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Our guide to this weekend’s Cambridge Literary Festival


By Alex Spencer


The Spring 2019 Cambridge Literary Festival kicks off today with a host of speakers, from novelists and broadcasters to political commentators and scientists.

George Monbiot (6940046)
George Monbiot (6940046)

Social and political commentators will be on hand to sort through the ashes of post Brexit Britain, with talks from LBC broadcaster James O’Brien; feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez; Labour Party MP Hilary Benn; Times columnist and former speech writer for Tony Blair, Phil Collins.

Plus, for those who want to escape the world of current affairs, there will be a brilliant selection of fiction writers, including John Lanchester; Ali Smith; Madeline Miller; and Simon Mayo; not to mention a constellation of scientists such as the Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees, Adam Rutherford and Giles Yeo.

The Festival’s Artistic Director Alex Clark says: “What a time to be alive! With the country divided, politicians at loggerheads and frequently in deadlock, and relationships with our closest neighbours and the wider world fragile, the future can seem bleak – and that’s before we’ve factored in a planet on its knees. Is there much point in going to a literary festival? I say yes. Indeed, never has there been a better time for us to come together to talk and to listen: to novelists, scientists, politicians, commentators and thinkers, each of them expert in their field. And in Cambridge, we most certainly haven’t had enough of experts.”

In addition we there is a full-to-bursting children’s programme with Francesca Simon and her latest outing for Horrid Henry; we celebrate Elmer’s 30th Birthday; plus Mr Gum author Andy Stanton and his latest antics, Jeremy Strong with his new collection of stories, and award-winning author of The Last Wild trilogy, Pier Torday, with his new book The Lost Magician.

The Cambridge Literary Festival has launched a new prize called The Contribution to Reading Award, is an annual award that rewards an author for their outstanding contribution to children’s reading. The selection is made by the Festival with the support of Cambridgeshire Libraries and Heffers bookshop.

Robin Stevens (6940066)
Robin Stevens (6940066)

The inaugural winner is Robin Stevens, who is the author of the best-selling and award-winning Murder Most Unladylike series which has gained a huge and loyal following of young readers.

She spoke to us about her latest book and how her readers reacted to one of the main characters coming out.

This new award comes just as the 2019 Childwise Monitor shows a fall in the number of children reading books across the last year, revealing that three in four children aged 5-16 never read books in their own time.

Festival Director Cathy Moore says: ‘We are delighted to be launching this award as reading is a vital part of childhood development. It develops the mind, improves written skills, and expands knowledge and empathy not to mention the absolute pleasure of losing yourself in a good book.’

Here are out highlights for the weekend:

Jill Dawson

Jill Dawson (6940060)
Jill Dawson (6940060)

The hidden story of Lord Lucan

Novelist Jill Dawson is often drawn to real people – most notably with the murderous lovers Fred and Edie, and with Patricia Highsmith, who became the star of Dawson’s novel The Crime Writer. In The Language of Birds, she looks to the blood-curdling events that took place in the home of Lord Lucan – but from the point of view of the household’s nanny. Join us for this very special launch event. In conversation with author Louise Doughty

Bee Wilson

The way we eat now

Cambridge food writer Bee Wilson has delved deep into modern eating habits and will discuss how we are now producing and consuming more food than ever, and yet our modern diet is killing us.

James Runcie

Tales from Grantchester

James Runcie (6940052)
James Runcie (6940052)

A rare opportunity to hear from the man behind Sidney Chambers,the Cambridge vicar whose sleuthing abilities, love of jazz and unfortunate romantic entanglements have endeared him to readers and viewers alike. The son of former Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie, James has a keen insight into religious life – but why murder and mayhem? And we’ll hear about his decision to give us a glimpse into Sidney’s earlier life in the new prequel, The Road to Grantchester. In conversation with Alex Clark, journalist, critic, broadcaster and Festival Artistic Director

Jay Rayner

Tales from dining hell

Jay Rayner (6940056)
Jay Rayner (6940056)

Trenchant restaurant critic, passionate gourmand and jazz musician, Jay Rayner is a man of considerable appetites. But life isn’t all jam, as he records in his bestselling books; and now, he brings his riotous show, My Dining Hell, to Cambridge. As he points out, his reading public feast on bad reviews ‘like starving vultures who have spotted fly-blown carrion out in the bush’ – now you can hear more about the excruciating nights that led up to them.

George Monbiot

A plea for the planet

Environmental activist and journalist George Monbiot believes our planet is in a death spiral, and only radical action offers the possibility of saving it – including a complete rethink of global economic and political systems. From the air we breathe and the food we eat to the depredations visited on the animal and plant kingdoms that are our support systems, everything must change, and quickly. In this special appearance, Monbiot outlines his radical proposals for a new way of thinking about human society – and how we will all have a crucial part to play. In conversation with Rob Cameron, Chief Executive, SustainAbility

Tracey Thorn

A teenager in suburbia

Tracey Thorn (6940091)
Tracey Thorn (6940091)

Before the dazzling horizons of Hull and the formation of Everything But The Girl beckoned, Tracey Thorn was a teenager in suburban Hertfordshire, faithfully recording in her diary all the things she was missing out on, what she dreamt of, and the female pop icons who lit the way forward. In Another Planet, Thorn revisits the cul-de-sacs and bus shelters of her youth and wonders what became of the utopian suburban project. In conversation with Kate Mossman, Arts Editor and Pop Critic of the New Statesman

Dr Giles Yeo

The truth about obesity and dieting

We’re deluged with reports of rising obesity levels – and with a slew of often outlandish diets and eating plans to combat it. But how do we know what’s really causing us to get fatter? With an admirable combination of expertise, deep research and common sense, Dr Giles Yeo navigates his way through the world of medical discoveries, marketing campaigns and diet gurus that promise much and deliver little to bring us the facts of the matter.

Simon Mayo

The power of storytelling

Simon Mayo a BBC Radio 2 presenter. (6940083)
Simon Mayo a BBC Radio 2 presenter. (6940083)

One of the country’s most popular broadcasters, Simon Mayo’s role in getting the nation reading and talking about books has been pivotal. Now, he’s written his first adult novel, Mad Blood Stirring, a riveting story – based on historical fact – about a group of American prisoners of war marooned in a Dartmoor prison in 1815. He talks to Alex Clark, journalist and critic, about the books that made him a lifelong reader, and what sparked him to write himself.

Jenni Murray

Afternoon Tea at the University Arms Hotel with Jenni Murray

Jenni Murray (6940058)
Jenni Murray (6940058)

Dame Jenni Murray is one of the country’s best-loved and most inspiring broadcasters, her interviews on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour with both the famous and the unknown lodging themselves in listeners’ memories. She has also written memorably about breaking free from her conventional upbringing, and about the trials of the menopause. Her book, A History of the World in 21 Women, ranges through history and across the globe to make a personal selection of the women who’ve inspired her, from Joan of Arc and Catherine the Great to Toni Morrison and Madonna. Join her for a chance to be similarly inspired over delicious tea and cakes. In conversation with Anna Whitelock, historian and Festival Patron

Hilary Benn

Finding a way forward

The Right Honourable Hilary Benn MP has been one of the most outspoken and passionate voices in the debate about Britain’s relationship with the European Union; and his views on British intervention in Syria led to his dismissal as Shadow Foreign Secretary. He speaks to Helen Lewis, Associate Editor of the New Statesman, about the challenges facing politicians determined to follow their convictions, the future of the Labour Party, and how we can strengthen the fragile bonds between the people and their elected representatives.

John Lanchester

Fact or fiction? Reality and dystopia

John Lanchester (6940064)
John Lanchester (6940064)

John Lanchester is a man of many parts: lauded novelist (The Debt to Pleasure, Capital), whip-smart guide to the economic crises of recent years (Whoops!) and sometime restaurant critic. His new novel, The Wall, has already been admired by the likes of Philip Pullman and Emily St John Mandel, its dystopian setting a stark allegory for our times. He’ll be discussing the range and ambition of his work with Jonn Elledge, Assistant Editor of the New Statesman.

Times and locations can be found at cambridgeliteraryfestival.com.

Call 0122335785 or visit cambridgelivetrust.co.uk to book.



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