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A look ahead to the 2018 Todmorden Book Festival

PUBLISHED: 00:00 05 November 2018

Performance poet Lemn Sissay shines a light on life in care in his play Something Dark Photo: Hamish Brown

Performance poet Lemn Sissay shines a light on life in care in his play Something Dark Photo: Hamish Brown

hamish brown

Todmorden’s first book festival takes place between 16th - 24th November

In the ultimate literary BOGOF, Todmorden Book Festival is offering readers the chance to see one poetry-writing McMillan and get another for free. What a bargain! And what an opportunity. The ‘Bard of Barnsley’ Ian McMillan is appearing alongside his son, Andrew, an award-winning poet in his own right (or should that be ‘write’?) and patron of Todmorden Book Festival, in a rare familial two-hander featuring poetry and conversation.

McMillan Snr, who once described Todmorden as ‘a border town that knows no bounds’ is a writer, a distinctive voice on national radio and a regular on BBC Breakfast, Coast, Countryfile and other TV programmes. As well as poetry, he has penned plays, an autobiography, Talking Myself Home, and a voyage around Yorkshire in Neither Nowt Nor Summat.

His latest collection of poetry, To Fold The Evening Star: New and Selected Poems, was published by Carcanet last year.

McMillan Jnr’s debut collection, physical, won The Guardian First Book Award, as well as a host of leading prizes including the Somerset Maugham Award and The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year 2016. His second collection, playtime, was published by Jonathan Cape in August.

The dynamic dad-and-son duo is coming together for Todmorden Book Festival, the town’s first literary celebration, which runs from November 16th-24th. The packed festival programme promises a host of exciting fiction, non-fiction and poetry events for all ages, reflecting the rich cultural heritage of the region, exploring individual and collective stories, celebrating difference and diversity, and reaching out to new audiences across the region.

‘It was such an honour when I got an email asking if I’d consider coming to Todmorden as the patron of its new festival,’ says Andrew. ‘I got shown around the town like I was a minor royal and, even though it’s a town I’ve been to before, I began to see things in a new way. The way the landscape intersects with the industrial, how waterways and roads run alongside and underneath each other, how everyone in every place wanted to talk and swap stories.’

Among the big names coming to town to swap stories at the inaugural festival is ‘Queen of Crime’ Val McDermid (not everyone coming to Todmorden is a McSomeone, but there are a fair smattering). The bestselling Scottish crime writer, perhaps best known for her darkly gripping Wire in the Blood series featuring Dr Tony Hill and DCI Carol Jordan, has sold more than 15 million books in more than 40 languages.

Her latest psychological thriller, Broken Ground – the fifth in a series of books featuring DCI Karen Pirie – was launched at the end of August.

For such a big-hitter in the books industry, she remains very humble, saying: ‘I never imagined when I started this journey that I would have the success that has come my way.’

Sally Wainwright, a writer from a little closer to home – about 20 miles east of Todmorden in Huddersfield, will be talking about her illustrious 25-year TV career, including the BAFTA award-winning Happy Valley and Last Tango in Halifax, both set in her home county.

She’ll also be discussing her latest project, Gentleman Jack, an upcoming BBC drama about the life of lesbian diarist and wealthy Yorkshire landowner Anne Lister, filmed in Yorkshire with a cast led by Suranne Jones (Doctor Foster), Sophie Rundle (Peaky Blinders) and Timothy West (so many wonderful things it’s impossible to pick one out).

The 19th century industrialist was nicknamed Gentleman Jack because of her penchant for dark, masculine clothing and beautiful, feminine lovers. Her diaries, which include coded entries about her string of lesbian affairs, were rediscovered when her 15th century family home, Shibden Hall, was transformed into a museum.

‘Anne Lister is a gift to a dramatist,’ says Sally. ‘She’s one of the most exuberant, thrilling and brilliant women in British history. To bring Anne Lister to life on screen is the fulfilment of an ambition I’ve had for 20 years.’

As 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the first votes for women, it seems highly appropriate that Todmorden Book Festival is playing host to Helen Pankhurst, the great-granddaughter of suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst.

Her new book, Deeds Not Words: The Story of Women’s Rights, Then and Now, charts how women’s lives have changed in the last century, highlighting the voices of both pioneers and ordinary women.

Celebrated performance poet Lemn Sissay will be charting his own life in his award-winning one-man play, Something Dark, in a key performance at the book festival. It unflinchingly depicts his upbringing in care after his Ethiopian mother gave him up when he was just two months old and his search for his true identity after first discovering his real name at the age of 18.

‘A childhood in care almost broke me – I needed to shine a light on it,’ he says.

As well as campaigning on behalf of young people in care, he has written five poetry collections, was awarded an MBE for services to literature, is chancellor of the University of Manchester and has seen his Landmark poems transposed on to the walls of public spaces around the world from the Royal Festival Hall in London to the British Council in Addis Ababa.

Lemn’s personal journey fits beautifully into Andrew’s original idea of swapping stories to build a sense of ourselves, our home, of what’s made us and where we’re going.

And where you should be going is Todmorden.

‘Come and join us,’ says Andrew. ‘Get on the train or the bus or just walk down the street and then come back next year, and the next year, and bring your kids and your grandkids. Walk down every street in Todmorden, as I did; look at the familiar as though you’re seeing it for the first time, and then write about it.’

For more information and tickets, please contact Todmorden Information Centre on 01706 818181 or go to

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