Book festivals and events to attend from the comfort of your own home

Coronavirus might mean that in-person events have had to be cancelled, but many book festivals and authors are heading online. Here's a round up of where you can watch some of your favourite writers and illustrators in action.

Book festivals to attend from your own home
Image: Ryan MacEachern

From concerts to theatre performances, the coronavirus crisis has seen the cancellation of live events across the world.

Included in those are book festivals and events, which offer an opportunity for readers to meet and hear from new and established authors and illustrators.

Some are now returning, with reduced audiences, but many have gone online. Bookshops aren’t able to host authors and festivals aren’t able to take place, but there are still book events you can “attend”, all from the comfort of your own home. Virtual festivals are the perfect way to meet writers and illustrators old and new.

Here are some of the book festivals and events you can attend on your own time or catch up with if you missed them the first time round. Best of all, it’s guaranteed that your view won’t be blocked by someone taller than you. 

Bloody Scotland

Crime festival Bloody Scotland will go entirely online this year, with tickets completely free.

Highlights include Val McDermid in conversation with Lee Child, and Ian Rankin in conversation with Lawrence Block. Other authors appearing include Attica Locke, Abir Mukherjee, Jo Nesbo and Denise Mina. Other invents include a spin on Desert Island Discs called Desert Island Crooks, and a digital challenge called The Never-Ending Panel which will feature 27 Scottish writers from all over the world.

And it’s not just this year’s events that are a draw: a film of You the Jury, a play which sold out at the 2019 festival, will be aired. 

When: Thursday 17 September to Sunday 20 September

Where can I watch?: Tickets can be booked on the Bloody Scotland website, and details of how to watch will be shared before each event.

The DESIblitz Literature Festival

This literature festival usually takes place in venues across Birmingham, but will go online this year. Events include White Tears’ author Hari Kunzru in conversation. Young adult authors Bali Rai and Manjeet Mann will also be taking part in Q&As, while comedian Humza Arshad will be doing a reading and talking about his second Little Bad Man book.

When: Saturday 19 September to Friday 25 September

Where can I watch?: Booking information, and details of how to watch, are available on the DESIblitz website

Edinburgh International Book Festival

The familiar tents in the centre of Edinburgh may be missing this year, but there are still plenty of events taking place for the Edinburgh International Book Festival. The festival has programmed more than 140 online events for adults and children, starting on Saturday 15 August and bringing together more than 200 authors and illustrators.

Among the authors appearing are Arundhati Roy, who will reflect on the implications of the global pandemic, while Bernardine Evaristo will be in conversation with Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, and Marian Keyes will talk about her latest bestseller, Grown Ups.

All events will be free to watch, with a number of them being BSL interpreted and others live captioned. Audiences will be able to enter a live chatroom before and during events, and can ask questions of authors.

When: Saturday 15 August to Monday 31 August

Where can I watch?: Watch through the Edinburgh International Book Festival website

Hay Festival Digital

Hay Festival went online from 18 May to 31 May. Authors who took part included Roddy Doyle, who will be previewing his forthcoming novel, Love; Margaret Atwood, who shared a daily Festival poem; and Elif Shafak, who joined lawyer and writer Philippe Sands to deliver the English PEN Platform, and also took part in a film series where internationally acclaimed writers and thinkers shared their thoughts on a post Covid-19 world.

Where can I watch?: Events are now available to watch on Hay Player.

At Home With Penguin

Not only could you watch At Home With Penguin from your own space, you also got a glimpse into the homes of some of your favourite authors. Each At Home With Penguin broadcast live from a writer's home, with the author talking about their current reading, what they've been doing in lockdown and answering questions from the audience. Authors who took part included Marian Keyes, Melissa Hemsley and Tim Peake. 

Where can I watch?: You can watch all episodes on YouTube here.

Women of the World

Women of the World Festival, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year, held two virtual festivals in 2020.

First, on 16 May and 17 May, was the WOWxBBC Festival. Held in partnership with BBC Arts, people appearing included Don’t Touch My Hair author Emma Dabiri, who took part in a session with Sandi Toksvig and Maxine Peake on their favourite women from history whose stories have been silenced. 

Then on 27 June and 28 June, WOW held Women of the World’s 24 Hour Global Virtual Festival, bringing together women and girls across the earth over a 24-hour period to share their local stories, celebrate achievements and together look for learnings to map out new ways to think and act in the future.

Where can I watch?: You can watch the WOWxBBC Festival videos here.

The Big Book Weekend

The Big Book Weekend has been co-founded by Kit de Waal and Molly Flatt.
The Big Book Weekend has been co-founded by Kit de Waal and Molly Flatt. Image: Karen Karn

A three-day virtual book festival, The Big Book Weekend was co-founded by authors Kit de Waal and Molly Flatt, and supported by the BBC and Arts Council England. It brought together a number of book festivals from across the UK which have had to cancel, and included interviews, performances and panel discussions. Authors who took part included Abir Mukherjee talking to Kia Abdullah about social divisions in fiction, Marian Keyes interviewed by Women's Equality Party co-founder Catherine Mayer, and Bernardine Evaristo, who was in conversation with Mairi Kidd.

Where can I watch?: All the events are available to view in the MyVLF theatre; registration is free

Lockdown LitFest

Lockdown LitFest aims to being a "real-world festival experience to your home screens". It has an ongoing programme of events, which are bring added to regularly. The festival has created a number of "tents", including ones for fiction, non-fiction and children's, and will be setting up more as the festival grows. All events, which are free to view, are broadcast live, and then archived so people can watch at their own convenience as well.

Where can I watch?: Visit the Lockdown Lit Fest website to see past events, and find out about forthcoming ones

Everywhere Book Fest

Everywhere Book Fest is a children's and YA festival which took place on 1 and 2 May. Events included a picture book draw-off, where illustrators will have a minute to draw illustrations from prompts sent by viewers, and a panel of authors discussing how their work speaks to the bigger picture of feminism.

Where can I watch?: All events can be viewed on the Everywhere Book Fest website

HistFest: Lockdown

Hallie Rubenhold
Hallie Rubenhold "appeared" at HistFest: Lockdown. Image: Sarah Blake

HistFest, which usually takes place in April, has been rescheduled to September. But the event's organisers put on a mini virtual festival – HistFest: Lockdown – for history fans, featuring speakers including Michael Palin, Hallie Rubenhold, Greg Jenner and Sunny Singh covering topics from 19th century shipwrecks to the history of celebrity. 

Where can I watch?: All events can be viewed on the HistFest YouTube channel

Your Culture Fix from Southbank Centre

Southbank Centre may be closed, but it's giving audiences the chance to get their "culture fix" with a weekly release of podcasts and events from the archive, featuring authors, illustrators, musicians, poets and more. It's also putting on new events online, including one with writer David Wallace-Wells, who spoke about climate change with broadcaster Samira Ahmed (watch here).

Where can I watch?: Visit the Southbank Centre website to watch events

Primadonna Festival

Primadonna Festival held its inaugural event in 2019, featuring authors including Bernardine Evaristo and Diana Evans. Its 2020 festival has been cancelled, but organisers are taking their love of books online, including with a book club running via the Primadonna Instagram account. The festival’s organisers will also be announcing virtual events for this year in the coming weeks, so keep an eye on its website for more information. 

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