Olivia Laing at Manchester Central Library

Sarah-Clare Conlon, Literature Editor
a white middle aged woman stands in front of flower beds and a soft beige stone garden wall with ivy.  she is wearing a white blouse and pale blue jeans and is smiling. She has dark, short hair.
Olivia Laing

Olivia Laing: The Garden Against Time at Manchester Central Library, Manchester 10 May 2024 Tickets from £10.00 — Book now

We’re loving that this year we don’t have to wait until October to welcome great writers to Manchester Literature Festival, and one we’re really looking forward to in the new spring programme is “accidental literary grande dame” (New York Magazine) Olivia Laing, according to The Observer “simply one of our most exciting writers”.

Previously commissioned by MLF as writer-in-residence at the Midland Hotel, Olivia Laing returns to Manchester to talk about her latest book, The Garden Against Time. Back in the very Laingian realm of non-fiction, this compelling new work brings to life the restoration of a garden designed by Mark Rumary of Notcutts. Referencing the work of Derek Jarman, WG Sebald, John Milton, John Clare, William Morris and others, she explores the idea of paradise and gardens, both real and imagined. “A garden is a time capsule, as well as a portal out of time”, we’re told, and she considers how gardens are political – private land versus public space, for example – and “how these slices of Eden survive war, offer a place for rebel outposts and communal utopias, and bring joy during difficult times”.

A regular creative non-fiction dabbler, Olivia Laing is the author of seven books including 2021’s Everybody: A Book About Freedom (Picador) and 2020’s Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency, which collates her essays about art and culture written over the span of her career so far, offering up a collection that examines the pivotal role that art plays in our political and emotional lives.

Her third book The Lonely City: Adventures In The Art Of Being Alone (Canongate) was shortlisted for the 2016 Gordon Burn Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism, while her second, The Trip To Echo Spring: On Writers And Drinking, (she likes a long title) was shortlisted for the 2013 Costa Biography Award and the Gordon Burn Prize, and was named a New York Times Notable Book of 2014. These were preceded by To The River: A Journey Beneath the Surface, tracking the Ouse, where Virginia Woolf drowned in 1941

A widely acclaimed author and critic, her writing about art and culture appears in the GuardianFinancial Times and frieze, among many other publications, and she has written extensively about writers, art and creativity, including essays and forewords on Virginia Woolf, David Wojnarowicz, Cookie Mueller, Chantal Joffe and Wolfgang Tillmans. In 2018 she was awarded a Windham-Campbell Prize for non-fiction.

Cast your mind back to 2018 and you may recall that Olivia Laing’s experimental real-time short novel, Crudo, all about food and love was on everyone’s lips. Written in just seven weeks, and started while on holiday in Tuscany, this was Laing’s debut prose book, and it became a Sunday Times bestseller and winner of the 2019 James Tait Memorial Prize.

Presented in partnership with the Centre for New Writing and Creative Manchester, this event is hosted by Greg Thorpe.

Olivia Laing: The Garden Against Time at Manchester Central Library, Manchester 10 May 2024 Tickets from £10.00 Book now

Where to go near Olivia Laing at Manchester Central Library

St Peters Square Manchester
City Centre
St Peter’s Square

St Peter’s Square is a public space in Manchester – home to the city’s iconic library, town hall, Pankhurst statue, art gallery and famous Midland Hotel.

Manchester Art Gallery. Photo by Andrew Brooks
City Centre
Gallery
Manchester Art Gallery

The Charles Barry-designed, Grade I-listed Manchester Art Gallery is one of the city’s leading galleries and is back open for visitors once more.

Chinatown
Hotel
The Alan

This high-end city-centre restaurant has an excellent afternoon tea option that more than matches up to the superb main menu.

Salut Wines
Chinatown
Bar or Pub
Salut Wines

Salut wines pride themselves in offering “wider horizons beyond the safe choices.” With 42 wines by the glass and a regularly changing selection of bottles in their Enomatic wine preservation machines (or  “wine jukebox,” as they’re colloquially known), this is one of be best bars in Manchester for exploring new vintages.

Manchester
Restaurant
Friska

Latest branch of Friska, the independent healthy fast food chain.

Manchester
Restaurant
Don Giovanni

Traditional Italian restaurant, serving everything from pizza to steak. All this in a large modern venue with floor-to-ceiling windows.

Chinatown
Restaurant
Manchester Art Gallery Cafe

Summery bakes, seasonal salads and fresh light meals at Manchester Art Gallery’s in-house café, courtesy of highly-regarded Head Chef Matthew Taylor.

City Centre
Tourist Attraction
Manchester Town Hall

Re-opening in 2024, Manchester Town Hall is a monument to Victorian Manchester’s ambition, and one of the city’s most-loved landmarks.

City Centre
Tourist Attraction
Albert Square

A public square in the heart of Manchester which plays hosts to festivals and major events. Home to the Albert Memorial and statues of Bishop James Fraser, John Bright, Oliver Heywood and William Ewart Gladstone.

Contemporary Six, art gallery in Manchester
City Centre
Gallery
Contemporary Six

Contemporary Six is an independent commercial art gallery in Manchester city centre, set up by Alex Reuben in 2010.

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