The title of the festival reflects the wishes of the benefactors who, a few years ago, left a significant bequest to the borough library services. It also reflects the fact that history reminds that at least one of the world´s greatest ideas emerged from the town. Visitors to this year´s event, if new to the borough, can visit Touchstones Arts And Heritage Centre and The Co-operative Pioneers´ Museum on the quaintly cobbled Toad Lane to learn more about how thirteen men generated not only a global phenomenon but what could also surely be called a global philosophy. This town was the birthplace of The Co-Operative Movement, still an important force around the world.

This year’s Rochdale Literature And Ideas Festival, under the guidance of new to post Festival Director, Fiona Elizabeth Brown, has been organised in collaboration with Rochdale MBC, through money generated from ticket sales, The Maskew Bequest and the JGM Agency. The Festival team of 2019 are again working with a range of local organisations that share a passion for the written and spoken word and events include, for the second consecutive year, a series of ´Generation Z´ events aimed at young people from 14 to 25 and supported by Arts Council England.

Booking details of any of the events described below can be found at

After an official launch, to be held in The Touchstones Arts And Heritage Centre on Monday 14th October, Rochdale Literature And Ideas Festival 2019 includes names like poet and author Sophie Hannah and much loved broadcaster and presenter John Craven, so much a part of my childhood television viewing on Blue Peter.

The Maskews´ inclusion of a call to promote ideas and philosophy through their generous bequest to Rochdale Borough Library Services will see the unveiling at this event of a blue plaque at the venue in honour of the couple who made these annual events possible.

The event also promises the debut of a graphic novel, specially commissioned, that tells how Frank and Annie met, and tracing the impact their generosity has had on the library specifically and the arts and culture scene in Rochdale in general.

Visitors will hear from community leaders as well as the graphic designer and from Will Hussey, the author who created this novel. He specialises in ´transformational thinking´ and has a degree in Physical And Adventure Education, which is a term he thinks could usefully replace the single word education in our language ! Will works with colleagues under the collective name of The Art Of Brilliance who have been described as ´a catalyst for making big differences out of little changes,´ an epithet the Maskews would surely enjoy.

From then on, throughout the week, there will be more than thirty events staged at around a dozen venues. All the libraries in the Borough will be participating in the festival and major venues range from the exquisite old town hall that gazes down on the statue of the town´s most famous daughter, Gracie Fields, to the ultra-modern and award winning Number One Riverside Building, standing by a tumbling wharf, that houses the central library and all the council offices in its Tardis like interior. The theatre, conference rooms and sports centre complex that is Middleton Arena are staging events, too, as is the long established Curtain Theatre and the Rochdale Sixth Form College theatre.

Hotels like The Royal Toby will host functions as well and noteworthy real ale pubs like The Baum, that sits in the shadow of a magnificent and moody church, with its arms wrapped around the Pioneer´s Co-operative Museum, will surely draw artists and audience alike. Meanwhile the cosy little art gallery at Number 10 and the revived Hare Hill House in Littleborough will accommodate performances and workshops.

Spectators and fans will surely wander through all the townships in the Borough and hundreds are bound to visit the tiny market on The Butts and the site of the ´revealed river,´ the result of one of the more recent renovations in a town that nestles in the foothills of The Pennines, if just a little too much under their rain shadow.

So, when the 2019 Rochdale Literature And Ideas Festival begins next week, following a busy few months of social media campaigning, it will include well known faces of authors, philosophers and personalities as well as new talent.

The Festival is currently being unveiled with an introductory event at The Touchstones Arts And Heritage Centre, even as I write this article, on Saturday 5th October, with a work titled Rumi: The Alchemy Of Love that is described as poetry and performance with music. Presented in partnership with MACFEST UK, The Muslim Arts And Cultural Festival, this performance celebrates the unique and inspiring thirteenth century poet and philosopher. His influential work transcends national borders and bridges ethnic divisions around the world. I have already been texted by a friend attending the event telling me that Rumi´s intriguing Alchemy Of Love is being excellently performed by Gulcn Bulut and The Sahba Ensemble. I am told the performance displays a robust fragility and unshakeable serenity, and certainly that was something I, too, felt four or five years ago when visiting important sites in Turkey, commemorating Rumi.

Following the official opening event and unveiling of that plaque, there will follow on Tuesday 15th October at Rochdale Sixth Form College, Queerly Autistic, a piece that looks at not only what it means to be autistic and but also how much more it means to be autistic whilst coming to terms with your sexuality and gender issues. The event will be hosted by the self-described ´queer, autistic blogger´ Erin Ekins who was part of a Channel 4 documentary called Are You Autistic? Erin´s blog, Queerly Autistic, has been featured by broadcaster and journalist Victoria Derbyshire and on Radio 5 Live.

Erin focuses on autism, invisible disability and LGBTQIA+ issues. From the perspective of an autistic adult, Erin engages audiences and readers across the country to raise awareness about equality, inter-sectionality attitudes towards autistic people and the importance of ensuring that the autistic, disabled and LLGBTQIA+ members of our population are not failed by their local councils and wider authorities.

Following shortly after that at the same Sixth Form College venue on the same evening of Tuesday 15th October is Thinking Outside The Books. This event will demonstrate that philosophy is not, as some would have us believe, a passion only of boring people in dusty old libraries. By thinking outside the books you can use philosophy to keep your life on track in its emotional health and well-being. Jules Evans is a philosopher, writer and speaker who is interested in ideas and practices that help to achieve that. His first book, Philosophy For Life And Other Dangerous Situations has been selected as a Times Book Of The Year and has been published in twenty countries. The text re-introduces Ancient Greek and Roman Philosophy to our modern age and Jules also co-wrote and co-presented the BBC Radio 5 series, My Life As A Philosopher.

Hormonal Houswives

Now then, listen up any guys out there who might be reading this. One of my most abiding, and terrifying, memories of all The Rochdale Literature And Ideas Festivals I was involved in is of being one of a handful of men amongst hundreds of women watching Jenny Éclair deliver a brilliantly funny, but manic and somewhat scary comedy routine at Middleton Arena. I was sitting with several female colleagues from the Library Services and didn´t know where to look as Jenny went into graphic details about the mental and physical changes that occur to women of a certain age. Beware guys, it sounds like more of the same might be out there as three women under the collective title of Hormonal Housewives share their thoughts. We are promised / warned that ´no subject is taboo, no thought too private.´ So guys, go on, I dare you. It’s only been a few years since I saw Jenny Éclair and I´m getting a bit better with every passing day. The Hormonal Housewives appear at the Middleton Arena on Tuesday 15th October at 7.30 pm.

Anyway, you should be able to recover your equilibrium the following day by attending Millie´s Marvellous Afternoon Tea Party from 2.00 pm to 4.00 pm on Wednesday 16th October in Rochdale Town Hall.

The gathering will be hosted by Sunday Times Best Selling Author, Milly Johnson, who is often called The Queen Of Feel-Good Fiction. She will be sharing the wit and humour that have earned her that title and that has taken her current novel, The Magnificent Mrs. Mayhew into the top five of the current Sunday Times Best-Sellers list. Milly Johnson will talk about the book, described by The Sunday Express as ´a warm hug of a book, with a distractingly hot local vicar thrown in!’ and visitors can enjoy a delicious afternoon tea in The Clock Tower Dining Room in what remains one of the most impressive town halls in the country.

It might be around twenty years ago, when Pam McKee and I were working as Artists In School under the name of Just Poets, that we first came across Liverpool poet Terry Caffrey. I was massively impressed by his lyrical lines and Pam was hugely impressed by his audience rapport. His unique selling factor was an ability to tap his head and shoulders, knees and toes in time and onomatopoeia  to his words in a way that enthralled school children. He was an engaging conversationalist we discovered as we spent off duty time with him at school one week, and was as passionate about introducing young people to poetry as we were.

Terry Caffrey
football poet

Terry Caffrey is, these days, poet in residence at The National Football Museum at Manchester´s Bridgewater Hall and has, too, held a similar post at The National Coal Mining Museum in Wakefield. I also remember a couple of poetry slams at The Citadel Theatre in St. Helens that Just Poets participated in, which were hosted by Terry who, we are assured, remains the same laid back person he was then, still full of laughter and eagerness to enthuse others with his love of poetry,

You can catch Terry on Wednesday 17th October at 5.30 pm in Touchstones Arts And Heritage Centre, where later the same evening you can meet Women Who Write Dystopia.

Not only do readers and lovers of fiction attend these festivals, of course, but so, too, do aspirant writers wanting to know more about writing technique and the whole agency / publishing process.

The fact that the Borough of Rochdale has three major creative writing groups, Weaving Words, Touchstones and Langley Writers ensures that any of the town´s Literature And Ideas Festival events featuring authors draws CWG members like moths to a flame. Any of them who might be feeling frustrated or at a loss as to where to go next with their writing will surely be attending a writing master class taster created by Dream Author Coaching and presented by poet and novelist Sophie Hannah. The author will speak in depth about writing technique and how to maximise your talents. So whether or not a writer has just written THE END at the foot of the final page of a tenth novel or has just written CHAPTER ONE on the first page of a yet to be first novel, there will be plenty of useful information here.

Sophie Hannah

Sophie Hannah books sell in millions around the world and she has had a psychological crime novel called the Point Of Rescue adapted for television. She has also written three authorised novels featuring Agatha Christie´s iconic Hercules Poirot and recently she helped create a Master´s degree in Crime And Thriller Writing at The University Of Cambridge.

Sophie presents How To Think And What To Do To Make Your Writing Dreams Come True, and we are promised she will do exactly what it says on the tin. The event is at The Royal Toby on Thursday 17th October at 4.30 pm and is sure to be very busy, so with only a few days left it might be useful to try to book now.

Yet another memorable event is scheduled for the following day at Rochdale Literature and Ideas Festival with a reading called Remember, presented by Yvonne Battle-Felton, an American author, now living in Lancashire producing fiction and creative non-fiction. She is a multi-award winning writer who has won The Northern Writers Award  and has seen her debut novel, Remembered, long-listed for the Woman´s Prize For Fiction 2019.

´Some books both break your heart and set you free. Remembered will change you,´ Rachel Edwards has said of this work about segregation and slavery.

The review publication Bookliterati called the book ´emotive, erudite and breath-taking’ and the Irish Times agreed that readers will find ´Remembered will stay with you long after its reading.´

Yvonne Battle-Felton appears at Touchstones Arts And Heritage Centre at 6.30 pm on Friday 18th October, in another not to be missed event.

John Craven
tv presenter

Headlines and Hedgerows is a familiar sounding title of an event that will feature John Craven OBE, who started presenting John Craven´s Newsround in 1972. Hands up if you were one of the first generation of young people to watch a news programme prepared especially for their age group and their interests with its items presented in a way that made us feel grown up.

May I put my hand down now? I have an article to finish.

His place on The Children’s List Of 100 All Time Greats remains secure and john Craven is still a firm TV favourite with my generation (you know, sixtyish or maybe sixty eight or nine-ish), as he currently is a regular presenter on Countryfile. It is nearly twenty years since he appeared on the Michael Aspel presentation of This Is Your Life but even since being deservedly recognised in that way his career has gone from strength to strength and his genuine smile and burred accent remain the same as ever.

Nevertheless many people overlook the fact that John Craven is also a pop star, having had a number one hit as part Gareth Malone’s All Star Choir that made a recording for Children In Need.

The reason Headlines And Hedgerows might be a slightly familiar sounding name for his talk is because it is also the title of his long-awaited autobiography. This special event at this year´s Rochdale Literature And Ideas Festival offers you a unique opportunity to hear the legendary broadcaster in person, when he speaks at the town´s Sixth Form College on Friday 18th October at 6.30 pm.

On Saturday 19th October Littleborough Arts Festival joins The Rochdale Literature And Ideas Festival to invite you to join them in a creative writing day-school that provides you with opportunities to attend poetry and/or prose workshops.

Throughout the events of the day you will look at how landscape has been represented in literature. You will be invited to take  part in enjoyable, but practical writing exercises. These will be facilitated by Anna Chilvers and Sally Baker, two published writers and experienced teachers. You can bring your own lunch or catch a snack at the nearby café. This is all taking place at Hare Hill House which sits in a lovely setting in a local park, and begins at 10.00 am in the morning, running through until four o´clock in the afternoon of Saturday 19th October.

Any even occasional reader of our Sidetracks And Detours posts on the all across the arts blog will know that we fully believe that the arts, particularly Poetry, Can Change The World and that is in fact the title of what sounds an especially interesting event that runs from 10.30 to 11.30 am on the same day of Saturday 19th. This seems an unfortunate clash of two events perhaps likely to be of interest to aspirant writers as well as the more casual visitor. This event is being held at Touchstones Arts And Heritage Centre and will be hosted by the Glasgow born poet, Kate Clanchy MBE. She will read sections of, and discuss, her award winning poetry. We understand she will bring fascinating insights into the art of discovery and the route to learning.

This former poet-in-residence at Oxford Spires Academy frequently works with migrant and refugee children helping them to refine their talents as she mentors them to become world class poets.

The wonderful author Philip Pullman read Kate´s book called Some Kids I Taught And What They Taught Me. He spoke of it, in review, as ´the best book on teachers and children and writing´ that he had ever read. He added, ´No one has said better so much of what so badly needs saying. I want to see this book become a best-seller, I want to see it in every staffroom. I want to see it read by every student teacher. This is a wonderful achievement.´

Later the same day, at the same venue, another award-winning author, Sally Gardner, hosts the first event at The Rochdale Literature And Ideas Festival to focus on dyslexia, reading and writing. Sally is motivated by the fact that when she was only eleven years old  she was told that she was ´word blind´ and classified as ´unteachable.´ She later gained five O levels and a place at Art School and has since written and illustrated highly acclaimed books for children and young people with titles like Maggot Moon and her most recent publication The Wind In The Wall.

I notice that also at this event will be other expert speakers including a lady, Helen Chicot, who always was so impressive even when I was working in Rochdale. Helen, The Rochdale MBC ¨Place Lead´ is one of the Borough´s Community Champions and she will talk about her role of supporting adults with dyslexia and other literacy issues. I remember her as being a tireless worker and a very approachable advisor and I´m sure she will prove a fount of all knowledge at this event for those wanting to find additional local help with these issues. The event begins at mid-day on Saturday 19th October. Don´t let the thought distract you as you listen, but I´ll let you in on one of Rochdale´s worst kept secrets. Our literary champion Helen is also accordion player and dancer with the wonderful Clog Heritage, who perform at many local festivals.

Most of you will have seen the late Robin Williams in the wonderful film Mrs. Doubtfire but have you ever read the book from which the film was adapted? The story, in print, was called Madame Doubtfire and it is more than thirty years now since it was first published. It was written by a lady called Anne Fine who went on to become the first author to be named as Children´s Laureate. Anne will host her book club at Rochdale Sixth Form College and will invite her audience to ask questions and join in with discussion about that book, her subsequent career, her work in progress and her future plans.

If you can exit from this event pretty sharpish you should be able to reach The Curtain Theatre in time for a 1.30 pm talk by author Peter Magrs who has written a book that is perhaps unique of all the commemorations that will emerge in this 200th anniversary of an infamous local event that has become known as The Peterloo Massacre.

Many people from the Rochdale area of Manchester were involved, in one way another, in a march and peaceful demonstration convened a few miles away in St. Peter´s Field in Manchester. The crowd that had gathered, to urge the reform of parliamentary representation, were charged by a Yeoman cavalry with their sabres raised and eighteen people were killed and more than seven hundred injured amongst the crowd of an estimated 70,000 people.

Paul Magrs
takes us back to Peterloo

What makes Paul Magrs view so different is that his work looks at this period of history through the eyes of a well-known time traveller in Doctor Who; The Peterloo Massacre, an audio drama, produced by Big Finish and featuring (the 5th Doctor in the TV versions) Peter Davidson. Illustrators Polyp and Eva Schlunke will also be speaking at this event.

This won´t be the first time the Festival has commemorated Peterloo. I remember being one of more than a dozen Rochdale poets performing a reading of The Mask Of Anarchy, a famous poem by Shelley that describes the sorry events, in the wonderfully eerie St. Mary In The Baum church in the inaugural Literature And Ideas Festival. We were accompanied by a wonderful folk duo playing the lament, The Fields of Peterloo.

The Festival is certainly a busy schedule this year, but if you can find the time, visit the Ring O Bells pub and The Old Boars Head, across the road from each other in the Middleton township. There are interconnecting underground tunnels between the hostelries that lead into Manchester and helped some Rochdale people escape from the events that unfolded that day in Peterloo.

At 4.00 pm, on Saturday 19th October at The Curtain Theatre, in the Deeplish area of the town, just around the corner from Crescent Community Radio where I used to present a weekly all across the arts programme with jazz hound Steve Bewick, you could learn to draw a Grindylow. Some say these can be found along the banks of The River Roch just outside Rochdale Central Library at this venue of Number One Riverside.

You could even learn to draw the kind of Boggart that hides in your attic, and perhaps even how to sketch an Ashwinder or an Erkling or even a Fwooper. Olivia Lomenach Gill, is the award-winning illustrator of Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. She is also highly acclaimed for her illustrations in Michael Morpurgo´s story of Where My Wellies Take Me. It should be fascinating to hear Olivia talk about the inspirations and design processes that give her creations their unique and magical personalities.

Rochdale Parish Church at St. Chad seems an appropriate location for an event called God And The Gogglebox in the early evening of Saturday 19th October. She always has a cup of tea close to hand and her humour, wit and innate common sense have seen the Reverend Kate Bottley become firm favourite on the programme with the title this event has borrowed.

So much so, in fact, that Kate now also hosts Good Morning Sunday on BBC Radio 4 with Jason Mohammed and she has, too, appeared several times on Songs of Praise, taken Pause For Thought on BBC Radio One´s breakfast show and also took a turn on Celebrity Masterchef. This historic church will surely a perfect setting as Kate talks about her own philosophy of life as well as wider issues of faith and well-being.

You might, then, after such a very busy diary for the Saturday, expect the following day of Sunday 20th October to be set aside as a day of rest. It might be appropriate, therefore, to take in the master class taster of practical support for your own manuscript in progress,….at whatever stage of progress that might be. Matilda Johnson of The Golden Egg Academy will help you consider how to start it, or if you have already done so, then on how to continue it and if you have made all that progress then will advise, too, on how to finish it. This will take place in the intriguing nooks and crannies of Number 10 Art Gallery that sits in one of the loveliest little alley ways in Rochdale. It begins, though, at 10.00 a.m. so don´t expect a lie in after all those activities yesterday.

In fact, Princess BMX and her author, Marie Basting, will have ben long up and about in search of ´the extreme sporting hero´ we all have inside us. There´ll be flying tea-bags and videos of BMX brilliance all introduced by an author who has worked with Rochdale Council for several years. This is a noon event on Sunday 20th October at Rochdale Sixth Form College, where two further events will be held later in the afternoon.

Robert Reschild Stanley was, more than hundred years ago, twice the mayor of Stalybridge a few miles down the road, and his story will certainly still be relevant today in the multi-cultural borough of Rochdale. Stanley was one of the first white men known to have converted to Islam and helped establish the first mosques to be built in England. When he died that element of his life was kept concealed until his great-great-great granddaughter, Christine Longden began exploring her family tree that these roots were again uncovered.

She will talk about this at 2.00 pm, describing how  she grew up in the Tameside area around Stalybridge and was the first of her family to attend university. She now manages the Lorna Young Foundation that supports struggling farmers in developing countries and her family, along with two others, have worked collaboratively to establish the ethical company, Dark Woods Coffee.

She has now documented all this in two books, collectively entitled His Own Man that piece together Stanley´s life, faith and family

Following this you could stay at the same smart, modern venue to hear a talk from a poet and writer who has created ´a powerful debut collection, heartfelt and original. Hafsah Bashir has a voice that rips your heart out.´

At 3.30 pm Hafsah will talk about her work as a writer, playwright and performance poet based in Manchester. She will reveal how she became a founder and co-director of Outside The Frame Arts, which serves as a strong platform for marginalised or under-represented voices. She will also speak about The Celox And The Clot, that debut publication that earned her such praise, when published last year by Burning Eye Books.

Hafsah currently serves as Writer In Residence, representing the town of Longsight in The annual Manchester Arts Festival, and is also a supported artist of The Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, as part of that organisation´s excellent community outreach approach. She has quickly become an established Festival performer, with sell- out talks and readings and important fellowships acquired along the way.

For the final day of Rochdale Literature And Ideas Festival 2019 we return to the ´mother ship ‘at Number One Riverside, and once inside you will see how apposite that tile is. It is a modernistic building of hidden offices and infinite horizons

There are still three events scheduled for daylight hours on Monday 21st October

The first is a child-friendly session that sees Hannah Lee introducing, at 10.00 a.m.,  My Hair, a new book for children that has been labelled as ´heart-warming, joyous and vibrant´ about a little girl´s search for the best party hair.  The book was highly commended in the Faber And Amblyn BAME Prize For Writing. This will be a fun morning of arts and crafts and lots of laughs as children design their own unique hair styles and create their own stories. There will be more fun in the same venue later on at 11.30 a.m. If you are anywhere between the ages of maybe six to ninety-six, then the chances are that somewhere along the way, between Gran´s End and Dawn O´Groats, you will have enjoyed laughing along with the Shiny Pippin books written by Harry Heape. In fact, the author promises that this will be a fun and inter-active event that, like all his stories, will have a beginning, a muddle and an end.

Konnie Huq

The afternoon event begins at 2.00 pm with Cookie Haque, a funny, science obsessed character who is ready to take on the world. Cookie is introduced by author, broadcaster and former Blue Peter presenter, Konnie Huq. Cookie is involved in a new series of live draw-alongs, brain busters and games galore so be ready for non-stop comedy fun.

To take a breather afterwards, browse around the aisles to meet the L & I´s friends from the Museum of Science And Industry as they conduct engineering experiments, build kaleidoscopes and offer you all sorts of things to see and do. From dinosaurs to digital, there will be something here for everyone.

The closing event of the entire Rochdale Literature And Ideas Festival 2019 will be held in the evening, just across The Butts, past the statue of Gracie Fields and into the magnificent structure that is Rochdale Town Hall.

For this closing event, though, you might find tickets hard to come by as sold out notices for this ´closing ceremony´ are already being posted.

The event will deliver a performance-reading of the Borough´s competition for playwrights between the ages of fourteen and twenty five, and this will then be followed by a drinks reception where you can share your thoughts on the proposed renovation and restoration of this building with its Great Halls, wide, winding stairs, historic panelled rooms and council chambers that will forever have us thinking, ´wow, if these walls could talk!´

At this event, A Different Story of Rochdale: Tales From The Town Hall you may have the chance to see some of these rooms you probably haven´t yet seen and also learn about plans for the multi-million pounds Heritage Lottery Funding renovations that will take place when the building is closed in 2021.

So, to summarise after what is undoubtedly an extensive event listing, I would urge you to catch whatever you can that takes your fancy. Rochdale is not-so-slowly recovering ground it lost to neighbouring areas economically and in the leisure industry, and there seem to be exciting times ahead.

Rochdale has old churches and modern museums, exclusive galleries and ´people´s galleries´ amongst its arts venues. It has drama and dance, debate and dialect verse, and I have fond memories of gales of laughter that somehow always led to profound periods of concentration and contemplation.

It is, after all, The Rochdale Literature And Ideas Festival, intended to be fun, thought provoking and to compel you to look again at a newly energetic town determined to escape the doldrums that have becalmed the area for more than fifty years. Remember, though, that singer Lisa Stanfield has, in the words of her biggest hit, been All Around The World and yet maintains her strong roots with her hometown and still has the Gracielands recording studio in the area. 

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