The Blagger's Guide To... The London Literature Festival

Pimm's the word at capital show's fifth-year party
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The Independent Culture

*The London Literature Festival begins on Thursday at the Southbank Centre, and will be celebrating its role as arguably the most successful literature festival that the capital has seen.

Its precursor, the Word Festival, was set up in 1999 by Peter Florence, the director of the ludicrously successful Hay Festival, but it lasted only four years, provoking some commentators to announce that a literary festival could not thrive in a city that is so blasé about access to culture. "London has never had a convincing or long-lived literary festival .... And I am glad," wrote one. The London Literature Festival was launched in 2007, promising to be "Irreverent. Edgy. Unexpected. International." The party to celebrate its fifth year (beating the Word by one) promises Pimm's, poetry and pétanque.

*Supporting the theory that if you want something done you should ask a busy woman, the Southbank Centre's Head of Literature & Spoken Word, Rachel Holmes, is an academic and cultural historian who has written two major works of non-fiction, helped to launch, judged the Orange and Whitbread prizes, and works for a South African HIV and Aids charity. As it happens, Holmes is friends with writer, presenter, European Woman of Achievement and No 1 best-selling novelist Kate Mosse.

*The first festival opened on 29 June 2007, with the Mersey poets Roger McGough and Brian Patten reading their most requested poems.

*In 2008, the themes included "Mama Africa", queer literature, "Tales of the City", a "Best of the Booker" discussion, and a "Creative Writing Tent", with appearances from George Monbiot, Wendy Cope, Sebastian Barry and Rebecca Miller. A debate between David Davis and Tony Benn sold out after 1,000 people each paid £10 to see the sparks fly. "We could have filled another 1,000 seats," said an insider. Meanwhile, an event called Dirty Books discussed "slash fiction", including a homoerotic short film about Harry Potter and Severus Snape. (Now, if that's what the leaked memo on JK Rowling's new project had been about, it really would have been something to get you excited.)

*In 2009, Buzz Aldrin made his only UK appearance to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Moon landings and launch his memoirs, Magnificent Desolation, at the same time as Arundhati Roy, Jeanette Winterson and Vikram Seth. Peter Ackroyd appeared, despite saying that he hates literature festivals and "would never go to them. I just find them wearisome ... but I didn't realise that this one was a literature festival until just this week." Last year, Suzi Feay interviewed an irascible Bret Easton Ellis in front of 899 people and her mum. Afterwards, she admitted: "He was very mischievous and bolshy on stage but had warned me beforehand, saying 'It's not personal'. I like that."

*For tickets to see Philip Pullman, Iain Sinclair, Gilbert & George, a world premiere of Jeanette Winterson's production of Sexing the Cherry, plus dozens more events, from Thursday until 14 July, go to

*Don't worry, Londoners are not having all the fun. Among the most popular literature festivals in Britain are Althorp (Earl Spencer's family seat); Cheltenham (61 years old); Harrogate (Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival); Ledbury (poetry); Edinburgh; Folkestone; Port Eliot; Aldeburgh; and Hay ("the Woodstock of the mind", according to Bill Clinton).