Reading lovers are brought to book

Jeremy Paxman
Jeremy Paxman
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Michael Parkinson, Jeremy Paxman, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Rob Brydon are some of the big names lined up to mark a new chapter in the history of Sheffield’s Off The Shelf literary festival, as digital editor Graham Walker found out.

IMAGINE a Hillsborough or Bramall Lane crowd gathered for one of the season’s biggest games.

Fine foods: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall will be one of the guests at the festival

Fine foods: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall will be one of the guests at the festival

That’s around 23,000 very excited fans. It’s also more or less the number of people expected to attend this year’s Off the Shelf book festival. There won’t be any football chanting - at least the organisers aren’t expecting any - but the silent library brigade will be equally as excited. And they’ve good reason to be.

For The Star gold-sponsored festival of reading and writing will celebrate its 20th anniversary this year - from October 8 to 29 - with some impressive household names.

Guest speaker highlights include a rare homecoming appearance by retired chat show king Michael Parkinson, TV’s no-nonsense Newsnight bulldog Jeremy Paxman, celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and comedian Rob Brydon. But it doesn’t end there.

With more than 180 events, at 20 venues across the city, other guests include poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, satirical novelist Will Self, poet Wendy Cope, Submarine movie author Joe Dunthorne and even a talk by King’s Speech authors Peter Conradi and Mark Logue - grandson of Lionel George Logue, the Australian speech therapist who treated King George VI, played in the blockbuster adaptation by Oscar winning Colin Firth.

Michael Palin

Michael Palin

Other speakers include Men Who Stare At Goats movie writer, film-maker and radio presenter Jon Ronson, biographer and journalist.Claire Tomalin, political journalist and author Polly Toynbee, royals biographer Alison Weir, advertising agency supremo Sir John Hegarty, award-winning poet, Huddersfield’s playwright and novelist Simon Armitage.

Books for discussion include Start It Up by Luke Johnson and in Search Of A Masterpiece by Christopher Lloyd.

The impressive line-up gets better every year as the festival grows in size, prestige and popularity, say the delighted organisers – who are currently looking at the economic impact it brings to the city.

It offers a range of events for audiences of all ages, with readings, workshops, storytelling, exhibitions, talks, walks, poetry and more.

Television favourite: Sir Michael Parkinson

Television favourite: Sir Michael Parkinson

It is organised by the Culture Department of Sheffield City Council and behind most of the hard work is a team of three extraordinary women - Maria de Souza, Su Walker and Lesley Webster.

Over the years they have managed to cajole some of the best known names in literature and media to come to Sheffield.

Previous guest speakers have included Kate Adie, Stephen Fry, Nick Hornby, Alastair Campbell, Tony Benn, Simon Armitage, Doris Lessing, Michael Palin, Jamie Oliver, Ian Rankin and Michael Rosen.

Off the Shelf also now offers special events throughout the year. A mini-themed festival, including Highlighting History, will run from March 2 to 4, 2012.

Rob Brydon at Buxton Opera House on November 24

Rob Brydon at Buxton Opera House on November 24

Maria said: “This is our 20th year, which is fantastic for the festival and the city. Lots of wonderful things happening and we’re going from strength to strength, bigger and better than ever.

“The festival started quite small and it’s grown to be one of the biggest in the country. Last year there was more than 200 events and it’s the same this year.

“We have had so many names over those years - all kinds of authors, international names.

“This year’s highlights include Sir Michael Parkinson, who we are very excited about - a big event at the Crucible. We’ve also got Jeremy Paxman. We had him years ago and he’s a very good speaker. We’re looking forward to seeing him again.

“But I’m also excited about the smaller events. We’ve got Jo Dunthorne for example, who is the author of Submarine - Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys did the soundtrack for that when it was made recently into a film.”

Coun Helen Mirfin-Boukouris praised sponsors for helping to make the festival happen – not least off all The Star and this year’s platinum sponsor, Civica – also sponsor of the Parky event. Civica is a market leader in specialist systems and business process services that help organisations to achieve a more cost-efficient way of working,

She said: “We get people travelling to Sheffield to see a specific event - that’s good for the city and for tourism, the hotels the restaurants and so on.

“Last year it attracted over 22,000 visitors and we are hoping we will exceed that this year, with over 180 events at 80 different venues and something for all tastes and ages.”

David Erdal and Luke Johnson talks, about business and culture, are also part of MADE : The Entrepreneur Festival, September 21 to 24. Visit

For Off The Shelf sponsorship opportunities call 0114 273 4716 / 273 4400. For full events and tickets visit

Order signed books fromRhyme and Reason. Call 0114 266 1950 or e-mail

Watch our video report at

Be There

TICKETS for all this year’s Off the Shelf events go on sale soon – but these events are already for sale:

September 21: Start It Up – Why Running Your Own Business is Easier Than You Think.

September 22: Beyond the Corporation – Humanity Working A Talk with David Erdal.

September 24: In Search of A Masterpiece - A Talk with Christopher Lloyd

October 19: Michael Parkinson.

Epistolary Psychotherapy: The Letters of Edward Thomas and Philip Larkin

October 22: Black Diamonds with Catherine Bailey in conversation with Martyn Johnson

October 27: Rob Brydon

For full details visit

Win tickets to hear about Parky’s top interviews

BARNSLEY born Sir Michael Parkinson is coming home for a highlight of this year’s Off the Shelf Festival to talk about his celebrity interviews book, Parky’s People – and we have tickets to be won.

The Star, gold sponsor of the festival, has teamed up with festival organisers and platinum sponsors Civica, who are also sponsoring the Parky event at The Crucible Theatre on Wednesday, October 19, 7.30pm.

Sir Michael, from the pit village of Cudworth, started as a journalist on local papers and went to the Manchester Guardian and Daily Express, then became a household name following his chat shows and film review programmes. He presented TV-am and Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in his long and distinguished career.

Paul Allen will be in conversation with him, giving the audience an insight to the man who has met everyone.

Civica is also proud to support a series of free events for school children that will be taking place in community libraries across the city.

Events will include meet the author Shoo Rayne, Curtis Jobling talking about his popular fantasy series about werewolves and poet James Carter performing his beautifully crafted poems for children. Off the Shelf will be announcing the full line up shortly.

Tickets for the Parky event are £12/£10 (cons) from Sheffield Theatres Box office, Crucible Theatre, Tudor Square - call 0114 249 6000 - or from Sheffield Motorpoint Arena and at

For a chance to win one of two pairs of tickets in our free draw, email your name and details, with Parky Competition in the subject bar, to by Tuesday, August 30, 10am. Usual SNL rules. Data protection details P2.