Q&A with Madeline Toy, Head of Literature Programming

We are living in interesting times. Which events at this year’s festival best reflect the place that humanity, and the western world in particular, finds itself?

We are indeed living in interesting times and that’s the fantastic thing about festivals, they are places where ideas, both old and new, are explored, where audiences can come to be entertained and inspired and where we can all learn something new.

There are a number of events within the programme I’d recommend for those looking to be up to date with current issues. Is Feminism For All? (B12) is a brilliant panel of Muslim women talking about their experiences – they have all contributed to an anthology called It’s Not About the Burqa which was published in February to huge acclaim. The Angina Monologues (B10) sees consultant cardiac surgeon Samer Nashef tell heart-stopping stories of transplants and bypasses as well as talking about the state of the NHS. Encouraging us to become as environmentally responsible as we can possibly be, Greenpeace’s Head of Oceans Will McCallum and Professor in the Institute for Social Futures at Lancaster University Mike Berners-Lee will be joining us for Cleaning Up Our Act (B14) – a must-listen for us all.


In response to the rather sobering thoughts that the first question may have prompted, which festival events would you recommend we attend for sheer joie de vivre?

Entertainment is top of my list when pulling a festival programme together – it must be fun! And we have it in abundance this year. Austentatious (B9) is an entirely improvised Jane Austen play starring a cast of the country’s sharpest comic performers, ridiculously silly and wickedly funny. We have the honour of being joined by the legendary Sir Michael Parkinson (B18) and his son Mike – featuring exclusive highlights from the Parkinson archive, it will be a really special evening. Ain’t No Hood Like Motherhood (G11) promises a romp through the highs and lows of perfectly imperfect parenthood!

Other events to look out for include Nicholas Parsons: Just a Laugh a Minute (H5), Sara Cox (C6), Pam Ayres (E4), Natalie Haynes: Troy Story (J6) and Jo Brand (B2)


Which three events would you recommend for someone looking to explore something new, or discover a writer they might not have yet read?

Supporting new and emerging talent is another area that is really important to me within the literature programme. Giving someone their first festival experience or being supportive in the early years of their career helps build those literary stars of the future. Three events is tough so I’m counting our series of events celebrating New Talent as one! Look out for Damian Barr with Patrick Gale (B1), Life, Love and Everything In Between (B15), Real Life Reimagined (J7) and History in the Making (K2).

Another author I’d hugely recommend as one to watch and has in recent years appeared on a number of literary prize lists is Sarah Moss (C7). Her books are wonderful and she is easily one of my top contemporary writers.

With regards to exploring something new, I’d encourage people to attend The Forager’s Calendar (F1) – forager at River Cottage, John Wright, will show us how wild ingredients can inspire delicious meals as well as urging us to get outside and explore our local area; what could be better?!


Who are you most excited to have secured for Bath audiences?

I’m excited to welcome all of our speakers to Bath in May but there are a few I’m particularly proud of. Our Planet (H12) is a real jewel in the programme as series producers Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey take us through the making of the epic new Netflix nature series which showcases the planet’s most precious species and is voiced by the one and only David Attenborough.

Amitav Ghosh (K8) is on a rare visit to the UK and only undertaking a handful of events whilst here so we are delighted to have him as part of our line-up. Talking about his new novel Gun Island, he brings our 2019 literature programme to a fantastic close.

We’ll have a Nobel prize-winner in our midst when scientist Venki Ramakrishnan (B5) joins BBC Radio 4 regular Viv Parry to talk about his latest book The Gene Machine which decodes DNA, the very essence of who we are. Book for them now!


This is the third year that The Bath Festival has combined music and literature in its programme, is there anything that perfectly illustrates how this union of two genres really works?

Music and literature complement each other in so many ways and events within the programme that show it perfectly are Handel in London (F4) where we will be joined by conductor and BBC Proms regular Jane Glover talking about the composer’s life accompanied by live performance;

Michael Tippett in Words and Music (G6) sees Tippett biographer Oliver Soden alongside tenor Nicholas Mulroy and pianist Alastair Hogarth and finally Mark Kermode and the Dodge Brothers (B19) is a two act event with Mark Kermode talking about his memoir followed by a live set from his band bringing country blues, rockabilly and skiffle to the Assembly Rooms.


A lot of the festival events feature a panel of people or a dialogue between the writer and the chair which can spark ideas and debate – which conversations are you particularly looking forward to hearing on stage?

Interesting panels and unexpected pairings bring a festival programme to life – a chance to hear unique conversations that you won’t see anywhere else. One of my favourite events is Barbie: Dumb Blonde or Diehard Feminist? (K6) featuring Guardian journalist Moira Redmond and Fresh Meat actress Zawe Ashton talking to journalist Marisa Bate about the 60th anniversary of the iconic doll and whether they love or loathe her. Our debate The State of Education (F7) featuring David Kynaston, Melissa Benn and Karamat Iqbal pulls apart our current education system and assesses whether it is fit for purpose. Dealing with Dementia (G1) explores the challenges facing those with dementia today and features Wendy Mitchell who was diagnosed at the age of 58.

Other events to look out for include 1984: More Relevant Than Ever? (G7), Patrick Gale and Nina Stibbe (C5), Dialogue Books: Start the Conversation (C10), The Politics of it All (H7) and The Beatles: Feels Like Yesterday (K1)


Can you predict which three books we’ll still be reading and talking about in ten years’ time?

I can definitely predict three authors rather than specific books. They are Sarah Moss (C7), Philippa Perry (J8) and James Holland (E3). All three are absolutely thriving in their field and are producing seminal texts that will rightly take their place as classics of the future whether fiction, psychology, parenting or modern history.


What are your personal reading habits? Book or Kindle? One book at a time, or several on the go at once? And do you think it’s wrong to not finish a book if you’re not really enjoying it?

I read both on my Kindle and physical books. I’m very lucky to get sent proof copies of books long before they are published; despite having worked in publishing for over 12 years now it is still so exciting to read something before anyone else and it’s definitely one of the top perks of the job.

In the past I have tended to be a one-book-at-a-time person but lately I’ve found myself moving towards having a variety on the go – I am currently reading Becoming by Michelle Obama, The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion and I’ve just finished My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh. I try to finish all books that I start but every now and again I do feel that life’s too short if you’re not really enjoying something! Books I’ve read recently and would hugely recommend are After the End by Claire Mackintosh, You Will Be Safe Here by Damian Barr, Hard Pushed by Leah Hazard and Something to Live For by Richard Roper.




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