The Times and The Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival 2023 is almost upon us. Not only an event for the well-read scholar, its broad programme of authors offers something for everyone.
Whether you’re looking for a family day out, a talk to broaden your mind, lively debate or luncheon with friends, you should find something to suit at one of the most prestigious literary events in the world.
This year, more than 900 of the world's greatest writers, thinkers and creatives will inspire, inform and delight the tens of thousands of visitors who pack into venues sprawled across Montpellier Gardens and the town beyond.
Whether partaking in an event or two, enjoying the atmosphere in the food hall or perusing the shelves of the pop-up book shops, the buzz felt in the town across those 10 days is never anything short of electric.
Cheltenham Literature Festival Fiction
This year’s fiction programme is packed full of leading literary names and emerging authors, including creator of Atonement, Ian McEwan, acclaimed and influential writer, Zadie Smith, historic novelist, Sebastian Faulks, and Jojo Moyes, author of Me Before You, to name but a few.
This year’s fiction-based programme highlights also include Kate Mosse and Emma Donoghue exploring what happens when women refuse their prescribed role in a man’s world, whilst Kate Atkinson, praised by the late Hilary Mantel as “inexhaustibly ingenious”, will be speaking to long-term fan and fellow author Richard Osman about her career.
Famous faces at Cheltenham Literature Festival 2023
Beloved stars of television, film, music, and comedy are always celebrated at the festival and this year will see Brian Cox, from hit series Succession, discuss his rags to riches story from a difficult childhood in Dundee to the heady days of international fame in memoir Putting The Rabbit in The Hat.
Elton John’s lyricist Bernie Taupin is set to talk about the dramas and accolades of his musical career while Supervet Noel Fitzpatrick will discuss his first non-fiction title for children, and his book celebrating his relationship with his beloved dog Kiera, with Georgina Godwin.
Take a flick through the festival programme to find out more about what Strictly superstar Shirley Ballas, comic Adrian Edmonson, funny man Ed Gamble, and actor Nick Frost will have lined up.
Literature Festival family events
And the fun is not just for grown-ups with a programme packed with some of the very best children’s authors around today. Expect events to excite and inspire young people, offering them a rare chance to hear, and meet, the people responsible for transporting them to different worlds and introducing magic and mystery to these adults of the future.
There are both free and ticketed events for families, catering to toddlers, teenagers and everyone in between.
Jacqueline Wilson, one of Britain’s best-loved children’s authors, will be talking to Bex Lindsay from Fun Kids Radio about her writing career, Anna James, Skye McKenna, Lee Newbery and E.L. Norry will be chatting about how they come up with their extraordinary books as well as sharing tips for writing your own stories, and Tom Gates writer and illustrator, Liz Pichon will be inviting guests to a draw along.
Comedian, writer and actor Matt Lucas will discuss his latest heart-warming book, along with performative reading from David Walliams, and the nation’s favourite medic, Dr Ranj, is going to be celebrating families of all shapes and sizes.
Elsewhere, Blue Peter award-winning author S F Said is set to discuss his latest book Tyger and tell his own story from avid young reader and Star Wars fan, to prizewinning author.
Along with the many authors, there will also be opportunities to get creative, playing games and drawing along with authors and illustrators including Beatrice Blue, Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre, Karl Newson, Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola, Rob Biddulph, Smriti Halls and Steve Small, Alex Willmore, Paul Westmoreland, Tracey Corderoy and Steven Lenton, Alice Melvin, Gavin Puckett and Allen Fatimaharan, The Brothers McLeod, and artist, author, educator and protect-the-arts activist, Bob and Roberta Smith.
Meanwhile, YA author Laura Dockrill will be delivering a writing workshop, and YA fiction superstar Derek Landy and comic artist P J Holden will be giving a behind-the-scenes talk about the creative process of making a graphic novel.
There’s so much to write about the children’s events at the festival alone, you’ll have to turn to the brochure to find out more.
Classic literature at the festival
For those interested in looking at the page-turners of the past in a different light, Anna Funder and Sandra Newman will be bringing new perspectives on iconic literary figures, exploring how women fared in George Orwell’s life and work. Chaucer scholar Marion Turner will be taking a look at his bawdy, boundary pushing Wife of Bath while Erica Wagner and Travis Elborough join Daniel Hahn to reflect on Cormac McCarthy’s remarkable body of work.
Of course no exploration of the written word would be complete without England's national poet, Shakespeare. Emma Smith and Farah Karim-Cooper delve into his First Folio, and Greg Doran talks to Rebecca Jones about directing each of the plays within it. Elsewhere, Stanley Wells and Margreta de Grazia will discuss how our knowledge of the Bard’s life and personality has shaped the way we interact with his work, and there is also a comedic take on Shakespeare’s works with interactive performance You’re Bard.
Also featuring in the ‘classic’ section is Marcus Brigstocke taking novelist Nicole Flattery, comedian Josie Long and author and podcaster Musa Okwonga on a journey through the books they’ve never read, and Susie Dent and Jenni Nuttall unpicking curious mediaeval stories and phrases.
Lit Fest food and drink events
If you’re not only looking to stimulate the little grey cells during our visit, there are plenty of events to tickle the tastebuds too.
Head to The Daffodil - a hub for culinary adventures around the world and grand nights out with some of Britain’s best chefs - featuring, among others, the vibrant world of Nigerian food, music and poetry illuminated by poet, playwright and performer, Inua Ellams. Andi Oliver will also be chatting with daughter Miquita Oliver about their Caribbean travels and reconnecting with their Antiguan roots.
TV chef Nadiya Hussain will be sharing ingredients and techniques used in her family kitchen when she was growing up and presents a delicious lunch featuring recipes that blend her British and Bangladeshi heritage. Celebrity chef, Bake Off champion and Strictly star John Whaite will also share with Uli Lenart his fascinating personal story of gaining wisdom from experience, while Jay Blades delves into the life lessons that have shaped his outlook and helped him to live life to the fullest.
Over afternoon tea, gardeners Sarah Raven and Arthur Parkinson will be talking about their shared passion for gardening, growing, nature, and Arthur’s love of his hens and award-winning and celebrated chef Michel Roux will be speaking to Romy Gill about the recipes that have passed down through the generations of his legendary family.
And if those events have whet your appetite, there’s much more being dished up from British-Iranian chef Sabrina Ghayour recreating and reinventing the flavours of her ancestry to Diana Henry sharing comforting culinary delights from cold-weather climes.
There’s also a chance for visitors to pit their literary wits against each other in a night of bookish brainteasers, suitable for light and heavy readers alike. Hosted by The Write Stuff author James Walton, this is a quiz exclusively for Cheltenham book-lovers.
Current affairs events
Former Prime Minister, Theresa May, will be making an appearance at this year’s festival, arguing for a radical rethink in politics, while Trevor Philips and Tomiwa Owolade look at how we can adapt our understanding of race to fit a British context.
Meanwhile, Peter Frankopan and Michael Wooldridge will look further ahead to explore how we can build a peaceful, green and healthy future; and Katie Prescott, David Runciman, Michael Wooldridge and Kanta Dihal will be examining the promise and perils of AI.
Long-standing Festival favourite The Election Generals returns with Broadcasting House presenter Paddy O’Connell, former BBC Political Editor John Sergeant, and new recruit Nicky Morgan to analyse the year in politics. Meanwhile Peter Brookes, Morten Morland, Ian Hislop and Hannah Macinnes explore satirical highlights, and journalist Clive Myrie will also be discussing his remarkable career.
I could go on and on with many more events to wrap your head around and sink your teeth into - there are far too many to mention here. Falling into categories as diverse as poetry, art and design, science, nature, faith and well being, and travel and adventure, you’ll find something to capture the imagination.
And then I challenge you to walk away from the Waterstones tent without armfuls of books each day. It’s impossible I’m afraid. I recommend you just buy a new bookshelf or two in preparation and be done with it.
:: The Times and The Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival takes place from 6-15 October 2023. You can book tickets to those events not already sold out via the Cheltenham Festivals website.