The Leeds Big Bookend 2015. Review of Our Year by Fiona Gell

The Leeds Big Bookend is in its 5th year now, and I have to keep pinching myself when I say that because who knew when we started this roller coaster that we would still be here in 2016, still waving the flag for all things word related and literary in the city, and trying to make a difference in a small but very determined way? We have achieved a lot over the last 5 years, you can read about our past festivals here.

In 2015 the Bookend team decided that rather than just have one week of events each June, we would also do more throughout the year thereby allowing us to reach more of you more often. You can decide whether this has been a good strategy or not! Personally, looking back on 2015, I am amazed and delighted by what our volunteer team, with your kind and generous support, has achieved. Here’s what we did:


Literary Agent Shelley Instone held a Q&A for writers with top tips about the business of editing and getting work published.DEE BLICK LANDSCAPE

In partnership with Leeds Trinity University, we launched our  Indie Writers’ Festival aimed at all writers who were thinking of self publishing. A full day’s programme offered a series of workshops, talks and panels, as well as opportunities to meet and mingle with writers, book designers and publishers. The keynote speaker was Dee Blick.


18489667190_46d4e0e937_mWe were lucky enough to be given free books for World Book Night which we gave out to the students at Leeds City College.


For our main festival week, we mapped Leeds and asked what is the city about? Is it a place defined by its history, by the stories we recount and the events that have been played out on its streets? A place defined by its future, by new writers with visions of how our city should be shaped? A gateway to the world, a place where people from many different cultures live and work side by side? Perhaps it’s all three – and many other things too.

Drink with a Chimp. Photo:Raj Passy

We told the the stories of addicts in recovery in the performance Drink with a ChimpThere was an A-Z of Leeds’ people and places, with Chris Nickson guiding us through the history of the city in short stories, Frances Brody telling us of the Leeds Children’s Holiday Camp in Silverdale and Steve Ward entertaining us with tales from the Leeds circus. There were literary rambles to take. AJ Kirby and Richard Smyth considered the topography of the Leeds writing scene, N.E. David asked if it was necessary for a protagonist to go on a journey of transformation, Chris Tutton made pathways between art and poetry, Jennifer Kavanagh described the sights en route from being an agent to becoming an author, and Zodwa Nyoni spoke about road testing her new play, Boi Boi is Dead and going back on the road with Nine Lives.

From there we looked outwards. Booker Prize 2015 short listed author Sunjeev Sahota discussed his latest book, The Year of the Runaways, the tale of thirteen young men who flee India to start a new life in Yorkshire, Max Farrar tackled the thorny subject of how we understand Islamism and terrorism, while Jemimah Steinfeld examined the sexual and cultural revolution taking place in China. Philippa Lester and Diane Saunders brought us back home to discover the stories of Jewish immigrants to the city.

18410214949_6a6d49650c_z (2)And, as if that wasn’t enough, we had poetry from the Black Horse Poets and Mirror Mirror on the Wall, a short story writing workshop from SJ Bradley, the Index on Censorship Big Debate, an evening with Fictions of Every Kind, and Stories from the Forests of Leeds, a yearlong project that imagines the city as a forest, creating a treasury of tales from that parallel universe.

July and August

We celebrated the launch of Endless Running Games, the new poetry collection by Gareth DurasowAD2_9886B&W(web)

In partnership with Nidderdale AONB, we launched our competition for young people  to write a short story or poem about the First World War.

October and November

22401301072_0b142a82cd_mWe helped Professor John McLeod from the University of Leeds launch his book, Life Lines: Writing Transcultural Adoption.

Our Children’s Festival, Earth, Fire and Ink took place at the Royal Armouries where we explored the themes of conflict and the environment in  a fun, free, family friendly day..  The winners of our young people’s writing competition were awarded their prizes at a special ceremony there too. You can read the winning entries here: 12-16 category; 7-11 category.

The winners of our children's WW1 writing competition 2015. From left to right: Elisei Ulrich-Oltean, Theo Burkhill-Howarth, Daniel Ingram-Brown (judge), Benjamin Searle, Susan Burnett (judge), Evie May Richards, Emma Madden, Sacha Rines. Photo: Steve Evans




We were delighted to announce The Remember Oluwale Writing Prize, in partnership with Fictions of Every Kind and Remember Oluwale. We have invited submissions for  new short stories and poems which creatively respond to David Oluwale’s life and death for an anthology that reflects on David’s story, explaining its relevance today, to be published by Valley Press in June 2016. The closing date is 6 March 2016 and full details can be found here.RO-black-banner

2016 – Here We Come!

bbe2016So that’s our year in brief. I can’t quite believe we have achieved all of that but I am very proud to have been part of the team to have made it happen. Looking forward, already for 2016, we have our fund raising book sale at the Hyde Park Book Club on Saturday 30th January. More details here. We will be launching Becky Cherriman’s poetry pamphlet, Echolocation, on Sunday 28th February at the Hyde Park Book Club, details to follow. We hope to be giving out more free books on World Book Night in April, fingers crossed that our application is successful! Also in April, we will be launching Wes Brown’s second novel When Lights are Bright published by Dead Ink, in partnership with Leeds Beckett University’s (Re)Writing Yorkshire programme. Our main festival weekend will be Sat 4th-Sun 5th June and the week before. We’ll let you know soon what we have planned for that.23060233955_4c43d346cb_z

 Supporters and Partners 

Thank you so much to all of you who have volunteered with and supported the Leeds Big Bookend over the last 5 years; to all the writers, poets and performers who have taken part in events for us; to all of you who have come to our events and continue to do so. We are deeply indebted to the many partners who have supported us and continue to do so: Leeds Library and Information Service, Leeds Church Institute, Virtuoso Legal, Watersones Leeds, Waitrose Community Fund, The State of the Arts, MissyRedBoots, Outlaws Yacht ClubHyde Park Book Club, The Royal Armouries, Nidderdale AONB, Leeds Museums, Remember OluwaleFictions of Every Kind, The Carriageworks, Leeds Trinity University, Blackwell’s Leeds, The Leeds Library, Armley Press, The School of Cultural Studies and Humanities, Leeds Beckett UniversityThe Stanley and Audrey Burton GalleryThe Business Confucius at the University of Leeds, Leeds City College.

Happy New Year Everybody!

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Photos by Steve Evans and Raj Passy. Gareth Durasow and Dee Blick photos supplied by the authors.


Fiona Gell

Fiona is a lifelong reading enthusiast and book lover. Her career started as a bookseller and has never really veered away from the written and spoken word. It was a dream for her to be a founder member of The Leeds Big Bookend and the Northern Short Story Festival. She continues to be its Director.

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