Books - The Big Book Weekend

Never been to a book festival? Now you can go to them all without leaving your screen as BBC Arts have announced the full line-up of The Big Book Weekend, a three-day virtual festival in May that brings together the best of the cancelled UK literary festivals...

Press Release

Broadcast as-live during the first Bank Holiday weekend in May at and on (Registration required), The Big Book Weekend was co-founded by the authors Kit de Waal and Molly Flatt with support from BBC Arts and Arts Council England. It will feature video interviews, panel discussions, and in conversation sessions and is the first time a virtual book festival has been curated from events that would have taken place at UK book festivals around the country, cancelled under national lockdown.

Lamia Dabboussy, Editor of BBC Arts, said "Kit and Molly have put together a stellar line up for The Big Book Weekend. With so many highlights to choose from, there’s an event for people of all ages and literary tastes. BBC Arts is delighted to support the festival, and in doing so many of the cancelled literary festivals around the UK, while offering audiences unique books programming during national lockdown."

Highlights of the three-day festival include:
  • Robert Webb, best known for his roles in Mitchell & Webb and Peep Show, discusses his literary work with acclaimed literary journalist Alex Clark.
  • Bernardine Evaristo, winner of the 2019 Booker Prize, discusses Girl, Woman, Other with Creative Scotland's Mairi Kidd.
  • Neil Gaiman celebrates 100 years since the birth of legendary fantasy and sci-fi guru Ray Bradbury with the award-winning Bradbury biographer and writer Sam Weller.
  • Maggie O’Farrell discusses the joy and importance of book festivals with Damian Barr.
  • Alexander McCall Smith reads a special message to readers and festival organisers to inspire and uplift, written especially for the Big Book Weekend.
  • Michael Morpurgo talks to Clare Mulley about his bestselling World War II books for children, commemorating the 75th anniversary of VE Day
  • Luke Jennings talks about what drove him to create his female-centred thriller Killing Eve with crime novelist Sarah Hilary.
  • Marian Keyes discusses writing, finding and using your voice, and growing into your own skin with bestselling author and co-founder of the Women’s Equality Party, Catherine Mayer.
  • Sir Tim Rice discusses his life and career, the inspiration for his award-winning musicals and what it takes to pen some of the best-known lyrics ever written, with Daniel Hahn.

Kit de Waal, author and co-founder of the festival, said "It has been a joy working with so many of the literary festivals around the UK in bringing some of their events to an online audience. Molly and I have curated the events to offer something for everyone, and I’m particularly excited by our opening event on Friday, with Maggie O’Farrell in conversation with Damian Barr on why books festivals are so important, particularly at a time like this."

Molly Flatt, Author and Co-Founder of the festival, added "I’m delighted to reveal the full line-up of The Big Book Weekend, which Kit and I thoroughly enjoyed putting together. The technology from MyVLF has enabled us to bring the feel of a real-life books festival to an online audience and I can’t wait for the events to begin on Friday 8 May. In particular, I’m looking forward to our two events commemorating VE day - Michael Morpurgo on his bestselling WWII books for children, and Sir Terry Waite on how to cope in solitude."

The Big Book Weekend is part of BBC Art’s Culture In Quarantine initiative, bringing the very best arts and culture to the homes of everyone in the UK, at a time of national lockdown, focused most intensely across BBC Radio 3, BBC Radio 4, BBC Two, BBC Four, BBC Sounds, BBC iPlayer and

To watch for free, you need to register at, where the festival will be broadcast ‘as live’ across 8-10th May. Once a day’s programming has finished, that day’s videos will then remain on MyVLF for people to catch up on. The Big Book Weekend website will automatically redirect to MyVLF during the festival. Register now!

Here is the full lineup of events to look forward to across the bank holiday weekend which, remember, this year is Friday 8th to Sunday 10th. Find out more about the programme of events and the times they are on HERE.


Maggie O'Farrell and Damian Barr

Award-winning British-Irish author Maggie O'Farrell (pictured) kicks off the Big Book Weekend by discussing the joy and importance of book festivals with journalist and debut novelist Damian Barr.

Alexander McCall Smith

Master story-teller Alexander McCall Smith, author of The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency, will provide a gentle escape into a world of hope and humour. He will read a special message to readers and festival organisers written for the Big Book Weekend, perform two poems to inspire and uplift, and read from his latest book in the Detective Ulf Varg series, The Talented Mr Varg.

Brought to you by Shoreham Wordfest

Sue Stuart-Smith with Marian Boswall

In a world where the average child spends less time outside each week than a maximum-security prisoner, gardening can reinvigorate and heal. With new research collected from different cultures around the world, psychiatrist and psychotherapist Sue Stuart-Smith talks to leading landscape architect and Garden Media Guild Columnist of the Year 2019, Marian Boswall, about why it's more important than ever to rediscover a closer relationship with the earth.

Brought to you by Chiddingstone Castle Literary Festival

Laura Lam and Temi Oh, with Nicole Brandon

What if the only way to save humanity is to leave the collapsing Earth behind? In her debut novel Do You Dream of Terra-Two, Temi Oh sends six teenagers on an intergalatic mission to save the population of a dying Earth; while in her new novel Goldilocks, Laura Lam entrusts humanity's last chance for survival to the first all-female space crew.

Join two rising stars of contemporary science fiction to discuss their books, while new voice Charlotte Platt caps it off with short reading from her urban fantasy novel Terrors Unimagined.

Brought to you by Cymera: Scotland's Festival Of Science Fiction, Fantasy And Horror Writing

Jill Calder

Celebrating her award-winning children’s book with author James Robertson, Robert The Bruce, King Of Scots, illustrator Jill Calder will inspire you to dive into history and draw the kings, queens, castles and creatures from medieval Scotland... then teach you to illustrate and make your very own folded picture book! Suitable for all ages - just make sure you have A4 or A3 paper, scissors, and colouring pencils to hand.

Brought to you by Baillie Gifford Borders Book Festival

Robert Webb with Alex Clark

Robert Webb (pictured above), best known for his roles in Mitchell & Webb and Peep Show, is more than just a comedian. His bestselling part-memoir, part-manifesto, How Not To Be A Boy, takes a sharp-eyed look at the state of modern masculinity, while his debut novel Come Again is a time-travelling story of love and redemption. Join Webb in conversation with acclaimed literary journalist Alex Clark as they discuss his ideas and inspirations.

Brought to you by Cambridge Literary Festival

Kate Williams with Jenni Calder

Two queens on a single island, threatened by voices who believed no woman could govern, surrounded by sycophants and spies, besieged by secret plots and a terrible final act. Who will survive to rule all? The renowned author, historian and television presenter Kate Williams discusses her latest book Rival Queens: The Betrayal Of Mary Queen Of Scots - a "great rivalry reimagined for the #MeToo generation" - with biographer, poet and fiction writer Jenni Calder.

Brought to you by Birnam Book Festival

Terry Waite CBE with Tony Gallienne

In the 1980s, while operating as the Archbishop of Canterbury’s special envoy, Terry Waite was taken and held hostage in Lebanon for nearly five years. Since then, Terry has been drawn to finding out more about the power of isolation. In this interview with Jenny Kendall Tobias, BBC Radio Guernsey presenter, he will recall encounters with people who have experienced different ways of being solitary, sought and unsought, show how solitude shapes the human soul, and explore how it can be a force for good.

Brought to you by Guernsey Literary Festival

Rik Stroud

To commemorate the 75th anniversary of VE Day, biographer Rik Stroud will tell the astonishing story of Victor Gregg, aged 100, one of the last great survivors of WW2, concluding with a special message from Vic himself.

Brought to you by Boswell Literary Festival


Adam Kucharski with Tim Hubbard

Why and how do ideas, false news and diseases spread? And how, in an increasingly small world, can we control them? Adam Kucharski (pictured) is an associate professor at the London School Of Hygiene And Tropical Medicine, a TED fellow, a Wellcome Trust prize-winner, and has worked on global outbreaks including Ebola and Covid-19.

Delving into his new book The Rules Of Contagion, he will talk to Tim Hubbard about what the world is experiencing now, and how new mathematical approaches are transforming what we know about contagion in all its forms.

Brought to you by Stratford Literary Festival

Paul Muldoon, Lucy Caldwell and Glenn Patterson, with Marie-Louise Muir

Three talented Northern Irish writers - poet Paul Muldoon; novelist, playwright and short-story writer Lucy Caldwell; and novelist Glenn Patterson - come together to discuss the contemporary literary landscape in Northern Ireland and give an insight into their best books of the year.

Brought to you by Belfast Book Festival

Neil Gaiman with Sam Weller

To celebrate 100 years since the the birth of legendary fantasy and sci-fi guru Ray Bradbury (Faranheit 451, The Martian Chronicles), join the award-winning Bradbury biographer and writer Sam Weller in a spirited discussion with the one and only global bestseller Neil Gaiman. They muse on Bradbury's inestimable influence and enduring popularity, and how it has inspired their own work.

Brought to you by The Bath Festival

Hafsah Aneela Bashir

Hafsah Aneela Bashir is a poet, playwright and performer originally from the east end of London. Passionate about amplifying unheard voices, she works in the heart of the community to make that happen. Here she performs from her poetry collection The Celox And The Clot, exploring themes of love, loss and the post-colonial immigrant experience.

Brought to you by the Kendal Poetry Festival

Samantha Miles and Rachel Falber

Join the founders of Uh-Oh! Books for an interactive storytelling of their picture book, "Uh-Oh!" Said Flo. With activities to do throughout, listen to this eco-friendly educational story following Flo's journey against plastic pollution and climate change, plus discover how you can make a difference in a fun and engaging way.

Brought to you by Storytale Festival

Louise Hare and Beth Morrey with Sue Wall

Debut novelists Louise Hare and Beth Morrey take very different subjects for their books, but share central characters who are outsiders looking for their place in the world. In Hare’s novel This Lovely City, her central character arrives on the Empire Windrush to post-war London, but soon learns that new arrivals are treated with suspicion; while In Saving Missy, Morrey examines the loneliness of a difficult and prickly woman who finds that there are still second chances - even at 79. They will be in conversation with Sue Wall.

Brought to you by Derby Book Festival

Phil Cartwright with Fran Richards

In Red Mist: Football’s Most Shocking Moments (Red Cards, Dirty Tackles, Headbutts, Pitch Invaders and More), Sports journalist Phil Cartwright, explores the uglier side of the beautiful game. In an interview with Freelance Creative Practitioner Fran Richards, discussing everything from Zinedine Zidane’s infamous headbutt to Eric Cantona’s king-fu kick, hear about the mavericks, pioneers, anti-heroes and iconic legends that have defined football history and changed the game forever.

Brought to you by Lichfield Literary Festival

Luke Jennings with Sarah Hilary

Killing Eve started life as a series of self-published novellas with an avid audience of devoted fans, before becoming one of the biggest TV hits of the last two years. Crime novelist Sarah Hilary quizzes author Luke Jennings on what drove him to create a female-centred thriller that shook up the genre.

Brought to you by Lyme Crime

Marian Keyes and Catherine Mayer

For more than 20 years Marian Keyes has been writing internationally-bestselling fiction that centres on, and values, the stories of women. Her latest novel, Grown Ups, is delighting critics and fans alike with its take on the complexities of families, friendships and female identity. In this frank, free-ranging interview, she swaps tips with bestselling author and co-founder of the Women’s Equality Party, Catherine Mayer, on writing, finding and using your voice, and growing into your own skin.

Brought to you by Primadonna Festival


Bernardine Evaristo with Mairi Kidd

Winner of the 2019 Booker Prize, Bernardine Evaristo (pictured), discusses Girl, Woman, Other with Creative Scotland's Mairi Kidd. From Newcastle to Cornwall, from the birth of the 20th century to the teens of the 21st, her extraordinary novel follows a cast of 12 characters as they each search for what they're missing: a shared past, an unexpected future, a place to call home, somewhere to fit in, a lover, an absent mother, a lost father... even just a touch of hope.

Brought to you by Aye Write

Sir Tim Rice and Daniel Hahn

Sir Tim Rice, President of the London Library, is the lyricist behind some of the biggest stage and screen musicals including Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, The Lion King and Aladdin. His collaborators have included Andrew Lloyd Webber, Alan Menken and Elton John, and he has written lyrics for acts as diverse as Elvis Presley, Placido Domingo and 10cc. In this interview with author Daniel Hahn he will discuss his life and career, the inspiration for his award-winning musicals, the partnerships which have underpinned his work, and what it takes to pen some of the best-known lyrics ever written.

Brought to you by the London Library Lit Fest

Bidisha, Luan Goldie and Zoe Lambert with Joelle Taylor

The anthology Resist: Stories Of Uprising charts 2,000 nd years of British resistance from Boudica to Blair Peach, from the Battle of Cable Street to the protests after the Grenfell Tower Fire. This panel will examine the history of women's rebellion in Britain, by focusing on three works from the collection covering Boudica, the Ford Dagenham Women's Strike, and Seeds of Hope.

The discussion will be moderated by Joelle Taylor, who hitched a ride to the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp from her home in Lancashire as a teenager, where she was arrested for taking direct political action.

Brought to you by Bradford Literature Festival

AL Kennedy with Ailsa Cox

We Are Attempting To Survive Our Time is Costa Book Award-winning author A.L. Kennedy’s new collection of wry, caustic and unsparing fiction. Join her and the UK’s first Professor of Short Fiction, Ailsa Cox, to dive into the world of short storytelling with these two masters of the art, and explore why it is rising in popularity today.

Brought to you by WOWFest

Kia Abdullah and Abir Mukherjee

Social divisions are the stuff of great fiction - but they're also a very real challenge for many people today. So how can novelists tackle class, race and politics without being reductive or biased? How can they write sympathetic characters whose views or actions they don't necessarily agree with? And how do they deal with readers who take offence?

Kia Abdullah, whose explosive legal thriller Take It Back was published in March, discusses these thorny issues with Abir Mukherjee, bestselling author of the Sam Wyndham series of crime novels set in Raj-era India.

Brought to you by Asian Booklist

Will Millard

This 30-minute session for kids of all ages is book-ended by readings from Will Millard’s book, The Old Man And The Sand-Eel, which explores the wonderful world hidden just beneath the surface of Britain’s ponds and rivers. Using live specimens gathered from the ponds in Will’s Cardiff backyard, and drawing inspiration from his ‘lockdown lessons’ on Facebook, Will introduces us to dramas played out in miniature: the tiny invertebrates that hold the food chain together, the freshwater mussels that clean the environment, the minnows, and his very own water Tiger: the three-spined stickleback.

Brought to you by Pontypridd Children’s Book Festival

Juno Dawson and Katherine Webber

Join author Katherine Webber as she meets with two leading lights of YA fiction for a discussion about writing, reading and finding your place in the world. Juno Dawson is a journalist, screenwriter and bestselling writer of young adult fiction and non-fiction, including This Book Is Gay, Meat Market and her brand new novel Wonderland.

Patrick Ness has written three novels for adults and six for young adults, including The Knife Of Never Letting Go, A Monster Calls and his latest smash, Burn. Among other awards he has won the Carnegie Medal twice, the Costa Children’s Book Award and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize.

Brought to you by The Coast Is Queer

Jane Casey, Liz Nugent, Gary Donnelly and Allan Judd with Paul Waters

In this panel, broadcaster Paul Waters talks to Irish and British crime writers about their latest novels, what they tell us about society’s preoccupations, and how the genre might reflect on today’s global crises. Jane Casey’s The Cutting Place is set in the dark world of London’s elite gentlemen’s clubs, a post-#MeToo crime novel.

Former soldier and diplomat Alan Judd's latest thriller, Accidental Agent, features a spy at the heart of the Brexit negotiations. Gary Donnelly’s debut Blood Will Be Born is set in contemporary Belfast and explores historic crimes and how they still haunt Northern Irish society. And Liz Nugent will be looking at the dark side of the cult of celebrity in her latest thriller, Our Little Cruelties.

Brought to you by Noireland International Crime Fiction Festival

Jackie Kay, Adjoa Andoh and Isabel Greenberg with Cathy Newman

To mark the 200th anniversary of Anne Brontë’s birth, this session offers conversation, graphic artworks and live readings from The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall. Join novelist and poet Jackie Kay as she speaks to award-winning British graphic novelist Isabel Greenberg and acclaimed actor and director Adjoa Andoh about the work of this feminist pioneer. Their discussion is interspersed with readings by Adjoa Andoh, complimented by Isabel Greenberg’s artworks inspired by the Brontës, and chaired by journalist and broadcaster Cathy Newman.

Brought to you by Charleston Festival

To watch for free, you need to register at, where the festival will be broadcast ‘as live’ across 8-10th May. Once a day’s programming has finished, that day’s videos will then remain on MyVLF for people to catch up on. This website will automatically redirect to MyVLF during the festival. Register now!

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