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IRON OR - The Fourth IRON Press Festival of Words and Music

I notice the Newcastle Poetry Festival, which takes place in May, the month before our own IRON OR Festival, has 17 sponsors.

Our  festival has only three, somewhat smaller, but three is a friendly number.  I also notice Newcastle has many prestigious literary academics and award-winning authors. IRON OR,whch takes place only a few miles away, is not overburdened with  either genus. But then the Newcastle festival, which is called Transformations (no, not that sort) does have the clout and resources of Newcastle University behind it. There’s a logic to this as the financial security of universities is where an increasing number of our authors now seek sanctuary.

Probably very sensible. Though I suspect some of them might benefit from being out there in the real world, where life for the rest of we scribblers hopelessly unsuited to working within a large institution, can be pretty precarious. Not quite gnawing on the dried crust in a freezing garret as we scribble our masterpieces, but sometimes not far off.

Not that any writer who manages to earn his or her livelihood from this sullen craft should complain; we get to do for a living something that is our passion while many humans are condemned to mind-numbing jobs. And in the world overall, huge numbers go hungry on a daily basis. So let’s keep it in perspective.

For those not aware of the IRON Press festival, it always takes as its title some fiendishly clever pun on the word IRON; it occurs every two years in an assortment of venues clustered round Cullercoats Harbour on the windy North East coast of England. Cullercoats is  on the eastern extremity of  North Tyneside. The first festival was The IRON Age, followed by  Eclectic IRON, then IRON in the Soul, now IRON Or.

Like its predecessors (the first one was voted Top Event Tyneside in the Journal Culture Awards) this year’s is a mix of words, music and the unpredictable.

We have sent writers out on fishing boats, plonked them on a rock for six hours, made them play cricket and nudged them into running three miles. We launched our new book of ghost stories at midnight in St. George’s Church (complete with hot cocoa), ran haiku workshops in the local chip shop and invited aspiring crime novelists to examine a victim’s body before sending them off to find inspiration (and their own plotline ) round our small distinctive harbour village.

It is, as far as I know, the country’s only litfest run by a small press. All the 20 writers

involved this year have a link to the press or the region (or often both) as do the two dozen musicians who both support the writer events but also run their own wonderful al fresco festival fringe. For most of Saturday and Sunday (the festival is four days in all) this means sweet music is sounding out across the Cullercoats bay.

The venues often surprise people; the local working men’s club hosts two large events, the Fishermen’s Mission also. A favourite venue is the RNLI where audiences are treated to panoramic views both out to sea and up the coast as they enjoy the guest writers.

Because I personally find a whole evening of undiluted poetry hard to digest, almost every literary event also includes music.

Also because most poets read for too long, we’re strict on timings and it’s the firing squad for any who exceed their limit. Leave ’em wanting more is good advice more poets could do with heeding.  Why, I’ve known some elsewhere who’ve committed the cardinal sin of going on beyond closing time!

Many people won’t have heard of many of our authors, but over the last three festivals audiences have come to trust our judgement and IRON Press’s editorial preferences,
so we usually have little trouble attracting good turn-outs. Our events tend to be a journey of adventure rather than a visit to the familiar.

Every venue is within a shout of every other. Getting lost is impossible .If you do somehow get detached, the festival late-night club is where most people eventually fetch up.

Plus which, walk out of any venue and there  right in front of you  is the North Sea.

Cullercoats is an attractive seaside fishing village and has always been a magnet for creative artists. It has a healthy café culture but being also an active working place could never be called twee the way some obviously more touristy places could. That’s one reason the festival works.

All of which has failed to mention one single event in IRON OR. Look out for a few well-known names such as Harry Venning creator of the brilliant Radio 4 series and Guardian cartoon strip, Clare in the Community, Tyneside poetic legend Tom Pickard and the splendid Northumbrian poet Katrina Porteous reciting her amazing long dialect poem The Wund an’ The Wetter to Chris Ormston’s live accompaniment on the Northumbrian pipes (much sweeter than bagpipes).

We have the IRON Breakfast Lecture, along with a South African breakfast, a brand new play set in Cullercoats, a four hour singing workshop, free writers’surgeries, an Inpress literary quiz, four of the region’s top authors reading their own selections from our pioneering anthology of 150 persecuted 20th century poets worldwide, Voices of Conscience, a chance to pen your own immortal Cullercoats poem and bags more.

Absolutely nothing costs more than a tenner, most events are well under that and a good percentage are free, We think the programme and setting is unlike any other. Take a look yourself at our website, where you can follow the links to the full festival programme which runs from June 20-23rd. Tickets are available from April 1.

Take a trek up to the North East – see you here!




Pete Mortimer

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