Britain’s autumn book festivals

Posted on September 11, 2015 by Eleanor McKenzie
Pile of books

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the 50+ generation detests the dumbing down of British culture and has pulled up Radio 3 and The Archers for using the kind of tactics intended to attract a younger audience. It is also pretty likely that we appreciate books more than the youth generation. During my brief sojourn as an English literature teacher, the typical class response to the introduction of a new text was “Is there a film version?” The need to watch rather than read was almost universal among them, because it is quicker and less “boring” they all bleated.

But for those that love a good read, a book festival offers the promise of possibly meeting a writing hero or heroine, or at least hearing them talk about their work. There is an accepted thrill surrounding meeting musicians, actors and even artists, but writers have yet to really achieve this kind of celebrity status. However, if you’d feel charmed by the chance to meet your favourite author, read on.

Noirwich Crime Writing Festival

Book a place at the one of the best events for crime fiction fans in the UK. Plus, it’s an opportunity to explore one of East Anglia’s loveliest areas. As the organisers say, it’s four days of “criminally good writing.” I’d have to agree because the first name on the programme is that of Lee Child and I know plenty of fans who would love to meet the creator of Jack Reacher. Andy McNab will also be there, as will James Runcie, the writer of the “Grantchester” series. Ann Cleeves, the author who created the wonderful Vera Stanhope played by Brenda Blethyn is in the line-up too. Plus, you can book a crime writing class and try your hand at staging a murder!

Blenheim Palace Festival of Literature, Film & Music

What a grand place to enjoy literature in! The palatial home of the first Duke of Marlborough presents Steve Hogarth (of Marillion) talking about his diaries, Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury discussing modern moral dilemmas, an interview with opera star Jessye Norman, talks by travel writer Philip Norman and Dr Alice Roberts of BBC’s “Coast” fame. You can book tickets here.

Stratford-upon-Avon Literary Festival

Stratford Literary Festival has events on all year round and its autumn calendar is timed to coincide with half term. Adults can spend an evening with bubbly chef Tom Kerridge, or listen to the larger-than-life Brian Blessed talk about his long career. Historian Max Hastings recounts the intelligence war tactics used during WWII and there’s a poetry workshop with Jo Bell. Children are well catered for and there’s a fantastic selection of Halloween themed events for their entertainment, including a Horrid Henry workshop. In November Graham Norton, Alison Steadman and Patricia Hodge are among the stars. Remember “Abigail’s Party?” Here is your opportunity to hear Alison Steadman talk about her role as the unforgettable Beverly in the TV drama that immortalised Britain the 1970s.

Visitors at Cheltenham Literary Festival

Cheltenham Literary Festival

Considered by some to be the best festival after Hay festival, which is sort of the Glastonbury of literature, Cheltenham Literary Festival has a stellar line up of Hilary Mantel, Ian McEwan and Dame Judi Dench plus a host of other A-listers, including Damien Lewis of “Homeland” fame, who will be reading love poems with his wife Helen McCrory, star of the “Peaky Blinders” TV series.

London Literary Footprints Festival

For those of you living in and around greater London, or if you’re on a weekend city break, this novel literary festival uses a series of walks to introduce attendees to different aspects of a variety of literary works. For example, there is a walk around Jane Austen’s London featuring “Emma” in period costume. You can follow Mrs Dalloway as she buys flowers for her party, or learn the literary history of Covent Garden. As you may imagine, authors with close London connections, such as Charles Dickens and Samuel Pepys are also included, and fans of C.J. Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake series will be delighted to find that there is indeed a tour of the places frequented by the Tudor lawyer-detective as well.

Harrogate History Festival

In Yorkshire, the Harrogate History Festival combines historians and historical fiction. Stars of the historical crime fiction genre join with non-fiction writers to discuss the differences and similarities between real life as history portrays it, and as it is depicted in fiction. Special guests include novelist Kate Mosse and TV presenter Neil Oliver. But the star of the show must be Ken Follett, the author of “Pillars of the Earth” and many more mammoth works of historical fiction.

There are book festivals across the country and they all attract quality writers and performers. If we haven’t been able to cover your region, please browse through this handy Festival Calendar for an event near you. Enjoy!

by Eleanor McKenzie

Eleanor McKenzie is a Northern Irish writer with a passion for art, literature, and red wine. She's worked at advertising agency JWT, edited a journal for a European social policy think tank and tried to teach teenagers the difference between "there" and "their". Being 50+ has not significantly changed Eleanor's life, although she finds it a handy excuse when she wants to avoid anything too energetic.