How We Accidentally Founded Durham Book Festival's Fringe

Added about 2 months ago by Sacristy Press

Five years ago, when Sacristy Press was still finding its feet in the big wide world of publishing, we unexpectedly found ourselves sowing the seeds for something that has taken root and blossomed into a wonderful thing: the Durham Book Festival Fringe.

Founded in 1990, the Durham Book Festival is one of the longest-running literary festivals in the UK. It was something of a hidden gem until New Writing North took it over in 2011 (coincidentally the same year Sacristy Press was founded) and it flourished into the internationally-renowned festival it is today. With many big-name authors and a wide range of events for everyone to enjoy, the Durham Book Festival is now a crucial part of the North East’s cultural scene.

Being Durham’s only publisher, and with several authors from the region, Sacristy Press was keen to take part in this growing literary festival. But one thing stood in our way: our size. At the time we had just a handful of titles, no staff, and just a tiny (but loyal) following. But after a bit of brainstorming with our friends at Durham Cathedral, for whom we had recently published a couple of books, the idea of a of an unofficial “Festival Fringe” emerged. And so, in October 2014, six of our wonderful authors attracted great crowds to three events in Prior’s Hall at Durham Cathedral, intriguing them with their historical fiction, the mystery of St Cuthbert’s Corpse, and how fiction can be used in teaching theology.

Durham Book Festival FringeSo successful were our debut events at the 2014 Durham Book Festival that the following year we organised two more. And, much to our delight and surprise, the lovely folk at New Writing North included them in the Festival’s programme, thereby making the Fringe an officially-recognised part of the Durham Book Festival.

For that first year Sacristy Press was the Fringe. Then something quite wonderful happened. In 2015 The People’s Bookshop in Durham joined us in the Fringe event line-up. Two years later there were more than half-a-dozen indie events listed in the Fringe pages of the programme. And this year, 2019, we are delighted to see twelve awesome Fringe events around the city.

Richard Hilton, who founded Sacristy Press in 2011, was clear from the outset that this wouldn’t just be about selling books:

As an independent publisher it is great to be able to offer authors this platform to get their work and their message out there. But for us the most important aspect is that it directly supports Durham Cathedral. They keep every penny of ticket sales, which in turn supports the upkeep and maintenance of this internationally-significant place of pilgrimage, learning and culture for generations to come.

So what started as a cheeky attempt by an upstart young publishing house to muscle in on the success of one of the best literary festivals in the UK has resulted in a flourishing sub-festival that is now a firmly-established part of the Durham Book Festival programme and enjoyed by many hundreds of residents and visitors to the city.

We hope you enjoy the two events we are hosting with Durham Cathedral in 2019 as we celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Durham Book Festival Fringe, and look forward to seeing the Fringe continue to grow and flourish well into the future.


Please note: Sacristy Press does not necessarily share or endorse the views of the guest contributors to this blog.

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