andrew ffrench counts down to one of the literary highlights of the year.

BY the time the Oxford Literary Festival arrives in town on Sunday, April 2, winter will have vanished, allowing the literature of ideas to blossom in the warmer weather.

Each year, I love the feeling of anticipation I get as the big white marquee goes up outside Christ Church, now the home of the festival.

I also love getting my hands on the programme of events, but this inevitably provides the dawning realisation that with so many of my favourite authors to choose from, I will have to miss some this time round and perhaps catch up with them later in the year at Hay.

With more than 550 talks and events this year, organisers are promising the best festival to date and there should be something to suit everyone’s tastes.

There are plenty of opportunities for the highbrow to discuss religion, politics and literature, but the festival is never a dour affair and the programme is packed with children’s authors and popular novelists.

The festival has now grown so large that Corpus Christi and Merton colleges are also providing venues, together with the Sheldonian Theatre.

Novelist Kazuo Ishiguro will be interviewed by Peter Kemp about Never Let Me Go, and will receive the 2011 Honorary Fellowship of the Festival, at the Sheldonian on Thursday, April 7, at 6pm.

Award-winning author Michael Frayn also get a gong, receiving The Sunday Times Literary Award for Excellence on Sunday, April 10, at noon.

I still haven’t finalised my festival priorities, but I’m pleased to see that there are plenty of local authors on the bill, including Brian Aldiss, Philip Pullman, below left, and Colin Dexter, right.

I would love to hear David Nicholls’s talk about his award-winning novel One Day. I had a brief chat with David about his bittersweet love story, set in the 1980s, when he won the second Oxford Mail Book of the Year award last year. He is appearing at noon on Tuesday, April 5.

I haven’t spotted too many direct clashes in the programme, but on Saturday, April 2, I have a desperate dilemma. Do I go and see children’s laureate Anthony Browne and his son Joe talk about Browne’s new memoirs, Playing the Shape Game, or shall I listen instead to Simon Winchester’s talk about his new book, The Alice Behind Wonderland? Both events begin at 2pm.

On Saturday, April 9, at 4pm, I would like to hear William Cash’s talk about Graham Greene’s Oxford. I have always enjoyed a trip to ‘Greeneland’, and Cash has done some very detailed research on the author’s affairs.

Politician Peter Mandelson, centre, is bound to be entertaining when he talks about his memoirs The Third Man, and I would also like to hear newscaster Peter Sissons discuss his memoir When One Door Closes.

And if you tire of talks, why not go for a guided walk?

Dr Christopher Brown, director of the revamped Ashmolean, is leading guided tours of the attraction, or you could follow in the footsteps of CS Lewis with Alistair Lack. Tickets will sell fast, so pick your favourite events and secure your seats well in advance for a very busy nine days.

* For more information on the Oxford Literary Festival visit or call 01865 286074