Preston proud to host international Heartstone Odyssey book festival with theme of tolerance and guest line up including actor Sir Derek Jacobi

An online book festival launched at UCLan last Friday has opened new doors to tolerance and been declared a brilliant success.

The virtual Heartstone Odyssey Festival, which moved its HQ to Preston’s Gujarat Hindu Society’s temple and community centre on Saturday and Sunday, featured readings by renowned actor, film and theatre director Sir Derek Jacobi, contributions from India and America, north west school pupils and young members of the Preston Gujarat Hindu Society, plus art work by local school children.

Now says its organiser Sitakumari the work continues to spread the message of tolerance and anti-racism at the centre of the book, The Heartstone Odyssey, which inspired the weekend festival.

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Sitakumari said: “It was just brilliant. We had all the contributors and a fantastic audience.”

Sitakumari pictured at the launch of Heartstone Odyssey Book Festival at UCLan's Greenbank Building, Preston Photo: Julian Brown
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Part of the Heartstone initiative is to set up Story Circles internationally.

Sitakumaria said: "In Lancashire now as a result of the book festival we have another 50 Story Circles. There are now 400 Story Circle groups across the country. Tomorrow we are making the first Story Circle in India and I’m linking (it) with two of the schools in Preston, Deepdale and Ingol Community Primary.”

The Circles use the Heartstone book by Arvan Kumar as the inspiration for a range of work. Sitakumari said: “It’s three things really literacy, creative art and challenging hate – the three things don’t very often come together.”

School pupils joined the stage with Sitakumari at the launch of Heartstone Odyssey Book Festival Photo: Julian Brown

She added: “The Heartstone project uses The Heartstone Odyssey to bring down barriers, to build contacts and understanding and see past prejudice. This event (the Festival) was to further that brought people together from three continents and the world of The Heartstone Odyssey is spreading.”

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The Festival had the support of numerous organisations including Lancashire County and Preston City Council. Preston Mayor Coun Neil

Darby, who spoke at the launch, said. “It’s brilliant to see the work that’s being done here... Books and stories are a gateway to a whole new world…It’s really important and I’m proud to be here today to bring this to Preston.”

Sir Derek gave readings from the book which he described as “ a very gentle, almost quiet revolution” with a story which “overturns many of the prejudices that are still with us…..Here in the northwest for a short time all the world is not just a stage, it’s a Heartstone stage and it’s our adventure together.”

Preston Mayor Coun Neil Darby speaking at the launch of the Heartstone Odyssey Book Festival Photo: Julian Brown
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Introducing the festival Sitakumari said of The Heartsone Odyssey: “ (It’s ) a wonderful blend of fantasy and reality...The story was written in the 1980s and couldn’t be more relevant in its’s a great story, a great adventure.”

Storyteller and dance performer Sitakumari was a main presenter at the Festival and introduced guest speakers as well as using Indian dance and movement to communicate story themes. She is the director of festival creators Heartstone, the non-profit organisation which is using the book in projects to challenge intolerance.

Good Morning Presenter and UCLan Chancellor Ranvir Singh was able to join the launch to give her support to the project. It is hoped that the Heartstone story will eventually be made into a film and Barrie Osborne, producer of the Lord of the Rings trilogy of movies, spoke at the festival.

James Arnold, curator at Preston’s Harris Museum, also took part.

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Sir Derek Jacobi joined the online book festival which was launched at UCLan on July 8.

For more about Heartstone and the festival see

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The launch of Book 2 of The Heartstone Odyssey will follow in the autumn.

School pupils taking part in the Festival launch. Photo:Julian Brown