Michael Rosen and Kit De Waal will be the deserved stars of Writing on the Wall Festival (WoW Fest) in Liverpool in May, somewhere down the list you will find me – Jack Byrne – launching my third novel Before The Storm.
Born out of the long Dockers strike in the late 90s, WoW Fest has an unusual profile among literary festivals. It was launched to celebrate working-class and under-represented writers, continuing to run programs for new, emerging, young writers throughout the year. Everything from poetry to children’s writing and beyond. This means that it is not just a vehicle for large publishing houses, or a stage for celebrity fiction, but seeks “to create change on the page”. Its month-long festival in May is balanced with a Black History month in October.
The festival is also a homecoming for me, and I will share an event with Liverpool historian and poet Greg Quiery as we reflect on his latest work. My last festival was in Dingle in Ireland, which is on the Atlantic Coast – a very different setting to Liverpool City Centre. It felt like the writers and attendees had taken over the small town creating a real event buzz.
In the city centre – across several venues – WoW Fest merges into the artistic and cultural life of Liverpool, in a way that reflects its year-long activity in running classes and courses, including in Speke – the council estate on which I was raised.
Literary festivals are usually a way of meeting your favourite authors in the flesh, getting books signed, and taking part in discussions on what happens behind the covers for authors. They can also be a way of collectivity celebrating something that in essence is a solitary activity; reading.
WoW Fest offers something more: a way into the world of writing. The ‘Write to Work’ free courses run throughout the year and help people to achieve their writing goals, through professional or personal, creativity.
Benefits for new writers
For me, these events are an essential part of getting my work out into the world. Northodox Press are an independent publisher that has to fight for every space on the bookshelf. Competing with multinational organisations with exclusive distribution deals, promotional offers and media tie-ups is not easy. So, every chance to interact with readers is a godsend. My own Liverpool Mystery series covers one hundred years of the Irish diaspora.
The last time I shared a stage with Greg Quiery, we compared and contrasted his excellent book Hardship and Hope: A History of the Irish in Liverpool, with Under The Bridge – my first novel exploring post-war Irish emigration in and around Garston Docks.
This time round, on the 25 May in The Bluecoat Chambers, Greg will read from his prospective novel The Grass is Greener. I will chair the discussion as the audience provides feedback for Greg before we move on to briefly look at my latest novel Before The Storm. With a backdrop of unemployment marches, riots and rebellions, a group of kids promise to keep a secret involving a burglary, a watch, and an old man’s death. A secret that blows up the day after the Brexit vote in 2016.
Whatever your taste or experience, as a writer or reader, check out WoW Fest events we ‘d be happy see you.