Leeds Lit Fest: Writers Preview

Ahead of the first Leeds Lit Fest, taking place this week at venues across the city, Andrea Hardaker asked a few Leeds-based writers for their thoughts on the festival and the city.

Jenna Isherwood

Jenna Isherwood is a Leeds writer who is a member of the Northern Short Story Festival Academy. She is co-organiser of Fictions of Every Kind.

I think Leeds Lit Fest will bring some long overdue visibility to a lot of great stuff that has always been happening in the city, and which has really been gathering momentum over the last few years. I think it could also unite more readers and writers in Leeds and really support a strong and diverse community of people in the city who care about reading and writing.

I’m really looking forward to the whole event, especially the launch of the Northern Short Story Festival (NSSF) on Wednesday 6th March. I will then have to run to catch Leeds Savages Live which is on the same day! The other event I’m attending is Sheltering Under the Owl’s Wings on Friday 8th March.

I would like to see the festival continue to develop as a true showcase of local writers, and of the year-round events and ‘DIY’ literary culture that already exists in Leeds. Of course, it would be fun to bring a few literary celebrities to Leeds too!

Peter Spafford

Peter Spafford is a writer and musician based in Leeds with 25 years of writing to commission and holding residencies in different settings, from prisons and hospitals to museums and schools. He is also Director of Words at Chapel FM.

I’m really excited to have been on the committee for the first Leeds Lit Fest. There is such a great range of events and a wonderful array of venues. Chapel FM are proud to be hosting. It’s also great to be able to preview Writing On Air 19 by holding Wordy Women, an event themed around Voice — finding it, losing it, living with it — and in honour of International Women’s Day.

This festival has come together in record time, but the main thing is — it’s happening. Afterwards we can sit down and plan next year, but we can only do that having put down this marker, here, now. Long live Leeds and lit in Leeds!

Chris Nickson

Chris Nickson is a former music journalist who has published a number of books including a series set in Leeds back in the 1890s, featuring Detective Inspector Tom Harper. Gods of Gold is the first volume followed by Two Bronze Pennies, Skin Like Silver, The Iron Water, On Copper Street and The Tin God.

Dark Briggate Blues is a 1950s noir, with enquiry agent Dan Markham, which is also set in the city and which was followed by The New Eastgate Swing.

Raise your eyes a little. It’s there, in the rooflines, the second and third storeys. The history of a city, compressed high above the pavement.

The market, especially the open market, is a link that runs straight back through centuries to the Tuesday and Saturday markets along Briggate. The old churches — St. John’s, Holy Trinity — and the inns tucked away in the courts hold the ghosts of the men who drank there in the 1700s and 1800s. The picturesque little yards off Lower Briggate were once filled with the noise of all the families crammed in there to live. Not as atmospheric as they are now, but every bit as real.

All you have to do is scrape away the patina of the present, and the history of this city is right there. I grew up here, there are things I recall that are long gone. It’s gradually become sanitised and gentrified — no more Market Tavern or Big Lil’s, the type of dubious places that help give a city character.

For the most part, the Leeds I write about in my books existed long before I was born. Most of the slums and squalor have gone. But walk a street of back-to-backs and you bring history quickly alive. Listen to Leeds people talking and you hear warmth. You hear all the strength and humour that’s been needed for generations to survive.

What makes Leeds special? All that. And more, much more.

William Thirsk-Gaskill

William Thirsk-Gaskill is a writer of short stories and poetry, and a spoken word events organiser, based in Wakefield. He is a member of the Northern Short Story Academy.

I think the festival is overdue, but there are mitigating circumstances. Leeds is a major cultural centre, with a lot of literary activity. It may be debatable whether a festival was necessary, but I think it is.

As an ’emerging writer’, I like literary festivals because they provide opportunities to perform (I have done so at Ilkley, Huddersfield, and Wakefield, and will be doing so at York, later this year) and to hear and meet more established writers.

I want the festival to balance accessibility with innovation. Every time I see a literary festival programme with Alan Titchmarsh on it, a part of me dies. I want the headliners to be writers, or people connected with writing and publishing, not celebrities who have written a book.

I saw David Peace [who opened Leeds Lit Fest] at Huddersfield Literature Festival in 2011, and had a little chat with him after he had been interviewed by Michael Stewart. He gave the plainest, most down to earth answers to questions about his writing process.

I have organised an event in Wakefield which is a build-up event to my next application to Arts Council England to get Wakefield LitFest started, again. This is not a market: it is an ecosystem. The more I can learn about the literary festival in Leeds, the more it will help what I am trying to do in Wakefield.

Joe Williams

Joe Williams is a writer and performing poet from Leeds. His second book, the verse novella An Otley Run, was recently published by Half Moon Books.

Leeds always has so much going on for people who love literature, whether it’s poetry, novels or short stories, whether they’re creating it themselves or enjoying other people’s work. There’s often a good event to go to every night of the week. It’s hard to believe that with all that happening, we’ve never had a literature festival until now, and I’m sure this first event will be a great success and lead on to bigger and better festivals in the years to come. There’s so much to look forward to!

Becky Cherriman

Becky Cherriman is a commissioned writer, creative writing facilitator and prize-winning performer based in Leeds.

I’ve felt for many years that the literature scenes in the city have been vibrant but disparate. This vibrancy has grown over the last few years as the scenes have started to blend with and learn from one another.

There have been literature festivals in Leeds before — LIPPFEST, The Big Bookend, Words In The City, Headingley Lit Fest and Northern Short Story festival to name a few. But The Leeds Lit Fest 2019 sees a variety of partners coming together for the first time to tap into this enthusiasm for reading, writing and live literature and bring together the wonderful initiatives that have been happening in the city.

I work a lot with grassroots communities and at future festivals I’d like to see opportunities for people who aren’t usually thought of as ‘literary types.’ March is always one of my busiest periods but I’ve bought tickets to see V; like most Leeds poets I’m a fan of Tony Harrison’s and a great supporter of poetry with grit.

I’m pleased to be involved in a panel event at East Leeds FM on 9th March about women and voice and a performance later that evening.

For a full list of events and to book tickets, take a look here.