You've read all her books. They transported and transformed you. I don't know who she was, that special writer, but there's a jolly high chance that she's in London this week. Margaret Atwood perhaps or Nadine Gordimer? Carol Ann Duffy or Doris Lessing? She's trying to decide what to read to you; she's going through her books, marking little passages with torn-off scraps of Post-it. Shall she bring the paperback? No, she's always preferred the cover of the first American hardback edition.

In every borough of London this week, from the Barbican and Sadler's Wells, to the Lewisham Theatre, Battersea Arts Centre and the Barnet Bull, in local bookshops, galleries, pubs, and libraries; London's new Literature Festival, The Word, hosts more than 350 readings, talks, Q&A sessions, masterclasses and diverse bookish events.

"It's about engagement and conversation," insists festival director Peter Florence (who has also run the Hay-on-Wye literary festival since 1988). "These are super-articulate people whose books tell truths that we all recognise about the way we live. The thrill of the event is the opportunity to engage with writers who have changed people's lives."

As if to back Florence up, Helena Kennedy QC has chosen to discuss The Life-Changing Potential of Literature as her Orange Prize lecture at the National Gallery on Monday.

There are several different opportunities to catch most of the big stars, from Martin Amis, Julian Barnes, and Ian McEwan, to Germaine Greer, Peter Carey, AS Byatt, Walter Mosley, Terry Pratchett and David Grossman. It seems churlish to choose, but among the unmissables are Nobel-winners Derek Walcott and Wole Soyinka with Chinua Achebe at the Hackney Empire; Catch-22 author Joseph Heller at the Barbican; and a late-night audience in Soho with Armistead Maupin.

The Word, London Festival of Literature until 28 Mar (0171-837 2555)

Joseph Heller: Barbican Hall, EC2 (0171-638 8891) tomorrow, 7.30pm, pounds 7; Helena Kennedy Orange Lecture, National Gallery SW1 (01497 821299) Mon, 6.30pm, pounds 7.50; Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka & Derek Walcott: Hackney Empire E8 (0181- 985 2424) Mon, 7.30pm, pounds 12.50; Into the Night with Armistead Maupin, Apollo Theatre W1 (0171-494 5070) Fri, 11.15pm, pounds 8