Birmingham Literature Festival launches tomorrow, commencing a week of performances, interviews and immersive experiences, celebrating Birmingham’s literary heritage and the writing talent emerging across the city.
While other cities like London and Edinburgh might feature more prominently in British fiction, make no mistake; Birmingham’s literary credentials are well-established. American author Washington Irving wrote his two most famous stories, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle, while living in Birmingham, and he returned to the city numerous times to write. His novel, Braceridge Hall, takes place in a fictionalised version of Aston Hall. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the iconic consulting detective Sherlock Holmes, also wrote a number of his earlier works in Birmingham, and the city features in several Holmes stories.
And poet W.H. Auden, perhaps best known for the sombre ‘Stop all the clocks,’ recited in Four Weddings & A Funeral, lived in Birmingham for almost 30 years; he famously used to stroll around his neighbourhood in Harborne wearing just his dressing gown! Auden wrote some of his best-known verses in Birmingham, including ‘As I walked out one evening,’ in which he vividly and fondly describes the city — and in a letter to Lord Byron, he even rejects the Lake District favoured by William Wordsworth and other Romantic poets in favour of “the view from Birmingham to Wolverhampton.”
Birmingham can also claim perhaps one of the most successful and influential writers in the romance genre, the prolific Dame Barbara Cartland, who wrote over 700 novels and at the time of her death was the Guinness World Record holder for best-selling author of all time.
And then there’s Dorridge’s John Wyndham, author of two of novels which helped define 20th century science fiction, Day Of The Triffids and The Midwich Cuckoos (better known by the title of its silver-screen adaptation, Village of the Damned).
More recently, Orange Prize nominee Catherine O’Flynn and New York Times bestselling author Mike Gayle have been flying the flag for Birmingham.
This year’s festival includes a diverse range of fiction, poetry and performance across the city, with writers sharing how the immigrant experience and growing up in the region has shaped their work. Highlights include the ‘Backward Running Dinner’, an edible journey through foodie literature, and an audience with two proud Brummies, comedian Joe Lycett and outspoken MP Jess Phillips. If you’ve ever been interested in learning more about the creative process, or you just fancy hearing some rollicking good stories, then there’s no better time!