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When I moved to Carlisle, more than twenty years ago, I was surprised to find that it was lacking some of the cultural venues that might be expected of a city. The cinema dated from the 1930s and, while charming, offered a diet of mainstream Hollywood blockbusters; theatre was limited to amateur productions; and the few bands who ventured here had to perform in the sports centre with its seriously dodgy acoustics. But, there was (and still is) an excellent museum and a wonderful independent book shop.

Fast forward twenty years and a great deal has changed. The old cinema started an ‘alternative’ season which has since moved to the museum’s lecture theatre (sadly, the old cinema was demolished); the city has attracted a number of big names to play outdoor concerts including Tom Jones and Rod Stewart; there is a small venue for music, comedy and theatre and we now have an superb annual book festival – Borderlines.

Last weekend I attended two excellent events at Borderlines. The first was Val McDermid’s talk about her work. Chatting with Mari Hannah, she covered each of her series of books and spoke about her love of literature and her early career as a journalist. Throughout the evening she was eloquent and entertaining. Val McDermid has long been one of my writing heroes and to hear her speak about her writing was thrilling. (No pun intended.)

On the Saturday I went to an event that I had won tickets for in a Facebook competition – although I was fully intending to pay if I hadn’t won! Mari Hannah and David Mark were in conversation in Carlisle Library talking about their careers and their work. The more intimate setting made the event feel informal and ‘chatty’ and it was fascinating to learn about their early rejections, their inspiration and their experiences of the publishing world. Again I came away feeling slightly awed and definitely inspired.

I’ve loved this city for a long time despite its limitations. I love the history, the location and people. But, now, I love it just a little bit more, because it loves books and authors as much as I do.

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