The image of the stuffy literature festival composed of old ladies sitting in a village hall listening to some dried-up poet recounting tales from their glory days, is long gone. Nowadays so much more is required: audiences expect to be galvanised and stimulated, there are workshops and debates, and the locations of festivals have gone from dowdy to dandy in one fell swoop. And mainstream music festivals are getting in on the act, as well. Don’t fancy seeing Dizzee or Snoop at Glasto? Go and join in the poetry slam instead. Here is our guide to the best literary events happening around the UK this summer.
Secret Garden Party
With a website that quotes Calvin insisting that ‘Happiness isn’t good enough for me; I demand euphoria’, 2010’s Secret Garden Party promises to be as crazy as previous years, cementing its position as a big player on the boutique festival scene. The theme is ‘Fact or Fiction’ – and it’s easy to imagine that the lines could easily become blurred over the course of a weekend in the idyllic, eccentric atmosphere which attempts to create a microcosm of the perfect creative community. If you fancy a few days of free-loving and impossibly groovy decadence, this is the festival for you. The line-up is a closely guarded secret, but expect plenty of avant-garde talks, strange but wonderful theatre, and crackpots waxing lyrical on lunar phases or the demolition of self through uroboric incest. 22nd-25th July, www. secretgardenparty.com
Pack your hunter wellies and some champagne for this chic, highbrow literary festival which takes place in the beautiful town of Hay-On-Wye in Wales. Expect serious discussions with heavyweight authors and political commentators followed by interesting conversations, browsing around Hay’s many bookshops and boutiques and some cosy publife. Peter Florence, the festival’s founder, says, ‘We prefer uncompromised seriousness of content, followed by robust partying and dancing to the world’s hippest music. DJs and comedians should be hip. Writers are profound, funny and articulate.’ This year’s line-up includes Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Kasuo Ishiguro, Ed Miliband, Alain de Botton and Lynn Barber. 27th May-6th June, hayfestival.com
Port Eliot Festival
Now in its seventh year, Port Eliot is set in the grounds of one of Cornwall’s most beautiful stately homes.The festival attracts a crowd who want to party just as much as they want to feed their minds. If you can brave the hoardes of mosquitoes, you’re in for a rollicking good weekend of laughter, delicious food, amazing dressing-up courtesy of Luella Bartley and Biba-founder Barbara Hulanicki, and exciting stumbles upon breathtaking views of the estuary or some lovely little folly. Stars this year are Hanif Kureishi, Tom Hodgkinson, Alexander Waugh and Sarah Waters, among many others. Save some energy for Saturday night’s dancefest with Gaz Mayall’s ‘Rockin’ Blues’ and Queens of Noize. 23rd-25th July, portelioitfestival.com
For one weekend only, a park in Suffolk becomes a boho haven and the venue for one of the summer’s coolest festivals. A mixed programme includes some of the best live music around, as well as a hefty dose of other cultural pursuits. Expect girls in fairy wings wafting around the many stages while trendy hipsters munch on organic falafel, some excellent dancing opportunities courtesy of Florence+The Machine, Vampire Weekend and The Coral, and plenty of heated discussion. It’s worth the ticket price alone for Bret Easton Ellis – a member of the Brat Pack and acclaimed author of American Psycho. Other big draws include Sebastian Faulks, Julie Burchill, Wendy Cope, John Stammers and Blake Morrison. If you have any energy left, there’s also comedy, theatre and cabaret. 15th-18th July, latitudefestival.com