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A Bookish Weekend Up North: The Manchester Literature Festival 2016

manchester-literature-festival-2016-logoI really love discovering a city through its cultural venues and this October I spent a weekend in Manchester to attend a few of the Manchester Literature Festival events. Running from 7 to 23 October 2016 and in its 11th year, the city-wide festival offered over 80 readings and talks for book lovers. I managed to catch these great events:

An Evening with Jackie Kay Manchester-based writer Jackie Kay, is always a pleasure to listen to. The event at Halle St Peter’s was chaired by Rachel Cooke, who guided the conversation from Jackie’s childhood with her adoptive parents in Glasgow, to her early years as a young poet up to the present time becoming Scotland’s ‘makar’ (poet laureate) in March 2016 and planning a new project based on visiting all the Scottish islands (sounds fascinating!). There is always such an interesting contrast between Jackie’s bubbly, outgoing personality and her thoughtful, melodic poetry, often dealing with some serious subject matter. I was glad I picked up her memoir Red Dust Road, which chronicles the search for her birth parents in Scotland and Nigeria, after the reading. While the book is partly incredibly sad, it is a fascinating, multi-layered read, which is also extremely funny and honest.

Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi This event was held at the Central Library and featured one of Sudan’s best known poets who has been based in the UK since 2012. After a bilingual reading of his poetry in Arabic and English, the writer was interviewed by author Travis Elborough. I’m always interested to learn about cultures I don’t know much about and languages I don’t speak. As a translator, this often reminds me of the language barriers that need to be overcome in order for different cultures to understand each other and poetry is definitely one of the most beautiful ways to accomplish this.


Shetland with Ann Cleeves When I was visiting Glasgow for Celtic Connections last January someone recommended the TV series Shetland to me. Having never been a fan of crime dramas or novels, I reluctantly gave it a go, but was quickly hooked by it, like so many of us have been. So of course I jumped at the chance to see the author of the Shetland series, Ann Cleeves, in conversation with lead scriptwriter Gaby Chiappe and actor Alison O’Donnell, who plays Tosh in the series. The event (see image above) chaired by broadcaster Erica Wagner provided a fascinating insight into the writing and adaptation process and it was lovely to see how well the collaboration seems to have worked in this case.

As it was my first visit to Manchester I also tried to get a good bit of – mostly literary – sightseeing in over the weekend. Here are some of my highlights:


Literature-related museums and places: The John Rylands Library is part of the University of Manchester and the historic building dates back to 1824. I was even more impressed with a tour of Chetham’s Library (pictured above) the oldest free public reference library in the United Kingdom, which, together with the renowned school of music, was established as early as 1653. Not specifically literature-related, but well worth a visit is The People’s History Museum. It has some fascinating exhibits and brings the history of working people in Britain to life, right up to the present day. Second hand and comic bookshop Paramount Books, near the Shudehill bus station is a great place for stocking up on reading material about the city and further afield.


Cosy cafes & pubs (with lots of veggie options): I ate at quite a few places during the weekend, which included The Earth Café (great veggie curry and desserts) in the basement of the Manchester Buddhist Centre. Another favourite was the fairly well hidden Nexus Art Café (cakes, coffee, snacks, see their courtyard above) as well as Common (extremely yummy veggie chili cheese fries). For a coffee or tea break you can’t go wrong with a visit to North Tea Power or Home Sweet Home. On Sunday night I headed to Odd Bar for a few drinks and some (by chance excellent) live Americana with The Wicked Path. I didn’t have enough time to make it to HOME and The Deaf Institute (they apparently do a great vegan hangover all day brunch on Sundays) this time, but did take a look at The Pilcrow Pub (see below), one of Manchester’s newest community ventures, which was largely built by volunteers (how cool is that?!).



Review: Franco-Irish Literary Festival 2009

What a fantastic weekend! I hadn’t been to this festival before and had only heard of a few of the authors. But I decided to give it a go and what a discovery it was. The Coachhouse behind Dublin Castle as well as the Alliance Francaise were host to three days of insightful, entertaining and charming readings and discussions by writers from countries such as Ireland, France, Germany and Mexico.
This year’s 10th anniversary theme was ‘love and death’ which sparked some thought-provoking and humorous conversations. According to the organisers this year’s event had a record number of attendees, which was hardly surprising given the high calibre of writing talent present as well as the flawless organisation of the festival. 
Some of my favourite ‘discoveries’ included:
Colette Fellous (Tunisian writer living in Paris, check out her radio show on France Culture )
Nicole Brossard (poet and novelist from Montreal)
Dennis O’Driscoll (poet from Thurles who has also just brought out a fabulous book of interviews with Seamus Heaney entitled ‘Stepping Stones’)
and Noelle Chatelet (well-known French writer, actress and – which I was surprised to find out by googling her – sister of Lionel Jospin).
There were plenty of books by the authors for sale at a stall by International Books (Fredrick St South in Dublin, still some leftover books from the festival available), both in French and English, great for autograph hunters. To complement the French theme, there were also yummy croissants and cafe au lait on offer. Oh and if you’re considering attending next year and happen to be worried about your knowledge of French, fear not, they had two excellent interpreters at the events and free earphones for anyone who wanted them. Et voilà!
Who is it for?
Anyone with an interest in French and Irish literature
Why should I go?
Great way of brushing up on your language skills, meet some of the best international writers in a easy-going atmosphere and chat with fellow literature enthusiasts over a cup of coffee. And did I mention all readings were free?
What’s the atmosphere like?
Comfy, relaxed atmosphere, most readings lasted for 1.5 to 2 hours, there was also an opportunity to ask questions at the end of the talks, audience was any age from students to older people
Where can find out more?