Meeting Benjamin Zephaniah at Hexham Book Festival

Hexham Book Festival

Hexham Book Festival 2019

I look forward to Hexham Book Festival every year, and every year it just gets better. Held in various locations in and around Hexham, but based at the Queen’s Hall, this is an event not to be missed if you are a local lover of books. Cogito Books, Hexham’s independent bookstore, has a stall in the foyer of the Queens Hall, and every year I come away with an armful of new books, many of which have been signed by the authors after having met and chatted with them.

A new venue this year, the Phil and Lit Society on Hallstile Bank, made a great venue for a creative writing workshop led by Tim Pears last weekend. This was excellent. We were looking at how to use location to develop a character. Sent forth into a rainy Farmer’s Market, notebooks in hand, we lurked around the stalls looking for sensory titbits to use in our writing. The workshop was well attended, and Tim led an inspirational morning, giving some useful tips and exercises on developing characters.

Hexham Farmer's Market

This was followed by a hilarious stand up show from Natalie Haynes, at the Queens Hall, bringing the classics alive and making reference to her new book, ‘A Thousand Ships’. In this she concentrated on the stories of the women in the Trojan War, and I now have it on her book shelf waiting to be read. She proved herself to be very knowledgeable about the ancient Greeks, and a great feminist comedian to boot.

Busy with Nanny duties and then my daughter’s hen do on Saturday, I was unable to attend any of the excellent book readings during the week or on Saturday, but Sunday was filled with bookish treats. Firstly, I sat in the library listening to Annabel Abbs talk about her new novel, ‘Frieda’, based on the story of Frieda von Richthofen who, leaving her boring husband, discovered sensual freedom. She was forced to leave her three children when she embarked on a passionate affair with DH Lawrence. I was particularly interested in how Annabel did her research for this novel. I find so little written about some of our women in history, and so much more about the men in their lives. I have an idea for historical fiction, based around a woman from the nineteenth century, but am finding there is very little written about her. Annabel chatted to me and was most encouraging about my quest. Since coming home, I have read her book from cover to cover in two days. Laid up with a chest infection, this has been the perfect accompaniment to my sick bed.

Freida by Annabel Abbs
Freida By Annabel Abbs

However, the highlight for me this year, was seeing Benjamin Zephaniah, who was inspirational. Our lives have crossed in a few ways, having both lived on Prince’s Avenue in Toxteth in the early eighties.  I discovered that we were both in favour from the local car thieves who had told us both our cars were safe from being robbed.

We also both love the work of Bob Marley, and I told Benjamin that I was lucky enough to see Bob Marley Live in Brighton back in 1979.

We also sing off the same hymn sheet politically, and I was thrilled to be in the audience listening to Benjamin’s take on life. He performed a couple of his poems too, which was a treat.

I thought the interviewer however was terrible. He dwelt on the negatives, and couldn’t have been more alien, pointing out the social differences in his life to Benjamin’s. At one point, when asked about his father’s death, Benjamin broke down and wept. There was an awkward silence, which the interviewer did nothing to break. Poor Benjamin wiped tears and struggled to tell us he had just buried a fourteen year old friend who had died from an ecstasy overdose. The silence continued, and it took a member of the audience to break the ice by handing Benjamin a packet of tissues. I was on the cusp of getting out of my seat to take over!

I have admired his life and work for a long time, as has my mother. He was kind enough to sign a volume of his poetry which I shall be giving my mum on her eightieth birthday. I also got this fabulous photo of us together. I have just read his autobiography, ‘The Life and Rhymes of Benjamin Zephaniah’ which I can thoroughly recommend. I got my copy from the library.

Benjamin Zephaniah
Meeting Benjamin Zephaniah at Hexham Book Festival

Hexham Book Festival is sadly over for another year. I wish it could go on for ever! Hats off to the organisers, to The Queen’s Hall Arts Centre and to Cogito Books who did a super job of providing a broad spectrum of brilliant authors and their books, but also for the seamless running of this busy and popular event. It was so good to see so many coming out in Hexham to enjoy it. It was also a great excuse to have supper at The Beaumont Hotel in Hexham on more than one occasion.

I have a secret ambition that I will share with you. One day, I would like to have written a book myself, had it published, and be invited to talk about it at Hexham Book Festival. There, I’ve said it! It may never come true, but a girl can dream!

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