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3 Festivals for 2024


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February 2023: Currently Reading

By - 28 February 2023 - 14:52pm

We've had a very varied reading month, have you read any of the books featured?

Unsurprisingly, the shortest month of the year has absolutely flown by! It’s all stations go here at Derby Book Festival HQ as we complete the programme for our next Festival (save the date: May 19-27). We’re excited to announce authors soon, so keep an eye on our socials.

It’s been a busy month for our community projects too. Our Flash Fiction Writing Competition has now closed, and we will announce the winners in due course – thank you very much to everyone who entered. It is a pleasure for the judging panel to read so many brilliant entries.

Our Derby Children’s Picture Book Award has also entered the next phase. Our lovely trustee who founded and leads this project has now supplied books to 51 schools across Derby so children in years 2 and 3 can enjoy them ahead of voting day at the end of March.

It is always a joy to see the creative ways in which teachers and pupils enjoy and work with the books. We hope to share more of this in the coming weeks.

In other news, our Shared Reading project is doing really well after a recent recruitment drive. However, we’re always interested in hearing from people who want to get involved. If that’s you, please email:

Without further ado, here are our February reads. What have you been reading this month? What books are you most looking forward to this year?

Liz Fothergill, Derby Book Festival Chair:

I have very much enjoyed:

Godmersham Park by Gill Hornby - Based on a true story about Jane Austen, it highlights the plight and financial insecurity of unmarried women In the early 19th century.

The Narrow Land by Christine Dwyer Hickey. A detailed and fascinating insight into the long and turbulent marriage of the artist Edward Hopper.

Sian, Festival Director: Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett

I’m a big fan of Ann Patchett’s novels and was recommended this memoir by another of her fans, Festival Trustee Di Smith (whose taste and judgment in all things literary I trust implicitly!)

It is a beautiful memoir about Ann’s relationship with her best friend, poet Lucy Grealy, who was facially disfigured following cancer in childhood, which resulted in her losing half of her jaw. She suffered 37 operations in her lifetime to rebuild the jaw in the 1980s and 1990s, often experimental surgery which failed. She suffered pain most of her life, resulting in an addiction to heroin, which ultimately contributed to, though didn’t cause, her death at 39.

A mercurial, talented, and fascinating character, though self-centred, wild, obsessive, and insecure, she captivated those who encountered her and had many loyal friends who were committed to supporting her, both financially and emotionally. She fluctuated between being jealous of Ann and her relationships with men and her success, which eclipsed Lucy’s, and was Ann’s biggest cheerleader. Their successes mirrored each other’s for much of their 20s and 30s until Lucy started to really go off the rails, losing publishing contracts and fellowships.

A book that will stay with me about female friendship, wasted talent and brilliance.

Gini, Festival Manager: The Perfect Golden Circle by Benjamin Myers

Having absolutely loved Benjamin Myers, The Offing, I was hesitant about reading another one of his books in case it didn’t live up to it ... it did. Set in rural Wiltshire in 1989 over the course of the summer, The Perfect Golden Circle tells the story of two men who, under cover of the night, create a series of extraordinary and ever more complex crop circles in the fields. The two protagonists, friends from childhood, but with very different life experiences, share a unique bond as outsiders on the edge of society as they hone their craft together. Benjamin Myers’ use of language is as intoxicating as the heady hot summer of his story.

Sarah Newton, Derby Book Festival Trustee: The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak

This month I have devoured The Island of Missing Trees, a rich, multi-layered treat about a pair of star-crossed lovers on the divided island of Cyprus and their legacy, unwittingly handed down to future generations. It’s a magical book which is beautifully written, narrated in part by the fig tree at the heart of the local taverna.

The Island of Missing Trees is described as ‘a rich, magical tale of belonging and identity, love and trauma, nature and renewal’ and it moves back and forth across different times and places through three different narratives.

It’s a tale about secrets and generational trauma but also a novel which raises questions about immigrants and their offspring and the disconnect between a family’s yesterdays and its future.

The personification of the fig tree sounds ridiculous but is utterly enchanting, as are the tales of the subterranean world of roots and the natural earth. It tells us “Tangled beneath our roots, hidden inside our trunks, are the sinews of history, the ruins of wars nobody came to win, the bones of the missing.”

The Island of Missing Trees is the sort of book that leaves a little hole in your life when it’s finished. I would recommend it enormously.

Sue Wall, Derby Book Festival Trustee and Interviewer: Mother’s Boy by Patrick Gale

This month is easy - Mother’s Boy by Patrick Gale. Three reasons for recommending it - a fast-moving story, full of details and beautifully written, so I always want to read just one more chapter before I stop; the story is based on the life of the poet Charles Causley, and it is wonderful to be reminded of his poetry (and to learn he was also a playwright); and the third reason is for the descriptions of Cornwall (Causley was born in Launceston), beaches, swimming in the sea, living in a tight, small community, which is making me look forward to long summer days as we enjoy the warmth of spring. I’ll leave you to add your own reasons.   

Keith McLay, Derby Book Festival Trustee and Interviewer: My Father’s House by Joseph O’Connor

A highlight of my reading during February was Joseph O’Connor’s recently published, My Father’s House. The book is a fictionalised account of the Vatican-based Irish priest Monsignor High O’Flaherty’s Rome Escape Line. Run by O’Flaherty’s ‘Choir’ of collaborators, of which he was the ‘Conductor’, the Line saved upwards of 6500 lives (a mix of Jews and allied soldiers) during the Nazi occupation of Rome. The book is set in real time during 1943 and in 1963 when members of the ‘Choir’ gave interviews for a TV programme on the topic. It’s an exemplary work of historical fiction, being faithful to the history while also appropriately inventive. It is also an edge-of-seat read but not in a shallow page turning sense but due to the real depth and nuance of the characters.

Fiona Apthorpe, Derby Book Festival Trustee: Jews Don’t Count by David Baddiel

I am reading Jews Don’t Count by David Baddiel. We can all give examples of racism or sexism and lots of other “isms”, but this book is a real eye opener about the prevalence and impact of antisemitism. This book is important and if you don’t think that you need to read it, you most definitely do. It certainly made me think. It is written in an engaging and often funny style and can easily be digested in an evening. Highly recommended.

Keith Donald, Derby Book Festival Interviewer and Trustee: Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr and Dopesick by Beth Macy

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

Bookshops provide so many benefits to those who browse the tables and wander the aisles. I would not have read this book had I not come across it on a table in “Main Street Trading” in the Borders of Scotland. I loved Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See, and the headlines of the reviews by the critics in relation to this book fired my interest.

It is so difficult to provide a precis of this book. However, I shall give it my best shot.

It is a novel set in several periods, from mediaeval times through to the present day. The different strands of the book come together through ancient Greek texts; that’s the thread of the novel which connects all the characters and the theme of the book. The challenges of the characters created within me such profound emotions: amazement, anger, curiosity and sympathy. There is a chilling aspect to the book regarding a radicalised eco-warrior; he horrified me at the same time as I felt empathetic towards him.

The overriding theme of this book is the wonderment which books, reading and words can create within us. The characters are real and vibrant, the writing clear and clever. This novel will entertain you. It should not be missed.

Dopesick by Beth Macy

This is the first of two books which relate the details regarding Macy’s investigation into the damage caused by Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family when the drug OxyContin was launched onto the market. That became a gateway drug for cocaine, heroin and other opiates. It is a difficult read. It is moving and sad; we read about people who were prescribed this drug by the medical authorities and became addicts so quickly. For many of the users, the drug caused them to lose their lives.

The salesmen and women were incentivised to sell more drugs to more doctors, and the doctors were incentivised to sign more prescriptions since that would ensure that they received direct and indirect rewards.

Whilst the book deals with personal tragedies, (usually the destruction of families), the reader is invited to look at the bigger picture. What is the role of the regulator? Why did the government in the U.S.A. take so long to act? Why is addiction not seen as an illness, rather than a manifestation of moral and physical weakness? What is the role of the prescribing doctors in all of this?

Most of us know that “Big Pharma” has a major role to play in our lives. “Big Pharma” is usually a force for good, but when it is unchallenged and unregulated, that may not be the case.

Read this book to find out about how quickly the opiate epidemic arose, making more and more of an impact on “Rust Belt” families which then spread to more affluent areas of American society. There was a major lacuna between the way the crisis was handled by the medical profession and the legal profession and lawmakers, and that just meant delay upon delay in the understanding of addiction and the necessary steps to successful treatment.

Sam McKenna, Shared Reading Coordinator: A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ni Ghriofa

Lisa Richards, Derby Book Festival Trustee: The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka

Felicity, Festival Administrator: The Mother by T. M. Logan

Sometimes when I’m stuck in a reading slump and don’t know what to read next, I reach for a book and suddenly I’m back reading all the time again. For me, that book is often a thriller. But not just any thriller... I find T. M. Logan’s books absolutely enthralling. I think partly because of the character driven narratives (which I love), but it’s also the clever twists and the settings. As most of T. M. Logan’s books are set around Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire, the areas featured are familiar to me and add another dimension when I’m reading along. I’ve just picked up The Mother, which is described as ‘His best, most adrenaline-fuelled thriller yet’ and am looking forward to immersing myself.

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