Revealing glimpses into speakers’ lives

PERSONAL stories are at the core of this year’s Wells Festival of Literature, and – let’s face it – other people’s lives can be fascinating.

So the festival – which runs from October 27 to November 4 – opens with a weekend of memoirs, obsessions and confessions, and closes with reportage of a real-life thriller in Ukraine.

Some of the speakers are famous – politicians Wes Streeting and Chris Patten among them – and some not so, but the common denominator is that they all have a good story to tell.

Why, for instance, would a young man today pick the priesthood as a career? The Reverend Fergus Butler-Gallie will reveal all.

Or why would Robin Ince, co-presenter of Radio 4’s The Infinite Monkey Cage, visit more than 100 bookshops in Britain? His is a story of romance, addiction and tall tales.

And how can theatre change the world? Dominic Dromgoole, artistic director of the Globe Theatre for many years, examines those times when the performing arts from Hitchcock to the Sex Pistols have had a radical impact.

Throughout the week gardeners, poets and raconteurs are all crowd pullers. There’s an afternoon dedicated to prize giving for the winners of the festival’s poetry and story-telling competitions with readings and the chance to vote for the festival’s favourite poet. Entries for the four categories pour in from around the world, this year topping 1,500.

For the green-fingered, a double bill of gardeners digs up some new possibilities. Alice Vincent takes a foray into the world of women gardeners, while Marchelle Farrell – uprooted from the beaches and hills of her native Trinidad – discovers a new home in her English country garden.

Politics and psychology also feature with Jolyon Maugham KC, founder of the Good Law Project, explaining what has inspired him to dedicate his life to legal activism.

Sociology professor Hein de Haas takes a radical view on migration, and psychologist Kimberley Wilson discusses the link between diet, behaviour and mental health.

The festival comes to a close on its final Saturday night with a tale of life, death and defiance in Ukraine from award-winning BBC foreign news correspondent Andrew Harding.

His book A Small Stubborn Town tells the story of an unlikely ‘Dads Army’ in the village of Voznesensk where a group of plucky pensioners fought against the invading Russian army in the early days of the war. With more pluck than weapons, their plan was to blow up a small bridge and stymie the Russian advance. The odds were terrible.

For booking and details of all events pick up a brochure (available from Waterstones and other venues), visit or call 01749 834483.

Pictures: From left, Andrew Harding, Marchelle Farrell and Alice Vincent (Sam Harding / Richard Grassie / Lydia Goldblatt)