The Box Office is now open for Cambridge Literary Festival which runs from 5 – 7 April, bringing together novelists, scientists, politicians, broadcasters, campaigners and thinkers in lively conversation and engaged debate.
You’ll find a wealth of new fiction, world literature, memoir and more as well as a fabulous children’s programme which includes “Happy Birthday, Elmer!”, an interactive story time to celebrate everybody’s favourite multicoloured elephant.
From the New Statesman Debate, “This house believes identity politics is an impediment to progress”, to afternoon tea at the University Arms Hotel with broadcaster and author Jenni Murray, the Spring Festival has something for everyone.
As I write this post, Spring is very definitely in the air, the sun is shining in a blue sky and we hope for beautiful weather next week for the half term break. I’ve put together a few details of events in the city, many of which are free, both indoors and outdoors so you’re covered whatever the weather!
One of my favourite green spaces in the city is the Cambridge University Botanic Garden and there’s lots to do here for all ages. Spring into Yoga on 19 February offers springtime yoga sequences for 8 – 12 year olds to get bodies moving and minds focused and calm. The Red Alert Twilight Event on 20 February is a free, drop in session where you’ll see some of the world’s most endangered plants and meet the people helping these plants to survive. Flowers, Friendship and Wild Wonders on 22 February tells the story of a friendship – expect dancing, drama and lots of fun for 5 – 7 year olds. And if you’re free ranging around the Botanic Garden at any time, children will love the Crazy Cone Caper, a self guided family trail. You’ll find details of all these events on http://www.botanic.cam.ac.uk
If you’ve seen the movie “Night at the Museum” and wondered how it feels to wander round a museum after hours, now’s your chance to find out at Cambridge University’s “Twilight at the Museums” event. Explore fourteen local museums and collections after dark on 20 February from 4.30 – 7.30pm and experience these spaces and collections in a different way. This is a free, drop in event for families with activities and themed trails across the venues, most of which are just a short walk apart. So wrap up warm and bring a torch to help you explore those darker corners. Visit www.museums.cam.ac.uk for full details.
Kettle’s Yard On Castle Hill has plenty lined up for the break, starting with Studio Sunday, a free, drop in artist-led workshop for families on 17 February. On 19 February, they are running a Collage Workshop for 8 – 12 year olds and a free Portfolio Afternoon for those aged 13+ who’d like to work with a professional artist to develop their drawing practice and their portfolio. From 21 – 24 February there’ll be free drop in drawing activities each afternoon, suitable for all ages and abilities, in the Clore Learning Studio. Or come and explore spirals, webs and weaving at the free, drop in Dream Weaver Community Day on 23 February. Further details of all these and booking, where booking is necessary, on http://www.kettlesyard.co.uk
Heffers Booksellers are a Cambridge institution – they’ve been selling books in the city for over 140 years. Children’s at Heffers is offering a number of free events over half term so you can meet authors, join in fun activities and enjoy Story Time. See the photo for details and book your place via http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/heffersbookshop
One of the things I love most about writing for my blog and this column is the people I meet. People who are getting on with their daily lives, have that light bulb moment and just go for it to create something wonderful in the city. People like Cathy Moore, founder of the Cambridge Literary Festival.
Cathy first came to the city to read History at Newnham College and was only the second person from her Liverpool comprehensive school to make it to the University of Cambridge. She also loved English and books so after graduation, Cathy built a career in publishing before taking some time out to be with her young family. A spell in teaching followed but Cathy returned to Cambridge and books, working part time in Waterstones and running their programme of events. That’s where she met writer Ali Smith and as the two of them chatted about the Hay Literary Festival, they wondered why there wasn’t a similar event in Cambridge.
Within months, Cathy had created Wordfest, doing everything herself and setting up twenty four events in three venues. That was back in March 2003. “There were about sixty literary festivals then”, Cathy tells me, “and now there are around four hundred in the UK, so we’re all in competition for the authors.” Wordfest grew, events regularly sold out and initiatives like the debut writers panel made it truly a festival for writers as well as readers. After gaining charitable status, Wordfest rebranded as Cambridge Literary Festival in 2014. It now brings Spring and Winter festivals to the city as well as one-off events through the year and since 2017 has delivered the Wimpole History Festival in partnership with the National Trust.
These days, Cathy isn’t doing everything herself! She and her small team have an office in Downing Place and they have strong support from patrons, media partnerships and sponsors. A band of volunteer stewards welcomes the many thousands of festival goers and enables events to run smoothly for both authors and audiences. More volunteers are always welcome so if you’re interested in giving your time (and enjoying some volunteer perks!), contact the team through the website.
Festival venues this year include several beautiful university spaces which are normally hidden from public view. Refreshments will be available at most of these so you can grab a quick drink and a snack between events. Heffers run a bookstall and there are author signings too.
I’m really excited for this winter’s Festival; it’s always a fun, buzzy weekend and the packed programme truly offers something for everyone, including a brand new Murder Mystery Musical from Sophie Hannah which sounds intriguing! You’ll find details of what’s on and a booking facility through the Festival website at www.cambridgeliteraryfestival.com
This post is part of my “New in Cambridge” column in the November issue of Velvet Magazine. Read more on http://www.velvetmag.co.uk
Browsing in the second hand bookshops here in Cambridge is one of my not-so-guilty pleasures and the Amnesty Bookshop, which has just relocated to the Parker’s Piece end of Mill Road, is a real gem that I keep coming back to.
One of eight Amnesty bookshops, located in cities across the UK, the shop has been part of the vibrant Mill Road community since 1998. Funds raised here go to support the work of Amnesty International as it stands up for humanity and human rights and works to protect women, men and children wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.
Run by Manager, David Float, and staffed by a team of around forty enthusiastic, spirited and committed volunteers, the shop is thriving. New volunteers are always welcome so David would be happy to hear from you either in person or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to make yourself known and find out more.
David believes that the city is very in tune with the work of Amnesty International and the shop enjoys huge support, both in terms of sales and book donations of all sizes (their largest single donation in the past year comprised six thousand books!). Further sales are made online through Amazon.
The shelves in this bright shop are neatly ordered with a wealth of sections ranging from the occult to gardening. While novels are always in demand, art, philosophy and religion are bestselling categories with the anthropology and cosmology sections also proving popular. A selection of vinyl is for sale alongside sheet music and greetings cards. In the run up to the festive season, Amnesty International T shirts, tote bags, calendars and Christmas cards will be stocked.