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Line-up revealed for Essex Book Festival 2021

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Essex Book Festival is thrilled to announce its spectacular extended summer programme, combining digital and in-person events with a WORDS MATTER theme at its core.

Spanning across three months from 6th June to 29th August, the Festival will be welcoming over 200 speakers to take part in 100 events in 40 venues across the Essex, including a new international digital twinning with Emerging Writers Festival, a kindred festival in Melbourne, and the inaugural Essex Book Camp hosted at Cressing Temple Barns, home to the World’s oldest solid oak beam barn and erstwhile stronghold of the mysterious Knights Templar.

The festival opens with its WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT ESSEX GIRLS LAUNCH, a digital event featuring three fabulously talented, feisty and fearless women of Essex: Sarah Perry, Syd Moore, Sadie Hasler. Join them in a candid and comic discussion as they dismantle the Essex stereotypes and reshape expectations.

Set to entertain, challenge and inspire, this year’s programme combines a series of author events tackling issues such as race, gender, and the politics of borders, running in tandem with eight intriguing artist led walks fresh off the press for 2021: In My Steps: Radical Walks in Essex;  author talks galore featuring the likes of beloved Costa Book of the Year Winner Monique Roffey, barrister, activist and debut author Alexandra Wilson, rock star-turned-author Mat Osman of Suede fame, and much loved historian Alison Weir. All shining a light on the extraordinary creativity of Essex. 

Meanwhile, this year’s first ever Essex Book Camp and festival finale, will be packed with a huge array of events, including bookish conversations and debates with Dr Hilary Jones, novelist Georgina Harding and others; family writing workshops, storytelling, dance, circus, live music, inventive eco-crafts, plus complimentary drop-in family yoga sessions to help festival goers relax into the scenic landscape of Cressing Temple Barns’ rural idyll.  In other words, an August Bank Holiday paradise for book lovers and others alike!

With events taking place in venues and locations as diverse as Jaywick Martello Tower; Clacton Library; the UK’s most extraordinary house, Talliston House & Gardens; Harlow Museum; The Witches Trail, which extends from Manningtree to Mistley; Layer Marney Tower, one of Henry VIII’s favourite Tudor palaces; Hadleigh Country Park; Canvey Heights, one of the UK’s lowest flying mountains; and HMP/YOI Chelmsford, expect the unexpected: this is an odyssey not to be missed.

Ros Green, Festival Director of Essex Book Festival, said: “We are so excited about this year’s extended hybrid Essex Book Festival, which will be taking place online and in person in 40+ venues across Essex, June 6th – 29th August. Not just because it’s actually happening – a huge hurrah to that – but because of all the great new things in the mix. Whether that’s the inspired digital twinning between our Southend-based Pop Up Essex Writers House and kindred spirit Melbourne-based Emerging Writers Festival; something we would never have considered pre-pandemic. Our fascinatingly feisty launch event: We Need To Talk About Essex Girls, featuring 3 leading Essex Girls: Sarah Perry, Syd Moore and Sadie Hasler. Get those Essex Girls jokes at the ready. Or a walk or two on the wild side with our new series of In My Steps: Radical Walks in Essex led by the likes of Ken Worpole, James Canton and Gillian Darley. Watch out for those low-flying mountains on Canvey Island! It really is all to play for in 2021, so come and join in the fun.” 

Tickets will be going on sale online from 29 April 2021



LBC radio presenter and political commentator Iain Dale heads to the Cramphorn Theatre to discuss his empowering part-polemic, part-memoir book Why Can’t We All Just Get Along: Shout Less and Listen More. Scottish journalist and TV presenter Gavin Esler will be talking to Professor Lorna Fox O’ Mahoney about his latest book How Britain Ends, which analyzes the fraying ties binding the UK together. Agnieszka Dale, Sylwia Chutnik and Index on Censorship’s Leah Cross will be joining forces to talk about Poland Today: Women, Censorship and Human Rights; a conversation around why women and the LGBTQ+ community in Poland have been silenced and marginalized under the current right-wing, populist government and how this has impacted literature. Windrush campaigner Patrick Vernon OBE will be appearing at Basildon Library to discuss his book 100 Great Black Britons, which explores the role Black Britons have played in the island’s history over the past thousand years and the continued inequality faced by black communities across the UK.


Taking the festival to the great outdoors is In My Steps: Radical Walks in Essex, a series of artist-led walks to be hosted by Tom King, Syd Moore, Dorian Kelly, James Canton, Hartle O’Hare, Ken Worpole and Gillian Darley.  Join them as they explore Canvey Island, follow in the footsteps of John Ball in Colchester, bunker down with the Roundheads on Marks Hall Estate, keep time with the Essex Witches between Mistley and Manningtree, take a closer look at St Peter on the Wall Church, one of the UK’s oldest buildings. These ventures are interweaved with the history and politics of the county, and are sure to shine a new light on Essex.


Fiction fans will be spoilt for choice with the line-up of literary superstars, including award-winning author Monique Roffey who will be joining the festival to discuss her poignant novel The Mermaid of Black Conch. Critically acclaimed novelist Claire Fuller will talk about her latest novel Unsettled Ground, which has been long listed for the 2021 Women’s Fiction Prize. New York Times bestseller Liz Trenow will be at Billericay Library presenting her latest coming of age, mystery The Secrets of the Lake, while and writer, presenter and podcaster Christine Penhall will be visiting Clacton Library to discuss her sun-drenched summer read The House That Bult Alice.

Offering a host of fresh new talent, Essex Book Festival welcomes Observer Top 10 Debut novelist Louise Hare to speak about her critically acclaimed novel This Lovely City. Abigail Dean will share insights into research behind her Sunday Times bestseller Girl A. Tammye Huf will discuss her hugely popular debut A More Perfect Union. Novelist Naomi Ishiguro will introduce her fiction debut Common Ground. A.K. Blakemore will talk us through the events that inspired her first novel The Manningtree Witches.

In addition, audiences will be treated to in conversations with ex-Director of GCHQ David Omand who will be recounting the lessons learnt from a career at the top of the espionage tree; Wild Writer and this year’s Essex Read James Canton will be heading to Colchester Library to discuss his latest book The Oak Papers, and Essex writer and journalist Tom King will be discussing his new edition of Thames Estuary Trail – A Journey round the End of the World.

For crime aficionados, the festival’s Criminally Good Day returns with Samantha Lee Howe sharing the success of her latest thriller House of Killers, and author and bassist of British rock band Suede Mat Osman who will be talking about his new novel The Ruins. Other highlights include family law barrister Alexandra Wilson who will be sharing the story behind her moving memoir In Black and White, and fellow lawyer and crime writer Frances Fyfield who will be joined in conversation with Nigel Simeone and Perriam Geraldine as they explore the life of Patricia Highsmith.

Other authors taking to the digital and hybrid stage include mythographer and cultural historian Marina Warner, who will joined by artist Sophie Herxheimer to talk about the remarkable family legends behind her latest book Inventory of a Life Mislaid – An unreliable Memoir. Alison Weir heads to Layer Marney Tower, to recount the extraordinary history that’s at the heart of her book Katherine Parr, The Sixth Wife. While critic and satirist Craig Brown and local broadcast legend Tony Fisher are set to discuss Brown’s funny and enlightening One, Two, Three, Four: The Beatles In Time – Winner of the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction 2020.


The legendary Ben Okri will be joined by Dr Jak Peake in a virtual event to discuss his latest work A Fire in My Head, covering topics ranging from Grenfell Tower, the refugee crisis to the impact of Covid 19.

Playwright Nicola Werenowska presents a live digital viewing of her new play MASKED. Contemporary composer and visual artist Lily Hunter Green collaborates with Essex Steamettes – a group of young female digital coders aged 9-19 years – to present a new immersive work SHE HEALS at the Old Waterworks Gallery, Southend. While Chelmsford Library hosts Poetry in Lockdown to launch an inspiring collection of poems and artwork created by the prisoners at HMP/YOI Chelmsford reflecting the challenges they faced during the peak of the pandemic.


The Young Essex programme returns this year with a series of special events. These include an online author talk with Justin Somper about his bestselling children’s series Vampirates; a Makaton Workshop with Ace Music Therapy CIC; The Tindims of Rubbish Island Workshop with Mother and Daughter team and budding ecologists Sally Gardner and Lydia Corry at Old Harlow Library. And, of course, the fabulous Essex Book Camp at Cressing Temple Barns where  families can enjoy  some of  East Anglia’s finest storytellers; Scallywag Books children’s authors Rob Ramsden, Inbal Leitner, Deborah Chancellor, Rose Robbins and Marjoke Henrichs who will be running a rolling programme of workshops and author readings throughout the day; children’s writer Josie Dom’s crafty sports extravaganza Animalympics; traditional sun-printing with artist Angenita Hardy Bowers, Active Essex’s family yoga sessions …


The Pop-Up Essex Writers House returns for a fourth year to host a three-month programme of writing workshops and activities at Chalkwell Hall in Southend. Events include a series of in-person and digital author events; Creative Journaling Workshop: Walk, Swim, Write Session: Fens, Forests & Fields: Bike Ride; Library Love Letters; Writers Hot Desks …

Other workshops highlights include Writing the Wild with James Canton; Period Writing Workshop with Alec Marsh; How to Write Your First Novel Workshop with musician-turned-author Mat Osman, and industry expert and editor Maddy Glenn who will be revealing top tips on self-editing with her digital Successful Self-Editing and Routes to Self-Publishing Workshop.

Essex Book Festival is hosting a series of Rewriting the Archive Digital Workshops in partnership with Harlow Museum, Southend Museum and Thurrock Museum. Workshop leaders include UK-based Polish writer Agnieszka Dale, Essex writer and activist Syd Moore, and British Romany contemporary artist and performer Delaine Le Bas.

The festival is also hosting a series of Writing the Place Workshops as part of its’ Story Hunter Project and Flash Fiction Competition designed to get people out and about exploring Essex, while honing their writing skills at the same time. The workshops will be led by Jonathan Crane, Glenys Newton & Majid Adin, Agnieszka Dale and A.K. Blakemore.

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