THOUSANDS of book lovers are arriving for the 18th Oxford Literary Festival.

This year’s event, which starts tomorrow, will feature hundreds of authors including BBC Radio 4’s James Naughtie, Oxford author Phillip Pullman and historian Lucy Worsley.

In total organisers have lined up more than 400 speakers across almost 300 events, with many taking place at the Sheldonian Theatre.

Speaking tomorrow is Woodstock author and historian Melanie King, whose new book, Secrets in a Dead Fish, reveals untold stories of First World War spies she uncovered at the Bodleian Library.

She said: “I was working on another project and found there were quite a lot of memoirs at the Bodleian that were written by World War One spies.

“In my book I have picked a variety, not just British ones.”

Examples include a mysterious rendezvous in the dining cart of a train going through Italy, involving invisible ink revealed by spilt wine, and one man who lined his stomach with a bottle of olive oil to try and prevent the effects of alcohol.

Mrs King added: “There are a lot of daring adventures and it is all very much like James Bond.

“Everyone is fascinated by stories about spies and the sort of people who choose to risk their lives to do it.

“Some people just leap out of the pages of history and are born to do it.”

At her event, at 10am tomorrow in Christ Church’s festival room, Mrs King will share some of the most interesting stories from the book, being published next month.

This year’s main sponsor is the Financial Times Weekend edition, with the Oxford Mail’s sister paper The Oxford Times is the official regional news partner.

Festival director Sally Dunsmore said: “We look forward to an inspiring debate with a truly global feel at this year’s festival.”


  • Tomorrow, noon: Radio Four Today programme presenter James Naughtie will speak about his experiences throughout decades of journalism, the subject of his new book The Madness of July. Sheldonian Theatre, £15 to £50.
  • Sunday, 10am: Examine fossils at a workshop about dinosaurs and how palaeontologists study their finds. Corpus
  • Christi College, £6.
  •  Tuesday: 2-3pm, Tour the new Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies building, now in the final phases of its construction, and view the blend of old and new architecture. Marston Road, free.
  • Thursday, 2pm: Veteran BBC journalist and interviewer Jeremy Paxman discusses what life was really like during the First World War. Sheldonian Theatre, £15 to £50.

Oxford Mail:

Alexander Mccall-Smith

  • March 28: noon, Alexander McCall Smith, discusses his new book, What WH Auden Can Do For You. Sheldonian Theatre, £15 to £50.
  • Saturday, March 29: 2pm, Noughts and Crosses series author Malorie Blackman discusses writing for young audiences and human rights with Shami Chakrabarti, Chancellor of Oxford Brookes University. Sheldonian Theatre, £6 to £15.

Oxford Mail:

Eleanor Catton

  • Sunday, March 30: 2pm, Youngest winner of the Man Booker Prize Eleanor Catton author of The Luminaries, talks about her novel. Sheldonian Theatre, £11 to £25.
  • The festival runs until Sunday, March 30. For more information, see