It might not be as high profile a literary festival as the one hosted by Henley, Hay, Cheltenham or their near neighbour Bath, yet next month’s 24th annual Wells Festival of Literature nonetheless boasts a starry line up of authors including Peter Snow, Andrew Graham Dixon, Vince Cable, Prue Leith, the Reverend Richard Coles, and Lady Antonia Fraser; each enlightening us on subjects as wide-ranging as fiction, politics, poetry, ecology, travel, history, biography, science, philosophy, art, food and drink and more besides. Established in 1992 this annual celebration of literature has become one of the most popular fixtures in Wells, whilst offering literary lovers from far and wide the chance to gain inspiration from best selling authors in a more relaxed and intimate environment befitting England’s smallest city.
The subjects to be covered at the Wells Festival of Literature this year mirror the questions currently being asked in pubs and around kitchen tables up and down the country. How do we rebalance the books in an increasingly competitive global market-place? Will the ‘new’ Russia end with Putin? What does it mean to be a refugee? When, if ever, will the years of agonising over Hinkley Point end? Man has a great impact on the environment – but is it ultimately a force for good or evil? And what about the British weather?! Wells Festival can’t claim to answer all these questions but it guarantees an array of experts who will share their opinions on these and many other intriguing topics.
Vince Cable, Business Secretary in the 2010 –2015 coalition government, provides a perspective on the global financial markets and the British economy since 2008 as well as an unmissable insider’s view of the coalition. Orwell Prize winner Arkady Ostrovsky discusses the new Russia and reveals who pulled the strings and who took charge of the media and the message. Ben Rawlence gives a voice to nine refugees from Dadaab Refugee Camp in northern Kenya, home to 350,000 people, 10,000 of whom are third-generation inhabitants. Meanwhile, with Hinkley Point a name on everyone’s lips as the UK verges close to an energy crisis, Malcolm Grimston challenges the dramatic change in our ability to get things done, and suggests possible solutions. Opinion is also divided on the issue of man-made climate change but as Gaia Vince will explain in October there is one area of agreement: human activity has a great impact on the environment.
Other notable speakers this year include Sonia Purnell discussing her biography on the woman best known for being Winston Churchill’s wife, First Lady – The Life and Wars of Clementine Churchill; Peter Snow on the strengths and weaknesses of the leaders during Waterloo – the subject of his latest book co-written with his son Dan, The Battle of Waterloo Experience; Prue Leith talking to festival patron Caroline Waldegrave about their shared passion – food, also the inspiration of her latest novel The Food of Love set during the end of World War 2; and, in the final event of the festival, Andrew Graham Dixon talks about the discoveries he made whilst researching his best-selling biography, Caravaggio, A Life Sacred and Profane, which seeks to unravel the violent life of the great Italian painter.
Whatever your topic of choice or whether or not you decide to hear more than one speaker, the fact that all 34 events take place at the magnificent Bishop’s Palace adjacent to Wells Cathedral makes for a unique and atmospheric backdrop for discussion, debate and channelling the invaluable rapport between authors and their readers. Talks are priced at an affordable £10 each, while several speakers, including Peter Snow and Sonia Purnell, will also be hosting their own literary lunch (£24 for two courses) prior to their talk. In this computer age it’s refreshing to see how many of us still prize the printed word.
Wells Festival of Literature 2016 runs from 14th – 22nd October with events taking place at the Bishop’s Palace adjacent to Wells Cathedral. For more information and to book tickets please visit the website or call the booking line (open Weds – Sat, 10am – midday) 0300 2010211.