Seven literary events for bookworms this autumn

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Words by Helen Dorritt

Lessing at 100: The Writer’s Quest

The University of East Anglia (UEA) is commemorating the centenary of novelist Doris Lessing with an exhibition until 9 February 2020 that examines her life and works. The writer, whose celebrated books include The Golden Notebook and The Fifth Child, was closely affiliated with the university as she left an extensive archive of papers to UEA’s British Archive for Contemporary Writing. It’s the archive that will make up this fascinating exhibition about Lessing, including previously embargoed material, and is a chance to learn more about this talented author, encompassing facets of her life such as her time as a Communist activist in Africa, her interest in Sufi mysticism and her experiments with science fiction.

Nearest station: Norwich

Doris Lessing

UEA Literary Festival

Norwich truly is a literary city – fun fact: it’s England’s first UNESCO city of literature – and there’s a second literary event taking place there this season. UEA runs two literary festivals a year and this year’s autumn edition is taking place between 2 October and 20 November. The talk with historian Mary Beard is sadly already sold out, but other highlights include appearances from novelists Tracy Chevalier, Elizabeth Macneal and Tash Aw – all graduates of UEA’s prestigious creative writing programme. Proceeds from the festival go towards supporting student scholarships, bursaries and activities at the university, so your ticket price could well be helping the great novelists of the future.

Nearest station: Norwich

Ed Balls at the University of East Anglia Literary Festival, credit James Powell

London Literary Festival

From 17–27 October, the London Literary Festival will be taking over the Southbank Centre with a packed programme of exclusive appearances, live readings, performances, talks, debates, poetry, visual displays, workshops, book launches and much more. The theme for this year’s festival is Once Upon a Time, so a number of events will be exploring and celebrating the importance of fairy and folk tales, while there’s also a five-day mini poetry festival within the main event. As the festival coincides with half term, its final day is dedicated to young adult literature, with authors such as Laura Bates, Louise O’Neill and Kiran Millwood Hargrave appearing on stage to talk about their works.

Nearest station: London Liverpool Street

I Believe in Unicorns at the London Literature Festival

Cambridge Literary Festival

You’ll find all kinds of writing represented at the winter edition of the Cambridge Literary Festival, from comedy and politics to fiction, history and current affairs. Confirmed speakers this year are a hugely varied bunch – dancer Darcey Bussell, psychotherapist Philippa Perry, MP Yvette Cooper, scientist Richard Dawkins, comedians Jenny Eclair and Richard Ayoade and writers Ian McEwan and Lemn Sissay. Kids aren’t forgotten, either – children’s laureate Cressida Cowell is doing some live storytelling sessions, while actor and writer Ben Miller will be offering tips on writing and how to make people laugh. The festival runs from 29 November to 1 December at various venues across the city.

Nearest station: Cambridge

Richard Dawkins is appearing at the Cambridge Literary Festival

It’s All Academic

University College London’s annual event It’s All Academic is a jam-packed one-day festival on Saturday 5 October comprising talks, tours, exhibitions and hands-on opportunities hosted by this world-renowned college. While there are a wide range of topics to explore, book lovers will appreciate the chance to go behind the scenes at UCL’s Main Library (a gorgeous building that gives Hogwarts a run for its money), visit an exhibition celebrating 100 years of library services at the college and have a look at the 20th-century literature treasures from UCL’s archive of manuscripts and papers.

Nearest station: London Liverpool Street

University College London’s annual event It’s All Academic

Mayfair and St James’ Literary Festival

Staying in London, 28 October to 3 November sees the Mayfair and St James’ Literary Festival, a series of literary-themed events taking place at iconic venues across these two areas of London’s West End. This boutique event is in its second year and is a chance to celebrate both the rich literary history of Mayfair and St James’, as well as the wider theme of women’s creativity and success in the literary world. Events include a Halloween reading of Christina Rossetti’s narrative poem Goblin Market, a panel conversation with female chefs such as Ching He Huang and Ravinder Bhogal, and a chance to listen to Dame Kelly Holmes talk about her new book Running Life. There will also be film screenings, literary and art walks, and an exhibition at auction house Christie’s focussing on rare and valuable first editions and manuscripts.

Nearest station: London Liverpool Street

Bob Geldof is appearing at the Mayfair and St James's Literary Festival

Salon du Chocolat

Step into an intimate storytelling salon at Chelmsford City Theatres and learn about the relationship between chocolate and banned books. Chocolate was once a taboo treat enjoyed only by the elite in private salons, and some of the best literature was also confined to similar closed rooms for being too risqué, heard only by certain people in society. Theatre company Scary Little Girls will use performance, reading and music to explore these links, combining chocolatey treats with equally delicious tales from writers such as Lord Byron, Angela Carter and Joanne Harris. This one-off show is taking place on Wednesday 23 October with tickets starting at £13.

Nearest station: Chelmsford

Salon du Chocolate in Chelmsford