Festival of words, Off the Shelf, brings the best of literary talent to Sheffield

10th September 2020

Off the Shelf, one of the largest literary festivals in the UK, opens its 29th year in Sheffield with the interrogation of crime writer, Lee Child, author of the international bestselling Jack Reacher books.

Child will be talking about his fascinating life and work with his biographer Dr Heather Martin in a live online event on Friday 9 October 2020.

Organised by the University of Sheffield and supported by Arts Council England and Sheffield Hallam University, nothing was going to stop the Off The Shelf team from presenting the best of literary talent in 2020, a year when books and reading have been even more essential than ever and a source of much needed comfort for many during these challenging times.

The full programme is live on the Off The Shelf website, tickets for which go on sale at 10am on Monday 14 September 2020, with 80 per cent of events free for the public. As well as live and pre-recorded free online events, Off the Shelf will be one of the first literary festivals this year to include some ticketed live events with an audience.

Held in two well known Sheffield city venues; The Octagon and The Crucible at Sheffield Theatres, limited audiences will be able to safely hear some wonderful speakers in person, but ticketed live streams will also be available for those of us who don’t yet feel ready to venture out into public forums just yet.

Professor Vanessa Toulmin, Director of City and Culture at the University of Sheffield, said: “Great talent needs supporting both financially and creatively – the University is committed to ensuring the vibrancy and creative talent of our city is both a showcase for developing and emerging writers and showcasing the very best of national and international literary talent.

“We are indebted to our sponsors, supporters, the Arts Council and the city for ensuring that we still have a platform for what is one of the longest established literature festivals in the UK. It will be different but still innovative, creative and speaks for and represents the city that we are part of. Please support us and all our artists in these challenging times.”

Ashley Barnes, Deputy Head of Humanities at Sheffield Hallam University, said: “As we try and express our thoughts and feelings about the post-Covid world, words are more important than ever. Our programme encourages you to find the genre that suits your desire for expression, by getting amazing authors (from fiction to scripts) to discuss how and why they write.”

The team have worked hard throughout lockdown to produce an uplifting and thought-provoking programme that reflects the world around us. Some of the best known names in literature are appearing in the 2020 festival, including: British Poet Laureate Simon Armitage, Lemn Sissay, Helen Mort, David Olusoga, Lee Child,  Kit de Waal, Luke Jennings, Stuart Maconie, Susie Dent, Jonathan Porritt, Nazir Afzal, Dan Walker, Heather Morris, Roger Robinson, Luke Harding, Candice Brathwaite and Michelle Rawlins with Women of Steel.

Sheffield Hallam University has also created a series of masterclasses and workshops for the programme and have secured Laura Wade for How to Write Plays, Samuel West for How to Read Out Loud and Nikesh Shukla for How to Write True Fiction.

Previous popular visitor Lee Child, will be opening the festival with his biographer Dr Heather Martin. Lee Child said: "Sheffield is always in my heart, and I was delighted to be invited to open the festival - it's always great to be back." Dr Heather Martin commented: "The last time Lee Child appeared at Off the Shelf I was in the audience taking notes. It's a thrill to return three years later as his biographer."

Sheffield breeds amazing literary talent and locally based writer Helen Mort will be present at one of the live on stage events talking about her new book on Monday 19 October. She said: “Off The Shelf is always a highlight in the literary calendar and I love the way it puts Sheffield on the map. This year I am looking forward to participating more than ever - it will be a delight to take part in a pioneering live event after months in the house! My new book Never Leave The Dog Behind will be hot off the press so I’m excited to share it with a new audience.”

Simon Armitage has been a guest curator for Off the Shelf previously. Now he is the British Poet Laureate and returns for a very special and unique drive in live event on Sunday 11 October held at the Mercure Sheffield Kenwood Hall Hotel. He says: “Delighted to be ‘back on the road’ again with this drive-in poetry reading, Off The Shelf thinking out of the box - almost literally - to make this event happen. Pomp your horn if you agree.”

Off the Shelf has set up a Just Giving page and hopes that people will donate and help the festival to remain sustainable and accessible for audiences, authors and performers, readers and writers. The money raised will go back into the festival to help it continue its work. https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/offtheshelf 

Event details below. Full itinerary available on the website from Saturday 5 September:

  • Friday 9 Oct 7.30pm
    The Reacher Guy: The Authorised Biography of Lee Child
    Lee Child and Heather Martin
    In Conversation - Live Online
  • Sunday 11 Oct 1pm
    How to... Read Out Loud Samuel West

  • Sunday 11 October 6.00pm
    The Poet Laureate’s Drive-in: Simon Armitage
    Live from a secret Sheffield location

  • Monday 19 October 7.30pm
    Never Leave the Dog Behind: Helen Mort
    Live from the Crucible Theatre

  • Wednesday 21 Oct 6.30pm
    Writing True Fiction: Masterclass Nikesh Shukla
    Masterclass - Live Online
  • Saturday 24 October 5pm
    How to Write... Plays Laura Wade
    In Conversation - Pre Recorded

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