Poet laureate steps in as vibrant arts festival loses its headline act

Last minute panic struck event organisers this year – the main attraction had cancelled.

Poet and great-great granddaughter of Charles Darwin, Ruth Padel, was due to speak at the festival, in line with the event theme Evolution Revolution.

Her withdrawal could have spelled disaster for the organisers.

Festival co-ordinator Rebecca Yorke says: "We decided to either cancel or get somebody really fantastic."

The "somebody really fantastic" has turned out to be poet Carol Ann Duffy, and getting the first female Poet Laureate to be the star attraction was a great coup for the festival.

The colourful two-week event, running from June 26 to July 12 is set against the backdrop of "a vibrant, quirky and funky community" says Rebecca Yorke.

"Hebden reflects the vibrant festival, and it ties in with the feel of the town. The box office has become the hub of the community and the involvement of the locals is important for the success of the event," she says.

Organisers of the festival are not looking to pack auditoriums with a sea of squashed audience members – the aim is to offer small gatherings, the chance to meet authors in a relaxed but intimate atmosphere (there are only 120 seats available to catch Duffy's readings).

The festival will see Duffy read from her most recent collections such as The World's Wife and Europa.

Writer Jan Fortune-Wood will be joining the session to read extracts from her novel Stale Bread and Miracles, which recounts her career change from female priest

to writer.

Event organisers believe this reflects the festival theme of gradual change and development.

Yorke says: "It's all about artistic evolution. It's about how art forms change.

"For example, Simon Armitage is best known as a poet but he will be attending to play music with his band The Scaremongers."

Romantic fiction writers Katie Fforde and Eleanor Moran are taking a two- pronged approach to the festivities and getting involved in a double whammy of romance discussion on the same day.

A literary lunch followed by a reading from their novels maps how romantic fiction has evolved since the days of Mills and Boon novels – women are no longer bound to the kitchen sink by their apron strings.

Instead they are reading contemporary romantic fiction and feeling the tug of their heart strings.

Perhaps they are even thinking of writing a book of their own. It's safe to say everyone has got a book in them – hidden somewhere under the drudgery of their nine to five. So fulfill that pipe dream.

Capitalise on your ambition and don't become a closet writer. Instead attend David Armstrong's writing workshop entitled "How not to be a writer".

Well, if it doesn't offer encouragement, at least it'll be a learning experience.

For any current writers out there who are living on a pittance, there's the chance to visit free events on the two Saturdays of the festival.

The free entertainment targets those who wouldn't normally buy a ticket and is especially important these days given the current economic climate.

Festival goers can take advantage of the free street entertainment in St Michael's Square.

When money's tight, it's easier to attend a local attraction and laugh away the recession blues cheaply. So by all means fill up on the literature but leave some room for giggles with comedians Jon Richardson and Shappi Khorsandi – laughter is the best medicine for an empty pocket and bank account.

For the younger festival goers who are far too little to think about the woes of a fast diminishing bank balance, there is a children's puppet show to attend.

Long Nose Puppets will perform Flyaway Katie, a show about the power of imagination.

The adults in the audience will no doubt be imagining a lottery win.

Aside from that there are plenty of music events for those who like to step to the beat of their own drum.

On the opening day of the festival, the Dhol Foundation will set the rhythm for the fortnight-long event with their giant Indian-style drums and bhangra beats.

Events not to be missed

Sunday June 28:

David Armstrong's writing workshop for those who can't help but write. There are two sessions between 10am and 5pm and tickets cost 8.

Saturday July 4:

Contemporary romantic fiction writers Katie Fforde and Eleanor Moran's literary lunch followed by a reading session at the Artsmill at 4.30pm.

Tuesday July 7:

Poetry reading by star guest Carol Ann Duffy at the Little Theatre at 8pm.

Friday July 10:

A stage version of 'The World's Wife' – collection of Carol Anne Duffy poems. Tickets 10 and the action starts just before 8pm.

Saturday July 11:

Book reading by author A L Kennedy at Hebden Bridge Little Theatre at 8pm.