From Siegfried Sassoon to Sebastian Faulks, each year towns and cities across the country celebrate their literary heroes with festivals and events to encourage us all to pick up a good book. We discover the best ones to visit this summer and autumn.
Garden Museum Literary Festival
In the capital, The Garden Museum will be celebrating their fifth literary festival by hosting it inside their newly reopened museum, gardens and café. It is supposedly the only festival in the world to be dedicated to writing inspired by gardens. Confirmed speakers include Iain Sinclair, Tim Richardson on his favourite cult garden writers, Allan Jenkins on early-morning gardening and Miriam Darlington on owls. There’s also a programme of foodie talks planned, centred on seasonality, foraging and London’s food history. Chefs from the museum’s new restaurant will also be creating a special menu for the weekend for guests to enjoy. Standard tickets cost £60 for the day, £100 for the weekend. For under-30s, it is £30 for the day or £60 for the weekend. You can buy them online at: gardenmuseum.org.uk
Perhaps known first and foremost to be a musical event, the BBC Proms is as much about words as it is about music. In the past, key historians, novelists, poets and writers have discussed the cultural themes behind the music, and there is more of the same this year. At venues such as The Albert Hall, Cadogan Hall and Royal College of Music, London, you can hear from such authors as Helen MacDonald, Diana Evans and poets including Gillian Clarke and Peter Mackay. Sebastian Faulks will also be talking about his new novel Paris Echo. There are too many events to list here, so go online to see the full schedule across the two months. You can also purchase tickets, which range from £8 to £44 at: bbc.co.uk/proms
The Hastings Lit Fest
31 August-2 September
The south coast’s newest literary festival is focused on writing for writers, a more practical experience exploring the creativity, beauty and power of the written word across a whole host of genres. Plus there’s an impressive line-up of guest speakers for the inaugural event including Sophie Hannah, Alison Moore, Michael Arditti, Jane Harris, Simon Mawer, Marnie Riches and David Gaffney. There’s a book fair, ‘Meet the Agent’ sessions and live performances by the London Mozart Players too. Just some of the venues include Hastings Pier, Jerwood Gallery and Hastings Library. Most of the events for the festival are ticketed and must be booked in advance online at: hastingslitfest.org
Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival had its maiden outing in 2012 with acclaimed writers Lin Anderson and Alex Gray at the helm. Based in Stirling, Bloody Scotland has brought hundreds of crime writers new and established to the stage. This festival is a little different to the rest; the kind of event that encourages you to let your hair down and enjoy a drink at the bar with your favourite crime writer. Talks and workshops cover a range of criminal subjects from fictional forensics and psychological thrillers to tartan noir, cosy crime and many more. With an international focus at the heart of Bloody Scotland, you can expect crime writers and crime fiction fans from across the globe at venues including Stirling’s Golden Lion Hotel, The Albert Halls and The Curly Coo. Discover this year’s line up at: bloodyscotland.com
Edinburgh International Book Festival
Each summer Charlotte Square Gardens and George Street in the heart of Edinburgh is transformed into a tented village for the Edinburgh International Book Festival. The three-week celebration of the written word is the largest of its kind in the world. Entry to the gardens is free. Here visitors can soak up the atmosphere, browse the bookshops, enjoy refreshments from the café or bar and choose from a programme of over 800 events. Many events are free to attend, including daily readings, signings, workshops and children’s activities. Highlights this year include Ali Smith, Philip Pulman, Ruth Jones, Rachel Kushner, Ian Rankin, Richard Dawkins, June Sarpong, Ben Okri, Pat Barker and Greg Wise. There are plenty of events for families too with the chance to meet children’s and young adult authors including Cressida Cowell, Harry Hill, Chris Hoy, David Walliams and Adrian Edmondson.
The festival’s late-night strand – Unbound – returns each evening from 9pm. Giving authors a chance to do something a little different, this ‘live lit’ strand has proved extremely popular and is still absolutely free. This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Muriel Spark which the festival will be celebrating with the inclusion of a rehearsed reading of her only play, Doctors of Philosophy, put on in partnership with the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh. Find out more online: edbookfest.co.uk
Althorp Literary Festival, Northampton
A celebration of the written word, this unique festival takes place against the inspiring backdrop of Althorp, one of England’s most beautiful private, historic houses. In past years, the Althorp Literary Festival has been privileged to host celebrated novelists, historians, comedians, actors, politicians, athlete and television personalities including Bill Bryson, Helen Fielding, Jo Malone, Sir Tom Stoppard, Sebastian Faulks, and Michael Palin. A full line-up for 2018 will be confirmed on 1 July. Tickets will be available online from Monday 9 July at: spencerofalthorp.com
Wantage Literary Festival
Originally a celebration of all things Betjeman, the Wantage Literary Festival is now a collection of events covering literature, poetry, comedy, history, science, the arts and lots more.
Held during the October school holiday, the festival is dedicated to promoting the written (and spoken) word in all its forms. Organised by festival director Victoria Luker and run by a team of local volunteers there are plenty of speakers and authors to meet over the week at various venues across the pretty Oxfordshire town. Among them will be Diarmuid Gavin, Miles Jupp, Max Hastings, Louise Minchin and Sir Oliver Letwin MP. wantageliteraryfestival.co.uk
The Times & Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival
This is one of the oldest literature festivals in the world, which over its 10 days boasts lectures, poetry readings, children’s events, interviews, storytelling, book groups, writing workshops, education projects and live literature. This autumn over 600 of the world’s greatest writers, poets, politicians, thinkers and stars will descend on Cheltenham for an inspiring mix of debate and discussion at the Town Hall, Imperial Square and Montpellier Gardens. This year’s theme is ‘East meets West’ exploring our fascination with the culture and history of the Far East – in particular Japan and China. From sushi to chinoiserie and from Pokémon to Studio Ghibli, the festival will examine the unique histories and contemporary societies, belief systems, and creative output of the two countries – their relations with each other and with the rest of the world. This year’s guest curators are novelist Sebastian Faulks, V&A Director Tristram Hunt, historian Peter Frankopan, columnist and activist Scarlett Curtis, curator, translator and writer David Karashima and Junko Takekawa, Senior Arts Programmer at The Japan Foundation. cheltenhamfestivals.com
Sevenoaks Literary Festival
21 September-6 October
Sevenoaks Literary Celebration, now over a decade old, is an intimate celebration of books, bringing together readers and authors of real literary quality. The programme usually consists of around a dozen events including a literary lunch and a booklover’s tea. Sevenoaks Bookshop is closely involved in the festival, organising book sales and signing sessions for visiting authors. Find out who is coming this year at: sevlitfest.com
Marlborough Literature Festival
This Wiltshire town has strong literary connections with famous poets and authors such as Siegfried Sassoon, John Betjeman, Bruce Chatwin and William Golding. Now in its ninth year, Marlborough LitFest’s 2018 line-up features new and young fiction writers as well as established names, children’s authors, writing workshops and poetry events, as part of the Festival’s intention to bring the best of good writing to the historic market town of Marlborough.. Highlights for this year include Rose Tremain as this year’s Golding Speaker – an annual author chosen to highlight Marlborough’s long connection with the Nobel Laureate and Booker Prize winner, William Golding – as well as novelists William Boyd and Kate Mosse, military historian Max Hastings, ex-MP Alan Johnson talking about his latest memoir, a French translation duel, an annual Big Town Read for local book groups with author Chris Cleave, open mic poetry in the pub and this year’s children’s author, David Walliams. marlboroughlitfest.org
Liverpool Literary Festival
After a successful inaugural event in 2016 the Liverpool Literary Festival returns for a second outing this year. A weekend of discussions, readings, workshops and debates will take place across a range of venues including Tate Liverpool and the Victoria Museum and Gallery, hosted by the University of Liverpool. This year’s line-up includes Sir Tony Robinson, Val McDermid, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Colm Tóibín, James Naughtie, Claire Tomalin and Fiona Sampson, among other well-known literary figures. liverpool.ac.uk/literary-festival
*Lead Image – Charles Dickens deep in literary thought as he strolls around the gardens of the 12th century Rockingham Castle. Image © BRITAINONVIEW/ EAST MIDLANDS TOURISM
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