2021 Commissions

Every year Durham Book Festival commissions new writing and we are thrilled to share our Durham Book Festival 2021 commissions with you. During the festival we will be launching a host of exclusive films, podcasts and essays. The commissions will be available to watch, read and listen to throughout the festival, from 9 October 2021.

Sleep Stories Podcast Series

Durham Book Festival, Northumbria University and Politecnico di Milano (Italy) have co-commissioned exclusive short stories from poet and author Salena Godden, poet Andrew McMillan and novelist Jenn Ashworth. Each podcast will be introduced by sleep scientists Dr Diletta De Cristofaro, Professor Jason Ellis and Dr Erik Hoel, who will explore the science and culture of sleep. Find out more at their roundtable event.

Dawn Chorus

In spring 2021 poet Linda France and sound artist Christo Wallers launched an open call for lines to Dawn Chorus, their collective sound poem for the beginning of the world. Premiering at Durham Book Festival, Dawn Chorus brings together a chorus of voices from all over the UK and beyond to imagine how we might begin again in the face of climate emergency 

Writing the Missing – All at Sea

“Things I know about this film: it will be a startlingly beautiful lyrical essay, mesmeric, with a thread of the dark and political, truth that bites. It will be audio described, captioned, and BSL interpreted. Roaring surges of anger, laughter and tears are to be anticipated. Expect the sea, a purple stick, care, access, disability and neurodiversity.”

Writing the Missing – All at Sea is a new film commissioned for Durham Book Festival, following the success of Writing the Missing – A River Cycle which premiered in 2020. Director, writer, producer and performer Lisette Auton joins forces once more with filmmaker and editor Rob Irish, to push the creative boundaries of access, words and kindness.

Ideas for Positive Change

Ideas for Positive Change is a new series of short talks, presented by Durham University academics. Following the success of our series New Ideas for the New Normal in 2020, a range of world-leading experts return to Durham Book Festival to explore how to build a more positive future. These accessible, ten-minute long videos will be released for free throughout the festival.

Disability and the Politics of Visibility

Disability and the Politics of Visibility is a series of commissioned talks by five vital and exciting disabled artists at the forefront of thinking and writing. Vici Wreford-Sinnott is a disabled theatre and screen writer and director based in North East England, who has dedicated her career to changing the narratives around disabled people. She has invited and curated a broad range of ten-minute pieces from Dolly Sen, Cheryl Martin, Jamie Hale, Steph Robson and Sophie Woolley.

Durham Literary Walks

Murder, Mystery and Mayhem

It could be said that Durham City exists because of crime. Pillaging by raiding Vikings led to the city’s formation as we know it today. Take a walk around Durham City and hear how crimes gone by have been recorded through the written word.

Carbon, Climate and Renewal

Set off on this newly commissioned and discover Durham’s beautiful Heritage Coast. Spend time walking in the lively harbour town of Seaham and explore issues of climate change through the written word set against the backdrop of the former coal mining town, its surrounding landscape, seascape, and history.

A Literary Pilgrimage of Durham

Celebrate fact and fiction inspired by, associated with, and written about Durham. Hear stories of ancient scribes, poets, prize winning authors, political discourse, and folklore; and see Durham from a new perspective.

Counter Culture: A Film by Louise Powell

From the bloke who polishes shoes and talks of war heroes, to the lass who fills a rubble-strewn field with memories of the community who gathered there, Counter Culture tells the tales of working-class life which you’re unlikely to find in bookshops or theatres. Featuring pieces written by eight working-class writers first published in Kit de Waal’s acclaimed Common People anthology, and translated to film by co-directors Louise Powell and Topher McGrillis, Counter Culture is a celebration of working-class people, places and voices.

Growing Home: A Film by Jodie Russian-Red

Growing Home is a literary film which unpicks the connections between memories, emotion, and gardening from the female perspective. Allotment holder and writer Jodie Russian-Red has collaborated with all-female filmmakers FlyGirl Films and writers Caro Fentiman and Naomi Marklew to write and record three brand new pieces of writing and poetry based on their own personal histories with growing food and flowers, whilst taking inspiration from conversations with women allotment holders at a community garden in Durham.

Inside the Archives

Join us for one hour and two special sessions as we explore the treasures inside Durham University’s archives.

Dr Aya Van Renterghem gives you a behind the scenes look at some of the fascinating books inside the iconic Cosin’s Library. At first sight, the books in Cosin’s Library look daunting and inaccessible but re-cataloguing work has revealed that the imposing exterior hides a wealth of stories about the library and about Cosin’s life as a lover of books.

People have always looked up to the sky to find an explanation for the nature of existence, the occurrence of disasters, or to predict the future and stories about visitors from outer space continue to be popular. Dr Danielle Westerhof draws upon the archives and printed book collections at Palace Green Library to introduce you to controversial theories and momentous discoveries about the universe, space and star-gazers.

African Lives in Northern England

Join us for the launch of a booklet that celebrates the history of black lives in northern England and uncovers a number of fascinating hidden histories in the process. It explores the presence and success of people of African descent in the North East and helps to dispel the myth that the North East is exclusively white and monocultural. Beverley Prevatt Goldstein, the editor and Co-ordinator of the African Lives in Northern England Project, will be joined by Don O’Meara from Historic England.

Half Way There – The Unsung

The Unsung is a brand new sci-fi/historic genre mash-up radio performance, written and directed by Vici Wreford-Sinnott with co-creators Mandy Colleran, Caroline Parker, Cheryl Martin and Jacqueline Phillips. We meet four ordinary extraordinary, eternal women thrown together from parallel worlds. Anonymously elected and plucked from their lives and all disabled women over fifty, they find themselves as the sole occupants of the mysterious Upper Table in the National Library and Archive, which isn’t nearly as pompous as it sounds when these women are finished with it.


What are you looking for?


Sign up for our newsletter