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The Stratford Literary Festival has announced its biggest Winter Festival programme to date with a star-studded line-up that includes some of the biggest names in show business and best-selling writing.


The Winter Long Weekend runs from 9th to 14th November and includes comedians Michael McIntyre and Jack Dee, former Member of Parliament turned Masterchef and Strictly star Ed Balls, and the international best-selling writer Robert Harris. The multi award-winning star of stage and screen Dame Eileen Atkins will share her memoirs – including her time at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre – and Radio 1 DJ Greg James will be talking about his latest book for children.


Former England footballer turned TV pundit John Barnes will confront the issue of racism not just in sport, and Countryfile presenter Tom Heap will address what action is being taken to challenge the impact of climate change. Countdown presenter Susie Dent will bring us some etymological entertainment and the best-selling creator of the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency Alexander McCall Smith will delight with the latest adventures of Mma Ramotswe.


Former Woman’s Hour presenter Jane Garvey will be talking to Lucy Mangan and local author Fiona Walker (writing as Georgie Hall) about why family life is an endless source of inspiration to writers, the Guilty Mother blogger Jo Wimble Groves will discuss how we can raise confident daughters, and Dr Rachel Clarke (author of the bestselling Breathtaking and Dear Life) and Resolution Foundation chair Torsten Bell will consider what the post Covid world might look like both psychologically and economically.


The highly-acclaimed poet, writer and UNHCR ambassador, JJ Bola, will talk about his new novel that addresses mental health and the issue of refugees; the author of Angels: A History Peter Stanford will walk us through some of the country’s churches and the brilliant historian Irving Finkel will be wondering about ghosts. The huge bestselling crime writers Clare Mackintosh and Mark Billingham share the techniques they use to keep us on the edge of our seats, and politician-turned writer Alan Johnson introduces his first crime novel.


The historian and former curator of timekeeping at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, David Rooney, tells the story of timekeeping, journalist Victoria Finley brings fascinating insights into the history and significance of fabric and the writer Annabel Abbs charts the epic walks taken by some of our best-known female novelists. Greg Jenner, best known for the hit BBC podcasts You’re Dead to Me, and his work on BBC’s multi-award winning TV series Horrible Histories, tackles some of the weirder questions of history, and activist and academic Zoë Playdon shines a light on the landmark case of Ewan Forbes who faced a legal challenge to his right to inherit because he was born a woman.


As well as Greg James, the programme features some brilliant events for families including the writer and illustrator Jackie Morris – co-creator of the publishing phenomenon The Lost Words – David Melling with his latest in the charming Raffles series, adventurer Teddy Keen who takes us on a Journey to the Lost River, the best-selling author Kristina Stephenson who opens the Museum of Marvellous Things and comic book creator Neill Cameron who will show you how to create a comic of your own. There will be free drop in events to mark 150 years of Alice in Wonderland and 50 years of the inimitable Mr Men and Little Miss.


The Festival is also taking authors into schools in and around Stratford for the first time since 2019 after its 2020 Schools Week had to be cancelled because of Covid. It staged an Arts Council supported offering of authors for schools online which has had over nine thousand views.


‘Despite three successful online festivals in the last 18 months, we are so excited to be back live and in person,’ says Festival Director Annie Ashworth. ‘We will be observing all prevailing Government guidelines to protect our team and our audiences, but are hopeful events can be back to as near normal as possible. Authors are so looking forward to sharing their latest books in person and we can’t wait to have them with us.’ Winter Festival sponsors include Knight Frank and the Festival headline sponsor Baillie Gifford.


Tickets start at £6 and go on sale on 1st October from




Image: JJ BOLA © Tunde Somoye @ B1_Creates