2019 lineup announcement

Elif Shafak, Guy Gunaratne, Michael Donkor, Amanda Prowse, Diana Evans and Katy Brand join line-up for inaugural festival…

The new Primadonna Festival (30 Aug – 1 Sept) aims to celebrate brilliant writing from emerging as well as established artists. Primadonna will give prominence to work by women, while welcoming all genders, on stage and off.

Primadonna is proud to announce the addition of brilliant new talent to its lineup, with writers Elif Shafak, Michael Donkor, Guy Gunaratne, Diana Evans and Amanda Prowse now confirmed to appear, alongside comedian and writer Katy Brand, poet Raymond Antrobus and national treasure Sandi Toksvig.

Elif Shafak will discuss her newest work 0 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World as well as her other novels and her activism, and will also introduce an emerging author to watch out for. This will be part of a series of events with established writers showcasing new talent – also confirmed are Kit de Waal who will present rising star Ely Percy. ‘Queen of family drama’ Amanda Prowse needs no introduction, having published twenty bestselling novels along with six short stories in dozens of languages – she will appear as part of the festival’s amazing line-up of female talent which also includes Diana Evans, Sinead Gleeson, Bernardine Evaristo and Angela Saini.

Festivals – whether focused on books, comedy or music – tend to be skewed towards men and shut out new and exciting talents. Primadonna will give prominence to women writers and amplify marginalised voices, with new talent sitting alongside famous names in a weekend of unique and innovative programming.

Helping represent the men will be Ashley Hickson Lovence, Guy Gunaratne and Michael Donkor. Guy and Michael will introduce their latest work as well as discuss their recent accolades: winning the prestigious Dylan Thomas Prize and being shortlisted for the Desmond Elliot Prize respectively. Luke Jennings, creator of Killing Eve’s kick-ass character Villanelle, will join Michael for a panel entitled ‘Her Breasts Preceded Her into the Room’, which will examine whether men really can write women.

Writers Diana Evans and Kerry Hudson, publishers Sharmaine Lovegrove, Helen Thomas and Lisa Milton and agent Jo Unwin will swap tales of their worst setbacks – rejection letters (received or sent), harsh reviews or misfires – in ‘Don’t Mess With Writers, We’ll Describe You’; and Katy Brand will make her first appearance relating to her forthcoming book about Dirty Dancing – with an opportunity to watch the film and to dirty dance yourself.

In ‘Where There’s Muck, There’s Brass’ author Kit de Waal and poet Sabrina Mahfouz will ponder how, when a writer’s average annual income is £10,000, working class writers keep going in the face of multiple barriers to publication; lack of time and space, industry access and know-how and so little reward—and the rewards for everyone when these voices do break through.

And to make sure the festival also makes space for roll-on-the-floor hilarity, Primadonna is delighted to present ‘Make Sioned Laugh’, Primadonna’s very own game show with – perhaps – life-changing consequences, in which host Ayesha Hazarika will invite participants to spend a maximum of three minutes trying to make Sioned Wiliam, Radio 4’s commissioning editor for comedy and one of the Primadonnas, laugh. Prepare for aching sides…

Although the whole festival is programmed to be family-friendly, there are some events that are specifically for younger visitors, including an appearance by Konnie Huq, one of Britain’s most loved TV presenters (Blue Peter, The Xtra Factor, King of the Nerds and London Talking) who has signed a three-book deal for her ‘Cookie’ children’s series; and a special interactive session with children’s illustrator Debbie Allwright. Debbie will be adapting her most famous book The Night Pirates into a participatory art event with animals, trees, insects and perhaps people too.

The festival’s entertainment line-up (full details yet to be announced) will feature lots of family fun including Sandi Toksvig in a funny, inspiring, engaging and very personal conversation, and Ada Campe’s surrealist comedy, and magical campfire storytelling sessions. There will also be poetry and performance including from Gray Crosbie and Raymond Antrobus, whose debut collection ‘The Perseverance’ won both the 2019 Ted Hughes and the Rathbone Folio prizes.

Watch out for a separate release on our amazing music line-up when we’ll be presenting some of the hottest – and coolest – new musicians and bands.

The festival arose out of a conversation between Jane Dyball and Catherine Mayer, who saw the need for a fresh take on the literary and music festival formats. “My partner (Andy Corrigan of The Mekons) and I have always put on music festivals at home for fun,” says Jane. “After talking to author friends it was clear that there was a real need to give a platform to writers who don’t always get heard, and to have important discussions about issues that don’t always get aired – still with plenty of music of course and with the vibe of a music festival (but with clean loos)!”