Like many of the best ideas, it all began with a chat in a pub.
Last December in the Hare and Hounds in Todmorden, a group of friends, all heritage volunteers at the Town Hall, were enjoying a few pre-Christmas drinks when they began a conversation about the possibility of setting up a book festival in the town.
Less than a year later, it is here. The inaugural Todmorden Book Festival opens today with a packed nine-day programme of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, workshops and events for adults, teenagers and children. And for a first-time festival, the organisers have pulled together a pretty impressive line-up that includes queen of crime Val McDermid, acclaimed poet Lemn Sissay, playwright Mike Poulton, journalist-turned-novelist Linda Green and women’s rights activist Helen Pankhurst, to name just a few.
The festival’s tagline is ‘landscapes, people and stories’ and its stated aims are to reflect the rich cultural heritage of the region, explore individual and collective stories, celebrate diversity and reach new audiences. “We wanted to differentiate ourselves from other festivals and be true to Todmorden and its identity,” says Claire Tuddenham, marketing lead for the festival, part of a small core team which also includes PamWarhurst, founder of Incredible Edible, and former librarian June Turner. “We were all in agreement that we wanted it to be as accessible as possible.” Honouring that commitment, they have ensured that many of the events in the festival are free.
Having secured funding first from the Town Council and local organisations and later from Arts Council England, the creative team, bold and ambitious in their vision and aspirations, then set about approaching local, national and international authors.
They also got award-winning poet Andrew McMillan on board as patron. “One of the members of our team had worked with him previously and he was really enthusiastic right from the start,” says Tuddenham. “He has been incredibly supportive.” McMillan will be appearing with his father Ian – the Bard of Barnsley – at the town’s Hippodrome Theatre tomorrow for an evening of poetry, laughter and conversation. Other highlights include a visit from the Emergency Poet who will be dispensing poetry from her 1970s ambulance, a book making workshop, a specially commissioned film IOU Presents: Todmorden, set and filmed in and around the town, a panel discussion about creativity, mental health and the Brontës, and Icelandic poet Gerður Kristný’s reading from her narrative poem Drápa. A real coup is that Sissay will be performing, especially for the festival, his one-man show Something Dark about his time growing up in care, in front of an audience of care-leavers.
“The festival is about attracting visitors to the town from across the region and beyond,” says Tuddenham. “But it is also about doing something for the local people – ultimately we want to be able to entertain, inform and challenge them.”
Todmorden Book Festival, runs to November 24. Details www.todmordenbookfestival.co.uk