Weardale WordFest – THE ARCHIVES!

Weardale WordFest 2019

This was only the second Weardale WordFest, but already it feels like an established occasion. It built on last year’s success with more contributors, more workshops and more people through the doors while maintaining its integrity as a free festival for and about Weardale. Jill Cole, director of the Northern Heartlands Great Place Scheme, opened WordFest on Friday evening, describing it as the ‘best small rural book festival in Co Durham’.

We then heard journalist and broadcaster, Caroline Beck, talk eloquently and passionately about ‘Ten Words for a Northern Landscape’*, a new podcast series created by Caroline, and launched at the WordFest. Caroline has lived in Weardale for twenty years, and she brought ten well-known writers to the Dale to go in search of what it means to live here. ‘Just extraordinary … radio at its finest’ is how a local listener rates the series which has already had over 1,000 downloads. You can access the first four episodes from the podcasts page of the New Writing North website.

On Saturday, St. Thomas’ Church Hall was buzzing! ‘A great event…. let me know the dates for next year as soon as you can,’ in the words of one participant. There were bookstalls, amazing cakes and, as always, plenty of compliments lavished on the catering! (thanks to Jo Hayes, Sarah Haynes and Liz Curry). The fabulous Agri(Culture) exhibition, by Wideyed Photography, was a hugely welcome addition for anyone who missed them touring the shows, in a converted cattle truck, in the summer.

Author and journalist, Phil Gates, who writes the Weardale Country Diary column for The Guardian newspaper, opened proceedings with his absorbing descriptions of natural phenomena and his journey to becoming a writer. Afterwards, he said: ‘it was just a joy to be part of something that celebrates this wonderful part of the world.’ Poet and novelist, Avril Joy, spoke movingly about her first poetry collection ‘Going in with Flowers’, reflecting on twenty-five years working in HMP Low Newton in Durham. And then Elizabeth Gill, who has had more than forty historical romance novels published, many of them set in Weardale, entertained the audience with some hilarious family anecdotes and memories of growing up in Tow Law. Elizabeth then stayed for lunch and a good gossip with some of her biggest fans from the Wheels to Meals community.

After lunch, WordFest welcomed back two extraordinarily successful local authors, Phil Mews and Margaret Manchester, who treated us to some fascinating and insightful revelations about the world of publishing, and their different experiences. The afternoon finished with a discussion with three contrasting writers, Pauline Messenger, Marie Gardiner and Amy Lord. Meanwhile, the under-thirteens enjoyed their own event, a writing and illustration workshop with children’s author, Rebecca Rose, which launched the 2019 NorthPens Children’s Creative Writing Award, ‘What lies beneath …’

Phil, Margaret and Pauline returned to the spotlight to open the evening session, each reading an extract from their new books, due out next year (you heard about the ‘Further adventures of the Orphan Boys’ here first!). This was followed by a performance of ‘Living in a Landscape’, a new piece of work created and performed by NorthPens Writers and dramatised by playwright David Napthine. The weekend was rounded off with a workshop (for the adults this time) with poet and performer Tony Gadd at Stanhope Community Centre on Sunday morning.

The Weardale WordFest was organised by NorthPens Writers, funded by Northern Heartlands and supported by the Community Arts Team at Durham County Council and the Weardale AAP.  The 2019 NorthPens Children’s’ writing award is sponsored by the North Pennines AONB Partnership. *Ten Words for a Northern Landscape is commissioned by Northern Heartlands in association with New Writing North & with funding and support from The National Lottery Heritage Fund & Arts Council England.




The 2019 Weardale WordFest will once again take place during the last weekend in October – Friday evening to Sunday morning (25th 26th 27th).

So much to look forward to … talks, discussions, workshops, exhibitions, bookstalls, coffee, cake … a brilliant weekend in Stanhope! Take a look at the 2019 contributors page for more information about our talented and inspirational speakers.

Wordfest is organised by NorthPens Writers, and entry to all events is free, thanks to generous funding and support from Northern Heartlands, the Community Arts Team at Durham County Council, the Weardale AAP and the North Pennines AONB partnership. Look out for updates here, and on Facebook and Twittter. 

FRIDAY 25th, 7.00 p.m. St. Thomas’ Church HallThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is a7r6365-2.jpeg

Join us for a glass of wine at the WordFest opening event. Caroline Beck launches her innovative podcast series, Ten words for a Northern Landscape.  Caroline brought ten well-known writers, including Carys Davies and Andrew Michael Hurley, to Weardale; the podcasts feature their conversations with Caroline as they walk through the landscape and discuss the importance of place to their writing.  In association with Northern Heartlands and New Writing North.


SATURDAY 26th  St. Thomas Church Hall 

WordFest opens 10 a.m. 

  • Agri(Culture) photography exhibition 

    Wideyed is a NorthEast arts collective that undertakes international projects and creative collaborations leading to the production and innovative dissemination of new works. Over the decade since it was founded, its photographers – Lucy Carolan, Richard Glynn, Louise Taylor and Nat Wilkins – have played active roles in photography festivals, received awards and bursaries, worked on commission, and exhibited from England to South Africa. Agri(Culture) is the culmination of a project documenting Agricultural shows in Weardale and Teesdale during 2018; the exhibition has been touring the shows this year in a converted cattle truck. It also features pieces written by NorthPens Writers in response to the photographs.

  • Bookstalls … displaying a wide range of books, including those by our speakers. 

  • Refreshments … tea, coffee, cake, sandwiches etc. on sale all day. 

There will be ample ‘circulation’ time between talks to chat to the writers, grab a coffee, browse the bookstalls, look at the exhibitions.

10.15 a.m.  A Naturalist’s Diary

Phil Gates has been Guardian Country Diarist for County Durham since 1985 and also currently This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is philgatesp1130036.jpgwrite for BBC Countryfile and BBC Wildlife magazines. Eye-witness accounts of periods of change, in the form of contemporary diaries, can be a valuable resource for writers.   Phil has kept natural history diaries for 55 years, since the age of 13. In his talk he will describe why it has been an invaluable source of inspiration and information for his journalism and books, and how it has created many writing opportunities. There will be time for questions and discussion at the end of Phil’s talk.

11.15 a.m.  Avril JoyThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is cover-giwf.png

We are delighted to welcome Avril Joy, award-winning novelist and short story writer, back to the WordFest. Avril will talk about her first poetry collection, Going in with Flowers,  reflecting on 25 years
working in HMP Low Newton, women’s prison, Durham. Among other works, she will read, her prize winning poem Skomm, and new poems celebrating the joy of swimming in the outdoor pool at Stanhope.

12.15 p.m.  Elizabeth Gill

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_0067.jpgElizabeth lived in Tow Law when a small child and both sides of her family come from Weardale.  She has had more than forty novels published, the current one, The Foundling School for Girls, is set in Weardale and Tow Law, and has just been published in paperback.  The second in the trilogy is The Runaway Children  which will be out next year and she has just begun work on a third. Liz is going to talk about Weardale, the books, the people and her family and would love to meet you for a chat over lunch. 


Lunchtime! Soup, rolls, sandwiches, cake, hot drinks etc. will be on sale. Proceeds go to bolster the funds of the Friends of St. Thomas Church.

2.00 – 4.00 p.m.  in the function room at Durham Dales Centre.

Writing workshop for young people (up to age 13) with children’s author and illustrator, Rebecca Rose. Launch of the 2019 NorthPens Writing Award for young people.

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Rebecca specialises in writing and illustrating poetry and fiction for children, and also illustrates cards for local tourist venues and card sellers.  Her workshop will encourage young people to write and illustrate their own stories and focus on the theme of this year’s competition for the writing award. The NorthPens Writing award is sponsored by the North Pennines AONB Partnership.

2.15 p.m.  St. Thomas Church Hall   

Self Publishing vs Publishing Deal – Margaret Manchester & Phil MewsThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is margaret-phil-mews-at-weardale-wordfest-2018.jpeg

Believe it or not, both options have advantages over the other but they also come with their pitfalls. Phil Mews talks about his experiences of self publishing his first book Orphan Boys and how he then won an international publishing deal. Margaret Manchester, author of the Amazon #1 international bestselling book, The Lead Miner’s Daughter, talks about her journey to becoming a successful published author and how she has used marketing to take her story to a wider audience.             (photograph: Linda Brown)


3.15 p.m.    Discussion with local writers

Marie Gardiner, Amy Lord and PaulineMessenger 

Three different writers who have written three very different books! Marie is an author, photographer and documentary film-maker whose first book, Sunderland Industrial Giant, was published in 2017. Amy is a writer, blogger and digital marketer. Her debut , The Disappeared, is an award-winning dystopian novel about a young woman who uses banned books to fight back against an authoritarian regime, after the arrest of her father. Pauline’s book, Only Dead Fish go with the Flow, is a very personal account of her journey through change, challenges, divorce, bereavement and much more. Hear them talk about what inspired them to venture into print.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is sunderland-industrial-giant-cover.jpg                         This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is td2a-1.jpg                        This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is book-cover_bc2.jpeg


6.30 p.m.   St. Thomas’ Church Hall 

An Evening of Entertainment

Join us once more to celebrate the wealth of talent in Weardale  … and … some exciting ‘Firsts’! 

WordFest Exclusives 

Phil Mews reads an extract from his latest book, The Further Adventures of the Orphan Boys, which will be published next Easter. Remember, you heard it here first!

Margaret Manchester and Pauline Messenger are also both busy with their next books and treat us to exclusive extracts from their work in progress.

Living in a Landscape

Lyrical, dramatic, funny, moving: a new look at Weardale. Over the last few months, NorthPens Writers have been working with David Napthine on the Northern Heartlands Living in a Landscape project. Their stories and poems have been woven into a unique piece of theatre which will have its premiere at WordFest. 


Sunday 27th

10.00  – 12.00 a.m. Stanhope Community Centre

Writing Workshop with Tony Gadd

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image1.jpegTony’s workshop is based around this years theme of ‘Living in a Landscape’ and will seek to explore our rich heritage and culture; the people, places and spaces we inhabit and the beauty found in our everyday lives. 

Drawing on our sense of place, through a series of fun and engaging exercises, we will look to creatively connect with our audiences, in a multi sensory way. This will be achieved by developing a rich seam or palate of words to then paint our wordy pictures, thereby enabling us to bring our social observations, interactions and memories to life, in a truly immersive way.

(Feel free to bring along a few images – mementos – and  your memories, that may help you in constructing your final piece in the workshop)

The writing workshops, like all other events, are free of charge but please email northpens15@gmail.com to book a place in advance.

Further details will be posted on this page as we fine-tune the programme.

This year’s WordFest is supported by Northern Heartlands and the County Durham Community Foundation, the Community Arts Team at Durham County Council, the North Pennines AONB Partnership and Weardale AAP.



WordFest 2019, our contributors

We have a brilliant line-up for you this year. See below for more information about our immensely talented writers and artists. They all have connections to Weardale and we  are very privileged that they are prepared to be so generous with their time and their ideas.

Caroline Beck has been making radio programmes for the BBC for more than 20 years, combining this with freelance writing, broadcasting and chairing events at national and international book festivals. She’s lived in Weardale since 1999 and has recently completed an exciting podcast series Ten Words for a Northern Landscape, bringing nationally known writers to Weardale.

Tony Gadd is a County Durham born Poet, performer and workshop facilitator, who has spent a large part of his life extolling the virtues and heritage of this wonderful land to anyone who will listen. He performs widely across the region and further afield. He is currently Poet in Residence for the Norman Cornish Centenary Celebration year, who also spreads the word and love of the region by running and hosting the unique ‘Gong Fu Poets’ spoken word events, as well as a Poetry Society Stanza out of their new base at Ushaw House, Garden and Chapels, Durham.

Marie Gardiner is a writer and photographer from Sunderland, now living in County Durham. After earning her degree in film and media, she worked as a broadcaster for a number of years, before starting a media company with her partner, which under the banner of Lonely Tower Film & Media, produces historical documentaries and multi-media events.

‘After completing my degree in Film & Media, I worked in media for several years as a broadcaster and web manager.

Now, I’m an author for a number of publications. Although I write for a number of well-established, international companies, I also take on bespoke commissions for articles and blog posts. My first book, Sunderland Industrial Giant, was out in November 2017, published by The History Press. I’m currently working on my follow up, Secret Sunderland.

My partner and I also make documentaries, working closely with history groups to tell some amazing stories. We both have a real passion for history so we love to see such dedicated research brought to the screen for everyone to enjoy.

Even though I’m based in County Durham, I love to travel for work and recently have worked in the Poland, France, London and Switzerland, which fits very well with my love of landscape photography.’

Phil Gates has been Guardian Country Diarist for County Durham since 1985 and also currently writes for BBC Countryfile and BBC Wildlife magazines. In 1992 he wrote his first book (Spring Fever) on the impact of climate change on Britain’s gardens and wildlife and has since written 17 science books for young people, three of which have won awards. He has written features for the Sunday Post; Northern Echo; Guardian; Independent on Sunday; BBC Gardeners’ World (monthly column 1992-2005); Which? Gardening; Gardens Illustrated; Bird Life (RSPB); Kew magazine; Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society (The Garden); She; Australian Geographical Magazine; New Scientist and PlantLife and was Garden Writers’ Guild Practical Garden Journalist of the Year in 1998 and 1999. Phil has made frequent broadcasts for Radio 4 on gardens and wildlife. He and his wife Susan, who is also a writer and has published over 100 books for young people, have lived in Crook for 44 and have three children and three grandchildren.

Blog: Cabinet of Curiosities  https://cabinetofcuriosities-greenfingers.blogspot.com Twitter:@WeardaleDiary Instagram:@durham_country_diarist

Elizabeth Gill lived in Tow Law when a small child where her father owned a steelworks. Both sides of her family come from Weardale.  She has had more than forty novels published, the current one being  The Foundling School for Girls which came out as a hardback in May and as an ebook. The paperback will be published this autumn. it will also be out in audio and as a big print book.  The second in the trilogy is The Runaway Children  which will be out next year. She has just begun work on a third


Avril Joy‘s short fiction has appeared in literary magazines and anthologies, including Victoria Hislop’s, The Story: Love, Loss & the Lives of Women. Her work has been shortlisted in the Bridport, the Manchester Prize for Fiction and The Raymond Carver Short Story Prize in the USA. In 2012, she won the inaugural Costa Short Story Award. Her latest novel, Sometimes a River Song, published by Linen Press, won the 2017 People’s Book Prize.In 2019 her poem Skomm won first prize in the York Literary Festival Competition.

Now, Avril Joy brings us the poetry of prison. She is no stranger to quiet but significant achievement. In her previous life, she worked for twenty-five years as a teacher and then Senior Manager in HM Low Newton, County Durham, and was awarded a Butler Trust Travel Award for ‘outstanding contribution to prison care.’ Avril supported the many women who were serving sentences and who trusted her with their life stories, spoken and written, of poverty, drug dependence and abuse. It was here, in 1999 that she met Writer-in-Residence, Wendy Robertson, and discovered her own strong, unique, beautiful writing voice. Until then, she had no thoughts of being a writer.

This collection of poetry, reflecting lives hidden behind walls and bars, has been a long time in gestation. The women prisoners spoke of lives that few of us can even imagine, before being sentenced and afterwards. To do justice to these stories, Avril has waited until she is absolutely confident that she can reflect the complexity of those voices, and she does so with extraordinary authenticity, poignancy, and humour. The style is breathtakingly original.

‘Linen Press is honoured to have the opportunity of publishing Going In With Flowers. We believe it is a unique and extraordinary book, and are committed to giving it the visibility it deserves. Publication date: 25th September 2019.’

Amy Lord is a writer, blogger and digital marketer from North East England. Her debut novel, The Disappeared, was published by Unbound Digital in May 2019. She won a Northern Writers’ Award in 2015 for The Disappeared and was also longlisted in the inaugural Bath Novel Award.

The Disappeared is about a young woman named Clara, who uses banned books to fight back against an authoritarian regime, after her father is arrested. It is told from the perspective of Clara and her stepfather, the Major, the same man who was responsible for her father’s arrest and interrogation

‘I’ve been writing since I was very young and have an MA in Creative Writing from Newcastle University. The Disappeared was longlisted in The Bath Novel Award and won a Northern Writers’ Award. Both of these awards played a big part in helping me develop as a writer and gave me the opportunity to have someone else look at my work and provide feedback. I’m currently working on my next novel, which was initially developed as part of a mentoring programme with Writers’ Block NE.’

Margaret Manchester was born at Rookhope, Weardale and spent her childhood there. Her genealogical research revealed that many of her ancestors had lived and worked in the area for centuries. Whilst raising a family, Margaret juggled work at Killhope with study. She was awarded a Master’s degree in Archaeological Survey from the University of Durham, and went on to teach archaeology, local history and genealogy. Her first novel The Lead Miner’s Daughter was published in 2018 and went on to become an Amazon #1 international bestselling book.

Pauline Messenger has lived in Wolsingham for the past six years. She is an angelic reiki master, British Healer, motivational therapist and now an author. Her book, Only Dead Fish go with the Flow, is about her journey through change, challenges, divorce, bereavement and so much more. During the three years Pauline took to write her book, she had to endure the loss of her elder, 29 year old son Steven and if that was not enough, Pauline in 2018 had to undergo open heart surgery.As her book says, a fish will persevere upstream no matter what it endures and Pauline has certainly done that!

Phil Mews has worked in television for nineteen years making programmes with a long list of famous names that includes Liza Minnelli, Barbara Windsor and Graham Norton. Orphan Boys, Phil’s first book, is about his childhood in Weardale and how his family coped after he lost both parents within in ten weeks at the age of seven. It has been published internationally. He is now working on a sequel.


Rebecca Rose has a background in journalism, with twenty years’ experience writing and editing some of the North East’s most widely circulated magazines.

In 2017, she wrote and illustrated her first children’s book ‘The Big Book Adventure’ for an Arts Council project held in conjunction with Newcastle Library.

She specialises in writing and illustrating poetry and fiction for children, and also illustrates cards for local tourist venues and card sellers.  In addition, Rebecca now works as a primary school teacher in the Durham area.

Wideyed is a NorthEast arts collective that undertakes international projects and creative collaborations leading to the production and innovative dissemination of new works. Over the decade since it was founded, its photographers – Lucy Carolan, Richard Glynn, Louise Taylor and Nat Wilkins – have played active roles in photography festivals, received awards and bursaries, worked on commission, and exhibited from England to South Africa.

Weardale Wordfest 2018

this is what we got up to last year!

We can surely claim that the first Weardale WordFest was a stunning success! The event focussed on local writers and books about Weardale. If you’re into figures, over 150 people came through the doors and around 40 titles, all with a Weardale connection, were on sale on the book stalls. According to writer Christine Ruskin it has ‘put Weardale well and truly on the literary map’ and Rachel Cochrane said ‘It was an honour to take part. I had an incredibly enjoyable day listening to local authors talk about their books and read their work. I came away feeling inspired and much better informed, not only about Weardale, but also about the wider world. I’m already looking forward to next year’s Weardale WordFest!’

It began on Friday 26th October at Stanhope Community Centre, followed by a day of talks, discussions, workshops, exhibitions and book sales in St. Thomas Church Hall on Saturday.

On Friday evening, writer and broadcaster Caroline Beck from Frosterley, who has chaired events at many national and international book festivals, hosted an enthralling panel discussion with Mary Briggs, one of the founders of Seven Stories in Newcastle and Rachel Cochrane, writer and audio producer. 

On Saturday morning, it snowed! However, the weather didn’t deter the visitors who came to the church hall. The day began with a writing workshop for children, upstairs, with illustrator Sara Gibbeson who had them buzzing with excitement and creative ideas. 

Ian Forbes and Margaret Manchester were first to take the floor in the main hall with a pair of fascinating talks about researching historical characters, illustrated with reference to their books ‘Images of Industry’ and Margaret’s historical thriller, set in Westgate, ‘The Lead Miner’s Daughter.’ They were followed by Christine Ruskin who showed a short film and answered questions about her latest publication ‘The Disappearing Mills and Bread Ovens of Weardale.’

And, of course, there were refreshments! Sarah and Julian Haynes and Jo Hayes kept our strength up at lunchtime and throughout the day with copious amounts of scrumptious cake, tea, coffee, soup and home made buns. Some of our audience even found time to pop across the road to visit The North Pennines at Night exhibition in the Dales Centre (part of the Stargazing Festival).

After lunch, Paul Parsons and Avril Joy, who both live in Witton-Le-Wear, introduced each other. Paul has produced an amusing and inspirational account of a cycling journey from Weardale to Inverness, ‘Fat Bloke on a Bike.’ Avril’s novels and short fiction have won numerous prizes and her latest novel, ‘Sometimes a River Song’ won the People’s Book Prize in 2017. She gave us a thought-provoking and engrossing insight into the process of writing and how her experiences working in Low Newton Prison have shaped her fiction.

The final speaker was Phil Mews whose memoir of a Weardale childhood, ‘Orphan Boys’, which tells how he and his family coped when he lost both his parents within ten weeks of each other at the age of seven, has received great acclaim and has just been launched in America. Despite the tragic circumstances, Phil’s story is affectionate, uplifting and full of courage and love. He was clearly moved to be back in Stanhope and it was a privilege to listen to him talk about his experiences. 

Phil returned to the limelight in the evening to join fellow writers Rachel Cochrane, Margaret Manchester and members of NorthPens writers to read some new work. It was a hugely entertaining session culminating in a wonderful performance by the Weardale Community Choir who sang extracts from their newly commissioned work, ‘The Weardale Chest’ which will premiere in St. John’s Chapel Town Hall on 1st December.

Throughout the day, there were exhibitions and stalls. A couple of bookstalls operated alongside Mark Rowney’s glorious leatherwork creations; young photographer Gabriel Langley’s work was on show in the side room and there was artwork by Geri Poole and Dave Gibbins on the walls. There was also information about We Are Weardale, the successful creative writing project from last year and The Weardale Tub which will bring art and writing workshops to the Dale.

The Weardale WordFest was organised by NorthPens Writers, supported by the Community Arts Team at Durham County Council who also funded the Children’s workshop. Additional funding came from the Lakes and Dales Co-op. The 2018 NorthPens Young Peoples’ writing award is sponsored by the North Pennines AONB. Thanks also to the WAAP team for their support.