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BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival: Are We Afraid of Being Alone?

Booking Information

To guarantee your ticket book in advance. There will be some tickets available on the day on a first come, first served basis.

Venue: Northern Rock Foundation Hall

Tickets: Free but ticketed (Max 4 per person)


“If you’re lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company”. Was Jean Paul Sartre right or are we just hot-wired to prefer the company of others? Is it even possible – as the famous hermit St Cuthbert once did – to experience true seclusion in our age of hyper-connectivity?

And as we flock to cities in increasing numbers why do so many of us feel so isolated and alone? Author of A Book of Silence Sarah Maitland, medievalist Sir John-Henry Clay, academic Barbara Taylor and writer Lionel Shriver face the crowd to contemplate the many sides to solitude. Chaired by Rana Mitter.

Sarah Maitland has lived by herself for the last twenty years on an isolated moor in northern Galloway, taking pleasure in silence and solitude. She is the author of numerous short stories, novels and non-fiction books including A Book of Silence.

Lionel Shriver’s novels include The Standing Chandelier, The Mandibles, and We Need to Talk About Kevin. Her forthcoming collection of stories Property, explores how our possessions act as proxies for ourselves.

Barbara Taylor is a Professor of Humanities at Queen Mary University of London whose current research includes attitudes to solitude in Enlightenment Britain. Her books include On Kindness, written with Adam Phillips, and The Last Asylum.

Dr John-Henry Clay is associate Professor in the Department of History at Durham University whose main research interests are in Frankish and Anglo-Saxon history and archaeology, and the themes of conversion and religious identity. John is also the author of historical fiction including The Lion and the Lamb and At the Ruin of the World.

Rana Mitter is a Professor of History at the University of Oxford where he is director of the China Centre. A Fellow of the British Academy, he has written books including China’s War with Japan 1937-1945: The Struggle for Survival. He is a regular presenter of radio documentaries.

For your information…

  • Phase one tickets will be available from 12noon on Monday 5 February, with phase two tickets available from 12noon on Monday 19 February.
  • Tickets are strictly limited to four per person.
  • To guarantee your ticket book in advance. There will be some tickets available on the day on a first come, first served basis.
  • Please take your seats 10 minutes prior to the event start time otherwise you may lose your place.

Part of BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival 2018