Escape into a world of books at The Bath Festival

They say you’re never alone with a book, something that many of us realised during lockdown. We couldn’t always talk to another human in real life, but we could have a conversation with a book.

The 2021 Bath Festival’s selection of literary treats takes its inspiration from the months when our relationship with the written word was more important to us than ever.

Fiction to carry us away

You may know Stuart Turton from his award-winning debut The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, and the good news is that his second novel The Devil and The Dark Water has been acclaimed as Book of the Year by The Guardian, The Sunday Times and The Financial Times.

Set in the 17th century and featuring heroes, villains and a host of twists and turns, this looks like being one of the best, escapist reads of the summer. Stuart Turton will whet our appetites while in conversation with Natasha Pulley on Wed 19 May, 7.30pm at the Assembly Rooms.

Another novel set in the 17th century has also recently been released to a slew of rave reviews. Lucy Jago’s A Net For Small Fishes explores the real-life scandal which rocked the royal court at the time. Hear the rustle of silk, the whispers behind closed doors and the accusations fly. Lucy Jago is a former TV producer and biographer. She’ll be talking to Caroline Sanderson about perfumes, poisons and the 1600s craze for cross-dressing on Thursday 20 May, 10.30am, the Assembly Rooms.

BBC correspondent Frank Gardner has many years of experiencing life at the sharp end of danger in the world’s war zones. He has drawn on these to become a consummate teller of fast-paced thrillers. Outbreak is his latest edge-of-the-seat work, set in the Arctic Circle and involving deadly bio-weapons developed by the Russians. Frank chats to Caroline Sanderson on Sat 22 May, 5pm, at the Assembly Rooms.

What if those young lives, cut abruptly short during a bombing raid in the Second World War, were re-imagined? Francis Spufford, winner of the Costa Award for Golden Hill, does just that to brilliant, moving effect in his new book Light Perpetual. What futures would have awaited those five young people? This novel is a celebration of the gift of life. Hear Francis Spufford in conversation with Judith Robinson at 7pm on Friday 21 May in the Assembly Rooms.

Two new contemporary powerful novels bring our attention to a pair of exciting young writers. Caleb Azumah Nelson’s Open Water, a love story set against the backdrop of present-day London has recently been longlisted for the Desmond Elliot Prize 2021.

Daisy Buchanan’s debut Insatiable features a heroine who wants better friends, better sex and a better job – and she wants them now! Daisy produces the popular podcast, You’re Booked. Daisy and Caleb will be chatting to Judith Robinson on Fri 21 May, 4.30pm in the Assembly Rooms.

If dark, Gothic novels thrill you, then you’ll want to follow Elizabeth Macneal (author of The Doll Factory) as she returns to Victorian England for her second novel. Circus of Wonders sees a young girl, Nell, sold into a circus by her father, shunned because of her birthmarks. Pull up a chair and listen in, Elizabeth will be talking to fellow author Jo Nadin on Sat 22 May at 3.30pm in the Assembly Rooms.

From the world of entertainment

Richard Osman, recently billed as ‘TV’s Pointless brainiac’, has turned his razor-sharp wit and impeccable sense of timing, to producing a phenomenally bestselling book, The Thursday Murder Club. He’ll be talking about this, his new book due out in the autumn, and much more besides when he’s in the amiable company of comedian Miles Jupp at The Forum on Wed 19 May, 7.30pm.

Comedian and TV presenter Mel Giedroyc is one of those famous people who you just feel would be fun to share a coffee and a slice of cake with, while enjoying some warm and witty banter. Judging by the sales of Mel’s first novel, The Best Things, plenty of others enjoy spending time in her company, albeit through her storytelling. She’ll be talking to Francesca Beauman about this timely and tender book at the Assembly Rooms on Sunday 23 May at 1.30pm.

Comedian Tez Ilyas is known to TV and radio fans from his stand-up shows and from appearances on panel shows such as Mock the Week and The Last Leg. Tez uses humour and pathos in The Secret Diary of a British Muslim aged 13 ¾. Even as he’s lifting the lid on what it’s like to grow up in a world of arranged marriages, prejudices and riots, Tez is searingly funny. Hear him chat on Thursday 20 May at 8pm at the Assembly Rooms.

Comedian Robert Webb won acclaim as a writer with his memoir How Not to be a Boy. Now he’s written a novel about love, grief and time travel. As you’d expect from someone with such a strong voice, Come Again is by turns hilarious and heart-rending. He will be talking to Steven Gale on Sat 22 May from 11am at the Assembly Rooms.

Real people, real stories

A celebration of the life and work of John Keats takes place on Wed 19 May, 1pm at the Assembly Rooms.. On reading his poetry about life, love, art and nature 200 years after his death, we are struck how much Keats understood the human condition. He was only 25 when he died but his work now stands among the best of English poets. In Keats: A Brief Life in Nine Short Poems and One Epitaph biographer Lucasta Miller leads us on a witty, insightful trip through some of his best-known verses.

This event is the nearest you’re going to get to a time machine as historian Ian Mortimer lifts the lid on what it was really like to be in Bath during its Georgian heyday. In The Time Traveller’s Guide to Regency Britain, visitors to the past will see beyond the elegance, the parties and the chandeliers to the grime beneath. You may never see historic Bath in the same way again! Put on your best bonnet and britches for Friday 21 May at 11am, appropriately at the 18th century Assembly Rooms.

When asked what activities we most associate Napoleon Bonaparte with, it’s highly likely that gardening isn’t among our answers. And yet, as award-winning biographer Ruth Scurr reveals in Napoleon: A Life in Gardens and Shadows, the great military leader was associated with gardens throughout his life. Ruth Scurr will be talking to Caroline Sanderson about the gardens he loved in Paris, Corsica and finally in exile on St Helena. Thursday 20 May, 5pm, the Assembly Rooms.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote one of the most loved poems in the English language – ‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…’ Biographer Fiona Sampson, author of Two-Way Mirror: The Life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, takes us behind the romance of the poet’s extraordinary life to reveal a thoroughly modern woman. Learn more about this fascinating character on Sunday 23 May at 1pm in the Assembly Rooms.

Writer and gardener Ruth Pavey escaped London for the country, which launched her on a new adventure. She took over four acres in Somerset and set about conserving them for plants and creatures. Her 2017 book A Wood of One’s Own was highly acclaimed piece of nature writing. Ruth will be in Bath on Friday 21 May, at 10.30am, at the Assembly Rooms talking to award-winning Bath based gardener Jane Moore about her latest book Deeper Into The Wood. For lovers of the English countryside this will be an uplifiting and inspiring event.

Collections to inspire

Join us for a conversation dedicated to the book passions that have sustained us during lockdowns. Author Kate Mosse (The City of Tears, An Extra Pair of Hands) found director of the Women’s Prize for Fiction will be joined by fellow writers Neema Shah (Kololo Hill) and Cathy Rentzenbrink (Dear Reader: The Comfort and Joy of Books) to discuss their work and to share their reading recommendations. Expect to come away with a list of books you’ll want to read. The Comfort and Joy of Books, Sunday 23 May, 11am, in the Assembly Rooms.

There are some festival favourites we look forward to and Around the World in 10 Books is one of them. In the company of writer and publisher Scott Pack and former literature festival programmer Judith Robinson we embark on a literary grand tour. Discover books by international writers, many of them published in translation, and go off your usual beaten track to read across new borders.

Tickets for The Bath Festival 17-24 May 2021 are selling quickly. To make sure you don’t miss out, book your tickets now here


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