Strictly judge Dame Darcey Bussell, Bake Off's Prue Leith and Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis are among the big names announced for this year's Stratford Literary Festival.
The eight-day event, which begins on Sunday April 28, includes speakers debating science and ideas, mental health and women’s issues, medicine and the news, as well as welcoming some of the most celebrated literary fiction authors writing today.
Other guests include actress Juliet Stephenson and screenwriter Andrew Davies, whose latest TV production Les Misérables has been a hit with audiences and critics. Current affairs will Radio 4’s Paddy O’Connell who will be celebrating radio with Charlie Connelly and newsreader Corrie Corfield.
There’s music with Classic FM’s John Suchet, pianist Lucy Parham and leading conductor Jane Glover. Real Marigold Hotel’s Rosemary Shrager will be sharing her thoughts on food and globetrotting, and leading medics Henry March, Richard Shepherd and Angela Gallop will be sharing their expertise. Front-line doctor Dr David Nott will be talking about his experiences in delivering trauma surgery in some of the world’s worst war zones, and war photographer Lalage Snow will marvel at the gardens that blossom in the most treacherous parts of the world.
Veteran comedy writer Barry Cryer will reminisce about his friendship with Stratford writer JB Priestley, and comedy professional Maggie Irving will show the audience how to make writing amusing, with the Guardian's Harry Venning unlocking everyone’s inner cartoonist.
The festival will also be showcasing award-winning writers including Ali Smith, John Lanchester, Tessa Hadley and Booker-prize winner Ben Okri, and welcoming back classicist Natalie Haynes and best-selling novelist Patrick Gale. There are also opportunities for audiences to meet some of the most exciting debuts of 2019.
Speakers on mental health include Nicci Gerrard discussing her new book about dementia, and writers Ella Risbridger and Laura Freeman share the moments and meals that saved them. Historians headlining the festival will be Alison Weir, Damien Lewis and Tracy Borman, and best-selling crime writers include Mark Billingham and Elly Griffiths.
Children can enjoy the multi-million bestselling writers Jacqueline Wilson and Francesca Simon and illustrators Lydia Monks and Nick Sharratt, plus stage shows of the much-loved books The Rainbow Fish and Aliens Love Underpants. Children’s events launch on April 28 with a drop-in craft session to help build a giant Elmer, to celebrate the famous patchwork elephant’s 30th anniversary, and pre-schoolers can help create a rainbow every weekday morning with craft and story-telling. Children’s Day this year rounds off the festival on May 5.
The festival is adding to its array of writing and craft workshops with a first for 2019: a dedicated Writers’ Day for people wanting to find the best route to being published and featuring literary agents, editors and other experts from the world of publishing. The day will include the unique opportunity for visitors to have a short one-to-one session with an agent to discuss their work.
Festival director Annie Ashworth said: "We are really excited by this year’s line-up. Our growing audiences have shown that they love a variety of events to choose from and this year we’ve included a very wide buffet of choices. I’m especially pleased that the programme includes some light-hearted, late-evening events to enjoy with a glass of wine, including our Live Lit evening which showcases emerging local writers.
"It will be fun to be working with the team at the Play House again. There will be a café, pop-up stalls to browse and a story-telling machine to dispense a story just for you. We look forward to welcoming everyone along. We’re confident they’ll find something to enjoy and broaden the mind and, whilst we can’t guarantee Brexit won’t be mentioned, we promise a wonderful escape from it!"