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Highlights of the Cambridge Literary Festival 2023: From Sophie Hannah to Curtis Sittenfeld

Cambridge Literary Festival is kicking off next week and is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a sparkling selection of bookish talks around the city.

There are big name authors including Maggie O’Farrell, Curtis Sittenfeld, Bonnie Garmus and Bernadine Evaristo as well as live political debate, literary lunches and a crowd of children’s writers. Youngsters will be excited to hear from much-loved Dame Jacqueline Wilson, How to Tame Your Dragon’s Cressida Cowell and Unladylike mystery writer Robyn Stevens, as well as children’s historical fiction writer Emma Carroll.

Cathy Moore, who launched the literary festival as Cambridge Wordfest in March 2003, will raise a glass to its success when she finally gets a minute.

She said: “Our founding mission was to bring the best readers and writers to Cambridge. We have now welcomed several thousand writers including Nobel Prize-winners, Poet Laureates, Booker prize-winners, academics, politicians, journalists and TV personalities, not to mention in excess of 250,000 audience members.

“For this festival we present a roll call of outstanding writers and thinkers covering everything from food to finance, forests to fiction, poetry to politics plus a bumper children’s programme. We are also introducing three new strands: A Room of One’s Own Lecture to offer a modern interpretation of Woolf’s defining lecture; The State of the Nation lecture which will provide a forensic look at where we are now; and The Cambridge Series, for the intellectually curious, focusses on the latest thinking from the University of Cambridge. Come mingle with like-minded folk to celebrate the love of books, share ideas, laughter and collective joy.”

Her aim back in 2003 was to create a cultural event that was as much for town as it was gown.

She explains: “I wanted to democratise thought and debate across the city so there was a cultural event for everyone, that didn’t just belong to the university. I love the university and it has many accessible events these days but with the festival the aim was to take thought-provoking and entertaining events city wide. Cambridge has been an excellent place to launch a literary festival because there are so many people here who are hungry for ideas. ”

A selection of festival highlights

Literary Lunch with Crime Writers | Janice Hallett & Sophie Hannah with Alex Clark

Sophie Hannah. Picture: Phillipa Gedge
Sophie Hannah. Picture: Phillipa Gedge

  • 12.30pm, Wed, Apr 19
  • University Arm Hotel, Cambridge
  • Tickets: £40

Two modern-day queens of crime, Janice Hallett and Cambridge’s very own Sophie Hannah, will share the literary secrets of writing their latest whodunits over lunch in the ballroom at the University Arms Hotel

The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels is the new mystery phenomenon from Janice Hallett, bestselling author of The AppeaI and The Twyford Code. A labyrinthine, twist-laden mystery focusing on a true-crime writer investigating the historic case of a disturbing cult, the story of the Alperton Angels is far from over…

Sophie Hannah’s latest standalone psychological thriller The Couple at the Table is set at an exclusive couple’s-only resort. Who might be about to commit the perfect impossible murder?

A two-course lunch plus a glass of wine is included.

Curtis Sittenfeld

  • 7.15-8.15pm, Thu, Apr 20
  • Baillie Gifford Stage, Old Divinity School, Cambridge
  • Tickets: £14
Curtis Sittenfeld. Picture: Ackerman + Gruber
Curtis Sittenfeld. Picture: Ackerman + Gruber

Curtis Sittenfeld’s much-anticipated novel Romantic Comedy is finally out this month. The critically acclaimed and bestselling author of American Wife and Rodham will be in discussion with Jo Browning Wroe.

Skewering all our certainties about why we fall in love, Romantic Comedy is a witty and probing tale of how the heart will follow itself, no matter what anyone says. The brilliant writer of contemporary, clever and entertaining novels that mercilessly confront gender politics, racism, love, sex and feminism is joining the festival as part of her whirlwind UK tour.

Dr Louise Newson | The Menopause Expert

Dr Louise Newson
Dr Louise Newson

  • 6pm, Fri, Apr 21
  • Baillie Gifford Stage, Old Divinity School, Cambridge
  • Tickets: £14

Dr Louise Newson is one of the UK’s leading medical experts on menopause and perimenopause and has transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands of women and their families through her work. Louise has been described as the doctor ‘who kick started the menopause revolution.’

And now Louise has written the definitive, accessible and evidence-based guide to the perimenopause and menopause. It is the result of years of work in this field – combining not just her expert medical knowledge but the understanding and wisdom she has gained too.

The Definitive Guide to the Perimenopause and Menopause covers the key facts about hormones, their importance and their effects on our bodies. Bring your questions on symptoms or treatments, and Louise will help you feel informed, empowered and confident about getting the best menopause care, regardless of age, background or health history.

She will be in conversation with festival honorary patron Alex Clark.

New Statesman Debate | This house believes it’s time for Britain to abolish its monarch

  • 2pm, Sat, Apr 22
  • TTP Stage, Cambridge Union
  • Tickets: £16

The death of the Queen, followed by Harry and Meghan’s revelations, marked a turning point for the royal family. On the eve of the coronation of King Charles, six speakers will tackle the critical question: is the monarchy an essential source of stability in troubled times? Or is it a distraction and a financial burden – an institution long past its sell by date?

Speaking for the motion will be journalists Tanya Gold and Gary Younge and historian Anna Whitelock. Speaking against the motion will be royal biographer Robert Hardman, broadcaster Andrew Marr and documentary filmmakerTanjil Rashid.

Literary Lunch | Bonnie Garmus & Alex Clark

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus (Doubleday £14.99)
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus (Doubleday £14.99)

  • 1pm, Sun, Apr 23
  • University Arm Hotel, Cambridge
  • Tickets: £40.

Bonnie Garmus launched onto the literary scene last year with her blockbuster bestselling debut novel Lessons in Chemistry and a TV adaptation is out this year.

The chemist in Bonnie’s novel is Elizabeth Zott, but science, like life, is unpredictable, and Elizabeth finds herself the reluctant star of a TV cooking show. However, she isn’t just teaching women to cook. She’s daring them to change the status quo.

Bonnie says, ‘In Lessons in Chemistry I was looking to address the long-standing problem of how brilliant minds have been routinely barred from science.’ She will explain over lunch how this led to her funny, rousing, joyful book.

A two-course lunch plus a glass of wine is included. The event will take place in the ballroom at the University Arms Hotel.

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