The beautiful North Antrim coastal town of Carnlough will be inundated with literary offerings for passionate bibliophiles, from a poetry writing workshop on Friday evening to a preview of new fiction from acclaimed novelist Joanne Harris on Saturday night, who will be bringing her new novel The Gospel of Loki to Northern Ireland for the first time.
Supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and Larne Borough Council, the annual arts and cultural festival is now in its 12th year, bringing poetry, literature and debate to the Londonderry Arms Hotel.
Inspired by the cross-community, inclusive ideas and ideals of the poet John Hewitt, this year’s festival is themed ‘Regionalism: The Last Chance?’, looking not just at political issues surrounding local identity in a globalised world, but creative and cultural explorations of issues relevant to Northern Ireland’s divided society too.
Regional poetic voices are represented from across the United Kingdom, offering an imaginative take on ideas of devolution as well as concepts of cultural unity. Omagh-born Paula Cunningham will be reading alongside Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch from Wales, and Scottish Highlands poet John Glenday.
John will also be helping writers get to grips with delivering what their readers really want on Friday night when he leads an intimate creative writing workshop on ‘Writers Block vs Readers Block’.
There will be a Scottish air to proceedings in light of the forthcoming Scottish Independence referendum, with The Scotsman journalist and critic Joyce McMillan debating whether writers have signed up to cultural independence, or like Scottish footballers, they are playing on a UK-wide pitch. Joyce will be joined by poet and academic Robert Crawford, Professor of Modern Scottish Literature at the University of St Andrews and author of Bannockburns: Scottish Independence and the Literary Imagination, 1314-2014. Robert will also be reading poems from his seventh collection Testament later on Saturday evening.
The annual Great Northern Novel debate is also moving east, this year debating who should claim the title of the Great Scottish Novel. Fighting it out will be representatives championing Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped, James Hogg’s Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, and Alexander Trocchi’s Young Adam, including Lagan Press poet and Head of Literature & Drama at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland Damian Smyth.
Local broadcaster and poet C.L. Dallat will be chairing the often passionate debate, and members of the audience will have the opportunity to vote for the novel of their choice.
Dallat discusses Hewitt’s views and the festival theme that has shaped this year’s programme and will inform much of the topics of discussion over the festival weekend.
“John Hewitt argued that Ulster, considered as a region and not as a symbol of any particular creed, could develop a culture and an attitude individual and distinctive in itself.
“But we also have to ask if decades of migration due to economic necessity, and a virtually globalised entertainment and communications have diluted cultural individuality? Is Hewitt’s mid-twentieth century view of a regionalism – based on shared local history and revitalised regional traditions in the creative arts – still valid in the face of subsequent demographic and political changes?
“Or are we seeing, in the Scottish independence debate and similar tendencies in Spain and elsewhere, a regeneration of interest in regionalism?”
All events at the Spring Festival take place in the Coast Road’s favourite hospitable establishment, the family-run Londonderry Arms Hotel, who will be offering dining options and refreshments for festival goers throughout the weekend.
Book-lovers can be assured that they will be able to bring a piece of the Spring Festival back home with them, courtesy of No Alibis Bookshop, Belfast, who will stock books by the visiting authors and poets as well as the books featured in the Great Scottish Novel debate.
Damian Smyth, Head of Literature & Drama at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, said: “The Arts Council is delighted to support the John Hewitt Spring Festival which brings people together to celebrate poetry and literature, all in the inspirational setting of Carnlough. The focus on Scotland in sight of landfall mirrors beautifully one of the concerns of Hewitt himself and I encourage everyone with a love of books and place to go along and enjoy”.
The John Hewitt Society Spring Festival programme can be viewed in full on the website, where tickets are also available to buy online: www.johnhewittsociety.org