QUESTION: what do Michael Palin, Sue Perkins, Mark Gatiss, Jonathan Dimbleby, Joanne Harris and North Yorkshire’s own Yorkshire Rows transatlantic women’s rowing team have in common?

Answer: not much, except that they’re all well known, they’ve all written books – and they’ll all be appearing at this year’s York Literature Festival.

This is the festival’s tenth year. And following a successful application for charitable status, the line-up this year is bigger and better than ever.

Former festival director Miles Salter, who for many years kept the event going through sheer force of will, has taken a back seat this year.

Step forward Rob O’Connor. Rob is a Ph.D student at York St John who also teaches literature and creative writing. He’s been involved with the York Literature Festival since 2010 – and he’s now fronting it, as the festival’s new director.

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York Literature Festival's new director, Rob O'Connor

So he’s responsible for this year’s fantastic line-up?

Partly, he says modestly. Miles put some of it together – but the rest is his.

Having charitable status has certainly helped. “People respond to charities a bit more.” But just the fact that York is York is a great pull too. “It’s such an attractive heritage city. People are quite willing to come to York.”

The celebrity line-up at this year’s festival, which runs from March 16-30 at venues across York including the Theatre Royal Grand Opera House, York St John, York Art Gallery and York Explore library, is proof enough of that.

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Mark Gatiss, appearing at this year's festival

In addition to this year’s main programme, this year there’s also a new element – a kind of “fringe” event dubbed the HUB based at the Theatre Royal. It will involve local writers and performers, and will include poetry and prose open mic events, creative writing workshops and readings.

Ticket prices for events range from free up to more than £20 for the likes of Michael Palin and Sue Perkins. The aim, says Rob, has been to keep the festival affordable. And his hope is that there will be “something for everybody”.

A few highlights are included in the panel (below). Full details are available from

Tickets for most events are available from the York Theatre Royal box office on 01904 623568 or, although some events have their own ticket arrangements.


Tickets from the York Theatre Royal box office unless stated. 

The main festival

  • Joanne Harris, festival launch event: De Grey Rooms, Thursday March 16, 7.30pm. Tickets £14 
  • Poetry writing masterclasses with Christy Ducker and Andrew McMillan: York Art Gallery, March 18, 10.30am and 2pm. Tickets £15 from York Museums Trust
  • Mark Gatiss in conversation: York Grand Opera House, March 18, 3-5.30pm. Tickets £15 plus transaction fee from the opera house
  • Michael Palin in conversation: York Grand Opera House, March 18, 7-9pm. Tickets £22.50 plus transaction fee from the opera house

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Michael Palin

  • An Audience with Gervase Phinn: St Peter’s School, March 19, 6pm. Tickets £7.50
  • Dan Cruickshank - the History of Architecture in 100 Buildings: St Peter’s School, March 20, 7pm. Tickets £10
  • Ann Widdecombe: St Peter’s School, March 21, 7pm. Tickets £10
  • National Railway project - York Station Stories: York St John University Quad South Hall, March 21, 7pm. Free
  • Sue Perkins: York Theatre Royal, March 22, 7.30pm. Tickets £23.50 plus £1.50 transaction fee
  • The Yorkshire Rows: March 30, 7pm, St Peter’s School. Tickets £8

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The Yorkshire Rows

  • Girls’ Own Adventures: Women in crime fiction, with Sophie Hannah, Elizabeth Haynes, Nick Quantrill and Helen Cadbury. York Theatre Royal Studio, March 23, 7.45pm
  • Nuala Ellwood - My Sister’s Bones afternoon tea: Betty’s, March 28, 2-4pm. Tickets £15
  • Jonathan Dimbleby - The Battle of the Atlantic: How the Allies Won the War. York Theatre Royal, March 29, 7pm. Tickets £10

The festival HUB at York Theatre Royal

  • Book fair - novels, collections, children’s books and non-fiction from local publishers and authors: March 27, 10am-4pm, upper foyer. Free
  • York Writers Showcase: March 29, 8pm, Keregan Room. 
  • Season of the Mammoth - Anthony Wootton reads from his adventure story for 9-12 year olds set in the stone age: March 18, 11.30am, upper foyer
  • Future Echoes - Fantasy and SF open mic: March 21, 7.30pm, upper foyer

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