BOOKS: PICK OF THE WEEK

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The Cheltenham Literature Festival is in full swing this week, bringing with it the scary prospect of a town filled with over 300 writers. Where to begin? Well, Thursday looks a jolly fine day to me, since it has lured down from Glasgow the unspeakably marvellous poet Edwin Morgan.

A highly frolicksome 78 years old, Morgan has been one of the most inventive voices in British literature for nearly half a century. The twinkly-eyed poet is at his finest, worming his way into the unlikeliest heads. Enjoy the plangent call of the Loch Ness Monster "Sssnnnwhuffffll? Hnwhuffl hhnnwfl hnfl hfl?", or listen through a faint smirr of summer rain, to the excitable song of the Highland midge:

"See the innocents, my sisters, / the clumsy ones, the laughing ones, / the rolled-up sleeves and the flapping shorts, / there is even a kilt (god of the midges, / you are good to us!) So gather your forces, / leave your tree-trunks, forsake the rushes, / fly up from the sour brown mosses / to the sweet flesh of face and forearm. /Keep at them, ladies. This is a feast. / This is a midsummer night's dream."

Like a hungry midge to an American tourist's enticingly exposed wattle, biological scientist Lewis Wolpert lunges after the Luddites among you with his lecture on scientific ethics and responsibilities, "Is Science Dangerous?". Science's answer to Edith Sitwell, Wolpert is possessed of probably the most expressive wrists in Cheltenham. He's prone to much air-stabbing, so stay out of range of his free-sweeping fingers, or you may indeed find science is more dangerous than you anticipated.

Also on Thursday there's a chance to visit the heart-rendingly vivid world of Andrea Ashworth's 1970s childhood, with its acrid reek of cheap home perms, tongue-burning Spangles, and whisky-fuelled slaps, put-downs and bitter cruelties. Twenty-nine-year-old Ashworth discusses her brave and engaging family memoir Once in a House on Fire with Tim Lott, author of A Scent of Dried Roses.

Cheltenham Festival of Literature, which is sponsored by The Independent, runs until 18 Oct (01242 227979). Thur 15 Oct: Edwin Morgan, 4.30pm, pounds 4 (pounds 3); Lewis Wolpert, 6pm, pounds 5 (pounds 4); Andrea Ashworth & Tim Lott, 7.15pm, pounds 5 (pounds 4)

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