York Literature Festival in association with Baillie Gifford

The next York Literature Festival will be from Thursday 15th March to Monday 26th March 2018. We hope to see you there! More information regarding events will follow soon.

Submissions for the 2018 Festival

Submissions for the 2018 festival are now closed! Many thanks for your interest and please try again next year.



This year’s festival director, Rob O’Connor, reflects on two weeks of amazing literary events.

Organising this year’s York Literature Festival has been a staggering task. All-in-all the festival took ten months to bring together, from initial ideas through to the final two weeks of fantastic events in March.

It was worth every ounce of effort.

On the evening of Tuesday 28th March, I attended, in my role as festival director, the Student Showcase and Beyond the Walls Anthology Launch event at York St John University. This event, organised entirely by the creative writing students at the university, allowed me a moment of relaxation amongst the two weeks of frantic activity and event organisation. It was at this point, day 12 out of 14, that I finally saw and appreciated the impact that a literature festival can have on its local community. The event was a triumph, with students performing their work live to a sell-out audience as well as working in teams to organise the event, promote it and produce the anthology. The work was of a high standard and the event was very slick, equally as good as any of the other events that occurred during the festival. It was indeed a showcase – a showcase of what literature means to people and the powerful affect it can have. This aside, the students also gained valuable experience to move forward into further projects and prospects.

In other words, the festival is important.

As director, this was a vital message for me to remember. I thank those York St John University students for reminding me.


You spend a year organising a festival and it is gone in the blink of an eye. You get wrapped up in the frantic movement of continuous events, meeting people, listening to them read their work, perform, engage with audiences. In this intense logistical onslaught, it is easy to lose yourself in what is happening and forget about the real reasons for organising a literature festival, why you agreed to do it in the first place.

This was our 10th York Literature Festival and it looks as if it is going to be the most successful yet. I have been involved with the festival since 2010 and this year it felt different. Social media was buzzing every day. People wanted to talk to me about the programme. There was real excitement in the air. Not that we hadn’t experienced this before. Yet, somehow, it was… just different.

There is so much to reflect on. I attended 13 events in my role as director, each of them engaging, entertaining and some of them, personally, challenging. Introducing both Mark Gatiss and Michael Palin – getting up on the stage in front of 500+ people – was daunting but, ultimately, exhilarating. Both comedy legends were genuinely incredible people and both events were fantastic. Gatiss and Palin were very generous with their responses, holding their respective audiences captivated. I admire both for their contributions to comedy. It was an absolute pleasure to meet them.

Joanne Harris and the #Storytime Band opened the festival in a spectacular fashion with a 90-minute performance of original fairy stories accompanied by music. This, combined with the grand setting of the De Grey Rooms, made this opening event feel unique and special.

The festival also provided the opportunity for me to interview people for the very first time. The event sponsored by the Desmond Elliott Prize for Debut Fiction was another personal highlight as I interviewed Claire Fuller and Julia Rochester about their work and experiences of literary award nominations. This event was a lot of fun and I thank both authors for the lively and engaging debate. Before the event they also had afternoon tea with some of the students at The Mount School, during which they talked about their lives as professional writers.  It was a delight to witness these successful authors passing on their wisdom to the next generation of writers.

Sarah Hall is someone who has been requested by previous festival audiences and I was delighted that we could include her in this year’s programme. She is an author I have admired for a few years now and the event involving her in conversation with Dr Abi Curtis of York St John University was fantastic. Having just taught her book The Wolf Border that very week, it was fascinating to hear her responses and comments, as well as witness her read one of my favourite passages from the novel.

Bettys Tea Rooms hosted Nuala Ellwood for a special ‘Meet the Author’ afternoon tea. The grandeur of the surroundings, coupled with Nuala’s fabulous reading and generous responses, made this a unique event. It felt completely different to everything else in the programme.

St Peter’s School hosted several festival events. For me, the most memorable was The Yorkshire Rows, who were truly inspirational to hear. The story of their Atlantic rowing challenge proved that anyone can achieve their aims, goals and dreams. For this reason, it was great to see so many young people in the audience. Their personal anecdotes were moving, painful, joyful, sad, uplifting – the full spectrum of emotions was covered during their presentation.

There is too much to mention in detail here: Dan Cruickshank, Gervase Phinn, talks on both Shakespeare and Kenyan novelist Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye, Contemporary British Poetry with Anthony Dunn and S J Fowler. These are just the ones which I attended, all of them fascinating and engaging events. What about the events where I was not present? Jonathan Dimbleby, Sue Perkins, Michel Faber, the Crime Writers Panel, the One-day Creative Writing Conference, Rob Cowen, Dyad productions present Jane Eyre: An Autobiography. A wide spectrum of talks, readings, performances and workshops. This has been the most comprehensive festival programme to date.

The HUB was a new strand of the York Literature Festival this year, focusing on the vast array of authors and creative writing groups from York and the surrounding area. I am, personally, extremely grateful to everyone who helped organise, programme and advertise this new strand of the festival. This is an exciting new venture which strives to provide an arena for local talent. The HUB model has lots of promise.

This doesn’t mean that everything was perfect and, as director, there are lots of things that I hope to improve. However, these are mainly in the background. The festival itself, in my eyes, was an amazing success and shows what can be achieved. My thanks go to: my supportive board of trustees; strategic event partners at York St John University, York Theatre Royal, St Peter’s School, Explore York Libraries and Archives, Grand Opera House, University of York’s Centre for Lifelong Learning, Bettys Tea Rooms, Writers and Artists and Apples and Snakes; finally, Little Apple Bookshop and Waterstones (you guys are amazing and need celebrating, selling books at this many events is no easy task. Believe me, I know!). Welcome also to our newest venue: The Mount School. There are too many names to mention you all personally here, but you know who are!

Another round of thanks must also go to our official sponsors this year: Baillie Gifford, York St John University, The Shepherd Group, The Canal and Rivers Trust and the Desmond Elliott Prize 2017. Without their support the festival would not have happened.

Oh, and the biggest thanks must go to our team of volunteers. You are all amazing!

Which leaves just one final thing to say: thanks to everyone who came along to an event. Our audience is why I did this and it was great to meet so many of you in person at the events. Now that the festival is over and I have had some time to reflect, I can acknowledge that the hard work was worth it. York is an amazing city full of talented people and lots of literary heritage. There needs to be a platform that showcases this talent and this great city to the wider world. I feel honoured to have played a small part in this by helping to deliver the 2017 York Literature Festival. I hope to see you all again very soon!

Rob O’Connor

Festival Director 2017

York Literature Festival Board of Trustees


The York Literature Festival Team would like to thank all who have helped to make this year’s Festival (the 10th) a great success. Thank you to our sponsors, partners, performers, volunteers and everyone who attended an event.

The Festival promotes the arts in York, with an emphasis on literature, spoken word and poetry. We also feature music, comedy, cinema and theatre in our programme.

As well as the main programme, this year saw the inauguration of the Festival HUB. Based at York Theatre Royal, this was an opportunity to showcase local talent. The feedback has been very positive and we hope to include this in future festivals.

We’re very grateful for all the feedback we have received. If you would like to send us feedback about anything to do with the Festival, please do so using the contact form here.

Please join our mailing list to keep informed of Festival news. The sign up form is on each page of this website.




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