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Sandi Toksvig and leading women writers create a family-friendly Primadonna Festival in Suffolk

PUBLISHED: 12:23 01 May 2019

Author, playwright and televsiion presenter Sandi Toksvig will be taking part in the family friendly events at the Primadonna Festival.  Photo: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

Author, playwright and televsiion presenter Sandi Toksvig will be taking part in the family friendly events at the Primadonna Festival. Photo: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

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Writers, artists, publishers and television stars like Sandi Toksvig, Konnie Huq and Killing Eve author Luke Jennings will be creating a new writing festival in Suffolk this summer. We take a look at the diverse line-up

Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh in Killing Eve. Luke Jennings the author of the best-selling novel will speak at the new Primadonna Festival in Pettaugh. Photo: BBCJodie Comer and Sandra Oh in Killing Eve. Luke Jennings the author of the best-selling novel will speak at the new Primadonna Festival in Pettaugh. Photo: BBC

The quiet village of Pettaugh in mid-Suffolk will be reverbarating to the sound of music and laughter, readings from new books and various literary works and passionate discussion.

Laffitts Hall will be the home of the new Primadonna Festival – designed to be a literary festival with a difference. The Primadonna Festival is the brainchild of a group of women from publishing and entertainment who wanted to create a festival of brilliant writing, borne out of a desire to give prominence to work by women and spotlight authors from the margins—and to create a thoroughly joyous and accessible experience.

Co-founder Catherine Mayer said: “It has been conceived and structured to create a platform for new and emerging voices alongside established names and to give prominence to work by women. It will offer unparalleled access for aspiring writers to the expertise of people already in the industry as well as ensuring a great time for people who just love books and other forms of writing and creativity. And it aims to be welcoming and open to the widest possible audience.”

Fellow Primadonna Catherine Riley added that there had been a conscious effort to reflect all forms of writing and they wanted to make the event very family friendly. “There will be live music, films and comedy and all sorts of writing represented.

“Primadonna will provide a joyous and accessible experience with a packed programme that will include interviews, panels, spoken-word performances and workshops. Our policy is not to have separate kids' areas because, for some of us, weekends are a great opportunity to hang out with our children. Instead, the whole festival is designed to be child-friendly, and young people are welcome at all daytime events.” However, there will be some special treats reserved exclusively for younger festival-goers.

Konnie Huq, one of Britain's most loved presenters – she was Blue Peter's longest-serving female presenter from 1997-2008 and since then has gone on to present shows including The Xtra Factor, King of the Nerds and London Talking – will talk about Cookie, the hero of her latest book series.

Former Blue Peter presenter Konnie Huq who will be talking about her new children's bero Cookie at the Primadonna Festival Photo: Primadonna FestivalFormer Blue Peter presenter Konnie Huq who will be talking about her new children's bero Cookie at the Primadonna Festival Photo: Primadonna Festival

Konnie will be introducing youngsters to Cookie, who is inspired by her own London Bangladeshi background, her love of science, and her being a bit of a nerd, and introduce the first title in the trilogy - Cookie and the Most Annoying Boy in the World.

Children's illustrator Debbie Allwright (Mrs Vickers Knickers, Princess Swashbuckle, Dr Molly's Medicine Case, The Witch With An Itch) will be adapting her most famous book The Night Pirates into a participatory art event.

At the heart of her story are a bunch of girl pirates and their shipmate Tom, off on adventures with their own pirate ship. Debbie will invite children to identify their inner pirate and, in an extension to The Night Piratesstory, populate an imaginary island with animals, trees, insects and perhaps people too. There is no telling what kind of (anti-)civilisation they will make.

There will also be panels on young adult fiction, featuring writers Kit de Waal and Helen Thomas, and on getting published as a children's writer. And the festival's entertainment line-up will feature lots of family fun including Sandi Toksvig talking live onstage, Ada Campe's surrealist comedy, lots of new music and films to suit all ages.

What can older audiences expect?

Panels, roundtables, talks and workshops including: established writers introducing rising stars or emerging voices. One confirmed example of this is Kit de Waal presents Ely Percy.

You may also want to watch:

Professor Kate Williams will speak on Mary, Queen of Scots; other panels include: Alexa, While You're Down There – the view from science fiction and tech experts including Rachel Coldicutt on the future that's being built and how to shape it; Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't – a discussion on motherhood; Her Breasts Preceded Her into the Room – can men write women?

There will A panel on Killing Eve with its author Luke Jennings and Make Sioned Laugh – that's Sioned Wiliam, Radio 4's commissioning editor for comedy and one of the Primadonnas. The event will be open to aspiring comedians and comedy writers to try their luck in a three-minute open-mic session.

How to Think and What to Do to Make your Writing Dreams Come True, a workshop with well known crime writer Sophie Hannah

How did the Primadonna Festival come about?

Primadonna is the brainchild of a group of women from publishing and entertainment. Jane Dyball was about to leave her top job in the music industry and casually mentioned to author and Women's Equality Party co-founder, Catherine Mayer, that she was thinking of organising a different kind of event at her home in Suffolk (Jane and her partner Andy Corrigan of the Mekons already run music festivals there). Catherine was on board with the idea immediately – and the seeds for the first ever Primadonna Festival were sown.

It draws on the expertise not only of top names in publishing, but two of the biggest names in festivals, Jude Kelly and Joanna Baker who recently stepped down from leading respectively the Southbank Centre and Edinburgh International Festival.

Why does the world need another literary festival?

Thirty years ago Women in Publishing first demonstrated review bias which showed men were reviewed most often, and most often by men—maintaining “literature” as by men, for men. This year's Emilia report showed the same marked bias towards male writers. Primadonna wants to hear from and about women writers, and wants to create a space where women can talk as experts, not as exceptions. There's a lack of diversity in publishing which naturally feeds through into festivals. The Primadonna founders believe there's space for a weekend of panels, discussions and performances that introduce new writers and new ideas about writing.

Will it just be books?

No, there will be comedy, arts and crafts, films, theatre, lots of music and food. Full details to be release later.

Where and when is the Primadonna Festival on?

Laffitts Hall, Pettaugh, Suffolk, IP14 6DT from Friday August 30 to Sunday September 1 2019

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