YEARS ago, when I was a young lad, wanting to be a writer, I used to make an annual pilgrimage to the Ilkley Literature Festival.

I’d get the bus to Barnsley, the train to Leeds and then the train to Ilkley and as I rattled along roads and rails the landscape around me would slowly and subtly change and the pitstacks would be replaced by rolling hills and the brick of South Yorkshire would become the stone of West Yorkshire.

On the train I’d play a game of ‘Guess The Literature Festival Goer’ as I gazed at my fellow passengers.

That bloke there with the briefcase and the row of pens in his top pocket. That woman who gazed out of the window and scribbled things on a notepad. That studenty-looking type reading a book and laughing aloud at various bits and then turning around to look at us looking at him laughing.

Finally I’d arrive in Ilkley and go to the festival to listen to authors reading their works and then maybe I’d nervously go to a poetry event where I could stand up and read my own verses, my hands trembling and rattling the bits of paper so much that I could hardly read the words. Then I’d go home on the trains and the bus refreshed in mind and spirit by the fact that I’d been somewhere else, somewhere other, somewhere that wasn’t Barnsley to indulge my love of books and reading and writing.

And maybe the point there is that I was travelling to this festival because there wasn’t festival of its kind in Barnsley; certainly in those days, the early 1980s, there were poetry workshops and what are now called Open Mic nights but in those days were called things like Readarounds or Come All Ye’s but there wasn’t a book festival or a literature festival.

Well now there is. Now there is. Starting today, Barnsley Libraries are hosting the Barnsley Book Festival, and when I go to the events I won’t have to catch a bus and two trains, I’ll just catch the X19, and I can’t begin to tell you how great it is. When I read the theatre and music reviews in the papers it always disappoints me more than I can say when everything that gets mentioned is in London, or That London as some folks still call it. There’s still that lingering perception that nowt happened round here; well this Book Festival shows us that loads is!

The festival happens between now and the end of March and I’ve already circled loads of things in my diary that I want to see, some of which I’m taking part in, so I’d better circle them just to make sure I turn up! Tomorrow (assuming you’re reading this on Friday) there’s a zine fair at the Civic; I love zines, which are, as it says in the programme, ‘self-published, hand-made magazines’ and they’re run counter to the prevailing cultural and they’re often beautifully produced and sometimes they’re angry and sometimes they’re funny and sometimes they’re all that and more. I’ll certainly be taking a big carrier for all the zines I’ll be buying!

In Text Promo Image

On the February 10 at Darfield Library I’m going to go along to ‘A Reyt Queer Do in Darfield’, where the poet Tom Juniper has written some brand new poems in celebration of Maurice Dobson who, with his partner Fred, were the legendary of the corner shop that’s now Darfield Museum. I think Tom may have incorporated Maurice’s swearing parrot into his poems but you’ll have to go to the event to find out.

Of course I’ve got tickets for the launch of my son Andrew’s novel about Barnsley ‘Pity’ at the Library at the Lightbox on Saturday February 17. I promise I won’t heckle, Andrew! I’ll see you all there, I hope. I’ll be the one in the audience who looks like Andrew will look when he’s 68.

On Tuesday, February 20 at Wombwell Library I’ll be hosting an event with a man who is undoubtedly Wombwell’s leading poet, the brilliant Geoff Hattersley; Geoff has written about Wombwell and the surrounding villages in poems that are powerful and, to use a publisher’s term, uncompromising. I don’t think Geoff’s done a reading of his poems in Wombwell for years and it’ll be marvellous to see him in Wombwell’s beautiful Carnegie Library.

I’ve only had space to mention a few events but there are so many more; what a joy the Barnsley Book Festival is going to be!

Turn up the volumes! (see what I did there?)