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

3 replies on “Dementia Fiction Festival – Programme”

A very comprehensive festival, thoughtful and offering much. There’s a strong line-up and a clear programme for discussion. I wish you great success. This festival is much needed.

Hi there, I’m so sorry I missed this event. I received my PhD this year for my thesis, ‘Time travellers and Storytellers: Representations of Dementia in Children’s Fantasy Fiction’. Perhaps I can take part next year? All best, Dr Tracey Guiry

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *