By India Hunter
The first word that comes to mind when I think about the experience of this event is ‘refreshing’. How refreshing it is to have the focus on the North for once! A Northern Writer! A Northern person chairing the event! With noticeable Northern accents! Forgive me for my overuse of exclamation points, but I feel they are necessary to convey how much excitement and joy this event filled me with.
Brian Groom led the audience on a sprint through the history of the North, guided skilfully by questions and comments by the chair, Dan Jackson. It is impressive how much history the speakers were able to fit into the hour. So many topics were delved into, and with such nuance, that being in the audience really was an education.
The speakers effortlessly moved from a light-hearted debate about which Northern region has the best humour, to the emotive subject of the future of the post-industrial North. Like Northern humour, the event was enjoyable and entertaining, but tinged with a hue of pessimism. Audience members shared their personal stories of suffering under the weight of deindustrialisation – it was deeply moving. I found myself becoming quite emotional. Groom and Jackson, understandably, struggled to end the conversation on a happy note.
I left the event with the familiar feeling of deep-rooted anger that I face every time I think about the state the North, particularly the North East, is currently in. We are lost. Our roots, our heritage industries, have been robbed from us and we have not been given the tools to regrow and sprout new leaves. Even Groom and Jackson, two experts in the field of Northern History, could not provide any information to bring solace in the face of this crushing reality, with Groom even going so far as to say that the history of the North is ‘a history of defeats’.
But I would argue that this anger is productive and necessary. Anger drives change, and it is exactly why events like this and the books they promote are important. If Northerners are given the opportunity to learn about our history, then maybe we can be the ones to invent the solution. Jackson talked briefly about a time before the modern welfare system in which areas in the North set up similar systems fully funded and administered by their own community. Perhaps this is something the modern North could revitalise. Either way, it is the knowledge of moments like this from Northern history that bring me slight peace in the midst of all of this chaos. It suggests that we might be able to rise again.
To finalise, another word comes to mind when I think about the experience of this event. That word is ‘inspirational’.
This review has been written as part of Turn Up for the Books, a partnership project between New Writing North and English PEN, designed to give young people aged 16-25 an insight into careers within literature. Travel to Durham was made possible by sponsorship from the Bishop Line Community Rail partnership.