Cambridge Literary Festival spring edition

This image: Laura Bates

Nicola Foley finds out what's in store for the next festival of words

A spirited celebration of the written word, Cambridge Literary Festival returns for its spring outing this month, bringing a sparkling lineup of writers and thinkers to the city between 13 and 15 of April. As always, the roster of speakers is nothing if not eclectic, ranging from the hottest new fiction writers to politicians, poets, cooks and comedians. 

Those with a penchant for politics will be well catered for at this latest chapter of the festival, with the State of the Nation strand delivering lively debate on hot-button issues both at home and abroad. Tim Shipman, author of A Year of Political Mayhem, stops by on the 15th to give the inside scoop on the bedlam of last year’s general election, chronicling May’s astounding – and catastrophically misjudged – gamble, across twelve dramatic months in Westminster. Also offering a behind-the-scenes look at the corridors of power is Steve Richards, who’s in town on the 14th to have a good old giggle at goings-on in the UK government – Corbyn to Clegg; Hunt to Hammond, nobody is safe from his ire.

John Crace, the Guardian sketch writer responsible for coining the term Maybot, will trace May’s journey from buoyant, newly minted PM to malfunctioning automaton, while former Labour party leader Ed Miliband stops by on the 15th to reflect on the biggest challenges of our age – and how we might solve them. Hopping across the pond, Luke Harding shines a spotlight on the true nature of the ‘special relationship’ between Trump and Russia, from how it started to where it could take us. 


Images: Ruby Wax, Ed Miliband and Ruby Tandoh

Fiction fans, make a beeline for Alan Hollinghurst’s talk, at which he’ll be discussing his latest novel, The Sparsholt Affair. The sixth offering from the Man Booker Prize winner, it begins against a backdrop of the Second World War, masterfully surveying sexuality, desire and class across seven decades. The peerless Ali Smith is back at the festival, too, with a cherry-picked clutch of the most promising debut novelists on the scene, while Gail Honeyman, author of much-hyped recent release Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, stops by for a poignant conversation about loneliness, love and loss. 

As event director Cathy Moore acknowledges in the programme, “2018 is the year of women” and in celebration of that, the festival resolves to honour the achievements of women since they won the vote 100 years ago, while reflecting on the inequalities that remain. Deputy Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson and Everyday Sexism Project founder Laura Bates join forces on the 15th to address the structures in place which allow inequality to persist, while Athene Donald, Harriet Harman and Kathryn Jacob gather on the 14th to discuss smashing through the glass ceiling.

‘This house believes that the only way for more women to succeed is for more men to fail’ is the motion put forward for this year’s New Statesman debate, which like so many great debates before it will take place at the Cambridge Union. Do we need radical solutions – perhaps quotas for female promotion or fair compensation for unpaid care work? Or is there plenty of room for both genders at the table? Join the debate on the 15th. 

From feminism to food, with Bake Off finalist and writer Ruby Tandoh, who’ll be at the festival to chat about her new book Eat Up! A delicious riposte to the cult of clean eating and wellness, it’s a celebration of the joys of food and eating, encouraging a positive relationship with both. 

Ruby Wax returns to the festival on the 15th to share her secrets of a happy life, while Simon Amstell (right) also stops by to reflect on life, with all its heartbreak and hilarity, on the 14th. 

From memoirists to murder mysteries, there’s plenty more to seek out. Visit the Literary Festival website for the full programme.

For an interview with memoirist Tara Westover, look here, and with chef Tom Kerridge, go here. Both will be at the festival reflecting on their very different personal stories.