I’m a freelance journalist and published poet, based in Manchester.
Literature blooms in Cheltenham
Who do we think we are? It's an ambitious question to answer in 10 days but the 68th Cheltenham Literature Festival has some distinguished names to help it answer the question or at least better articulate the questions we need to be asking.
The literary-fest takes place 6-15 October 2017 in the Cotswolds town famous for its racecourse and Gold Cup National Hunt horse race, Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Regency buildings and its Pittville Pump Room.
These days literature festivals are as ubiquitous as branded coffee shops but Cheltenham Literature Festival began when Amazon just meant a river and Kindle was something for bonfire night.
The first festival was launched by Cheltenham-born actor Ralph Richardson, in 1949, the same year he co-starred with Olivia de Havilland and Montgomery Clift in the film The Heiress. Cecil Day-Lewis - poet and father of Daniel - who taught at Cheltenham College, read a selection of contemporary verse.
Brochure for the first ever Cheltenham Festival 1949, courtesy of Cheltenham Festivals Ltd
Distinguished names from both fiction and non-fiction include Salman Rushdie, Simon Schama, Roddy Doyle and Mary Beard.
From the world of entertainment, the festival welcomes Miranda Hart, Matt Lucas, Robert Webb, Russell Brand, Jim Chapman, Scarlett Moffatt amongst others.
Five Guest Curators will bring fresh perspectives and voices to the Festival. They are Will Gompertz, BBC Arts Editor; Sarah Moss, novelist, travel writer and academic; Robin Niblett, Director of Chatham House; Jess Phillips, Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley; and Nikesh Shukla, author, editor and campaigner.
Here is a personal pick of a handful of events, amongst more than 550 events on offer:
1) June Sarpong On Unlocking the Power of Diversity, Saturday 7 October
June Sarpong started her career presenting MTV and interviewing pop stars on Channel 4's T4 daytime teen-aimed show, where she also raised a smile or increased the sale of earplugs with her self-consciously comical bad singing.
Her trajectory to Question Time and a regular on Sky News means the East London girl, born to Ghanaian parents, is well placed to talk about diversity. In her Cheltenham Lecture on Saturday 7 October Sarpong, who was awarded an MBE in 2007, will 'call for the power of diversity to be harnessed as a force for good;'
Sarpong says: "I figured it was time help ignite a much needed honest dialogue. Because racism and any kind of exclusion or prejudice is bad... for all of us. "
The ability to understand Latin poetry may not make you as popular as being able to fix a broken toilet or a slow computer, but this event should be a magnet to anyone who loves language for its own sake.
Classicist and festival regular, Mary Beard - who recently found herself in a 'Twitter storm' about the ethnic diversity of Roman Britain - will be joined by fellow classicists Llewelyn Morgan and Peter Stothard to explore Eclogue 9 by Virgil (70 BC -19 BC) - a lamentation over the expulsion of shepherds from their farms.
Translations will be provided and 'minimal knowledge of Latin is required'.
On 11 March 2011, a massive earthquake sent a 120-foot-high tsunami smashing into the coast of north-east Japan. The country had not suffered such devastation of life since atomic bombing of Nagasaki. It set off a national crisis, and the meltdown of a nuclear power plant.
Foreign correspondent for The Times, Richard Lloyd Parry talks about his book Ghosts of the Tsunami, Death and Life in Japan's Disaster Zone (published by Jonathan Cape).
His book covers the attempts to discover the truth about local children as they waited in the school playground in the moments before the tsunami and his encounters with, amongst others, a priest who performed exorcisms on people possessed by the spirits of the dead.
Lloyd Parry will be in conversation with Former BBC Gulf Correspondent, Julia Wheeler
The Times and The Sunday Times are 'Title Partners' of the festival and this promises to be an event to restore some faith in the tarnished trade of newspaper journalism.
4) Mike Brearley and Matthew Syed, Saturday 7 October
Mike Brearley captained England to their 3 -1 Ashes victory in 1981. He was also President of the British Psychoanalytical Society 2008–10 and was once described as having "a degree in people" by fellow former cricketer - the Australian, Rodney Malcolm Hogg.
Brearley's new book On Form discusses, amongst other things, the challenge of captaining Ian Botham - "encouraging the instinctual horse to let go all inhibitions, and at other times . . . reining him in".
He will discuss bringing the 'on-form feeling from the pitch into the rest of our lives' with journalist and former international table tennis champion, Matthew Syed, whose latest book, The Greatest, was published in February 2017
They will be joined by broadcaster & journalist Georgina Godwin.
5) Confessions of The Bolton Forger, Friday 13 October
Fake news may be the go-to phrase at present but what about fake art? Is it a victimless crime?
Shaun Greenhalgh has published his own account of his art-crimes - A Forger's Tale.
Greenhalgh will be interviewed by Sunday Times art critic Waldemar Januszczak who once bought a "Gauguin" forged by Greenhalgh, but despite that, later commissioned him to make a copy of an Anglo-Saxon brooch to be featured in a TV documentary.
Writing on his blog, in 2010, Januszczak said: "Apart from me, Greenhalgh had fooled the British Museum, the Van Gogh Museum, the Henry Moore Foundation, everyone at Sotheby's and most American galleries. He is now in prison, but I see there is a Facebook page devoted to his release. I urge you to join it. All Greenhalgh ever did was give us what we wanted."http://www.waldemar.tv/2010/07/eye-catching-alterations/
A Forger's Tale by Shaun Greenhalgh is published by Allen & Unwin (£16.99).
In addition to the main festival, the Family Programme includes new Children's Laureate Lauren Child in conversation with CBBC Controller Cheryl Taylor.
There is a Hogwarts Quiz Night for Harry Potter fans (Monday 9 October) and an evening of hip-hop inspired poems and favourite hip-hop songs on Friday 13 October.
We are told that a lively mind is a key ingredient of a long and healthy life – maybe this helps explain Cheltenham Literature festival's longevity.