A LEADING literary festival has been hailed a success after returning to live audiences for the first time since Covid pandemic.

Durham Book Festival took place at the city’s Gala Theatre an closed on Sunday.

Having run online in 2020, this year’s festival offered a weekend full of live events alongside a digital programme, which is still available to watch until October 31.

Festival favourite, Chris Mullin, the former Sunderland MP, gave a lively and insightful talk on politics while crime writer Val McDermid was interviewed by fellow novelist Doug Johsntone.

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Former chancellor Ed Balls entertained crowds with tales of home and his love of food, as well as how he exceeded his children’s expectations as an embarrassing dad on Strictly.

Countryfile presenter Anita Rani shared her life story from growing up in Bradford to how she learned to code-switch to get on in the media, often as the only Asian woman in the room at the BBC.

Lemn Sissay, author of My Name Is Why, this year’s Durham Book Festival Big Read, had the audience both moved and gripped as he told the story of his childhood growing up in the care system as a black child.

Another sold-out event was the book launch of African Lives in Northern England, edited by Beverley Prevatt Goldstein, the audience sat rapt as they heard many little-known stories of black lives in the region from Roman times to the present day.

It was an emotional return to live events for many, touched upon by poet Rowan McCabe who had originally been booked to perform an earlier version of his live show, Hopeless Romantic, in 2020.

Durham County Councillor Elizabeth Scott said: “There has been so much to enjoy, with a wide range of events that inspired, entertained and educated.

“Our exciting line-up of award-winning writers proved very popular, and the hybrid programme of digital and in-person events meant even more people could engage in the activities.

“It has been fantastic to be able to bring people face-to-face with authors again, while our online activities enabled new audiences, to join in.”

Durham Book Festival is a Durham County Council festival produced by New Writing North with major support from Durham University and Arts Council England.

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Claire Malcolm, chief executive of New Writing North, said: “It has been so wonderful to see so many new and familiar faces this weekend at Durham Book Festival.

“We know that many people feel cautious about attending events and that it was a big deal to come out and meet people in a theatre again.

“I can say I have rarely felt such warmth and positivity from the festival audience.

“It was such a renewing feeling to be back in the room together. It seems like a simple thing – to come together to talk about books and ideas – but it is such a powerful one.

“We are also thrilled with the way the live-stream and the digital programme made it possible for people to access Durham Book Festival wherever they are.

“There is plenty still to discover and enjoy, so please do take a look on our website.”

Discover digital content online at DurhamBookFestival.com

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