These are difficult times for us all. Of the many challenges facing individuals and their communities as long periods of isolation become a reality is loneliness, and its significant physical and mental impact on wellbeing. Multi-award winning author CJ Cooke has a novel solution. In response to the Covid-19 outbreak, and in partnership with creative writing incubator Paper Nations, authors across the country are being rallied to take part in the world’s first Stay-at-Home! Festival.

The Stay-at-Home! Literary festival celebrates the power of writing and reading in preventing loneliness and championing connectivity and community amidst social distancing. Workshops, panels, readings, and talks will be hosted from writers’ homes and will be freely accessible to everyone.

Carolyn, who writes as CJ Cooke, first pitched the idea on Twitter on Friday 13th March 2020, and in just one week a host of authors came forward to take part in events. Authors included Maggie O’Farrell, Samantha Downing, Jacqueline Saphra, and Katherine May. The festival is an entirely pro bono, charitable effort.

The Spring 2020 programme featured 145 events led by 220 authors across a two-week span, with subjects ranging from poetry to novel writing and nonfiction, career advice, wellbeing and mindfulness, mental health, and publishing.

Paper Nations joined as partners on the festival, which forms part of their ‘The Great Margin’ project, a season of celebration seeking to give voice to marginalised writers. Their Executive Development Producer, Professor Bambo Soyinka said,

‘Our work through The Great Margin focuses on writers living at the margins of society. But since the Covid-19 outbreak, we are all feeling as if we are on the margins and many of us are isolated in our homes. We’re responding to Covid-19 with a series of flash initiatives over the next three months, reacting quickly to the evolving needs of a writing community in isolation. The Stay-at-Home! Festival marks the first of these initiatives and we are thrilled to work with Carolyn to bring this to fruition.’ 

Dr Carolyn Jess-Cooke is an award-winning poet, novelist, and academic published in 23 languages. Currently publishing her fiction as CJ Cooke, she convenes the MLitt Creative Writing by Distance Learning at the University of Glasgow and has expertise in online events. Carolyn says, ‘I wanted to create a vibrant and responsive online literary event to create a means of connection and respite in these troubled times. The festival seeks to combat loneliness and provides a creative lifeline for emerging and established writers alike.’