By Hazel Fulton on 18th April 2023
If you prefer your festivals more highbrow than hardcore, and you enjoy your conversation to be as sparkling as your champagne, then this year’s spring/summer season of literary festivals should have you champing at the bit.
With more to choose from than ever before – from small local events to the long-established big-hitters – book-lovers are spoilt for choice. And even reluctant readers might be tempted by the social scene and big names that the best festivals attract. Here’s our pick of the bunch.
First up, a new kid on the block. As the name suggests, the USP of Sherbourne festival is its focus on travel writing and the theme of ‘reaching for the horizon’. It promises 10 of the UK’s finest travel writers talking about their recent experiences conquering every corner of the globe, and what adventuring entails in the age of Covid, climate change and war in Europe.
A literary festival in this most literary of towns: no wonder it attracts a stellar line up. This year, expect Judi Dench, Brian Cox, Ian Rankin and Marina Hyde among many, many others; names that will have no trouble drawing a crowd even on Coronation weekend. Although there’ll be plenty of opportunity to celebrate that too, with a group-watch free screening of the crowning of King Charles III.
Combining books and music, pretty city Bath’s offering has a somewhat more eclectic energy than most literary festivals. It kicks off on the 12th May with Party in the City, a huge outdoor staging of folk, rock, classical, jazz and soul performers. The event attracted over 20,000 revellers last year and looks set to be even bigger in 2023.
Famously described by Bill Clinton as ‘the Woodstock of the mind’, Hay Festival delivers 10 days of workshops, talks and music on the edge of the beautiful Brecon Beacons national park on the Welsh-English border. This year you might bump into guests as diverse as The Handmaid’s Tale author Margaret Atwood and Dua Lipa, who’ll be recording her popular podcast at the festival with Shuggie Bain author Douglas Stuart.
Billing itself as the friendliest of festivals, this Yorkshire-set event celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Crime fiction fans will be able to get close to icons of the genre such as Val McDermid and Lee Child, while hanging out at the luxurious Old Swan Hotel – famous for its glass-ceilinged Wedgewood restaurant and for being the venue Agatha Christie ran away to during her famous disappearance.
The best of the rest…
The literary festivities continue throughout the rest of the year, although details for most of these have still to be released. Keep an eye out for the Edinburgh International Book Festival (12-28 August), which serves up hundreds of authors across an extensive programme in a city world-renowned for its festivals.
Also north of the border, but on a considerably small scale, is the Wigtown Book Festival (22 September – 1st October). Set in Wigtown in Galloway, which is famous for its second-hand bookshops, this is one for the insiders: a must-attend event for true bibliophiles.
And don’t forget the Henley Literary Festival 30th September – 8th October) and the Cheltenham Literature Festival (6-15 October); both key dates in the cultural calendar known to attract literary superstars and intellectual influencers.
Would-be authors: prepare to be inspired.