Actors couldn’t take a bow, musicians couldn’t stir the mosh pit, comedians couldn’t rebuff the hecklers.

Writers, during the Covid-19 lockdowns, could at least write.

Writer of the Year ought to be a headline category at this year’s Culture Awards, due to be presented on September 2 in Durham Cathedral, last resting place of one of the region’s greatest writers.

Perhaps the award should go to the Venerable Bede for his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, although having been published more than 1,000 years ago it’s disqualified for being too venerable.

Only North East writers who had something published or performed in 2020 or up to the nomination closing date of July 28 can make the frame.

Here, for last minute inspiration, are a few of those who did.

The sponsor panel for the 2021 Culture Awards. It has the awards logo and the logos of the sponsors

CRIME

The region’s crime writing ladies had some lockdown launches to celebrate.

DCI Vera Stanhope, heroine now of screen and page, returned in The Darkest Evening by Ann Cleeves.

Driving home in a blizzard, the detective chief inspector encounters a crashed car and rescues the sole occupant, a toddler.

Later, a bit lost, she comes upon the big house where her father grew up. Outside in the snow is a young woman’s dead body. The child’s mother?

Mari Hannah’s own resourceful DCI, Kate Daniels, made her return in 2020 in Without a Trace.

A plane disappears during a flight from London to New York with the love of Kate’s life among the passengers. She has no power to investigate but some things you can’t let lie.

Also making his return last year was DCI Ryan, creation of indie-publishing powerhouse LJ Ross (Louise to family and friends).

The prolific author served up two Ryan novels inside 12 months, although the story sparked by a shooting and the theft of a treasure from Durham Cathedral runs through both.

Trevor Wood earned plaudits with debut novel The Man on the Street, his page-turning tale of homeless Jimmy Mullen, a witness to a crime.

Last year Jimmy was back in One Way Street, compelled to turn detective again when a friend is embroiled in the carnage caused by a rogue batch of the so-called ‘zombie drug’, spice.

SPORT

Harry Pearson wrote The Far Corner, his hilarious love letter to North East football and its fans, in 1995.

A quarter-century later came the sequel, The Farther Corner, which brightened up last year’s lockdown summer when live sport was in short supply.

“The original The Far Corner is the best book written about football ever and the sequel is just as superb,” wrote a reviewer on the Goodreads website. Many would agree.

THEATRE

Theatres were closed but many playwrights found an online outlet for their work.

Sarah Tarbit, from Ashington, saw her star rise under lockdown.

Her play Invisible Boundaries was chosen by Live Theatre for its online series, 10 Minutes to… Call Home, and she was then commissioned to write The Whale Washed Up on Christmas Eve for the company’s virtual 5 Plays of Christmas.

To top all this, she was one of two winners of the inaugural Box of Tricks and Sky Studios Screen/Play Award, giving her £10,000 to develop a play for the Manchester theatre company and a screenplay for Leeds-based Sky Studios.

Alison Carr, from Newcastle, made up for lockdown disappointment – the tour of her comedy The Last Quiz Show on Earth had to be cut short – by writing a 30-minute audio play.

We Step Outside and Start to Dance was inspired by a spontaneous outbreak of mass dancing in 16th Century Strasbourg.

For Northumberland theatre company November Club, writer Fiona Ellis went back to the drawing board after lockdown and turned a stage production called Lost, Found and Told into a series of audio tales.

A photo of a woman in a blue jumper, smiling into the camera with a blurry sea scene behind her
The crime writer Ann Cleeves, whose DCI Vera Stanhope novel "The Darkest Evening" was published in 2020

POETRY

Linda France started a residency at Newcastle University and New Writing North and after both organisations declared a Climate Emergency took the lead on a project called Writing the Climate.

She collaborated with an artist and hundreds of contributors to fashion a film poem called Murmuration that was premiered at Durham Book Festival.

“Writing and reading don’t just raise awareness, they change awareness – an important part of fulfilling our commitment to a fairer carbon-zero future,” said the poet, who lives in Northumberland.

Tom Kelly, who grew up in Jarrow, had his ninth poetry collection, This Small Patch, published by Red Squirrel Press in 2020.

The ‘small patch’ is the North East where this versatile writer – also known for musicals including Tom & Catherine and The Dolly Mixtures - has lived all his life.

The poems, reflecting on the place and its people, were praised as “uplifting” by one reviewer.

And then there’s Rowan McCabe, the door-to-door poet, who recited his last bespoke poems as Britain locked down having travelled all the way from Newcastle to Essex.

He also followed in the poetic footsteps of William Wordsworth after the National Trust appointed him (virtual) poet-in-residence at Wordsworth House in Cumbria, marking the 250th anniversary of the poet’s birth. Rowan will be performing at the awards ceremony on 2 September.

FICTION

Critics raved about Curse the Day, last year’s new thriller from Northumberland-based Judith O’Reilly.

It marked the return of Michael North, assassin and spy-for-hire, who made his first appearance in Killing State which was published the previous year to similar acclaim.

This time North is called in after terrorists seize an astonishing invention, something which appears to take Artificial Intelligence to a different level.

“A brilliant techno-thriller that reads like a Bond movie,” enthused one reader.

Newcastle-based Lucy Nichol drew on her experience of 1990s music fandom to produce her first novel, The Twenty Seven Club, in 2020.

Why do so many iconic music stars die at 27? Joplin, Hendrix, Morrison and now Kurt Cobain. It really bothers Emma whose 27th birthday is fast approaching.

“Full of warmth, wit and humour,” declared the Yorkshire Post critic.

These are just some of the many talented writers who live among us in the North East.

To show your appreciation for these or any others who had work published or performed in 2020 or the first half of this year, you know what to do.

Nominations for the Culture Awards, headline sponsored by Durham County Council, end on July 28 – so waste no time!

Cllr Amanda Hopgood, Leader of Durham County Council, said: “Whether it’s a gripping novel you are unable to put down, a short story that provides half an hour of blissful escapism or a poem that perfectly encapsulates your feelings, there is no denying the power of the written word to boost our sense of wellbeing. Reading and creative writing have long been a source of comfort to many of us but never more so than during the pandemic.

“We are lucky to have so many skilled writers in the region and each year, we celebrate the wealth of literary talent that exists here at Durham Book Festival. The North East Culture Awards offers a further opportunity to ensure our favourite writers receive the recognition they deserve, so please submit your nominations before the deadline.

“I would also like to encourage you to back County Durham’s bid to be UK City of Culture 2025. This will not only bring social and economic benefits to County Durham but the whole region, creating exciting opportunities for people of all ages. However, to be successful, we need your support. Please get involved and spread the word on social media using the hashtag #durham2025.”

THE CEREMONY:

The 2021 Culture Award winners will be revealed in a presentation ceremony at Durham Cathedral on September 2. There will be entertainment (to be announced). If you want to attend, tickets cost £25 and can be booked at reachplcevents.com/culture

THE HOST:

Once again, the ceremony will be hosted by North East actor Chris Connel who has appeared in many productions on stage and screen.

THE NOMINATIONS:

You can nominate in 10 categories from now until Wednesday, July 28. Circumstances dictate a shorter nomination period this year so act swiftly. Please nominate at reachplcevents.com/culture

The awards are open to anyone who made a significant contribution to the North East cultural landscape in 2020-21. Anyone can nominate an individual, organisation or event for consideration.

THE CATEGORIES:

Visual Artist of the Year:

Recognising a North East-based artist whose work during 2020-21 has left a lasting impression. It will be given for an individual piece of work or an exhibition.

Performance of the Year:

For an individual, group or company who, in 2020-21, put on a performance in the North East (live or virtual) which moved or inspired. Examples could include dance, music, theatre or comedy.

Performing Artist of the Year:

Recognising an individual performer or group that stood out during 2020-21. Nominations welcome for all performers: dancers, musicians, singers, performance poets, comedians etc. Could be for one performance or several, live or virtual.

Newcomer of the Year:

Recognising any North East-based writer, artist, performer or visual artist who came to the public’s attention for the first time in 2020-21.

Writer of the Year:

Recognising an author, playwright, screenwriter or poet who has had outstanding work published or performed (live or virtual) in 2020-21.

Best Arts & Business Partnership:

Recognising an outstanding partnership which has demonstrated an innovative way of working in 2020-21 to achieve respective goals.

Arts Council Award:

Nominations invited for a cultural event or piece/pieces of work which inspired or had an impact in 2020-21.

Best Event:

Awarded for a virtual event or permitted live gathering during 2020-21 in the North East.

Special Award for Young Achievement:

To reward a special achievement in the arts by an individual or group aged 18 or under in 2020-21.

Special Recognition Award:

Recognising special efforts by an individual, group or organisation to sustain arts and culture throughout the pandemic.

(A Special Award for an outstanding contribution to arts and culture in the region will be presented on the night. This will be in the judges’ gift and nominations are not being sought.)

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Please visit reachplcevents.com/culture or contact event manager Lesley Hampson at [email protected]