Winter Literary Festival

An in-depth look at our city’s celebration of words later this month

Causing a frisson of excitement for booklovers across the city, the programme of the next instalment of the Cambridge Literary Festival has been released and booking is open. Running 23 to 25 November at venues including the Old Divinity School and the Palmerston Room, the organisers have once again pulled in a stellar line-up of speakers, ranging from comedians, cooks and historians to scientists, journalists and of course, some of the top new fiction writers in the game. 

After preview events with Man Booker International Prize winner Olga Tokarczuk and Monty Python star Eric Idle in October, the festival proper begins on 23 November with a visit from TV personality Graham Norton, who’s been carving out a parallel career for himself as a successful novelist. After his debut Holding – a tale of murder in a rural Irish community – comes 2018’s Keeper, an absorbing tale of family secrets and ill-fated loves, which looks sure to cement his burgeoning reputation as a fresh literary voice.

Saturday 24 November serves up a busy day at the festival, with visits from ‘Queen of Shops’ Mary Portas, comedian-come-science-boff Robin Ince and Jonathan Coe, the acclaimed author of What a Carve Up! Coe is in town to discuss his latest novel Middle England – the subject of this month’s Cambridge Edition Book Club – which considers the state of the post-Brexit nation through a vividly imagined cast of characters. 

Also talking politics on the Saturday is the endlessly-entertaining Steve Bell, who’ll be pondering Jeremy Corbyn’s rise from ‘unelectable’ to ‘leader-in-waiting’. Best known as The Guardian’s political cartoonist, Bell delights in showing Britain’s political class the sharp side of his pen – and has found Corbyn to be the subject that keeps giving.

Saturday will also see the festival welcome TV historian David Reynolds for a look at Stalin’s secret wartime correspondence with Churchill and Roosevelt, influential Turkish writer Elif Shafak, and Rosie Wilby, who asks: is monogamy dead? 

Sunday yields another varied crop, featuring big names including wine aficionado Oz Clarke, wellness guru Ella Mills, quip queen Jo Brand and cycling superstar Sir Bradley Wiggins. Local author Sophie Hannah’s ‘murder mystery musical’ The Generalist is sure to delight lovers of a good whodunnit, while Cathy Newman’s Bloody Brilliant Women shines a light on remarkable females who changed the course of history. 

Stefan Collini and Melissa Benn, meanwhile, stop by to consider what a better schools and universities system looks like – and how we get there.Then, taking us from education to the environment, Lucy Siegle equips us with the tools to turn the tide on plastic usage. 

On the same day, two novelists at the top of their game join forces for an exploration of ghosts, secrets, lies and the tangled relationship between the past and the present. Sarah Perry – author of smash hit The Essex Serpent, which was Waterstones Book of the Year – and Sarah Moss, responsible for the eerie, gripping Ghost Wall, are sure to make thoroughly engaging conversation partners. 

There’s more for politics enthusiasts on Sunday too: David Runciman, one of the UK’s leading professors of politics, offers an alarming treatise on the end of democracy as we know it; social policy is under the spotlight in Crumbling Britain, and the BBC’s economics editor Kamal Ahmed looks at the issue of immigration in Britain. For the full programme, visit the Cambridge Literary Festival website.

When: 23-25 November

Where: Lord Ashcroft Building; Palmerston Room (St John’s College); Union Chamber; Union Library

How Much: Tickets from £8