For 10 days every October, the pretty Regency spa town of Cheltenham transforms itself into the venue for one of the oldest literary festivals in the world. Each year at festival time, around 600 writers, politicians, journalists, poets, broadcasters, and other leading media figures from the UK, Europe, and worldwide descend upon Cheltenham to host, chair and speak at the Literature Festival’s programme of 500 events. In addition to the debates, interviews, lectures and talks, Cheltenham Literature Festival also hosts a mini-festival, Book It!, designed especially for children and younger readers. The Cheltenham Literature Festival began in post-war Austerity Britain in 1949, and in the intervening years has gained an enviable international reputation for the quality of its events as well as its speakers.
While the line-up for the 2015 Cheltenham Times Literary Festival is yet to be announced, big names from the worlds of literature, performance and journalism such as John Cleese, Salman Rushdie, Margaret Attwood, Ian McEwan, Caitlin Moran, James Naughtie, Shami Chakrabarti, Omid Djalili and former Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen all graced the Festival in 2014.
The family-oriented Book It! Festival garnered headlines in 2014, with 6 current or former Children’s Laureates participating. Welcoming celebrated children’s authors such as Malorie Blackman, Book It!’s events last year included creative writing workshops, teen opinion panels, craft sessions, illustration workshops, and informal talks. For the youngest festival goers, there were Hello Kitty’s 40th birthday celebrations in the morning as well as fun free activities including traditional Punch and Judy shows, dressing up, face painting, circus skills, a Discovery Trail, and storytelling. 2015’s Book It! Festival promises to be even better, with a new host of events, activities and workshops for young festival-goers aged 4-18.
While most events at the Festival require visitors to purchase a ticket, there are also a host of free activities which are suitable for everyone. In 2014, free events included author book signings in the Waterstones Tent; visits to a beautiful ornamental garden inspired by the Festival’s Brave New World theme and designed by the Royal Horticultural Society; free author readings sponsored by Laithwaite’s Wine; cricketing talks; a family fun day, and help and hints for fiendish word puzzles from The Times’ Crosswords Editor.
While the Festival’s emphasis is most decidedly literary, good food (and wine) for visitors have not been neglected. The Imperial Cafe will be open all day through the Festival, serving light meals such as sandwiches and salads, as well as wine and champagne. Kids’ meals are the order of the day at the Town Hall’s Regency Cafe, while the outdoor Garden Bar will allow you to soak up the last rays of autumn sun. For something a little more formal, diners can sample offerings at The Supper Club, which hosts creative dining experiences with fixed menus based around fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Foodie events continue in the Festival’s celebrated Spiegeltent, a venue filled with red velvet booths, stained glass, and wooden floors, where in 2014 visitors could watch tapas being expertly cooked before sampling it themselves. Afternoon teas, wine and whisky tastings and other culinary and gustatory delights -usually accompanied by an expert talk or recipe demonstration- make the Spiegeltent the perfect place to eat as a family with older children when you are visiting the Cheltenham Literature Festival.