Who's taking part in this year's Aldeburgh Literary Festival?

Aldeburgh Literary Festival organisers Mary and John James

Aldeburgh Literary Festival organisers Mary and John James - Credit: Eamonn McCabe

Calling all book lovers: the Aldeburgh Literary Festival returns next month, and its organisers are incredibly excited for this year’s upcoming festivities.  

Now in its 21st year, the festival is a beloved part of the Suffolk arts and culture scene, and founder and organiser Mary James cannot wait to welcome a raft of writers to the seaside town once again. 

Scheduled to take place between Thursday May 5 and Sunday May 8, Aldeburgh’s Jubilee Hall will play host to a number of writers whose works span literary genres including science, history, art, and religion.  

Reflecting on the 2021 edition, Mary, who owns Aldeburgh Bookshop alongside her husband John, says: “It was excellent. We thought when we did it in September we’d do a slightly smaller festival, but it was almost just as big as ever. It went really well, and there were some super interesting talks. 

“We had the most wonderful talk by English literature professor John Mullan, who spoke about Charles Dickens’ use of language. He's a brilliant speaker – he was talking about Dickens’ use of semi-colons, and it sounds hard to believe but we were all enthralled.” 

Last year’s festival was also the first time the event streamed all of its talks – something that will continue this year as hesitancy around Covid still lingers.  

“While we’re running at full capacity this year, we realised filming the talks was such a huge success last year so we’ve decided to offer it online again for people who can’t get out, or maybe don’t want to. A lot of people signed up for them both in the run-up and also afterwards in case they missed any of the talks, or wanted to watch them again, so it made sense to keep for this year.” 

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So who can attendees expect to see across the four-day fest next month? 

Highlights for Mary include talks on books about Russian cosmonauts, Covid, and new career beginnings.  

Kicking off this year’s festival is a talk on Thursday evening by writer Stephen Walker, who will be speaking about his book on Yuri Gagarin, ‘Beyond: The Astonishing Story of the First Human to Leave our Planet and Journey into Space’. 

Stephen Walker

Stephen Walker - Credit: Josh Tucker/Appledore Book Festival

“It’s a fascinating story, and it shows great insight into the way the Soviet Union operated at the height of the Cold War. It’s fascinating and full of fantastic detail,” she explains.  

“And on Saturday morning, my brother Matt Ridley will be giving a talk on a book he’s co-authored with scientist and writer Dr Alina Chan, on the origins of Covid.” 

Matt Ridley

Matt Ridley - Credit: Matt Ridley

Entitled ‘Search for the Origin of Covid-19', the two wrote the book at the height of lockdown – and didn’t actually meet in person until after it was published. “The festival will be the first and possibly only event they’ll do together, so this is very exciting for the both of them,” she adds. 

For Mary, one of the most inspiring stories taking to this year’s festival stage has to be Lucy Kellaway’s book, ‘Re-educated: How I changed My Job, My Home, My Husband and My Hair’. 

“Lucy was a successful journalist for three decades at the Financial Times, and she packed it all up to become a maths and business teacher at an inner-city school in London at the age of 57,” she explains.  

Festival attendees can catch Lucy in conversation with Craig Brown on the Sunday at 4.15pm. 

East Anglian-based writer and George Orwell biographer DJ Taylor will also be making an appearance over the weekend, revisiting the author’s works and how relevant they are to the current zeitgeist.  

DJ Taylor

DJ Taylor - Credit: DJ Taylor

He will also be in conversation with his wife, best-selling author Rachel Hore, where they will discuss her works and career. Rachel – who has had many of her books picked by Richard & Judy’s Book Club – frequently sets her books in Suffolk and Norfolk.  

In addition, pottery icon Emma Bridgewater will be making her way to Aldeburgh to interview author Emma Soames, where the two will discuss her book ‘Mary Churchill’s War: The Wartime Diaries of Winston Churchill’s Youngest Daughter’. 

Emma Soames

Emma Soames - Credit: Emma Soames

“There’s a huge variety of talks – and certainly something for everybody. From popular fiction and science, to ancient and medieval history, you’ll definitely find something,” adds Mary. 

“And often the subject you think might not be interesting often ends up being the most riveting talk of all.” 

Tickets for Aldeburgh Literary Festival are £13 for physical events, £8 for a virtual ticket, or £208 for a rover ticket. These can be purchased from the Aldeburgh Bookshop by phone or email.  

To find out more, visit aldeburghbookshop.co.uk