Cheltenham Literature Festival: free tickets to two special events

The Cheltenham Literature Festival are offering University of Gloucestershire students a limited number of free tickets to the following events:

L261: Write Honourable Members
What makes a politician put pen to paper and produce a novel? Academics Nicola Allen and Aidan Byrne delve into this unusual but distinctive genre and reveal the truth about our honourable friends’ secret fantasies. They are joined by bestselling author Michael Dobbs (House of Cards), The Times Literary Editor Robbie Millen and broadcaster and journalist Anne McElvoy.

L169: Freedom is Therapeutic
Italy, 1978: the Basaglia Law sanctions the closure of psychiatric hospitals in an attempt to revolutionise mental health care. Drawing on the anti-psychiatry movement’s legacy, UCL head of psychology Peter Fonagy, historian John Foot (The Man Who Closed the Asylums) and former psychiatrist Linda Gask (The Other Side of Silence) discuss tackling mental health care today. Chaired by David Freeman.

The University of Gloucestershire - Interview brief (3)_Page_1

See your student email for details of how to claim tickets.

Laurie Lee celebrated at the Cheltenham Literature Festival

The University of Gloucestershire sponsored lots of Festival events this year. One event in particular goes back a long way for us. The School of Humanities sponsors the annual Laurie Lee Memorial Lecture, which in the past has been given by Paula Byrne and Robert Macfarlane. This year, instead of a formal lecture, three poets gathered for a special celebration of Laurie Lee’s life and work, introduced by Professor Shelley Saguaro. The poets P.J.Kavanagh and Brian Patten knew Lee personally and shared their memories of the poet, Patten reading out part of a moving memoir. Nature writer Tim Dee talked about Lee’s influence on his work as a writer, photographer, birdwatcher and, in a sense, memorialist of landscape (read Kathleen Jamie’s review of Dee’s work here.)

Laurie Lee is a writer we claim as our own, and we’ve celebrated the centenary of his birth in many ways. Poet and Creative Writing Lecturer Angela France, who knew Laurie Lee in his final years, hosted an evening of Lee’s poetry at the prestigious Cheltenham Poetry Festival in March (and here); Angela was also on the panel of judges for the Literature Festival’s Schools’ Creative Writing Competition , in which Cider with Rosie made an appearance.

Photos & Links: Chelt Fest 2014:
Angela France photo courtesy of Western Daily Press.

Brave New Worlds at the Cheltenham Literature Festival

‘Brave New Worlds’ is one of several structuring themes of Cheltenham Festival 2014.  Readers and writers explore how ‘new’ worlds are projected and represented, with topics ranging from digital technology, democracy, futures, nature, the environment and architecture to dystopian writing. There’s even a little ‘new world’ garden in Imperial Square.

Aldous Huxley’s futurist novel Brave New World still has the power to shock and unsettle. His most recent biographer, Nicholas Murray, spoke to a capacity crowd in the Salon this morning at a university-sponsored event, introduced by Professor Shelley Saguaro.  Aldous Huxley: An English Intellectual was published in 2002, reissued this year, and has never gone out of print; Nicholas Murray used the occasion to reconsider Huxley’s ideas in a twenty-first century context. He revealed Huxley as a thoroughly Victorian intellectual in some ways, who inherited his grandfather Thomas Huxley’s liberal and scientific thinking.  More personal details were just as interesting, though. I hadn’t realised how bad Huxley’s eyesight was (an eye infection picked up at school almost blinded him) and I wondered whether it might have contributed to Brave New World‘s strangely compressed visuality. Perhaps I should have asked Nicholas Murray, but the other questions were less niche.

Afterwards it was time for me to head for the Town Hall Drawing Room and a workshop on dystopian writing. About seventy students ranging from year 10 to A/AS level joined me for a really good discussion about utopian/dystopian literature, satire, and science-fiction – a very wide-ranging session indeed. One student had asked Nicholas Murray a very probing question about gender, and we agreed that the novel remains non-committal, oblivious almost, of gender’s ideological force.

What a great day. And Benjamin Zephaniah was in the green room.

Photo: Dr Debby Thacker

From the Festival: Bethany Norris interviews a Festival organiser

Beth Norris, a second-year English Literature student, reports from the Festival.


Madeline Toy is a freelance publicist who lives in Bristol and who also is part of the Cheltenham Literature Festival programming team. I was asked to interview her at the festival and upon looking her up her LinkedIn profile was very impressive, boasting a degree, a masters degree and important publishing houses that she had worked at.

It was interesting to speak to Madeline about her different experiences as a publicist. She had previously done a degree and then a postgraduate degree in publishing. When I asked her about how she got into her current position she couldn’t put enough emphasis on how important it was for her to do work experience in her chosen field.

She also brought up an interesting point on how the world of publishing is changing now with e-books and how social media effects her job. It’s the kind of thing that you don’t necessarily think of effecting the industry but it does actually bring good and bad points to the table. For example it’s good that social media can reach fans instantly and offer a more personal touch, but at the same time it means there’s a lot more competition.

Another thing that I found intriguing was that Madeline said that the benefits of being freelance meant that she could be her own boss and move away from London. She admitted a lot of publicist jobs are in London and that someone starting out should probably look there, but she didn’t want to stay there and when she became freelance it allowed her to move away. It’s the kind of lifestyle question that are often not thought of until later on in a career. It was good to get a perspective of someone who has been in the industry for over eight years.

Overall I think talking to Madeline has made me realise how important it is to make sure that your reputation is known if you want to get into a competitive line of work. Work experience, social media as well as education can all contribute to a professional reputation.

English Literature team scores at the Cheltenham Festival Literary Quiz


The Spiegeltent.

Professor Shelley Saguaro, Head of School, and Dr Debby Thacker, Subject Group Leader for Literary & Critical Studies took part in the Festival Literary Quiz, as invited guests of the Cheltenham Festival of Literature, on Tuesday night in the Spiegeltent. The question-master was James Walton, who sets the BBC Radio 4 programme The Write Stuff.  We were on a team with two avid Festival-goers and we came third out of 21 teams. For a long time, we were running a close second to the winning Sunday Times Literary editorial team, and if we had remembered the existence of Stieg Larsson, and that Anne of Green Gables was called Anne Shirley, or thatBirdsong was, indeed, written in the 1990s, we would have licked them.  The last round, in which any wrong answer would have lost us all of the points for the whole round, made us extremely cautious.  We did know that Edgar Allen Poe was one of the authors on the Sgt Pepper album, but even the Sunday Times team did not risk putting the answer ‘Dupin’, as the name of Edgar Allen Poe’s detective, that late in the evening.


Can you put, in order, the deaths of PG Wodehouse, Noel Coward and John Betjeman?


Cheltenham Literature Festival has begun

Cheltenham Literature Festival, last year. Will it look even better tonight?

We’ve been planning for the Festival for a long time. Our students are there, interviewing people and tweeting the latest action.  Please follow us on @EnglishLitGlos, and please send us your Festival pictures.

Will Self is on.

September the First

Francis Close Hall is coming back to life after the summer break. The virginia creeper’s turning red. We have only sixteen days to go before Induction week. We’re rushing around and enjoying every minute of our favourite month.

Cheltenham is gearing up for the  Literature Festival 2014, too. The School of Humanities has close ties to the festival and the three-week event is the highlight of our year. Margaret Atwood, Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan and Ben Okri are just a few authors among many who’ll be in town for England’s biggest literary festival.

The town is already looking autumnally fine.



A very warm welcome (back) to all current and new students of English Literature, Creative Writing, History and English Language. See you soon.

Photos of Cheltenham courtesy of and

Paula Byrne speaks on Jane Austen at the Laurie Lee Memorial Lecture 2013, Cheltenham Festival of Literature

The annual Laurie Lee Memorial Lecture, sponsored by the School of Humanities, is always a highlight of the Cheltenham Festival of Literature. Last year, the scholar, traveller and Booker prize judge Robert MacFarlane was the distinguished speaker (read about it here). This year, Paula Byrne gave a fascinating talk based on her latest book The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things (HarperPress, 2013).

Professor Shelley Saguaro, Head of Humanities, introduced Dr Byrne to a large audience (including English Literature students). A professional biographer as well as an Austen scholar, Dr Byrne began by discussing the biographer’s task and the organising principles of a good biography, noting that chronological sequence was often the least inspiring way to explore and understand a life. For The Real Jane Austen Dr Byrne selected some of Austen’s personal belongings, such as an Indian shawl, a packet of letters, a writing desk, and a gold chain with topaz crosses (pictured below), in order to open up and explore aspects of her life and work.

Topaz crosses on a gold chain, on display at the Jane Austen House.

Paula Byrne challenged the conventional image of Jane Austen as spinsterish and uninterested in matters beyond the drawing room, an image that her relatives, publishers and early biographers fostered. Austen was well aware that England’s trade was supported partly by slave labour in the colonies, for example, as a careful reading of Mansfield Park reveals.  Her publisher John Murray, whose clients included Walter Scott and Byron, appreciated Austen’s toughness as well as her literary gift. Austen also emerges from journals and letters as a goofy aunt beloved of her nieces and nephews, and quite capable of being rude to people’s faces on social occasions. She was pretty good at getting the measure of other people’s mannerisms and behaviour, working them into literary grotesques that figure in hilarious letters to her sister. Jane Austen was, then, always at work, whether her family and friends chose to recognise it or not; a dangerous person to be around.

After a question and answer session, Dr Byrne left to sign copies of her books in the Waterstone’s tent, no doubt continuing the animated dialogues she developed with the audience. As our English Lit undergraduates noted, her talk was passionate and committed, and made you want to rush off and (re) read Austen. On a squally and miserable Sunday evening in October, that was quite a triumph.