Today, the Times Cheltenham Literature Festival descends once again on the town’s Regency town hall and parks for ten days of storytelling, debate and culture. The Festival has been running in the town for over sixty years and still manages to combine highbrow literary and political debate with comedy, performance poetry and popular culture.
This year, Cheltenham has achieved a pretty impressive literary coup by booking JK Rowling to appear at the Festival, still riding on the crest of the wave of publicity she’s received for her first novel for adults, The Casual Vacancy. Tickets to see Rowling – in a 2,000 seat venue, no less – sold out back in August, along with other big names, such as Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch, former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, and James Bond himself, Roger Moore.
But if you missed out on those tickets, there are hundreds of events to see over the next ten days, covering every subject you can think of and many of them for free. Here are my top picks for BitchBuzz readers:
Abi Morgan is a British screenwriting star. Even if you haven’t heard her name, you’re bound to have seen some of her work. Morgan is the screenwriter behind 2011 BBC newsroom thriller, The Hour, and huge hit films, The Iron Lady and Shame. Her interview at the Festival promises to offer a fascinating glimpse into the life of a screenwriter.
The Literature Festival is not just about books. Goodness, no. There’s also a healthy dose of drinking, dancing and style. Naomi Thompson, author of Style Me Vintage, will be hosting a party in the Festival’s famous Spiegeltent, showing you how to put together the perfect vintage look whilst a DJ provides a suitable soundtrack to proceedings. Tickets for the event include a free cocktail. What’s not to love about that combination?
Last year, one of my Cheltenham highlights was Caitlin Moran and Grace Dent on stage, working their way through a bottle of wine whilst gossiping, bitching and generally being hilarious. Moran returns to Cheltenham this year to talk about her new book, Moranthology, which deals with pandas, Doctor Who, global warming, big hair, poverty and Lady Gaga among many, many other things. She’ll no doubt be holding forth on all this and more during what promises to be a very entertaining evening indeed.
You’ve heard of swishing parties, right? (Let’s face it, you’ve probably still got an unwanted cardigan shoved in the back of your wardrobe that seemed like a great idea at the last swishing party you went to.) Well, the Firestation Book Swap is the literary equivalent. It’s also the antithesis of most Literature Festival events. There will be authors there (Naomi Alderman and Jonathan Lee) but they won’t be reading from their books and, whilst audience participation is expected, questions about books or writing are banned. Instead, you’re encouraged to bring a book to swap and get involved in whatever the afternoon brings…
This year’s programme features some huge names but the real pleasure of the Festival is in discovering a new writer or reading a book you didn’t even think you’d enjoy. Festival Focus is a programme of four, free events featuring Nigerian-born authors Noo Saro-Wiwa and Chibundu Onuzo; legendary creator of Adrian Mole, Sue Townsend, and Booker long-listed author, Rachel Joyce; authors Helen Dunmore and Andrea Gillies talking about stories full of suspense; and actress and director, Janet Suzman, broadcaster, Sue MacGregor and author, Patrick Flanery, on South African literature and culture. You might just discover something new!
If none of those float your boat, of course, you can just soak up the atmosphere of Cheltenham at Festival time; browse the bookshops and arts and crafts marketplace; take up one of the free pottery, samba or watercolour workshops in the Sky Arts tent; or eat and drink in one of the many bars and cafes. There really is something for everyone.
The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival 2012 runs from Friday 5 October to Sunday 14 October. The full programme is available from http://www.cheltenhamfestivals.com/
You can also follow the Festival on Twitter at @cheltfestivals
Image via welovethesky’s Flickr