As we settle in for autumn, bookish happenings are cropping up all over the city, thanks to the return of Bristol Festival of Literature from 21-29 October. Judy Darley gets stuck into the top events of the season…

Launched by Jari Moate in 2011, Bristol Festival of Literature is back with its fifth instalment of book-centric celebrations this month. While it showcases writers from the locale and beyond, with events in every corner of the city, you don’t need to write yourself to enjoy it. With workshops covering topics ranging from creativity to ageing in the LGB community, as well as plenty of opportunities to sit back and listen to tales in unusual venues, this is a festival for anyone who likes to have their imagination sparked and their boundaries challenged. Try these events for starters…

Tales from the Crypts

20 October, 7pm-9pm, £8

If you’ve ever wanted to visit Arnos Vale after dark, this is your chance. North Bristol Writers will be taking over Brislington’s Victorian garden cemetery for an evening of chilling tales by candlelight. If the weather is good, this will take the form of a walking tour, so wear stout shoes and bring a torch. If not, one of the former chapels will form the backdrop to the eerie tales. The group, which includes Pete Sutton, Ian Millsted, Kevlin Henney, Roz Clarke, Jo Hall, Clare Dornan, Justin Newland, Maria Herring and Suzanne McConaghy, are best known for their weirder fiction, so be warned and prepare to explore the gothic and the macabre for a pre-Halloween evening of spooky storytelling. How could you resist?

Bristol Festival of Literature crypt

Arnos Vale’s verdant cemetery – image © Judy Darley

Ancient Egyptian Storytelling

22 October, 3pm-4pm, free

An opportunity to experience the Assyria Gallery at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery in a new way, with yarns inspired by the myths and mysteries of ancient Egypt. Local authors Justin Newland, Amanda Huskisson, Jean Burnett and Piotr Świetlik will be holding court, overlooked by the 3,000-year-old Assyrian relief, and within earshot of the mummified cats next door in the Egyptology exhibit. What to expect? Unsettling stories swathed in atmosphere and historic culture, including Jean Burnett’s reimagining of the cat goddess Bastet, and speculative writer Justin Newland’s extract from his magnum opus, The Genes of Isis. This event really isn’t suitable for children, unless you want to guarantee sleepless nights…

BWLF Salon

24 Oct, 6.30pm-8.30pm, free

Head to Spike Island Reading Room for a Bristol Women’s Literature Festival evening celebrating women’s writing. “Taking our cue from Gertrude Stein’s salon of the 1920s, we invite you to bring your own work, or the work of a woman writer you love, to share,” says host and performer Sian Norris. This event is for all word-lovers – writers or not – and is open to both men and women. Sian suggests bringing an extract from a novel or a poem that has stopped you in your tracks and made you rethink something you thought you knew, or connected with you in an emotional way, and celebrate female creativity past and present.

Bristol Festival of Literature BWLF

Spike Island celebrates women’s writing – image © Paul Bullivant

A Hint of Crime

28 October, 3pm-5pm, free

Join Bristol Fiction Writers’ Group for the launch of their latest anthology, A Hint of Crime. Hosted by Foyles Bookshop, the event will feature stories from authors AA Abbott, Judy Darley, Tim Kindberg, Suzanna Stanbury and others, all with a dark or dishonest undertone. Following on from their well-received debut anthology, A Dark Imagined Bristol, A Hint of Crime takes the action global from Bristol to Borneo, and beyond. The writers will also be available to answer questions about short story writing, publishing, and how they came up with their disturbing stories, several of which have their roots in real-life happenings. Signed copies will be on sale at the event.

Outstories Bristol

24 October, 7pm-9pm, free

What happens to LGBT people when they get old? Has society changed enough to make space for them? At Helen Wodehouse Lecture Theatre on Berkeley Square, this event addresses the issue of aging in the LGBT community. Expect readings from Alan Clark, author of Rory’s Boys, a comedy novel set in a retirement home for gay men, and Dr Jane Traies, whose historical study The Lives of Older Lesbians was published this year. Joining for discussion is Dr Paul Willis of Bristol University, and Berkeley Wilde of The Diversity Trust, who recently completed a study of the health needs of LGBT people in Bristol and surrounding areas. The night will be chaired by critic, publisher and Ujima Radio DJ Cheryl Morgan.

Bristol Festival of Literature

Outstories will be chaired by critic, publisher and DJ Cheryl Morgan – image © Lou Abercrombie

Writers In The Caves

25 October, 8pm-9.30pm, £5

Bring a torch, a folding chair and all the courage you can muster for a night of storytelling in Redcliffe Caves. Going Underground: Subterranean Tales features Bristol Writers’ Group and friends reading short stories and novel extracts by candlelight in the atmospheric setting of these man-made red stone catacombs. Expect humour, a dash of violence and some truly haunting tales. “Allow yourself to be taken to unexplored depths as you hear about worlds created with words,” says organiser Gavin Watkins. Last year this was a sell-out event, so get your tickets early.

Bristol Festival of Literature caves

Enjoy subterranean storytelling in Redcliffe Caves – image © Paul Bullivant

Making History workshop

27 October, 2pm-4.30pm, £20

Aimed at all experience levels, this workshop is suited to anyone wanting to develop a project already underway or simply with a curiosity about historical writing. Led by authors Lucienne Boyce and Michael Manson, you’ll be guided through writing in response to items in the Royal West of England Academy’s permanent collection, as well as having a chance to think about how you might move your project forward, find ways to widen your scope of research, and consider possible routes to publication. Taking place in the beautiful RWA galleries, the workshop has a capacity of just 12 people, so you can be sure to get as much direction from the tutors as you need. The workshop includes entry to the current exhibitions (usual value £6.95), so you can make the most of it in sourcing inspiration. To book, email

Bristol Festival of Literature

Head to the Making History workshop – image © RWA Bristol

Meet The Literary Agent

27 October, 7pm-9pm, £12

Monthly literary event Novel Nights welcomes literary agent Carrie Kania of Conville & Walsh to the splendid setting of the Strawberry Thief Belgian beer bar. Carrie will offer insights into how to get your submissions to shine, and what agents look for in those all-important covering letters, synopses and opening chapters. “Carrie’s a top agent representing fiction, non-fiction and photography, and co-founder of independent bookstore and cocktail bar, The Society Club in Soho,” says Novel Nights’ founder Grace Palmer. “Her clients include Terry O’Neill, Daniel Rachel, Paul McVeigh and Simon Van Booy. This is a real coup for Novel Nights, and a golden opportunity for aspiring novelists. Find tickets at”

Visit Bristol Festival of Literature

For more information and to book tickets for Bristol Festival of Literature, visit; @BristolLitFest