The first Primadonna was held at Laffitts Hall, Pettaugh, Suffolk over the final weekend in August 2019 .
Almost 1,500 attendees took part in three days of programming, with the lineup including Elif Shafak, Bernardine Evaristo, Guy Gunaratne, Diana Evans, Katy Brand and Konnie Huq. We also showcased an incredible range of emerging and/or marginalised authors and created genuine opportunities for the discovery of fresh talent: two festival-goers from 2019 have since negotiated contracts with major publishers.
Aartwork are a CelticFolkfusion band based in Suffolk, playing mainly original tunes composed by Hebridean-born Art and songs penned by Claire Cordeaux. Aartwork have expanded from a duo into a full five piece Celtic groove, their tunes creating a lively, feel-good atmosphere. Aartwork play parties, festivals, ceilidhs and pubs and you can see their website here.
Adele Parks was born in Teesside, NE England. After graduating from Leicester University, where she studied English Language and Literature, Adele worked in advertising and as a management consultant. She published her first novel, Playing Away, in 2000; that year the Evening Standard identified Adele as one of London’s ‘Twenty Faces to Watch’. Always prolific, Adele has published eighteen novels in eighteen years, all of which have been bestsellers. She’s sold over three and a half million copies of her work in the UK alone and is also translated into 26 different languages. She writes numerous articles and short stories for national magazines and newspapers and often appears on radio and TV talking about her work and related matters. Adele has written fifteen contemporary novels in various genres, her latest being I Invited Her In, which reached number 2 in the Times Bestseller lists. She has also written two historical novels, Spare Brides and If You Go Away which look at issues surrounding WW1 including the ‘surplus’ women following the war and the plight of conscientious objectors. Adele is passionate in her belief that reading is a basic right. She is an Ambassador for the charities The Reading Agency and The National Literacy Trust. See her website here or find her on Twitter @adeleparks.
Alfie Indra is a pop/indie singer-songwriter appearing at Primadonna fresh from Latitude. Alfie met his now producer George Fitzgibbon in 2017 and his music has moved into the realms of indie-pop whilst maintaining the same heart felt, meaningful lyrics that he has always naturally gravitated towards. His musical style is described by Clash Magazine as “Gloriously upbeat, fantastically involved pop music, his tenacious approach matches warm, uplifting melodies to a gauzy web of 80s inspired synths”. His music has drastically increased in popularity this year, gaining almost half a million streams on Spotify. With support from BBC Introducing in Suffolk, Alfie has achieved radio plays across BBC Radio 2 and 6 music. Find him on Twitter @AlfieIndra.
Alom Shaha is a Physics teacher, splitting his time between a comprehensive school in London and a university technical college in Watford. When he’s not teaching, he works as a film-maker, writer and science communicator. He’s the author of The Young Atheist’s Handbook and Mr Shaha’s Recipes for Wonder. He has worked with a variety of organisations including The Royal Institution, University College London and The Institute of Physics, and has focussed on making films to encourage and help parents carry out science activities at home with their children, and films for teachers, about teaching. See his website here or find him on Twitter @alomshaha
Alya Mooro is an Egyptian born, London raised freelance journalist. Her first book The Greater Freedom: Life as a Middle Eastern Woman Outside the Stereotypes, is out September 2019 (Little a; Amazon Publishing). She holds a BA in Sociology and Psychology and a Masters in Journalism. She has been published in The Telegraph, Grazia, Refinery29, The Washington Post and more, providing unique takes on social commentary, fashion and lifestyle. Alya has collaborated with brands the likes of Nike, ASOS and Absolut and guested on numerous national radio stations including BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour, BBC Radio 1 and BBC 1Xtra. She is a representative voice for both her generation, and for multi-cultural women everywhere.
Follow Alya on Instagram and Twitter @alyamooro
Amy and the Calamities
Amy and the Calamities. Amy is a singer-songwriter born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. She writes music inspired by the sounds of her home, by the Celtic songs her mother would play when she was young, and by a strong dose of the blues, finding inspiration in artists like Howlin’ Wolf, The White Stripes and Ray Lamontagne. Her sound is marked by foot-stomping folk rhythms, the dirty-delicious sounds of delta blues on the slide guitar, accompanied by a dark, brooding vocal range, lilting melodies and thoughtful lyrics. The Calamities are a long story… You can find out more at www.amyandthecalamities.com
If Anneka Harry was pushed to describe herself in a nutshell she would say she's a 'Comedy Hustler (Performer, Producer, Writer, Etc.)'. The 'etc' leaves it open so that she can pursue whatever she decides to do tomorrow. Her writer/performer work consists of series, episodes and features for the BBC, Channel 4, ITV2, Radio 4, MTV and various online platforms including Stylist and Grazia magazines. When Anneka isn't parading around waving rainbow flags or trying to win feminism, she likes to be a thoroughly decent human being, drink alcohol (all types) and obsess over her sausage dog. The amount of work there is to do in the fight for equality gives Anneka regular stress migraines. She hopes Gender Rebels (her first book) will at least momentarily soothe anyone feeling equally overwhelmed.Anneka’s debut book, Gender Rebels: 50 Influential Cross-Dressers, Impersonators, Name-Changers and Game-Changers is out in Autumn 2019 and will be a lead title for Amazon Publishing’s newly launched non-fiction imprint, Little A. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @Annekaharry.
Ashley Hickson Lovence
Athena Stevens is an Olivier nominated actor and playwright. She is an associate artist at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre as well as a playwright on attachment at Finborough Theatre. Currently she is writing the book for a new musical as well as being under commission for BBC Radio 3 and National Youth Theatre. She was the first actor in a wheelchair nominated for an Offie for her performance in Schism, as well as appearing at the Barbican as Juliet last year. Stevens is also a spokesperson for the UK’s Women’s Equality Party. See her website here or find her on Twitter @athenastevens
Catherine Mayer is a bestselling author, journalist and activist. She is the co-founder and President of the Women’s Equality Party and co-founder of Primadonna. Her books include Amortality: The Pleasures and Perils of Living Agelessly; Charles: The Heart of a King, and Attack of the Fifty Foot Women: How Gender Equality Can Save the World! Her most recent book, the memoir Good Grief: Embracing Life at a Time of Death, contains letters written by her mother after both women were widowed at the start of the pandemic. After the February 2020 death of her husband, the musician Andy Gill, she took on his unfinished projects, releasing two EPs by his band Gang of Four, and acting as executive producer for a tribute album, The Problem of Leisure: A celebration of Andy Gill and Gang of Four featuring globally famous musicians which was released in June 2021. See her website here or find her on Twitter @catherine_mayer
Eva Verde is a writer from Forest Gate, East London. She is of dual heritage. Identity and class are recurring themes throughout her work as she studies towards an MA in Prose Fiction. Her love song to libraries, I Am Not Your Tituba forms part of Kit De Waal’s Common People: An Anthology of Working-Class Writers with Unbound. Eva’s debut novel Lives Like Mine, is published by Simon and Schuster. Eva lives in Essex with her husband, three daughters and Labrador dogs.
Jan Pulsford & the Deben Collective
Jini Reddy is the author of Wanderland, shortlisted for the Stanford Dolman Award for Travel Book of the Year ’21 and for the Wainwright Prize ’20. She has contributed to anthologies and, penned a guidebook, and her texts and poems have been displayed in exhibitions at London’s Royal Festival Hall and at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. As a journalist and travel writer, she has written widely for national press and in 2019 was named a National Geographic Woman of Impact. Jini holds an MA in English Literature from Avignon University, France and a BA in Geography from Mcgill University, Montreal. In her work, she occupies a cross-cultural, cross-genre space where place, spirituality and culture meet. Jini was born in Britain to Indian parents from South Africa, and was raised in Quebec, Canada. She now lives in south west London.
Justine de Mierre
Kate Williams is a professor of history, author and broadcaster. She writes historical biographies and historical fiction and her ninth book was on Mary Queen of Scots. She has presented various programmes on television, including The Stuarts and Inside Versailles.
Kia Abdullah is an author and travel writer from London. Her novel Take It Back was named a thriller of the year by The Guardian and Telegraph and was selected for an industry-first audio serialisation by HarperCollins and The Pigeonhole. Kia has written for The New York Times, The Guardian, The Telegraph, the BBC and The Times, and is the founder of Asian Booklist, a non-profit that advocates for diversity in publishing. Her new novel, Truth Be Told, is out now.
Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Kiran Millwood Hargrave is an award-winning poet, playwright, and novelist. Her bestselling works for children include The Girl of Ink & Stars, and have won numerous awards including the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, the British Book Awards Children’s Book of the Year, and the Blackwell’s Children’s Book of the Year, and been shortlisted for prizes such as the Costa Children’s Book Award and the Blue Peter Best Story Award. The Mercies is her first novel for adults. Kiran lives by the river in Oxford, with her husband, artist Tom de Freston, and their rescue cat, Luna.
Kit de Waal
Kit de Waal is an award-winning writer whose novels place ordinary people at the centre of the story. Her debut novel, My Name is Leon (2016), was the winner of the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year 2017 and shortlisted for the Desmond Elliot Prize, among others. Kit’s second novel, The Trick to Time, was published in March 2018 and longlisted for The Women’s Prize. Her first YA novel, Becoming Dinah will be be published in July 2019 for Hachette. She has also crowdfunded Common People an anthology of working class memoir by new and established writers published in May 2019. See her website here or find her on Twitter @KitdeWaal
Lennie Goodings is Chair of Virago Press. Her authors include, amongst many others, Sarah Waters, Maya Angelou, Eileen Atkins, Natasha Walter, Linda Gran, Susie Boyt and Marilynne Robinson. Her book, A Bite of the Apple: A Life with Books, Writers and Virago was published in 2020 by OUP. She won A Lifetime's Achievement at WOW, London's Southbank Women of the World festival in 2018.
Lisa Milton is Executive Publisher HQ Stories as well as sitting on the Exec Committee of HarperCollinsUK. She joined HarperCollins in 2015 after a decade as Managing Director of Orion Publishing where she was responsible for Orion, Orion Children’s, Gollancz and Weidenfeld & Nicolson, which was awarded Imprint of the Year at the 2015 Bookseller Industry Awards. Whilst there she published major bestsellers and award winning authors including Maeve Binchy, Ian Rankin, Gillian Flynn and Malala Yousafzai. Previously Lisa was Editorial Director at BCA, the UK’s biggest book club, and prior to this she had a successful career at Waterstones, where one of her most notable achievements was opening the flagship store in Piccadilly and winning the Bookshop of the Year Industry Award in 2000. Find her on Twitter @MsLisaMilton
In April 2019, Mandu became the first person of colour to lead a national political party in British history when she took the helm at the Women’s Equality Party. Prior to that she spent 12 years working at City Hall for all three Mayors of London. In 2015 she founded The Cup Effect – a charitable social enterprise, advocacy, and campaigning organisation that tackles period poverty in the UK and globally. In 2019 she was recognised by Apolitical as one of the top 100 most influential people in global gender policy alongside Michelle Obama, Melinda Gates, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg amongst others. Following a successful general election campaign later that year which pushed ending violence against women up the political agenda, Mandu is currently leading the Party’s campaigns in response to the Coronavirus crisis to make lasting change for women’s equality.
Maxine Mawhinney is an award winning journalist and broadcaster with a career spanning four decades. From Belfast, her career began in newspapers then moved to broadcasting for BBC, ITN, SKY, GMTV and Reuters, based in Ireland, London, Tokyo, Frankfurt and Washington DC. She became one of the most recognisable BBC TV news anchors on BBC News at One, BBC News Channel and Dateline London. Career highlights include covering the Clinton presidency and the death of Princess Diana. Recenlty, at the age of 60, she started a new career as a keynote speaker, event host, panel moderator and interviewer. She also produces and anchors her own interview programme The Moment with Maxine Mawhinney. Maxine is currently writing her first novel. Maxine is a sought after keynote speaker, event host, panel moderator and interviewer. See her website here or find her on Twitter @maxinemawhinney
Michael Donkor was born in London, to Ghanaian parents, and teaches English Literature in West London. Many of the issues explored in his debut Hold are close to his heart, and his writing won him a place on the Writers’ Centre Norwich's Inspires Scheme in 2014, where he received a year’s mentoring from Daniel Hahn. In 2018 he was named as one of The Observer's New Faces of Fiction, and this year Hold was longlisted for the International Dylan Thomas Prize and shortlisted for the Desmond Elliott Award.
Pragya Agarwal is a behavioural and data scientist. She is the author of Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias that was one of best science books of 2020 and Guardian Book of the Week, and Wish We Knew What To Say: Talking with children about race. Her latest book is (M)otherhood: On the choices of being a woman published on 3 June. Pragya is regularly invited to speak on bias, racism, belonging and gender equality for global corporate organisations, charities and academic institutions around the world. She is also the founder of a research think-tank called The 50 Percent Project.
Sabeena Akhtar is a Writer/Editor and an Arts and Culture programmer working across a variety of literary festivals. She is the Festival Coordinator of Bare Lit, the UK’s principal festival celebrating remarkable writers in the diaspora, a co-founder of the Primadonna Festival which spotlights the work of women writers including through the Primadonna Prize for writing, and also co-founder of Bare Lit Kids, the UK’s first children’s festival showcasing the work of writers of colour. She is also Senior Programmer at the WOW Foundation, working on its London festival at the Southbank Centre and across its global programmes. A keen advocate for Partition commemoration, in 2017 she partook in the BBC’s coverage of the 70th anniversary of Indian independence and alongside her daughter, filmed a programme on the Partition of India for children. She has since been invited to discuss the subject on various media outlets. She has published a wide variety of work including editing Cut From The Same Cloth? an anthology by visibly Muslim women in Britain, Talking About Islamophobia published by Hachette, and is currently working on a novel. You can find Sabeena tweeting at @pocobookreader
Born in Copenhagen, Denmark, Sandi Toksvig was brought up around the world in Europe, Africa and the United States. She began her comedy career at Girton College, Cambridge where she found time to write and perform in the first all-woman show at the Footlights as well as achieve a first-class degree. Sandi is well known to UK audiences as a broadcaster having begun her career in children’s television playing Ethel in the long-running Saturday-morning show Number 73. Since then her television career has included celebrated series such as Call My Bluff (as regular team captain) and Whose Line Is It Anyway? She was also host of Antiques Master for BBC2 and 1001 Things You Should Know for Channel 4. In 2016, Sandi took over from Stephen Fry as host of ‘QI’, BBC2’s fiendishly difficult and hugely popular quiz. She also replaced William G. Stewart as the host of the popular teatime quiz Fifteen to One which made its comeback after 11 years in April 2014. In 2017 she and Noel Fielding became the new co-hosts of ‘The Great British Bake Off’.For a decade Sandi was a familiar voice for BBC Radio 4 listeners as the chair of The News Quiz which led to her induction into the Radio Hall of Fame. Sandi is passionate about live performance. She performed at the very first night of The Comedy Store in London and for many years was a member of The Comedy Store Players, an improvisational comedy team. See her website here or find her on Twitter @sanditoksvig
Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu is a New York Attorney and Solicitor of England & Wales with broad expertise in the financial services industry, an author, public speaker and political commentator featured in mainstream and online media. A political & women’s rights activist, she also teaches intersectional feminism to female refugees and asylum seekers; scrutinizes government policies from a gender and diversity inclusion perspective; and co-organises women's marches and social campaigns. She founded the Women in Leadership publication as a platform to drive positive change on topical issues that impact women globally through inspiring personal leadership journeys; and established She@LawTalks to promote women & BAME leadership in the legal profession through universities and secondary schools. She is also the Co-Chair of the American Bar Association Africa committee. See her website here or find her on Twitter @SholaMos1
Sinéad Gleeson writes essays, fiction and poetry. She is the editor of three short story anthologies, including the award-winning The Long Gaze Back: An Anthology of Irish Women Writers and The Glass Shore: Short Stories by Women from the North of Ireland. Her essays have appeared in Granta, Winter Papers and Gorse. Her short stories have been published in various anthologies including Repeal the 8th (2018, Unbound) and Being Various: New Irish Short Stories (2019, Faber). Her debut essay collection Constellations was published by Picador in April 2019. She is currently working on a novel. See her website here or find her on Twitter @sineadgleeson
Sink ya Teeth
Sioned Wiliam lives in London, and is very recognisable in the world of comedy television in Britain. She was born in Carmarthen and brought up in Barry. Her novel Dal i Fynd has been picked up by television company Working Title. She produced a variety of comedic programmes for the main networks. Between 1999 and 2006 she was ITV’s Head of Network Comedy, and commissioned many films and series’ including Harry Hill’s Sketch Show and Cold Feet. She has numerous ongoing projects with Working Title and has been developing a series for Sky with the crew from Horrible Histories. Find her on Twitter @sionedwiliam