WITH autumn now upon us, the darker nights offer the perfect excuse to settle down with a good book. And if you’re in need of inspiration of what to read next, Durham Book Festival will be serving up plenty of ideas.

The annual event, which starts on Saturday, will once again see a raft of household names coming to Durham to talk about their work. This year’s headliners include Joanne Harris, David Nicholls, Alexander McCall Smith, Jeremy Vine and Roger McGough.

We’ll also be welcoming the return of the popular Big Read event, when 3,000 free copies of Colm Tóbín’s Costa Novel award-winning Brooklyn will be handed out across the county, with people encouraged to discuss the book at workshops and other events.

Meanwhile, the Little Read will bring picture books to life for the under 10s, with copies of Perfectly Noman by Tom Percival distributed to every primary school in the county.

The book festival is a great way to celebrate the written word but activities such as the Big and Little Reads also reflect our commitment to promoting reading and literacy among all ages.

This month, for example, we will also be supporting National Libraries Week, promoting services, events and activities through social media. And you don’t have to visit our libraries in person to take advantage of the services available.

Almost 10,000 ebooks and 1,000 audiobooks are available to borrow through our Borrowbox service which can be downloaded as an app, while younger readers can also access books online via Fiction Express, which gives them the opportunity to contribute their ideas to ‘live books’ presented in weekly instalments. Working with the Book Trust, we also subscribe to Letterbox Club, a service providing colourful book parcels to primary aged looked after children, encouraging them to develop a love of reading but also supplying books to children who may never had had their own before.

Research shows that there is a significant word gap in UK schools, meaning there are children whose lack of vocabulary significantly affects their learning and life chances. We’re working to address that through initiatives such as a podcast offering story-telling tips and a children’s literature conference for childminders.

No one should miss out on the joy of losing themselves in a good book, and in County Durham we are doing all we can to encourage that.

Cllr Simon Henig is leader of Durham County Council