CRIME writer Ian Rankin and TV presenter Richard Osman will feature in a packed Durham Book Festival line-up, announced today.

The annual literary festival returns next month with more than 50 free activities and events online, from October 9 to 18, and other headline guests include Alex Wheatle, Ann Cleeves, Anthony Anaxagorou, Brit Bennett, David Almond, DBC Pierre and Jenny Offill.

The festival is commissioned by Durham County Council and produced by New Writing North, with funding from Durham University and Arts Council England and support from BBC Radio Newcastle.

It was founded in 1990 and is one of country’s oldest literary festivals with events usually taking place in Durham City venues.

Due to Covid-19, this year’s series of talks, workshops, readings, live drawings, studio tours, podcasts and essays and more than 20 newly commissioned pieces of writing will all be online and available free of charge.

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Crime writer Ann Cleeves has penned a new Vera story, Written in Blood, exclusively for Durham Book Festival’s Big Read initiative and 4,000 free copies and a free e-book will be available.

A highlight of the programme will be an afternoon with Mrs Cleeves, when she will be interviewed by broadcaster Steph McGovern about her career, her creations and why books and reading is so important for mental health.

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Crime fans will enjoy Ian Rankin in conversation with Rebus writer AA Dhand about his new novel A Song for the Dark Times, which sees the return of his detective John Rebus, and Richard Osman introducing his debut crime novel, The Thursday Murder Club.

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The festival audience will get to discover new titles hotly tipped for 2021 at two proof parties, ticket holders will receive proof copies of new books by acclaimed writers Danielle McLaughlin, Fiona Mozley and Lisa McInerney; and debut novelists Buki Papillon and Kit Fan.

A series of conversations, produced with Birmingham Literature Festival, seeks to tackle some of the major issues in society today in Living Better.

In an exclusive series on Durham Book Festival’s Instagram channel, academics from Durham University are given ten minutes to propose their New Ideas for the New Normal.

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In another exclusive, Durham Book Festival, in partnership with English PEN, has commissioned writer and activist Fatima Bhutto to respond to PEN International’s Women’s Manifesto.

New Narratives for the North East is a series of 15 essays, short stories and poems which offer new perspectives on the region and a series of podcasts will be launched during the festival.

Lisette Auton, in her New Narratives for the North East commission, has created a film with three other County Durham-based disabled artists to showcase talent in the region.

Instead of Palace Green Library Archives at Durham University being open for visitors to handle manuscripts, letters and material there will be two digital events.

Drawing on previously unseen research by Dr Laura McKenzie and created by Ruth Robson, Walking Durham is new walking tour that will reveal the city’s literary history. Watch from home on video or download the podcast of the tour and take the walk yourself in real life.

The Writing Durham podcast will feature interviews with some of Durham’s most famous literary voices including Pat Barker, Anne Stevenson and Benjamin Myers.

In a digital event, The Gordon Burn Prize 2020 shortlisted authors Jenn Ashworth, Paul Mendez, Deborah Orr, Peter Pomerantsev, Lemn Sissay, and Lisa Taddeo will read from their work before the £5,000 prize is awarded to the winner.

Entertainment and educational material will be provided for schools and families, with videos available to stream from their launch date until November 1 and there will be other events for children.

The Little Read project, aimed at under eights, will give away 1,500 copies of Greta and the Giants by Zoe Tucker, including to every primary school and nursery setting, and a set of creative workshops will be inspired by it.

And author and illustrator duo Garry Parsons and Simon James Green’s storytime will feature their picture book Llama Glamarama.

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Award-winning Sharna Jackson’s High Rise Mystery sequel Mic Drop features in an event for nine to 12-year-olds and Alex Wheatle’s Cane Warriors, ideal for KS3 to 5 readers, follows the true story of Tacky's War in Jamaica, 1760.

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Young people and adults can join a creative writing workshop with award-winning poet, writer and publisher Anthony Anaxagorou.

Other poetry features include The Poetry Book Society Showcase featuring new collections from Nina Powles, Bhanu Kapil and Rachel Long and a poetry film, Murmuration, with words from the public drawn together by Linda France and Kate Sweeney.

The digital format of the 2020 festival has allowed the producers to create a wide range of content to watch, download or read.

There will be exclusive studio events with graphic novelists Bryan and Mary Talbot and contemporary cartoonist Adrian Tomine. A literary quiz with TV’s QI Elves, a life writing workshop and bibliotherapy sessions on Twitter with writers including Cathy Rentzenbrink, Jen Campbell and Sara Collins also feature.

Councillor Joy Allen, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for transformation, culture and tourism, said: “The festival line-up is truly inspirational and really does offer something for everyone.

“It is obviously a shame that we can’t have the usual physical events for the festival this year, but by moving the programme online, we can spread the joy of reading and writing to a much wider audience. We can also shine a light on the North East and showcase the tremendous literary talent that flourishes here.

“Our festivals are a key part of our cultural ambitions and boost the county’s visitor economy. The local, national and international reach of this digital festival will make sure this continues and will help with the county’s wider economic recovery following the coronavirus pandemic.”

Claire Malcolm, chief executive of New Writing North, said: “I’m incredibly proud of how the New Writing North team has risen to the challenge of creating a digital event this year.

"We decided early on to be positive about the opportunities that digital would offer for extending our film and audio commissioning and for producing across platforms.

"As always new commissions mark the festival out as unique and this year we have invested seriously in new work from both the region and internationally.

"It feels important to use literature as the positive connection point for people locally and to connect Durham to people across the world.

"We hope that our events will both delight our regular attendees and engage readers from across the globe in the work and ideas coming out of the North."

Professor Stuart Corbridge, Vice-Chancellor Durham University, said: “At Durham University we’re passionate about making literature accessible to all, so we’re thrilled that the Durham Book Festival will continue in 2020 with an exciting line-up of digital events.

"Though the format may be different this year, we’ll still be playing our full part as a festival sponsor, with our experts delving deep into the region’s literary past and sharing new and thought-provoking ideas.

"There truly is something for everyone in this year’s programme, so I would encourage anyone to join in and experience this unique addition to Durham’s cultural calendar.”

For details and tickets visit