Dementia Fiction Festival – Programme

The festival takes place from 15th -16th September 2021. All events are free and accessible online. Book your place by clicking here.

Dementia Fiction Festival 2021

Dementia is one of the most significant illnesses of our time, with 50 million people living with the condition and many more whose lives are affected. In the absence of a cure, the onus is on us as a society to better understand and respond to the challenge. Writers are playing their part by creating characters who have dementia, giving readers insight into the condition. 

The Dementia Fiction Festival celebrates the wealth of new fiction depicting dementia, exploring the issues raised around ethics, diversity, empathy and care. As well as performances of new writing, the festival features a series of workshops, panel discussions and keynote talks from researchers, creative writers, and people living and working with dementia. 

The Dementia Fiction Festival is the culmination of an AHRC-funded research project being carried out by a team of researchers at Queen’s University Belfast, who are investigating the potential for fiction to promote awareness and understanding around the lived experience of dementia.

All are welcome.


DAY ONE: Wednesday 15th September 2021

9:45 – Online welcome and orientation with Jan Carson

10:00-11:00 – Keynote 1 – Dementia in the minds of characters and readers

Dr Jane Lugea (QUB)

This talk reports on the research behind the festival, a project carried out by a team of researchers at Queen’s University Belfast and led by Dr Jane Lugea. Inspired by the recent boom in fiction depicting characters with dementia, Dr Lugea explores how these texts represent their subjective experience and the tricks of language that enable readers to simulate that experience. Through a series of reading groups using extracts from the fiction, the team are investigating the possibility for fiction to facilitate awareness of and empathy towards those living with the condition. The talk will share preliminary findings of the reading group research and explore the power of fiction to contribute to our understanding of dementia.

11:30 – 12:30 – Panel One – Research findings

Dr Jane Lugea (QUB) will lead this interactive conversation as writers and academics discuss and respond to the findings of the ‘dementia in the minds of characters and readers’ research project as outlined in the previous keynote. The session will feature contributions from Prof Tess Maginess (QUB), Dr Chloe Harrison(Aston) and Dr Naomi Krüger (Universiyt of Central Lancashire) who will read from her recent novel May(2018, Seren Books). 

1:30- 2:30 – Panel Two – The ethics of writing dementia.

Dr Gemma Carney (QUB) will moderate this interactive discussion on the ethics of how we write about dementia. Exploring issues such as dignity, research and appropriation the panel will ask some important questions in regards to how writers can ethically write and record another’s experience. The panel will feature a presentation from Dr Sarah Falcus (Huddersfield), alongside input from writer and academic Caleb Klaces(St John York University), Peter Middleton who is living with Alzheimer’s and Dublin-based novelist Henrietta McKervey who will read from her 2016 novel The Heart of Everything (Hachette, 2016). 

3:00- 4:00 – Panel Three – Diversity in dementia narratives.

Writer, Jan Carson will chair this lively panel on issues around diversity in dementia narratives. Raising important questions around a seeming lack of diverse representations in the portrayal of dementia, this conversation will also explores ways in which we can foster more diversity in writing and thinking about dementia. The panel will begin with a short talk from Dr Bas Groes (University of Wolverhampton), on diversity within literary and on screen representation of dementia, a reading from Irish poet Rachael Hegartywhose most recent work explores her mother’s experience of dementia and contributions from Bindi Dhesi(Alzheimer’s Society). 

4:15- 5:15 – Cocktail Hour- A series of facilitated conversations.

Grab a drink and join the members of the dementia fiction research team for a series of online chats about various topics related to the project and festival. Pick which break out room best suits your area of interest and get to know other people in the same field. Feel free to ask questions, swap information and make new contacts. You don’t have to be an expert to join the conversation. Everyone is very welcome. We can’t invite you to an in-person drink at the bar, but we hope this will be the next best thing.

7:00- 8:30 – Performance and discussion – Dementia and theatre.

Over the last number of years Northern Irish theatre company, Prime Cut have consistently delivered cutting edge, high quality plays and theatre projects which explore some of the most pressing societal issues of our time. In this performance and discussion, Vittoria Caffola (Paradosso Theatre), will introduce and chat to executive producer Una NicEoin and playwright Caoileann Curry-Thompson about Prime Cut’s history of engaging with dementia. The panel will include recordings of previous productions and an excerpt from Curry-Thompson’s new play which explores her father’s dementia experience. The panel will conclude with an opportunity for the audience to ask questions and contribute to the discussion.

DAY TWO: Thursday 16th September 2021

9:45 – Online welcome and orientation with Jan Carson

10:00-11:00 – Keynote 2 – From taboo to topical: the power of portrayals of dementia.

Prof Jan Oyebode (University of Bradford)

Dementia has emerged from being taboo to being topical. The way it is portrayed has real-life implications for how people with dementia feel about being diagnosed and living with the condition; it influences the attitudes and actions of those of us without dementia towards people with dementia; it impacts on the value society places on the lives of those with a diagnosis. In this talk, I will highlight some common portrayals of people with dementia, drawing on fictional as well as personal accounts. I shall try to show how different perspectives produce different ripples, that can undermine or support, educate or misinform, and connect or divide us.

11:30-12:30 – Panel Four – Writing non-fiction, memoir and biography.

Anna Wharton, novelist and recent ghostwriter of Wendy Mitchell’s bestselling memoir, Somebody I Used to Know, chairs this fantastic conversation about writing non-fiction accounts of dementia. The panel will also feature a short presentation by Dr Lucy Burke (Manchester Metropolitan University), Irish writer, Ian Maleneywhose essay collection Minor Monuments (Tramp Press, 2019), explored how his grandfather’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis impacted his extended family and Sue Leonard who has recently co-written If Memory Serves Me Well (New Island, 2021) with former actor and Riverdance manager, Ronan Smyth. Ronan hopes to contribute a pre-recorded message to this discussion. 

1:15 -2:15 – Panel Five – Dementia narratives in children’s and YA literature.

We’re delighted to include a conversation about how dementia can and should be explored in books aimed at children and young adults. Elaina Ryan of Children’s Books Ireland will chair this important and engaging conversation with celebrated Irish novelist, Sarah Moore Fitzgerald, who will read from her debut novel Back to Blackbrick (Simon and Schuster, 2013). Non Pratt, YA novelist and member of the team at Walker Books will represent the publishing world, while Dr Amanda Piesse will also bring years of experience as a former academic specialising in the representation of aging in children’s literature, alongside personal experience working in the voluntary and community arts sector. 

2:30 – 3:30 – Panel Six – Reading and writing in the community.

Our final panel, chaired by English poet and community arts facilitator Dr Sarah Hesketh, will take a brief look at some of the best and most innovative arts projects which engage people living with dementia, their friends, family and carers in reading, writing and theatre. Prof Kate de Medeiros (Miami University) will begin this session with a short talk on the opportunities and benefits afforded by community arts projects. Susanna Howard of Living Words and Sinead Devine of DEEDS will share from their own extensive experience in this area. Exploring both the importance of arts engagement and practical ways to get involved in such projects, this panel promises to be a really inspiring one. 

4:00- 4:30 – One to One Chat.

Grab a cuppa and join writer, Jan Carson and Dementia NI member, Davie McElhinney for an informal and engaging conversation about what it’s like to live with dementia. Davie will give us an insight into his diagnosis, his everyday life and the community he’s found at Dementia NI. Jan will raise some important questions about how writers should approach writing about dementia. This chat will be honest, useful and an absolutely essential watch for any writer thinking about exploring dementia in their work.

7:00 – 8:30 – Gala reading and discussion.

Writers have been at the heart of our research project and we want to conclude our dementia fiction festival with a celebration of some of the best dementia narratives we’ve come across in the last few years. Marjorie Lotfi (Open Book), will be our host for the evening as she introduces two poets, Sarah Hesketh and Lynda Tavakoli, and two prose writers, Anna Wharton and Niamh Mac Cabe whose writing approaches the subject of dementia in innovative, imaginative and informative ways. The session will include both a reading by the four writers and a brief chat about their process, the development of their work and their ongoing interest in dementia. 

You can follow updates on Twitter @fictiondementia and Tweet along with the festival using #DementiaFictionFest21

Most sessions will be available to view afterwards on our YouTube site Dementia Fiction


Dementia Fiction Festival -Registration Now Open

Please join us for two days of incredible performances, insightful presentations and important conversations as we explore questions raised by a recent research project at Queen’s University Belfast. Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the project investigates how the language of contemporary fiction represents the minds of characters with dementia. This festival/conference hybrid will bring together a unique mix of academics, writers, organisations, carers and people living with dementia to discuss how we write about dementia with honesty, imagination and integrity. All sessions will be available online, with plenty of opportunity for everyone to get involved with the conversation.

A full list of speakers, panels and readings will be available very soon. The event is free and open to everyone.

Festival Info

Online Only

Link & password will be sent closer to event date. Please check junk/spam folders.

Date(s): Wednesday 15th & Thursday 16th September 2021

Starts: 9:45am to 8:30pm each day

Run Time: Two Days

Booking Info

Reserve your free place at the festival here

Once you book a ticket you will get a standard confirmation email for your booking, plus an additional email with further introductory details for the festival.

The main session & attendance details will be sent out the week of the Festival in September.

Book Reviews

“Back to Blackbrick” by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald

Cosmo’s grandad is beginning to exhibit the early signs of Alzheimer’s. A team of social workers appear at the house he shares with his grandparents, hoping to test Grandad Kevin’s memory. If he doesn’t pass this memory test, Grandad will be dispatched to a nursing home. Cosmo is particularly close to his grandparents after his brother’s death and his mother’s subsequent move to Australia, leaves him living in their house. Desperate to help, he follows his grandad’s garbled instructions and uses an ancient key to let himself into Blackbrick Abbey. As soon as he steps through the gates, Cosmo is transported back in time. He meets his grandad as a young boy and gets caught up in a 70-year-old adventure, meeting the people who shaped his grandad’s life. As he plunges deeper and deeper into the strange world of Blackbrick, Cosmo continues to take extensive notes on the past, intending to use these notes to help Grandad Kevin pass his memory test. At the risk of giving away too many spoilers, I’ll leave my synopsis there.

Irish writer Sarah Moore Fitzgerald drew from her own experiences of her father’s dementia when crafting this beautiful snapshot of the relationship between a young man and his beloved grandad. The depiction of dementia is both accurate and shot through with moments of genuine humour and humanity. There are some genuine laugh out loud moments here and also a few scenes which moved me to tears. Grandad Kevin is far from being the stereotype often encountered in dementia narratives. And whilst the magical elements in the book bring a touch of whimsy and other worldliness to the story, at no point does Moore Fitzgerald shy away from confronting the harsher realities of watching a loved one journey with dementia. This, at heart, is a realist novel with a subtle element of the fantastical. 

Back to Blackbrick is full of wonderful, well-crafted and memorable characters and the plot kept me gripped from start to finish. I’d thoroughly recommend it for late primary and early high school readers who enjoy funny, adventure-filled novels. It also offers a great opportunity to introduce themes around dementia and begin important conversations on this subject with younger kids.

Back to Blackbrick was published by Orion Children’s Books in 2013