Off The Shelf: Big names at this year’s Sheffield book festival

: Jah Wobble. 2010 shot
: Jah Wobble. 2010 shot

HISTORY, the visual arts and current affairs are to the fore in this year’s Off the Shelf festival which brings some big names to Sheffield in October.

They include son of Barnsley Sir Michael Parkinson, TV news presenter Jeremy Paxman, food guru Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, comedians Mark Thomas and Rob Brydon and cultural pundits Will Self and Jeanette Winterson.

Sir Michael Parkinson.

Sir Michael Parkinson.

In a year when non-fiction is predominant there is a variety of specialist subjects including musician Jah Wobble’s Memoirs of a Geezer, Mark Logue talking about his grandfather, speech therapist Lionel Logue of The King’s Speech fame, Bruce Jones on life as Coronation Street’s Les Battersby, the text message collection of Tracey Moberly and John Hegarty, the creative genius behind many famous adverts.

Newsnight host Paxman heads a contingent of journalists who also include US-based Guardian man Gary Younge, social commentator Polly Toynbee and Jon Ronson with his Psychopath Test.

Sir Roy Strong, former director of the National Portrait Gallery and the V&A, will offer his Visions of England and the visual arts will also be represented by art historian Sir Christopher Lloyd, David Hockney biographer Martin Gayford, Fiona MacCar-thy on Edward Burne-Jones, and Jonathan Jones on the rivalry between Leonardo Da Vinci and Michaelangelo.

Other biographers in attendance include Claire Tomalin on Dickens, Hitler expert Ian Kershaw and Alison Weir’s Mary Boleyn.

Tracey Moberly

Tracey Moberly

One man switching to fiction is Sheffield-based climber and writer Joe Simpson with a book called The Sound of Gravity, and more established novelists include Joe Dunthorne (with his follow-up to Submarine), Anne Donovan (Buddha Da) and Milly Johnson, along with locally-connected writers Anne Zouroudi, Sunjeev Sahota and Rachel Genn.

Poetry is well represented by Andrew Motion, Wendy Cope, Chris Wallace-Crabbe, Michael Glover and Ian McMillan, among many others.

Carol Ann Duffy’s first collection of poems as Poet Laureate, The Bees, is published on October 7. The night before she will give a reading at The Foundry at the university which will run up to midnight when people can buy the book hot off the press and get it signed.

For the first time the festival has invited a guest curator to programme a strand of the programme. In his first year as Professor of Poetry at the University of Sheffield, Simon Armitage has organised a series of events on the theme of journeys.

Jeremy Paxman

Jeremy Paxman

One will see exiled Sheffielder and novelist Geoff Nicholson conduct a mystery walk round his home city following the same directions he took on a recent journey on foot around Hollywood.

The Lost Photographs of Captain Scott will comprise an illustrated lecture by Polar historian Dr David M Wilson, a descendant of one of the explorers on the ill-fated expedition to the South Pole in 1912.

Finally, poets Michael Symmonds Roberts and Paul Farley will read from their book, Edgelands, describing England’s overlooked fringe between the urban and the rural.

Off the Shelf this year is linking up with two other festivals. First it has collaborated with Sheffield’s MADE entrepreneur event to arrange talks with Luke Johnson, the man behind Pizza Express, David Erdal, an expert on employee ownership, and BBC science reporter Angela Saini, author of Geek Nation, about India’s bid to become a global science superpower.

Rob Brydon at Buxton Opera House on November 24

Rob Brydon at Buxton Opera House on November 24

There will also be an exchange with the Ilkley Literature Festival which will involve a coach trip from Sheffield for Afternoon Tea with Bonnie Greer and the Brontes. A party from Ilkley will travel down for a guided tour of Sheffield Manor Lodge.

Children’s authors participating in schools and young people’s events include GP Taylor (Shadowmancer), Fredric Alcock and Paul Arnold (Space Coyotes and the Secret of the Blue Planet), Shoo Rayner (Sea Wolf and the Olympia series), Curtis Joblin (Wereworld), Jon Mayhew (Mortlock), and Simon Rose (The Sorcerer’s Letterbox).

Now in its 20th year, the festival organised by Sheffield City Council’s arts service takes place in venues around the city the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield Cathedral, the City Hall, the Showroom cinema, the universities, local libraries and pubs, along with public spaces.

* The detailed programme of Off the Shelf which runs from October 8-29 will be available soon and booking will open on September 2.

Chef: Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall.

Chef: Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall.