Why we visit the Cheltenham Literature Festival every year

The leaves are turning to a variety of colourful reds, the mornings feel crispier and there's a nip in the air. I'm retrieving my scarves from the back of drawers where they have been neglected all summer and I'm reaching for boots almost daily. It's Autumn, which means it's time for the Cheltenham Literature Festival!

We've been attending Cheltenham Literature Festival for a few years now and I look forward to it all year. It's a place to discover new books, to learn, to meet authors and celebrities, it's a place where views are challenged and horizons are broadened. I find it so inspiring. Each year I tell myself I won't buy any books this year, I'll just listen and I ALWAYS fail. I come away needing to read at least one book and choose to buy it and get it signed at the festival.

Over the years

For the most part, I have loved the sessions we have attended, but having said that there have also been some sessions I was disappointed with for a variety of reasons. There have been academics who struggled to make their knowledge accessible to those who didn't have a PhD in the subject; religious discussions where they have been derogative about a particular religion without explanation (a religion I just so happen to be part of); women who had a discussion on feminism who were rude, overly giggly, and ill-informed about real issues, women who I felt gave feminism a bad name. These sessions have been few and far between.

Some of my favourite sessions from the past few years include:


Who Do You Think You Are? 

I love the T.V. series Who Do You Think You Are? I love family history and enjoy learning about different historical events that have affected families in both negative and positive ways. So when Cheltenham Literature Festival announced that members of the production team, along with Brian Blessed, would be discussing the process of creating the show, I had to get tickets.

I learned so much, enjoyed hearing about the behind-the-scenes process and my husband asked Brian Blessed if he would sing for us. He didn't need to be asked twice. 

The Children Act

This is an interesting one because I actually enjoyed the session a lot more than I enjoyed the book. Ian McEwan was joined by Sir Alan Ward, an appeal court judge. The Children Act is about a  High Court judge by the name of Fiona who deals with a case where the court has to decide whether to overrule a seventeen-year-old boy's religious views to provide the life saving medical treatment he is refusing.

Sir Alan Ward shared glimpses into similar cases and I found the discussion fascinating. The book, however, contained a moment where the female judge did something that in real life she would be idiotic to do, something that would have jeopardised her career, I felt this was ridiculous and unnecessary. My Mum's cousin is a judge and this book The Children Act was thrown across the office in disgust by every person who read it.

How To Get Your Children’s Book Published

Barry Cunningham, Chicken House MD, who signed J K Rowling; Sophia Bennett, a previous winner of The Times/Chicken House Children's Fiction Competition; Alex O'Connell, Arts Editor of The Times; and Zoe King, literary agent at Blair Publishing joined together as a panel to discuss what makes a good children's book and the process of getting it published.

I found this absolutely fascinating and loved this session.


Reel History: The World According to Movies

Alex von Tunzelmann spoke about her book Reel History: The World According to Movies and discussed creating a historically accurate film and an entertaining film. In her book, she reviews different movies and gives them a grade for historical accuracy and a separate grade for entertainment.

I went to this session for my husband, he had gone ahead to Canada for Film School while I awaited my visa. I planned to get the book for him but didn't expect to enjoy the session as much as I did. I figured I wouldn't have seen the majority of the movies, and although that turned out to be the case, it didn't matter. Alex did a great job of making the session accessible whether you had seen the movie or not. When I got the book signed for my husband (a movie geek) she wrote a personal message to him wishing him luck in his studies. I really liked Alex, I loved how she combined two subjects that interested her (movies and history) to create a unique review perspective.


Jenni Murray

Seeing Jenni Murray last year was amazing. She was promoting her book A History of Britain in 21 Women (which I 100% recommend you read). In the session she discussed the women she chose to include in her book and why she chose them. The session also discussed issues that affect women nowadays. She talked about the damaging effect of pornography, the issues associated with sexual consent, and other poignant issues. I found Jenni Murray's insights from being a part of Women's Hour incredibly interesting and came away thinking about some of the ideas she voiced in her session.

The book is fantastic and I found myself questioning which women I would include in my own version of the books A History of Women in 21 Women. I am ashamed to say that I don't think I could have named 21 women in British history to write about and something is definitely wrong with that. I really enjoyed learning more about these amazing women.


I haven't been to all of my sessions this year but I loved the session

WWII Women: Fight and Flight

Clare Mulley and Rick Stroud discuss some of the women who were actively involved in WWII. Clare Mulley's book The Women Who Flew For Hitler focuses on the two female Valkyries, Hanna Reitsch, a distinctly Aryan poster girl, and Melitta von Stauffenberg, of Jewish descent, who covertly supported the most famous attempt to assassinate Hitler. I am incredibly intrigued by this book and the different lives and perspectives these women had.

Rick Stroud's book, Lonely Courage, focuses on the SOE (Special Operations Executive) set up by Churchill. He focuses on those who served in France and the challenges they faced. In particular he talked about how they had to master the language to the extent that each vowel sound was correct - the slightest mispronunciation would give them away. Of the 39 women recruited, he chooses to focus on the lives of six in detail and I cannot wait to add these women to the list of women I admire.

Russell Brand : Recovery

My husband and I are going to see Russell Brand talk about addiction - from drug addiction to sex to social media. He'll be talking about his recovery and the steps he has taken to become addiction-free. I cannot wait to hear him talk and hear more about his book.


If you have been to the Cheltenham Literature Festival, or any other Literature Festival, I would love to hear about some of your favourite sessions.



BookshelfAbi AbleyComment