THIS year's Durham Book Festival brings the Frozen North to the city with a life-size polar bear set to entertain families, while book festival organisers distribute free copies of Northern Lights by award-winning author Philip Pullman.

It’s all part of the Durham Big Read, a strand of the Durham Book Festival programme which aims to spread the joy of reading across the county by distributing 3,000 copies of Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights to schools, libraries, leisure centres, hospitals, community centres and Durham University. Philip Pullman will be one of the headline speakers appearing at the festival on October 17.

The event, from October 6 to 17, is produced by New Writing North with support from Durham University and Arts Council England. On the opening day Durham Book Festival for Schools takes place at Durham Johnston School on Tuesday, October 6, featuring picture book authors Simon Bartram and Pip Jones and Costa-winning author of Five Children on the Western Front, Kate Saunders.

Events will be taking place in venues across the city, including the Gala Theatre, Durham Town Hall and Palace Green Library, as well as libraries and community centres across the county.

Other headliners include Bill Bryson, whose book The Road to Little Dribbling is a follow up to Notes from a Small Island, in which he famously described Durham as a "perfect little city". Simon Armitage’s latest book, Walking Away, swaps the moorlands of the North for the coastal fringes of Britain’s South West in a personal Odyssey with all of the poetic reflection and wit we have come to expect from one of the country’s best-loved writers.

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown will offer an invigorating take on what "Englishness" means in her talk on Exotic England: The Making of a Curious Nation, as she delves into five centuries of English history to reveal how our appetite for adventure has shaped the buildings, flavoured the food, powered the economy and created a truly diverse society. Vince Cable gives an insight into the world economy and Britain’s economic future in a talk about his career as a leading politician and his new book, After The Storm.

The festival sent broadcaster and journalist Lauren Laverne to the current Yves Saint Laurent Style is Eternal exhibition at Bowes Museum. She will be reporting back and discussing women’s broader relationship with fashion with fashion editor Laura Craik. Caroline Criado-Perez will talk women’s rights campaigners around the world, as well as her own story as a feminist activist and her book Do it Like a Woman. Mary Portas’s memoir Shop Girl moves from her very ordinary 1970s childhood to the glamour of window dressing for Harvey Nichols and Harrods.

The winner of the Gordon Burn Prize, which celebrates bold, fearless fiction and non-fiction, will be announced on Friday, October 9 at Durham Town Hall. The short-list is: Dan Davies (In Plain Sight: The Life and Lies of Jimmy Savile); Honor Gavin (Midland); Romesh Guneskera (Noon Tide Toll); Richard King (Original Rockers) and Peter Pomerantsev (Nothing is True and Everything is Possible).

Another festival commission is a song cycle written by poet Sean O’Brien and composed by Agustín Fernández, in association with Royal Northern Sinfonia. This major new commission is inspired by WH Auden and his deep interest in the North Pennines, and in particular the lead mining industry. The world premiere at the Gala Theatre on Thursday, October 15, will be performed by Royal Northern Sinfonia and Voices of Hope, and set within a programme comprising Britten’s Hymn to St Cecilia and Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde.

A musical theatre adaptation of the award-winning picture book Man on the Moon by Gateshead author-illustrator Simon Bartramis touring to libraries, arts centres and community centres across the North, including 18 venues in County Durham.

Following the success of the inaugural Durham Moot in July, there is a Durham Moot strand of politics events within the book festival programme. A new commission brings together acclaimed writer Richard Benson and photographer Keith Pattison. Taking as their starting point a photograph from Pattison’s archive as the official photographer of the Durham Miners’ Strike, they will explore a 30-year history of a group of family and friends and aim to tell the story of what happened to these people during and after the strike. Professor Selina Todd, who is originally from the North East, will also talk about her book The People: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class.

Poetry guests include Frances Leviston, Clare Pollard and Festival laureate Sinéad Morrissey, who will be writing a new poem for the festival.

For full programme and booking go to