The Pick - Gods, monsters and giants

October 7, 2010

The Times Cheltenham Literary Festival

8-17 October


The Times Cheltenham Literary Festival is celebrating its 60th birthday this year. It will feature plenty of celebrities, public figures and literary big hitters, but also sessions on everything from angels to the Andes, British butterflies, Frédéric Chopin, Victorian fraudster Madame Rachel and the nature of Utopia. Karen Armstrong will be making "the case for God" - and Stephen Hawking probably won't.

Cheltenham is Britain's longest-running literary festival and, with close to 100,000 tickets snapped up a week before the kick-off, looks set to beat last year's record of 115,000 attendees. Some of the sessions featuring star names including Martin Amis, Michael Caine, Stephen Fry, Nigella Lawson, Peter Mandelson and Salman Rushdie are already sold out, but there should be plenty of equally interesting voices. Foodies should get a chance to hear from Antonio Carluccio, politicos from Alastair Campbell and Shirley Williams and fiction fans from A.S. Byatt, Hanif Kureishi, Alexander McCall Smith, Michael Moorcock and Philip Pullman.

There will be a broad focus on dreams and nightmares, with chief executive Donna Renney flagging up the "vampires, angels, gods and monsters from Frankenstein and Dracula to H.G. Wells and John Wyndham" that will create "a spine-tingling voyage into gothic horror, utopian dreams and dizzying future fiction". After all that, comics from Jo Brand to Phill Jupitus should provide some welcome light relief.

Separate strands of the festival will explore the challenges of "a new economic world", "war stories" and "the power of the unconscious". Mary Beard, professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge, will guest-direct a whole classical strand titled Sex, Death and Tragedy. Sessions will look at Socrates, reading Latin poetry, putting the ancient world on film and walking across Italy in the footsteps of Spartacus. Others will feature debates on favourite ancient heroines - and who should have won the ancient Booker Prize. The winner of this year's Man Booker Prize, to be announced on 12 October, should be putting in a special guest appearance.

Those interested in literature and history will gain new insights into William Blake, Bruce Chatwin, Emily Dickinson, Philip Larkin, David Lloyd George, George Orwell and Charles de Gaulle from journalists, biographers and scholars. Three academics - Jonathan Bate, Sarah Churchwell and Daniel Pick - will explore literary dreams and nightmares "from Kubla Khan to Manderley".

Creative workshops are available for those wanting to embark on their own crime fiction, poetry or food writing, or anyone who needs hints on how to create convincing characters and believable dialogue.

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