The Stratford Literary Festival has announced its Spring Festival line-up with a mix of digital and live events as Government restrictions begin to ease. The Festival, which runs from 8th to 16th May, will feature pre-recorded events, live and interactive online streaming, and in-person workshops, adhering to Covid-19 safety guidelines, the following week.
Major headliners will feature across the Festival including the winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, Maggie O’Farrell, discussing her latest novel Hamnet and the central role of Stratford-upon-Avon in the story, and Women’s Prize founder, Kate Mosse, will also be discussing her latest novel The City of Tears. Presenter of BBC’s hugely popular The Repair Shop, Jay Blades, discusses his inspirational memoir Making It and Nick Crane, presenter of Coast and Great British Journeys, recounts the extraordinary 18th century expedition to discover the shape of the world. The Yorkshire Vet, Julian Norton, shares the challenges and hilarity of working with animals revealed in his new book All Creatures, and the Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage, will be reading from his latest collection.
On the lighter side, the programme includes several comedians. Writer and former Bake Off presenter, Mel Giedroyc, introduces her deliciously warm and funny first novel, The Best Things, and David Baddiel talks to Edward Stourton about the failures of identity politics outlined in his new book Jews Don’t Count. One half of the Peep Show comedy duo, Robert Webb discusses his fiction debut Come Again which follows the huge success of his memoir How Not to Be a Boy.
The Festival will explore a variety of current issues this year with several extremely topical events. Penguin will be showcasing their new Black Britain: Writing Back series and celebrating three authors, Jacqueline Roy, Judith Bryan, and Nicola Williams, whose novels have been overlooked until now. In the wake of the Sarah Everard case, women’s voices are also central to the line-up this year. MP Jess Phillips will be discussing domestic violence with Jane Monckton-Smith, while journalists Mary Ann Sieghart and Annabelle Williams ask why women are still struggling for equality in the workplace. On the other side of the gender debate, Martin Robinson and Johnny Benjamin will consider the crisis in men’s mental health and why suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45.
Needless to say, it’s been a difficult year to bring out your first book, so the Festival is celebrating debut authors with a number of events this year. Publisher Quercus and Riverrun will be presenting two debut panels: one representing the best of their Spring fiction debuts and another showcasing what the US has to offer. Plus, representing the best of British, Catherine Menon and Neema Shah discuss their historical fiction debuts around family secrets.
During lockdown many of us have turned to gardening and pets and gardens for comfort and legendary and multi award-winning garden designer, Arabella Lennox-Boyd, will reflect on the gardens she’s admired most over her career, while the dogfather himself, Graeme Hall, will be answering questions on how to train your pooch. And, although many of us have been forced to stay local this year, the Festival thinks global with BBC US Reporter, Nick Bryant trying to make sense of the divisions carving up the US, and former Sky News Diplomatic Editor, Tim Marshall, exploring geopolitics in The Power of Geography, the follow up to his best-selling Prisoners of Geography.
For those who love a good thriller, BBC Security Correspondent, Frank Gardner, will be discussing his latest novel Outbreak, and leading psychologist Thomas Erikson takes us inside the mind of a psychopath and will ask what personality we are. Leading writer and evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins, will look back over the best science writing of a generation, and professional futurist Tracey Follows provides insight into how technology and global brands will affect our personal identities. Also, after a year glued to our screens and living in the virtual world, BBC Technology Reporter, Rory Cellan- Jones, explores how the smartphone has already and will evolve to rule our lives.
Fiction features strongly on the programme with acclaimed author Sally Bayley sharing her Shakespearean-inspired memoir, Kate Mosse and Josh Cohen discuss what life lessons we can learn from our favourite characters in fiction, and Caroline Lea and Alan Judd will talk about how far a novelist should fictionalise when a story is based on real people and events. Committed to supporting emerging writers, the Festival will be holding live creative writing workshops with Caroline Lea, tutor at the University of Warwick and Sally Bayley, tutor at the University of Oxford, in the week of 17th May once restrictions permit.
As always there will be many events on offer for families too. Children’s Laureate Cressida Cowell, Sir Michael Morpurgo, and Liz Pichon, amongst others, will be sharing their latest books and author Christopher Lloyd will be running a Family Quiz to challenge old and young minds alike. The Family programme also includes storytelling through drama and the Festival rounds off with the return of the brilliant Aardman team for clay modelling classes.
‘With so many events and performances not going ahead nationally because of Covid, we are so pleased to be able to bring such a varied offering this year, and to be able to hold live events for the first time in months.’ says Festival Director Annie Ashworth. ‘Digital events, including conversations about books, have supported us all over the last difficult 12 months, and with so many brilliant books being published, we are very excited to be talking about them.’
Tickets start at £6 and go on sale from 1st April and are available from www.stratlitfest.co.uk.
Image: Jay Blades