Dame Hilary Mantel, one of the world’s most acclaimed writers, and Rory Bremner, the UK’s leading impressionist, headline the stellar line up at this year’s StratfordLiterary Festival which runs from 9th to 17th May.


The twice Booker Prize winner will be talking about the finale to her astonishing trilogy, The Mirror and Light, which brings to a close the life of Thomas Cromwell. Rory Bremner, who has imitated major political leaders from Blair to Bush, Thatcher to Trump, will be sharing some of the new names in his repertoire, and talking about how he researches his victims’ characteristics.


They will be joined by the leading playwright Michael Frayn, the former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, leading writer Maggie O’Farrell and performance poet Lemn Sissay. The bestselling crime author Peter James will share his latest thriller, as writers John Niven and former Radio 2 presenter turned writer Simon Mayoconsider what makes us love the thrill of the thriller.


The actor and erstwhile Radio 4 News Quiz presenter, Miles Jupp, will be taking a break from appearing in A Comedy of Errors to reflect on a brilliant career, and world-renowned Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro will be considering how the Bard is portrayed in the US. BBC broadcasting veteran James Naughtie will consider how the US has changed in the many years he has been reporting on life and politics there, while leading writers Joanna Trollope and Louis de Bernières will delight audiences with their latest books.


The Festival’s line-up includes, as always, lively discussions about topical and pressing issues of the day, and there will be events around climate change and the imperative to change the way we live. BBC Health Editor Hugh Pym will be talking to Baroness Camilla Cavendish and a front line paramedic about whether the NHS is no longer fit for purpose and what it needs to do to return to good health. Columnist Jane Gordon will share, with Woman’s Hour’s Jane Garvey, how to grow old gloriously, and there will be a searching discussion about the difficulties facing the criminal justice system, including details of the Festival’s project in UK prisons.


A new strand for 2020 challenges audiences to question their perceptions, and includes events around the representation of working class writers, with the award winning Kit de Waal, racism in sport and the breeding ground football terraces are for the Far Right, and the influences for good or bad of the burgeoning bloggasphere.


As ever the Festival is offering a programme of workshops, with top level tutors guiding participants in subjects as varied as memory album making, writing biography and memoir, polishing fiction and sharing our life stories. Last year’s very successful Writer’s Day will return, in partnership with the prestigious Faber Academy, offering sessions on polishing a manuscript, the writer’s toolkit, self publicity and surviving the life of a writer – a workshop with the globally best selling writer Sophie Hannah.


The offering for children is bigger than ever in 2020, with a host of events headlined by the current Children’s Laureate Cressida Cowell. There will be craft and story telling activities, and events with authors and illustrators from Sir Michael Morpurgoto para-olympian Ade Adepitan and Horrible Histories writer and illustrator Martin Brown. Aardman returns after last year’s sell out workshops with the chance to make models from the company’s brilliant films.


The Festival has introduced some changes this year – starting slightly later and running for 9 days from 9th to 17th May, with events taking place in venues throughout the town, and a Festival Hub Marquee, sponsored by estate agents Knight Frank, on the lawn bedside the boat marina. This will serve as an information point, box office, workshop venue, with a coffee van and story tent for pre-school events runs by Stratford’s top storyteller, Kate Storytree.


‘We’ve shaken things up for our 13th year,’ says Festival director Annie Ashworth, ‘and you’ll see us popping up all over town. I am very excited by the sheer range of events on offer to everyone – whether your interests are storytelling, cycling, cookery, parenthood, history, politics, comedy, or music. We hope we can make anyone who thinks a literary festival is not for them, to think again.’


Tickets are on sale from 11th February and are available from, on 0333 666 3366 or from the Stratford Play House Box Office.


Photo: Rupert Barnes