Festival fever...

PUBLISHED: 12:01 08 April 2013 | UPDATED: 12:58 11 April 2013

Shakespeare 445th birthday celebrations in Stratford upon Avon, Photo: John James

Shakespeare 445th birthday celebrations in Stratford upon Avon, Photo: John James

John James : jj@johnjames.net

No matter what books bulge from readers' shelves − novels, thrillers, crime fiction, gardening books, recipe books, biographies or autobiographies − the programme for the Stratford-upon-Avon Literary Festival has something to spark their interest and enthusiasm.

An impressive line-up of celebrity authors and novelists take to the stage at this year’s event, from April 21 to May 5. The sixth annual festival also sets out to inspire and involve, featuring creative writing workshops, competitions, fascinating panel discussions, getting published clinics, an open mic poetry evening, even a literary and film quiz.

Headline names include author, traveller and Python Michael Palin (tickets are already sold out); best-selling creator of War Horse, Michael Morpurgo; Costa shortlisted biographer Artemis Cooper and award-winning screen writer William Nicholson, twice nominated for an Oscar (for Shadowlands and Gladiator), whose prolific writing career encompasses novels for older children (The Wind Singer won the Smarties Prize Gold Award on publication) and for adults − his latest, Motherland, published this spring.

TV and radio comedian Tony Hawks, a regular guest on radio programmes including The News Quiz, Just a Minute, and I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, will talk about screenwriting. With the films Round Ireland With A Fridge and Playing The Moldovans At Tennis under his belt, he will recount the ups and downs of being a British independent film-maker, and the process of transferring the words from his books onto the silver screen.

Proceeds from the event will go to the Tony Hawks Centre in Moldova, a day care centre for the rehabilitation of children with disabilities.

Sebastian Faulks, one of the most accomplished authors of literary fiction in the country, will be talking about his writing career and his latest, intriguing novel, A Possible Life, which is formed by five short stories that span continents, centuries and subject matter.

BBC European correspondent Gavin Hewitt will present his new book Lost Continent and broadcaster Edward Stourton will describe the remarkable personal stories of endurance, betrayal and bravery in his latest work, Cruel Crossing, which charts the secret history of the WW2 routes through the Pyrenees from France to Spain to escape Hitler. Taking on topical issues, there’s debate on growing older with Bill Turnbull, Baroness Julia Neuberger and Jill Fraser and a talk on how to overcome poverty by John Bird, founder of The Big Issue.

Then there’s characteristic candour from elder statesman Tony Benn, in conversation about his career and his view on the world today; psychoanalyist-turned-novelist, Salley Vickers with her most recent novel and extreme adventurers Jason Lewis and Robert Twigger explaining what makes them take the risks they do.

For growing interest, there’s Monty Don, presenter of BBC’s Gardeners’ World and a prolific writer, whose latest book, The Road to Le Tholonet − A French Garden Journey, was a major BBC series this spring. TV presenter Kate Humble will tell of her first book Humble by Nature in which she gives a highly personal account of her move from a London house with 20 square feet of garden, to a Welsh smallholding with four acres, to becoming the owner of 117 acres of land in Monmouthshire, which she and her husband have set out to save as a working farm and a small part of British farming heritage.

In an event sponsored by Warwickshire Life, acclaimed crime writer Mark Billingham, author of the instant UK bestseller Sleepyhead and a subsequent series of crime novels featuring London-based detective Tom Thorne, will be in conversation with mystery thriller writer John Connolly. His own debut, Every Dead Thing, introduced the character Charlie Parker, a former policeman hunting the killer of his wife and daughter, and swiftly launched him right to the front of his genre. The two will chat about their inspiration and the dark corners of their imagination.

Budding writers can learn the skills of the trade from the award winning Louise Welsh and a top level historical fiction panel. There’s advice on the different routes to getting a work into print including a self-publishing session. The festival, once again with the support of Stratford Town Trust, is also putting on events in schools throughout the region, including with bestselling young Bond writer and actor Charlie Higson and Winnie the Witch illustrator Korky Paul, and working on reading projects with older members of the community.


Full details are available at www.stratfordliteraryfestival.co.uk. Tickets are available on 01789 207100 or on line at www.civichall.co.uk

Tickets can also be bought in person from the Civic Hall box office, open 10am to 4pm, Monday to Friday.

More to do about Stratford

With the celebrations marking the 449th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, on April 20 and 21; special activities and exhibitions at the Shakespeare Houses and Gardens and a festival of arts and comedy in May, Stratford’s calendar is packed with events for visitors to enjoy.

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2013 summer season includes performances of Hamlet until September 28 at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and, at the Swan Theatre, Titus Andronicus from May 16 to October 26 and As You Like It, which runs from April 12 until September 28.

For families, the Shakespeare Houses and Gardens host an exciting season of fun and educational activities. Mary Arden’s Farm, the childhood home of Shakespeare’s mother and still a working Tudor farm, celebrates its 500th anniversary this year. Visitors can discover the daily routine of 16th century rural folk as costumed residents bring the farm to life and there’s the chance to try traditional crafts, see falconry displays, explore the nature trails, try out the new adventure playground and pet the animals. An exhibition, Tudors Through the Lens, runs until April 28, featuring atmospheric photographs of the Tudors in the style of the Old Masters. During the Easter holidays special events include Tudor dancing, music, story-telling, games, egg-dying and archery.

The new singing tree and music trail at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage will appeal to visitors of all ages, who can hug the tree to make it sing and take an enchanting musical tour through the woodland walk, listening to a soundtrack especially composed by folk legend Peter Knight of Steeleye Span and Gigspanner fame. At Nash’s House and New Place there are hands-on activities for all ages in the marquee, which will be open every weekend and during school holidays. Hall’s Croft celebrates its 400th birthday in 2013 and here, until April 14, visitors can enjoy the Herb Festival and hear talks on the medicinal use of herbs. At Shakespeare’s Birthplace until April 14, there’s childhood-themed theatre from the resident acting troupe Shakespeare Aloud!

Until the end of the year, Shakespeare’s Birthplace is also hosting the fascinating exhibition, Shakespeare’s Treasures, featuring unique and priceless treasures from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s collections, many not seen by the public before. The exhibition includes the Trust’s copy of the Cobbe portrait, the only portrait of Shakespeare believed to have been painted from life, on display in the UK for the first time since it was bought by the Trust in 2010. One of the most influential books in the English language, the Ashburnham copy of the first folio of Shakespeare’s collected plays, published in 1623 is also on view.

Already known for hosting a number of highly-regarded and well-supported festivals, including music, poetry, river, fringe, food and Halloween, this year Stratford-upon-Avon is adding the Stratford Festival of Motoring to its calendar.

The inaugural event will take place during the early May bank holiday on May 5 and 6, when around 150 classic and special interest vehicles are expected to be on display throughout the historic town. Later in May, starting on the 23rd and continuing until June 2, The Stratford-upon-Avon Arts Festival and Comedy Hullabaloo will present world-class performers and artists.

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