Rebecca Wilkie, Senior Programme Manager at New Writing North, answers our questions.
What is a typical day for you?
I’ve been working at home from my spare bedroom in Tynemouth since mid-March but normally I work from the New Writing North offices in the centre of Newcastle upon Tyne. The last few months have been crazy – we’ve moved Durham Book Festival, which normally takes place in venues in Durham City each October, to an online-only event. This has involved me learning a lot of new technical skills, we’ve created more than 50 events -some are filmed over zoom and other are podcasts- it’s been a steep learning curve involving hours hunched over the computer, recording and editing events!
What are you most excited about in the next 12 months?
One of the benefits to working digitally has been that the world has opened up to us and we’ve been able to work more with international writers -this year we recorded events with writers such as Jenny Offill, Lily King and Fatima Bhutto. I’m excited about exploring how we can develop this strand of programming over the next few months. I really miss seeing my friends and colleagues at New Writing North every day, it will be exciting when we can be together in real life again -zoom and slack are not the same as chatting and brainstorming together in real life! Let’s hope we’ll be together IRL again in the next 12 months…
What was your favourite subject at school?
Unsurprisingly English was my favourite subject at school – I have always loved books and was brought up in a book-loving family. History came a close second, I suspect because in some ways it is another form of story-telling.
What surprises you about your job that you didn’t expect?
I think how hard it can be to make a case for literature with funders and supporters. There can be an assumption that literature doesn’t need funding in the same way that other art forms do – but books and writers are so important to our culture and shape the way we think and feel about the world. Before moving to the North East I’d worked in literature in London for ten years, I was shocked and surprised to realise how London-centric the publishing industry was and how much harder it was to persuade publishers and writers to do things away from the metropolitan bubble. Luckily things seem to be slowly but surely changing for the better.
If you had to change career, what other job would you love to have?
I’ve worked with books ever since I left University, so nearly 20 years on, it’s very hard to imagine doing anything else and I’ve never really wanted to! I do absolutely love planning and researching holidays and trips, so maybe if I wasn’t working in literature I’d be some kind of bespoke travel agent (I’m not sure whether this is even a thing!).
Most the books I’ve chosen below I read between the ages of 10-18 – I remain devoted to them all and re-read them every year. I think the Anne of Green Gables series provided a template for my entire life! I read the Neapolitan Quartet while in Italy last year – I gulped them down over the course of a week, which reminded me of the way I read books as a teenager. The quartet has everything, love, class, social mobility, friendship – I love them.
Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
The Neapolitan Quartet by Elena Ferrante
When Harry Met Sally by Nora Ephron I love her essays and book Heartburn too.
Pret’s Avocado wrap
Coffee or tea?
Coffee – I miss my daily latte from the Coffee Hatch which is opposite our office in Newcastle!
Which author, living or dead, would you like to write your biography
Margaret Forster– her biography of Daphne du Maurier is incredible, as is her own memoir writing
Rebecca Wilkie is a Senior Programme Manager at New Writing North, the literature development agency for the North of England. She manages the Durham Book Festival which takes place each October and is responsible for putting the creative programme together, as well as managing the logistical aspects of the festival. Rebecca previously worked at national reading charity Book Trust and before that at leading literary agency The Agency (London) Ltd. She has degrees in Englsih Literature from University College London and Newcastle Univeristy. Find out more about Durham Book Festival at durhambookfestival.com.