The Boar at Cheltenham Literature Festival

Last year, former Books Editor Gaby Shedwick reported on the 2022 Cheltenham Literature Festival. Being a former Books Dep and subsequent Books Editor, it felt right that I should carry on The Boar’s literary tradition of making the annual visit to Cheltenham. Consequently, for the first time ever, it was The Boar News team that found themselves at the Cheltenham Literature Festival this year.  

Given Gaby’s rather critical review of last year’s festival, we set out to do the festival some justice. This year, the plan was simple: make the most of the final weekend and go to as many events as possible.  

On the morning of Saturday 14 October, we set off to the familiar Montpellier Gardens in Cheltenham, where the festival was well and truly underway.  

It’s a very impressive setup, the epitome of what we mean when we say books yield the power to bring people together.  

We started out as nothing more than tourists to begin with, attempting to make sense of what was where and how to best spend the weekend there. We began with the basics: took photos underneath the iconic Cheltenham Literary Festival arch, explored the Waterstones book tent, bought several books, ducked past the men on stilts, walked past the typewriter sculpture and a sign next to it that read ‘Please DO NOT climb on the giant typewriter’ that was not being adhered to, and of course, went to a variety of talks. 

You can make half a day of just walking around the place, given that Montpellier Gardens is at the heart of what is known as “the Garden Town of England”.  

Our first event was at the festival’s free ‘Voicebox’ space, where up-and-coming writers and performers could showcase their projects. We went to watch Warwick’s own nearly-alumna-turned TikTok sensation Isabella Dorta, who performed poetry from her new book: The Letters I Will Never Send 

It was a wholesome, enriching setup that had several fans openly talking about the emotions that poetry can evoke. That was the moment we both knew what the festival was all about: chiefly bringing people together and meeting some truly incredible creators.  

We were pleased to meet Isabella afterwards, discussing her time at Warwick and her relationship with poetry. Her book signing amassed a queue of faithful fans carrying sunflowers to greet her with, which was the beginning of some incredible opportunities that the festival presented to us.  

After making use of several coffee shops and food outlets, we both attended a heartfelt talk delivered by none other than Charlie Mackesy. Both of us being fans of his bestselling book The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, there was a real atmosphere of hopefulness, encouragement and togetherness. He was on stage alongside his dog Barney and later revealed his Oscar, which he won at the Academy Awards earlier this year.  

Despite it being a rather surreal moment, Charlie Mackesy appeared as decent and modest as the kind words of his book suggest. As the talk came to a close, we overheard someone say: “Well, that was the best talk of the week.” Given the calibre of names that appeared at the festival this year – including the likes of David Mitchell, Elizabeth Day, and Tim Peake, we certainly got the impression Charlie’s talk was the highlight of them all. There was a real togetherness as the crowd rose to their feet, many of which waited up to two hours to meet Charlie at his book signings. It was a wholesome end to what was a very successful first day, and it is safe to say that everybody who waited in line thought it was worth it.  

It was a community in itself, which needn’t be defined by how much you spent on the day

This year’s festival offered plenty of opportunities to meet some truly wonderful authors. As with any festival, it’s all about taking the opportunities that arise. One key thing Gaby pointed out at last year’s festival was: “if you can only afford one or two events, the festival falls flat.” That certainly rings true to an extent, however, we felt that if you pick your events wisely, you can certainly make a worthwhile visit to the festival. 

Sunday 15 October marked the final day of this year’s festival. We started the day at the Queen’s Hotel, where many celebrities and authors at the event had stayed overnight. This we felt was quite an under-the-radar coffee spot and was our first encounter with Noel Fitzpatrick, A.K.A. the Supervet. To mark the end of what had been an incredibly action-packed weekend, we decided to split up to get as much coverage of the final day as possible. 

We felt our differing accounts of the final day truly reflected the rich literary variety that this year’s festival had to offer. 

Luke Chapman:  

Having spontaneously set up an interview with Dr Alex George the previous day, I was on a mission to cover all things mental health. Once I had finished the interview, Alex was to do a talk about his latest book, The Mind Manual. As I was waiting in the theatre hall, I was quite astounded at how open the conversations around me had headed. The fact that the festival had a space for such conversations was truly mesmerising, and I felt they really spoke to the authenticity of the festival as a whole. 

Last year, Gaby said of the festival, “I can’t help but feel my generation is forgotten.” For us, even on the Saturday, we could only praise the festival for being entirely inclusive. There really was something for everyone it seemed. We felt we saw the true value in the events, and even if you could only attend a few of them, you could still meet some amazing people and feel accepted in an enriching literary community. That, we quickly learned, was what was at the heart of the festival. It was a community in itself, which needn’t be defined by how much you spent on the day. 

And so, I did the interview, attended the talk, and met some fantastic people along the way. 

Grace Goodwin: 

The highlight of my day was the interview with Romcom mogul Richard Curtis, interviewed by his daughter, feminist activist and screenwriter Scarlett Curtis. With both Richard Curtis and Dr Alex holding events simultaneously, it was safe to say that the festival catered for a variety of audiences. 

The event had been almost fully sold out and featured a series of clips from Curtis’ many works. What the interview embodied more than anything was the generational changes between both father and daughter. Richard was often looking back at things he may have done differently in Blackadder and Love Actually, and it was refreshing to see that the festival had made space for that. 

We felt that was what made this year’s festival so special. The Boar’s report on the festival last year very much focused on this idea of catering for young children and older adults, with little to no in-between. But this year it seemed every event we attended had an incredibly diverse mix of people in the audience, and the events themselves were almost catered to appease that. 

On the whole, we felt the closing weekend was well worth the lengthy commute. Once we walked under the famous archway for the final time, we couldn’t help but feel incredibly welcomed by such an inspiring and diverse literary community. That to us, we felt is what the Cheltenham Literature Festival was all about. As fun as the events are, there’s a real atmosphere there. It’s a spectacle in itself, which is only complemented by any of the events you attend.  

We both fully enjoyed spending the two days at this year’s festival, and feel as though we truly made the most of it. Who knows, maybe The Boar News will make a return next year, unless the Books section has anything to say about it! 


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