In my recent post on Instagram about Cheltenham Literature Festival, I dubbed it the ‘festival of choice for book nerds’… And it truly is! One of the biggest and longest-running literary festivals, Cheltenham hugely benefits from both a large festival site and also the bustling and popular town itself. The centre of town is less than a 10 minute walk from the main site (at Montpellier Gardens), so although there is plenty to do at the festival – there’s a food court, multiple bookshops, children’s activities, food trucks, and often live music – there’s also the rest of town to explore. Many events are also held at the Town Hall, which is about 5 minutes walk away, and there are talks and events literally all day, everyday, for 10 days straight.
But enough of me sounding like they’re paying me to write this, and onto some of the amazing talks I managed to attend!
On Tuesday 8th October, I headed to Cheltenham by myself for the day for 3 different talks. In the morning, Toby Faber talked about his grandfather’s publishing company, how it got off the ground, and some of the true literary stars who both helped to run and were published by Faber & Faber. It was a fascinating event, and even a Powerpoint presentation couldn’t ruin what was an engaging and amusing talk!
In the afternoon, I attended two events with philosophers: Armand D’Angour, who has written a book called Socrates in Love, and the infamous A C Grayling, who has completed his behemoth of a book, The History of Philosophy. Both speakers were excellent, engaging the audience and keeping what can be a pretty heavy subject very light yet still intriguing. I had bought both books in advance, knowing that I would enjoy them, but I’m even more keen to get to these in the near future after seeing both of these authors speak so well on their chosen topics.
I next travelled to Cheltenham on Saturday 12th October, and had the pleasure of attending a talk with two inspiring memoirists, namely Sinéad Gleeson and Emilie Pine. Their conversation was both wonderful and painful, heartwarming and heartbreaking. I’ve read Emilie’s memoir and cannot wait to now get to Sinéad’s.
On the Saturday I also attended another talk, which was due to be with Nathan Filer and Esmé Weijun Wang. Unfortunately Esmé couldn’t make it, but to hear Nathan talk about his new book on the realities of schizophrenia was fascinating. As well as making mental health both more talked about and more relatable, he also debunks many of the myths around mental health stigma which permeate our society. Another book which I have already read and would highly recommend.
Finally, I had a full day of talks and events planned for the final day at the festival. A super early start on a Sunday was worth it to attend the even with Jim Kay, who is illustrating the Harry Potter books (of which the first four are now complete and available). Jim did a bit of a presentation for the majority of the event, which was a fascinating trip through his journey as an illustrator, and a look at some of his work, including his earlier work, most recent work, and many of his favourite illustrations (or those which have unusual stories behind them!).
Next up was an event for a book edited by Allie Esiri, which is Shakespeare for Every Day of the Year, and she was accompanied onstage by the actors Diana Quick and Christopher Ecclestone. As Allie introduced some selected extracts from the book, the actors would then perform the selections as if in the play. It was slightly unexpected but really made the event unique, and very enjoyable.
The penultimate talk I attended was with Caroline Criado-Perez, on the subject of her new book, Invisible Women. She spoke about the inherent data bias towards men in a staggering amount of research and data, and gave some shocking examples of what that means for women (e.g. as crash test dummies are based on men, women are around 50% more likely to be injured in a crash).
The final event I attended was with Shaun Bythell, who has written two books detailing his daily life working in a second-hand bookshop in Wigtown. His books are characterised by his dry wit, sarcasm, and the utter stupidity of some of his customers, which definitely came across in the talk and was very funny to watch.
Overall, I had a brilliant week at Cheltenham Literature festival. There’s always a brilliant array of authors to see and events to attend, and it’s also a great opportunity to catch up with friends who are also booklovers. It’s such a shame that my bank account doesn’t have such a positive view of all of the book buying… 😊 Oops!