9-18 October 2020

2020 Commissions

Every year Durham Book Festival commissions new writing and we are thrilled to share our Durham Book Festival 2020 commissions with you. During the festival we will be launching a host of exclusive essays and podcasts. The commissions will be available to read and listen to from 9 October 2020.

Murmuration: A Collective Poem for Our Times

Murmuration is a collective film poem for our times; created by Linda France and celebrating our love for the natural world in a time of Climate Crisis and Coronavirus. Watch the film poem during Durham Book Festival. Read Murmuration here. Read Linda France’s commissioned essay about the process of writing a collaborative poem Making Murmuration here.

Fatima Bhutto

In this thought-provoking and poignant piece, Fatima Bhutto takes PEN’s Women’s Manifesto as a starting point to explore the violence of the world we are living in today and the kindness and love she believes are essential to our survival in these tumultuous times. Read Fatmia’s exclusive essay A World on Fire here and watch Fatima discuss her piece at Durham Book Festival.

Writing Durham

DBC Pierre: The Long Cascade

We are delighted to present The Long Cascade, an exclusive commission from Booker Prize winning author DBC Pierre. Read the essay here.

Guided Walk: A Literary Pilgrimage of Durham

We have commissioned a special downloadable audio walk around Durham city celebrating fact and fiction inspired by, associated with, and written about Durham. You can also watch a filmed armchair version of the walk highlights.

Inside the Archives: Writing Durham with Dr Laura McKenzie

Join us for a special session inside Durham University’s archives.
This Inside the Archives session draws on Dr. McKenzie’s recent Writing Durham project, which aimed to chart the County’s literature of place.

Writing Durham Podcast: Pat Barker and Benjamin Myers

For the first episode of Writing Durham, Laura McKenzie is joined by two of Co. Durham’s leading literary figures, Pat Barker and Benjamin Myers. Booker Prize winner Pat Barker has lived in Durham for the past forty years, while Myers – who won the 2018 Walter Scott Prize – grew up in Belmont, a suburb of Durham City. Listen in as they discuss place, memory, and what calling Durham home means to them as writers. You can also read the transcript.

Writing Durham Podcast: Anne Stevenson

In episode two Laura  McKenzie talks to Anne Stevenson, a major voice in British and American poetry. Born in Cambridge, UK, and brought up in New England, Stevenson lived a variously transatlantic life before settling in Co. Durham in the 1980s. Laura joined Anne in her home to talk about Durham’s shifting nature, and the different ways in which County and City have worked their way through her poetry. Anne Stevenson died in 2020. You can also read the transcript.

Writing Durham Podcast: Gillian Allnutt and Kayo Chingonyi

Gillian Allnutt has authored nine major collections and was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 2016. She was born in London but spent half of her childhood in Newcastle upon Tyne. Kayo Chingonyi is a poet and critic whose collection Kumukanda won the 2017 Dylan Thomas Prize. Like Gillian he spent some of his childhood in Newcastle, and in this episode the two poets discuss how their shared experience of leaving and then returning to the North East has shaped their work. You can also read the transcript.

Writing Durham Podcast: Mim Skinner

In this episode Laura is joined by Mim Skinner, author of the poignant and darkly funny  Jailbirds and co-founder and director of Chester-le-Street’s multi-award winning community interest company REfUSE, which works to intercept food that would otherwise go into landfill. Mim has spent years delivering arts courses in prisons throughout the North East, and talks here about the women she met, their stories, and the systemic problems that underpin their experience. You can also read the transcript.

Outlandish is a collaborative work of poetry and drawing by the writers Jo Clement and Damian Le Bas and the artist W. John Hewitt. This was a Durham Book Festival 2019 commission. Taking St Cuthbert’s Way – a modern walking trail based on an ancient pilgrims’ path – as its starting point, it is a vision of North East England and South East Scotland through shifting gazes. Here are pilgrims, Romanies, grandparents, herons, Transits, castles, mudflats, B-roads, clay pipes, periwinkles, silk and fire.

These poem-films, taken from Outlandish, were created by Jo Clement in 2020 and supported by funding from Arts Council England.

New Narratives for the North East

The River Cycle: A Disability Arts Showcase with Lisette Auton

‘Writing the Missing – A River Cycle’ is a new film commissioned for Durham Book Festival which came out of New Narratives of the North East, an ambitious project from New Writing North and the NECP. The film includes new commissions from disabled artists Bex Bowsher, Sarah Crutwell and Vici Wreford-Sinnott.

New Narratives for the North East Podcast Series

We are thrilled to present a series of four podcasts, as part of New Narratives for the North East. The series will feature the commissioned writers, expanding on the themes and ideas that came out in their commissions. The podcast series will be released alongside the commissioned essays on 9 October. Find out more about New Narratives for the North East.

A Wicked Issue - The Case of Dominic Cummings by Richard T Kelly

In A Wicked Issue – The case of Dominic Cummings, and who speaks for the North-East?, Kelly will investigate how the Durham-born Cummings shaped his unique philosophy and whether he is more on the side of the North East than we might think? Richard is the author of the novels CrusadersThe Possessions of Doctor Forrest and The Knives. Find out more about New Narratives for the North East.

Camaradereie and Chaos - Lockdown at the REfUSE Cafe by Mim Skinner

Taking as her starting point the stories of the community of the REfUSE café in Chester le Street, Skinner will look to tell a story of how North East communities come together in response to challenges and express unity in the face of adversity. Mim is a writer and social entrepreneur and the founder of REfUSE, an award-winning social enterprise in Chester le Street.  Find out more about New Narratives for the North East.

DH1 - A Tale of Two Cities by Melissa Tutesigensi

In DH1 – A Tale of Two Cities, Tutesigensi charts her time in Durham as a student and explores the dualistic experience of the city and the multi-layered textures of identity that exist there. The city is both a bastion of the elite and a working-class cultural touchstone. Melissa is a journalist, writing and broadcasting across multiple platforms. Find out more about New Narratives for the North East.

Writing the Missing - A River Cycle by Lisette Auton

Using reportage, poetry, verbatim speech and found poetry Auton will create a work exploring a new narrative for disabled culture in the North East. “I want to talk about the missing… 25% of people in the North East classify as disabled. We do not take up 25% of the cultural space. Where are the missing? How do we say: ‘you are welcomed and important?’.” Find out more about New Narratives for the North East.

Sing The North by David Almond

“The North is a wild place. For centuries it lay at the furthest edge of civilisation. Now, all of us need to be rewilded if our damaged earth is to survive. My piece, poetic and experimental, written in northern rhythms, will try to conjure and to share the distinctive nature of the North, its beauty and ugliness, to embody its place in the wider culture and history of the world, to show that the North is very ancient and is forever new”. David is the author of Skellig and many other novels, stories, picture books, songs, opera librettos, radio programmes and plays. Find out more about New Narratives for the North East.

Street Life by Lyndsey Ayre

Lyndsey Ayre has been exploring the city of Newcastle upon Tyne since she was thirteen. In this new essay she will walk the city to explore the changing profile and experience of the city and to investigate how the city has changed and is changing and how this shifting landscape impacts on those that live here. Find out more about New Narratives for the North East.

Making Work for Ourselves by Richard Benson

In, Making Work for Ourselves, Benson will create a narrative non-fiction documenting the relationships between work, innovation and self-image in today’s North East. Based on the renewable energy sector and the people who work in it, it will consider contemporary identity, social relationships, and attitudes to work, and ask what they might mean for the future of the region.  Find out more about New Narratives for the North East.

Welcome to the West End by Bethan Curley

The North East is a place of discovery where each day you find out something new, and Benwell in the West End of Newcastle is no different. The community spirit, how people know each other and have grown up together, will form the basis of this piece, which aims to reduce the bad publicity, and to tell the true story of the people who walk those streets. Bethan is a Year 10 student currently studying at Excelsior Academy, Newcastle upon Tyne.  Find out more about New Narratives for the North East.

Immersion by Lauren Davies

If God had intended Geordies to surf, some would say, he wouldn’t have invented football”. In a creative non-fiction piece Davies will explore the little-known surf culture of the East coast, spanning Tynemouth’s Longsands to Seaton Sluice and Blyth. The first of Davies’ five novels, Serve Cool, was a Times Top 10 debut.  Find out more about New Narratives for the North East.

A Dream Come True by Andrew Hankinson

A Dream Come True is creative non-fiction piece about the North East’s enthusiasm for shopping and how the Metrocentre filled the transitional period for the region when heavy industry had gone, and the region was looking to new service and retail economies. Andrew is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the The Guardian, Wired, and the New Yorker.  Find out more about New Narratives for the North East.

Winged Docs by India Hunter

Growing up in a post-industrial town with a father in the steel industry has given India Hunter, a young writer from Teesside, a unique experience of the issues facing the North East today. She is particularly interested in the way that recent political events have shaped the mindsets of those living in areas that would be considered more ‘economically deprived’ and her writing aims to eradicate the negative stereotypes. Find out more about New Narratives for the North East.

Finfolk Carmen Marcus

In a collection of micro-fictions, Finfolk, Marcus will tell mythic stories about the North, its people and their relationship with the sea. The sea offers a powerful new narrative to explore as it occupies absences, roars over silences and remembers what was lost.Carmen’s debut novel How Saints Die is a semi-autobiographical account of her life as a fisherman’s daughter.  Find out more about New Narratives for the North East.

The Real Bernicians by J. A. Mensah

The Real Bernicians is a short story set in a world that is similar to our own. On 31st January 2020, the UK leaves the EU and Scotland leaves the UK. On this day, a forgotten area of land between England and Scotland, which was once fiercely contested, suddenly belongs to no one. Juliana has written for theatre with a focus on human rights narratives and the testimonies of survivors. Find out more about New Narratives for the North East.

Tynedale by Bullet Train Alex Niven

The piece will examine the illustrious history of transport in our region from Stephenson’s Rocket and T Dan Smith’s metro and combine it with a contemporary political analysis and the writer’s personal reflections of travelling in, around, away from and back to the North East over the last 35 years. Alex’s writing has appeared in The Guardian, New York Times, New Statesman, The Independent, VICE and Pitchfork. Find out more about New Narratives for the North East.

Regina and Barates Bronwen Riley

Telling the love story of Barates and Regina in a work of creative non-fiction written in the continuous present, Riley will explore this disturbing love story between a Syrian and a slave from Southern Britain living on Hadrian’s Wall in the classical era. Bronwen is a writer with a special interest in the Classical world and Romania. Find out more about New Narratives for the North East.


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