An outstanding line up of literary luminaries at Charleston Literary Festival from May 16-24

Charleston Farmhouse.
Charleston Farmhouse.

Some of the biggest names in the world of books will be coming from across the globe to East Sussex to celebrate the 25th Charleston Festival from May 16-26.

The first festival was held in an apple shed seating an audience of 30 and with a programme of nine speakers, writes Carole Buchan.

This year sees a total of 36 events and around 100 speakers coming from as far afield as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the USA and Norway, as well as titans of the British literary scene.

The line-up is one of the best ever. Among the many highlights will be contemporary artist Grayson Perry discussing fashion and art with Justine Picardie, editor in chief of Harper’s Bazaar; Michael Morpurgo, author of War Horse, sharing stories and poetry from the First World War; Eileen Atkins reprising her reading of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own; and former economics editor of Newsnight Paul Mason discussing the legacy of Maynard Keynes with Robert Skidelsky, Keynes’ biographer.

Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy will premier her new poem to mark Charleston’s anniversary; Alan Bennett, quirky diarist, prolific playwright and vociferous supporter of the Welfare State, will be very much himself; and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon will read from his own work and that of his friend and mentor, the late Seamus Heaney.

Where else but Charleston can you hear about China’s Iron Lady (with Jung Chang and Jon Snow); see Asa Briggs and Ian McEwan in conversation; or hear Robert Harris retell one of the great miscarriages of justice in his new book An Officer and a Spy?

Spies and espionage are also discussed by broadcaster James Naughtie and Kim Philby’s biographer Ben Macintyre; while Rachel Holmes and Sigrid Rausing dissect political ideals and reality with Guardian journalist Polly Toynbee.

The First World War is examined in detail by Mark Bostridge and Helen Dunmore, and by Max Hastings – whose new book Catastrophe tells how Europe embarked on the war.

For ticket availability ring The Dome Box Office on 01273 709709 or visit the Charleston website at