Cheltenham Literature Festival Preview

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The world’s longest-running literature festival will once again be held in Cheltenham, this year from 7-16 October. I’d never criticise a University-sponsored event, and this year’s Cheltenham Literature Festival will delight those who enjoy listening to Jeffrey Archer spinning another yarn, Michael Portillo talking about great railway journeys, and men with double-barrelled surnames talking about cheese. Those of us looking for exciting contemporary writing will have to look a little harder, but that’s not to say we’ll be totally disappointed. Here’s a quick guide to some festival highlights that might appeal to Creative Writing students at the University of Gloucestershire.

1. The event of the year – by a mile – is the wonderful David Vann discussing his latest novel, Caribou Island. The author of Legend of a Suicide will be appearing at 8:45pm on Monday 10th October. The cost for students and those under 25 is a very reasonable £3 (£6 full price). Don’t miss it!

2. The next best thing about this year’s festival is a series of readings in the Highland Park Marquee. These ‘Words and Whisky’ events are free and you even get a complimentary whisky. As for the readers, while some might spoil your dram, look out for Howard Jacobson (Friday 14th, 5:30pm); Penelope Lively (Saturday 15th, 3:30pm); and AD Miller (Saturday 15th, 5:30pm).

3. Next, from Monday 10th to Friday 14th there is a poetry cafe every day at 5:30pm in Imperial Square (Montpellier Gardens on Friday). These events also benefit from being free, and the poets reading include Cuban poet Víctor Rodriguez Núñez (Monday) and Jo Shapcott (Friday), who in 2002 had the good sense to refuse a CBE.

4. Pick of the days is Friday 14th October. Start at 12:30pm with the free open-mic sessions at Spiegeltent Bistro. After lunch, you could hear Christopher Bigsby discussing Arthur Miller (3:30pm). Then, at 5:30, take your pick of Howard Jacobson and a free whisky, or Jo Shapcott and three of today’s most exciting young poets. At 7pm, take a gamble on A.L. Kennedy and Mark Thomas discussing protesting and protest songs. And finish the day listening to Will Self reading from his new novel, Walking to Hollywood (8:45pm).

5. A few other events to look out for: ‘Postmodernism – Style and Subversion’ (Friday 7th); European Literature Night or the Gloucestershire Writers’ Network (both Tuesday 11th); Ben Okri and Erica Jong (both Saturday 15th); and ‘Ibsen: a Celebration’ (Sunday 16th).

There, who says the Cheltenham Literature Festival is vacuous, celebrity-obsessed, conservative, and culturally-moribund? Certainly not me.

This way for full listings and to buy tickets.