visits by authors Sally Nicholls and Rhian Tracey, journalist Gerry Foley, a thought-provoking session on Zoom on the subject of ‘Why Read?’ with Will Self and a great opportunity for adults and A-level students to come together for a discussion of dystopian fiction led by novelists Rachelle Atalla and Amanda Block.

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Jill Whiting, from Berwick Middle School, said: “We had a really lovely morning with Sally Nicholls.

Rachel Joyce (author of the ‘Harold Fry’ books) was among the speakers in Berwick.Rachel Joyce (author of the ‘Harold Fry’ books) was among the speakers in Berwick.
Rachel Joyce (author of the ‘Harold Fry’ books) was among the speakers in Berwick.

“She was great with the children and they are all fired up with enthusiasm about becoming best-selling authors.”

This depth of young people’s activities is made possible by generous support from Berwick-upon-Tweed Town Council, the Berwick Academy Endowment Fund via the Community Foundation, Longridge Towers School and Goswick Golf Club.

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