The night sky is an endless source of wonder and mystery. For thousands of years it has been at the heart of scientific and philosophical inquiry, from the first star catalogues etched into ancient Mesopotamian clay tablets to the metres-wide telescopes constructed in Chile’s Atacama Desert today. On a clear night it is hard not to look up and pick out familiar constellations, and to think of the visionary minds who pioneered our understanding of what lies beyond. The Princeton Professor of Astrophysics reveals how it only becomes more beautiful and exciting the more we discover. She takes us from the very basics – why Earth orbits the sun, and how our moon works – right up to massive, strange phenomena like superclusters, quasars and the geometry of spacetime.
We are delighted to launch the gripping new novel by number one bestseller Victoria Hislop, which is set against the backdrop of the German occupation of Greece, the subsequent civil war and a military dictatorship. Hislop sheds light on the complexity and trauma of Greece’s past and weaves it into the epic tale of an ordinary woman compelled to live an extraordinary life.
Lanny is an extraordinary novel. A devastating story told with the anarchy, humour and enchantment Max Porter’s readers will recognise from his Dylan Thomas Prize-winning Grief is the Thing with Feathers. Porter introduces the story and reads, accompanied by a specially commissioned score from the Herefordshire folk duo Alula Down.
“This village belongs to the people who live in it and to those who lived in it hundreds of years ago. It belongs to England’s mysterious past and its confounding present. It belongs to Mad Pete, the grizzled artist. To ancient Peggy, gossiping at her gate. To families dead for generations, and to those who have only recently moved here. But it also belongs to Dead Papa Toothwort who has woken from his slumber in the woods. Dead Papa Toothwort, who is listening to them all.”
Join Cressida Cowell, award-winning author of the How to Train Your Dragon and The Wizards of Once series. Cressida will talk about her latest book, The Wizards of Once: Twice Magic, as well as the inspirations behind all her writing, and give tips on becoming an author or illustrator.
Calling all human beans! Join Word Wizards Sara-Jane Arbury and Fiona Ross, and gobblefunk with Roald Dahl’s redunculously rude and rotsome words. Learn how to curse like a Giant and insult like a Trunchbull! Oodles of foulsome fun with wacky word games, mouth manglers, explosive expletives, shouting matches and whizzpopping poppyrot.
Join award-winning novelist Jenny Valentine to create your own crime scene investigation. Expect plot twists and high drama; as Sherlock Holmes says: “once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth”.
This second of this year’s gala readings celebrates the power of persuasion and words. From calls to arms to demands for peace, this performance captures the voices of prophets and politicians, rebels and tyrants, soldiers and statesman. Speeches' is inspired by Simon Sebag Montefiore’s new book which will be published in October and by the two great Penguin speeches anthologies edited by Brian MacArthur, who died in March this year, and to whom this event is dedicated.
The full cast will be announced on the day.
From “one of the great American writers of our time” (Los Angeles Times) – a brilliant historical crime novel, a pulse-pounding, as-it-happens narrative that unfolds in Los Angeles and Mexico in the wake of Pearl Harbor. Ellroy is author of the acclaimed LA Quartet: The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, LA Confidential and White Jazz, as well as the Underworld USA trilogy.
An interview with the author of the international bestselling memoir. Petrowskaja’s family story is inextricably entangled with the history of 20th-century Europe. There is her great-uncle, who shot a German diplomat in Moscow in 1932 and was sentenced to death. There is her Ukrainian grandfather, who disappeared during WWII and reappeared forty years later. And there is her great-grandmother – whose name may or may not have been Esther – who was too old and frail to leave Kiev when the Jews there were rounded up, and was killed by a Nazi outside her house. Philippe Sands is author of the Baillie Gifford Prize-winning East West Street.
A conversation with two international superstar novelists who’ve created new works of extraordinary scale and scope. From exile, Ma Jian shoots an arrow at President Xi Jinping’s China Dream propaganda, creating a biting satire of totalitarianism that reveals what happens to a nation when it is blinded by materialism and governed by violence and lies. Sjón’s Codex 1962 is a breathtakingly ambitious novel. As the late, great Eileen Battersby wrote of him, the Icelandic writer “has mastered the fabulist’s technique of merging history with high-speed comedy and surreal profundity. With a man made of clay and a bewildered angel struggling to get rid of a symbolic trumpet, there are shades of the Bible as well as Milton. Sjón, an heir of Mikhail Bulgakov and Laurence Sterne, eases literary references into the text as mere suggestions.”
A two-hour practical writing workshop led by award-winning playwright Sebastian Baczkiewicz. We’ll look at what you love about radio plays and find out how to unlock that initial idea that’s been itching to break free. We’ll look at how to write scenes and to keep the all-important action of your story moving. You will also find out how to get your work read in the first place, as well as insights into how radio drama series such as Homefront came to be developed and produced. There will be plenty of time for any questions you may be burning to ask! Sebastian has written for radio, TV and theatre. Among his many radio credits are seven seasons of his acclaimed series Pilgrim as well as adaptations of Les Miserables and The Count of Monte Cristo. He was also part of the core writing team for Radio 4’s landmark WWI drama Homefront.
Join bestselling Dame Jacqueline Wilson, who introduces her gloriously atmospheric new book and discusses how she created some of her best-loved characters including Tracy Beaker and Hetty Feather. Please note that there will be no book signing after the talk, but printed bookplates with Jacqueline’s signature on will be available from the Bookshop.
Come and join Rooted Forest School (rootedforestschool.co.uk) for an outdoor family session inspired by the Forest School approach. We will be making charcoal on the fire, using natural pigments to create our own paint, making brushes from found materials and creating communal land art. These sessions are aimed at families and will run whatever the weather, so make sure you’re wrapped up for the conditions.
Climate change and energy scientist Stephen Peake will discuss the future of education in the climate emergency. Dr Stephen Peake is Senior Lecturer in Environmental Technologies at the Open University.
Part of The Open University’s 50th anniversary celebrations
McEwan’s new novel Machines Like Me takes place in an alternative 1980s London. Charlie, drifting through life and dodging full-time employment, is in love with Miranda, a bright student who lives with a terrible secret. When Charlie comes into money, he buys Adam, one of the first batch of synthetic humans. With Miranda’s assistance, he co-designs Adam’s personality. This near-perfect human is beautiful, strong and clever – a love triangle soon forms. These three beings will confront a profound moral dilemma. Ian McEwan’s subversive and entertaining new novel poses the fundamental question: what makes us human? Du Sautoy’s new book is The Creativity Code: How AI is learning to write, paint and think.
Mannix has spent her medical career working with people who have incurable, advanced illnesses. Told through a series of beautifully crafted stories taken from nearly four decades of clinical practice, she answers the most intimate questions about the process of dying with touching honesty and humanity. She makes a compelling case for the therapeutic power of approaching death not with trepidation but with openness, clarity and understanding. You will meet Holly, who danced her last day away; Eric, the retired head teacher who, even with motor neurone disease, gets things done; loving, tender-hearted Nelly and Joe, each living a lonely lie to save their beloved from distress; and Sylvie, 19, dying of leukaemia, sewing a cushion for her mum to hug by the fire after she has died.
Boland is head of Digital at Prospect magazine.
From the birth of Islam in the 7th century to the voyages of European exploration in the 15th, Africa was at the centre of a vibrant exchange of goods and ideas. It was an African golden age in which places like Mali, Ghana, Nubia and Zimbabwe became the crossroads of civilisations, and where African royals, thinkers and artists played celebrated roles in the globalised world of the Middle Ages.
Could psychedelic drugs change our worldview? Join Michael Pollan on a journey to the frontiers of the human mind. Diving deep into an extraordinary world – from shamans and magic mushroom hunts to the pioneering labs mapping our brains – and putting himself forward as a guinea pig, Michael Pollan has written a remarkable history of psychedelics and a compelling portrait of the new generation of scientists fascinated by the implications of these drugs. How To Change Your Mind is a report from what could very well be the future of consciousness.