Essex Book Festival

Grayson Perry

Grayson Perry - Credit: Archant

With Grayson Perry, Vince Cable, Helen Dunmore, AN Wilson, Simon Callow, David Starkey, Janet Ellis, Peter Hennessy and Louis De Bernières in the mix, there are plenty of reasons to get excited about the 2016 Essex Book Festival

Jo Cox

Jo Cox - Credit: Archant

Throughout March, writers, poets, dramatists and artists will be descending on venues across Essex to inspire, challenge and entertain audiences from Southend on Sea to Saffron Walden.

Simon Callow

Simon Callow - Credit: Archant

Now entering its 17th year, the Essex Book Festival is the only county-wide, month-long festival of its kind in the UK. With events taking place across diverse venues (from lecture halls, art galleries and hotels, to libraries, prisons and bookshops, plus Martello towers and Tudor palaces), the Essex Book Festival is again set to be one of the leading arts events of its kind in the UK.

Louis de Bernieres

Louis de Bernieres - Credit: Archant

It almost sounds like the beginning of a shaggy-dog story — a cross-dressing artist, a politician and the man who wrote Captain Corelli’s Mandolin walk into a student bar — but Grayson Perry, Vince Cable and Louis De Bernieres are indeed three of the star names appearing.

Janet Ellis

Janet Ellis - Credit: Archant

The festival kicks off on Monday, February 29 in the PMI Building at Anglia Ruskin University when contemporary artist, social critic, winner of the 2003 Turner Prize and Chelmsford boy, Grayson Perry, returns home to launch the festival. Grayson’s formal introduction to art took place in 1978 when he completed a foundation course at Braintree College. Since then he has become a much-loved Essex icon – if not, a national treasure – not least of all for his wonderful House for Essex, now open at Wrabness.

Vince Cable

Vince Cable - Credit: Archant

Who better than Vince Cable – former secretary of state for business, innovation and skills — to provide a unique perspective on the state of the global financial markets and how the British economy is faring? He will be talking about his latest book, After the Storm, at the University of Essex in Colchester on March 1.

Sarah Winman

Sarah Winman - Credit: Archant

As in his global bestseller, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis De Bernieres’ subject in The Dust that Falls from Dreams is love and war. In the brief golden years of King Edward VII’s reign, Rosie McCosh and her sisters are growing up in an eccentric household in Kent. However, their days of childhood adventure are shadowed by the approach of war that will engulf them on the cusp of adulthood. Louis will be discussing this latest novel and his career on March 17 at the University of Essex in Colchester

Emma R McNally

Emma R McNally - Credit: Archant

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An undoubted highlight of the festival will be the Golden Age of Crime Weekend at The Park Inn Palace Hotel in Southend on Sea. This marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Essex’s very own doyenne of detective fiction, Margery Allingham and the festival will see a series of fascinating crime-writing panels, including guest authors from Sweden, Nigeria, Poland and the UK. When it comes to discussing the legacy of The Golden Age of Crime it’s hard to imagine a more compelling line up of speakers than Martin Edwards (author of The Golden Age of Murder), John Simenon (son of Maigret creator Georges) and Jill Paton Walsh (acclaimed for her Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane mysteries, continuing the work of Dorothy L Sayers). This will be followed by an evening of classic Golden Age film screenings in the hotel’s atmospheric ballroom, including Margaret Rutherford’s turn as Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple in Murder She Said and Alastair Sim in An Inspector Calls.

David Starkey

David Starkey - Credit: Archant

Events also include a crime-writing masterclass for aspiring writers led by one of the Killer Women team (a collective of women crime writers based in the UK), a Detective Workshop for families led by Essex Police Museum, plus the ultimate Mother’s Day Afternoon Tea, with a step back in time event featuring authors Cathi Unsworth and Paul Willetts, who will be supported by some magical 1930s and 1940s tunes and Lindy Bop moves. Of course, this being the Essex Book Festival, there is a clear and definite focus on our county’s own creative outpourings and The Golden Age of Crime Weekend will additionally launch the inaugural Essex Crime Short Story Award.

Later in the month the festival will take a more serious turn with a weekend of events at firstsite gallery in Colchester under the banner of Talking Home. This marks a collaboration between the Human Rights Centre at University of Essex and Essex Book Festival, and a number of writers, artists, dramatists, poets and musicians, all of whom will be exploring what it means to be living on the margins. The weekend will take a rather more rumbustious turn with the introduction of the festival’s inaugural Essex Building a Boat Ceilidh. This will be a fascinating feast of stories, music and dancing featuring Glenys Newton (winner of The Guardian’s live story-telling The Moth Award in 2014), Colchester’s own Adrian May and the legendary Martin Newell, plus the Hosepipe Band.

Other festival highlights include journalist Peter Hennessey discussing his book The Kingdom Come (Anglia Ruskin University, March 10), an hugely insightful record of the run-up to the Scottish Independence Referendum. At The Mercury Theatre in Colchester on March 23, leading historian David Starkey will talk about the legacy of Magna Carta, while in the same venue the following day (March 24) actor Simon Callow will be chatting about this latest book One Man Band – the third volume in his epic survey of film director Orson Wells. Former Blue Peter presenter Janet Ellis will discuss her first ever novel, The Butcher’s Hook — a sweeping look at Georgian life in London through the eyes of a young girl determined to make her own way in the world. Hear her at Chelmsford Library on March 31.

Essex-based historian John Ashdown-Hill was one of those responsible for finding the lost remains of Richard III under a Leicester car park in 2012. At Wivenhoe Library on March 2 he will be presenting his latest book, The Last Days of Richard III, where he unravels the web of myths of a king who, according to Shakespeare, was a hunchback tyrant who killed his own nephews.

Uzbekistan’s ‘unmentionable’ exiled writer Hamid Ismailov will be launching Brave New Reads in Southend (March 8 at The Forum), the first of a series of adventurous reading events in partnership with Writer’s Centre Norwich that will be taking place later in the year in Southend Libraries. Canvey Island will become a hotbed of literary and storytelling creativity with all 12 of its schools immersed in a series of workshops and author events led by the inspirational London-based Pop-Up Festival team working with the Essex-based Just Imagine team.

Festival director, Ros Green, comments: ‘We are hugely excited to be welcoming so many excellent authors and artists to Essex. And notwithstanding that, to be able to offer such a diverse range of events across the county, extending from 55+ individual author events — many of whom were either born or are based in Essex — to numerous creative writing workshops and storytelling sessions, classic film screenings, art exhibitions, multiple artist and writer residencies, plus a number of live music and spoken word events.’

Ros adds: ‘Essex Book Festival is for everyone. Running for a whole month and taking place in more than 35 venues in England’s second largest county, it bridges the gap between different communities and reaches the places other like-minded festivals cannot reach. Our aim is to entertain, illuminate and inspire and, perhaps most importantly, to be a catalyst for new conversations and friendships county-wide and beyond.’

Find out more

For more details about the festival and how to book tickets, visit