Turning over a new leaf: Manchester Literature Festival is back

Phoebe Hurst

The annual literary event returns this October with a brand new programme of talks, special commissions and exclusive readings.

We have a thing about words in Manchester. The Manchester Writing School has been attracting literary titans since 1998 (Jean Sprackland, Michael Symmons Roberts and Nicholas Royle are just the tip of the department’s ice berg) and last year, Jeanette Winterson became the latest internationally renowned author to join the University of Manchester as a Professor of Creative Writing. But it’s not all academia; we love scribbling away in libraries and bedrooms too: Karl Marx worked on The Condition of the Working Class in England in a tiny alcove in Chetham’s Library and Charlotte Brontë began writing Jane Eyre when she accompanied her father to Hulme for a cataract operation. We also have the city to thank for the setting of Hard Times: the fictitious Northern mill town of Coketown is Charles Dickens’ thinly-veiled reference to Manchester.  

This year, the festival brings familiar faces to unfamiliar places

With such an imposing literary heritage, it’s little wonder Manchester is home to one of the country’s best writing events. This year, Manchester Literature Festival brings familiar faces to unfamiliar places with a series of talks from acclaimed authors. We find out how perennial singleton Bridget Jones is coping in the social media age, as Helen Fielding discusses her latest novel, Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy with Miranda Sawyer, and Roddy Doyle takes to the Royal Exchange to talk about reprising Jimmy Rabbitte twenty-six years after The Commitments. Joanna Trollope has also been visiting old friends. The author chats to Jenni Murray about The Austen Project; a series that sees six authors rewrite selected Jane Austen novels in a present-day setting (Trollope has taken on Sense and Sensibility and reimagines Elinor Dashwood as a headstrong architecture student). F Scott Fitzgerald also undergoes something of a modern day makeover at jazz club, Matt and Phreds’. American Literature professor, Sarah Churchill discusses the people, places and scandals that shaped The Great Gatsby to a soundtrack of 1920s jazz, courtesy of Alligator Gumbo.

But MLF isn’t just about the literary stalwarts; newly commissioned projects and emerging writers feature alongside old favourites. Norwegian crime writer, Jo Nesbø launches his latest Harry Hole thriller in the suitably atmospheric banqueting room at Manchester Town Hall, while The Midland serves afternoon tea with writer Adam O’Riordan. The Wordsworth Trust poet in residence reads his specially commissioned story about the hotel, which takes inspiration from the building’s iconic status in Manchester history. MLF has also invited poet Jen Hadfield to create a new work in response to Manchester Art Gallery’s A Highland Romance: Victorian Views of Scottishness. Hadfield has drawn on the exhibition’s exploration of Scottish identity and her own experience of living in the Shetland Islands, and delivers the reading from the gallery itself.

Like any good novel, Manchester Literature Festival can’t be summed up by a simple synopsis. The events programme ranges even further, with writing workshops, literature-themed tours of the city and the Blog North Awards. Make sure you’re sitting comfortably; MLF tells a story that you won’t want to put down.

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