the sunderland creative writing festival


the history...

The Sunderland Festival of Creative Writing ran for the first time in October 2016 (parallel to the wonderful Literature Festival organised by Sunderland city libraries), and ran again in March 2018, with eighteen events, most of which sold out and attracted nearly 500 participants..

I'm creative director, and put the festival together with wonderful support from the creative community and generous venue owners of Sunderland, and from the support and hard work of Festival Coordinator (and novelist) Alan Parkinson. The 2018 Festival was made possible by the generosity of Arts Council England and the National Lottery, and we were delighted to welcome ACE Chief Executive Darren Henley to one of our events.

The first Festival brought in hundreds of visitors from across the North-East to a diverse programme of free events, with both internationally renowned writers and local talent.

Ann Cleeves and David Mark talked about their careers in crime writing, Julia Churchill (AM Heath) and Katherine Richards (Pan Macmillan) discussed with a full house what agents and publishers were looking for, and Michael Chaplin (Monarch of the Glen) led a workshop on screenwriting for TV. Acclaimed poet Sean O'Brien ran a workshop on writing river poems, and comedian and writer Jason Cook (Hebburn) joined comedians Hal Branson, Ian Smith and David Callaghan to talk about writing comedy - and then all of them performed a fantastic stand-up gig afterwards. A similar approach was taken to songwriting, led by Marty Longstaff (Lake Poets) and Natasha Hawes, in their songwriting workshop with young people. The team behind Writers Block, Laura Degnan and James Harris ran a session on developing ideas, and workshops on audio drama, flash fiction, self-publishing and smuggling stories out via social media were run by local writers Jay Sykes, Sarah Dobbs, Alan Parkinson and me.

Our 2018 headlining events were:

3rd March 9:30-13:00 - Writing for the Stage (An intensive playwriting workshop with practical exercises to structure your ideas into a dramatic narrative, with Gez Casey who was Live Theatre’s Literary Manager for ten years and now teaches playwriting and works for Arts Council England)

7th March - 19:00-23:00 Noir at the Bar Sunderland (it started in the US, spread to Scotland and then Newcastle, and now Noir at the Bar comes to Sunderland: full line-up to be announced shortly: eight crime writers reading excerpts from their work)

10th March - 10:00-16:00 Fact Into Fiction (best-selling crime novelist David Mark explores how you can take inspiration from real life events, and turn them into fiction in this full day workshop)

17th March - 14:00-16:00 Writing Young Adult Fiction (a panel discussion with Dylan Thomas Prize and Carnegie Medal nominee Matthew Crow, and author of the Half Bad trilogy Sally Green, who crashed into the Guinness Book of Records when her first novel sold into 45 different languages before it was even published)

24th March 14:00-16:00 - Writing Poetry for Performance with Jess Green (Poet and playwright….“Amazing to watch”: Scroobius Pip), followed 7-11pm by a night of spoken word performance with Jess, Fire Station poet in residence for March Rowan McCabe, other invited poets and an open mic for all to have the chance to perform.

25th March 10:00-16:00  Turning Ideas Into Plot (with Laura Degnan and James Harris from Writers’ Block)

29th March 19:00-23:00 Writing Comedy Panel and Show (a brilliant panel discussion on writing comedy with four comedians who have done TV, radio, sketch shows and stand-up), followed by the panellists delivering a night of stand-up comedy - with Carl Hutchinson (Magners Pub Comedian of the Year ), Amy Gledhill and Chris Cantrill (‘The Delightful Sausage’: one of Skinny magazine’s Best Shows of the Fringer) and Joby Mageean.


And here are our brilliant practical workshops, with hands-on opportunities to learn to write or to improve your craft:

1st March 18:30-21:00 - Haiku Workshop (with poet Ian Horn, who has performed at festivals throughout the UK and Europe)

4th March 14:00-16:00 - Audio Drama Writing 101 (Draft & develop an audio drama script from scratch, with Jay Sykes - producing Drawing in the Dark for BBC Radio 4)

6th March 18:30-21:00 - Building Character (with Lisa Burns, leader of one of the fab Cuckoo Young Writers groups)

11th March 14:00-16:00 - Performance Skills for Writers (with Kirsten Luckins, poet, performer and theatre-maker)

14th March - 18:30-21:00 Editing (local author Alan Parkinson, currently working on his fourth novel, explores the craft of editing your own work)

18th March 14:00-16:00 - DIY Audio Drama (How to go from printed page to production, on a shoe-string budget, with Jay Sykes - producing Drawing in the Dark for BBC Radio 4)

20th March 18:30-21:00 - Interactive Fiction (with author, playwright and creative writing tutor James Whitman, finalist in the Journal Culture Awards for Best Event

25th March - Walkshop: The Poetry of Place (with Jake Campbell, a recipient of New Writing North’s Andrew Waterhouse award and author of two pamphlets of poetry) 

28th March 11:00-12:00 Writing Women’s Magazine Fiction (with local author Glenda Young, who has work appearing in women’s magazines every week)