Meet Our Guests

2021 Festival

Diana Evans


Diana Evans is the author of Ordinary People, which won the South Bank Sky Arts Award for Literature, and was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, the Rathbones Folio Prize and the Orwell Prize for Political Fiction. Her previous novels are The Wonder and her bestselling debut 26a, which won the inaugural Orange Award for New Writers. Her journalism, essays and criticism appear in Time Magazine, the GuardianVogue and Financial Times among others. She is an associate lecturer in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Photo credit: © Charlie Hopkinson

Ruth Brandt


Ruth Brandt is a creative writing tutor and writer. Her short stories and flash fiction have been widely published. She won the Kingston University MFA Creative Writing Prize, has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Write Well Award and Best Small Fictions Award. Her short story collection No One has any Intention of Building a Wall will be published by Fly on the Wall Press in 2021. She lives in Surrey with her husband and has two delightful sons.

Ruth will be delivering a masterclass on How to Begin with Your Book at this year’s festival.

Michael Donkor


Michael Donkor studied English at Wadham College, Oxford, undertook a Masters in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway and now teaches English Literature at St Paul’s Girls’ School in London. The Observer named him as one of 2018’s best debut authors for his first novel Hold (4th Estate). In 2019, he was longlisted for the International Dylan Thomas Prize, shortlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize and named by Scottish Poet Laureate Jackie Kay as one of the UK’s best BAME novelists. He is a literary critic for the Guardian, and has also written for BBC Radio 3, the TLS and the LARB.

Michael will be delivering a masterclass on Presenting Friendships on the Page at this year’s festival.

Gillian Best

Taster Session

Gillian Best is a writer, swimmer, and seaside enthusiast. Her debut novel, The Last Wave, is published in Canada and the USA by House of Anansi Press, in AUS, NZ, and UK by Text Publishing, and in Germany as Martha und Das Meer by Dromer Knaur.

Gillian was chosen by CBC Books as one of 17 Writers to Watch in 2017. She was shortlisted for the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize (2018), Wasafiri’s New Writing Prize (2015), was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize International Creative Writing Competition (short story, 2013), and won the Bronwen Wallace Award for Short Fiction (2003).

She was awarded her PhD in Creative Writing and English Literature from the University of Glasgow. Originally from Waterloo, Canada, she lives, works, and swims in Bristol.

Gillian will hold a taster session at this year’s festival titled ‘Teaching your Characters to Talk’ and she will read during our novelist reading session.

Robert Kiely

Taster Session

Robert Kiely is the author of simmering of a declarative void (2020) and Incomparable Poetry, an essay on the financial crisis of 2007-8 and Irish literature (2020).

Robert is currently our poet in residence at the University of Surrey where he runs poetry workshops for Literature and Creative Writing students.

Robert will run a taster session titled Poetic Compaction: An Introduction to Short-Form Poetry which will be opened by Sharron Green for this year’s festival.

Nikita Gill

Poetry Talk

Nikita is a poet and playwright. She has more than 600,000 followers on Instagram and has been described as one of the most successful “Instapoets”. She has also written and curated six poetry books and one novel in verse. Her latest collection, Where Hope Comes From: Healing poetry for the heart, mind and soul, will be published on 18 February.

Nikita will be giving a talk in Instagram poetry. She will read some of her work before we open the floor to your questions. More information on the session will be coming soon!

Roz Morris

Author Talk

Roz Morris is an author, editor, writing coach and ghost-writer. She is the author of My Memories of a Future Life, Lifeform Three, Ever Rest (coming out on the 3rd June), Not Quite Lost: Travels Without A Sense of Direction and the Nail Your Novel series for writers. Roz has a full online self-study ghostwriting course on Jane Friedman’s website.

Roz will be using her expertise to treat us to a talk on ghostwriting at this year’s virtual festival.

Alex Reeve

Novelist Reading

Alex Reeve’s debut novel, The House on Half Moon Street, was published in May 2018 and introduced us to Leo Stanhope, an assistant to a ‘surgeon of the dead’ in London in 1880, who sets out to solve a crime while hiding a very big secret of his own. The novel received positive reviews from the Guardian, The Sunday Times, the ‘i’ newspaper and others. It was a Richard and Judy Book Club pick in 2019 and was short-listed for three prizes: The Royal Society of Literature Christopher Bland Prize, the Crime Writers’ Association Historical Dagger and the Polari First Novel Prize.

The second in the series, The Anarchists’ Club was published in May 2019 and also received positive reviews. It was short-listed for The Crime Writers’ Association Historical Dagger.

The Butcher of Berner Street is the third in the series, published in November 2020. It received positive reviews from the Guardian, The Sunday Times, the ‘i’ newspaper, Living magazine and others. The Guardian described it as: ‘Intriguing and vivid, with an original and very likable protagonist, this is an excellent addition to a wonderful series.’

The fourth in the series will follow in Spring 2022. The series is published by Bloomsbury in the UK, Canada and Commonwealth countries, and by other publishers in the US, France, Germany, Netherlands and Japan.

Alex will be reading from his work during a novelist reading session at this year’s festival.

A. M. Dassu

Children’s Literature Panel

A. M. Dassu is a writer of both fiction and non-fiction including the highly acclaimed novel Boy, Everywhere which is one of The Guardian’s Best Children’s Books of 2020 and also featured as as one of its Children’s Best New Novels on publication in October, is on Amnesty’s Books That Inspire Activism list, and is one of Bookriot’s Best Children’s Book of 2020 and also BookTrust’s and CLPE’s. She is Deputy Editor of SCBWI-BI’s magazine, Words & Pictures, and a Director of Inclusive Minds, a unique organisation for people who are passionate about inclusion, diversity, equality, and accessibility in children’s literature. She is also one of The Literacy Trust’s Connecting Stories campaign authors which aims to help inspire a love of reading and writing in children and young people. Previously, she has worked in project management, marketing, and editorial.

Her work has been published by The Huffington Post, Times Educational Supplement, SCOOP Magazine, Lee and Low Books, and DK Books. When she isn’t battling emails or writing, she mentors aspiring authors and loves to shout about other people’s books.

Ally Sherrick

Children’s Literature Panel

Ally’s dream job as a child was to be an Egyptologist and dig up mummies and treasure. Her favourite subjects at school were English and History and she loved nothing better in the holidays than exploring ruined castles and decaying mansions and imagining what it must have been like to live in them with no electricity or hot and cold running water.

After studying for a BA in medieval history and French at the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne, she pursued a successful career in public relations and marketing. Then, in 2010, she took a break to study for an MA in Writing for Children which led to a publishing deal with award-winning children’s publishers, Chicken House Books.

BLACK POWDER, her debut middle grade novel about a boy caught up in the infamous Gunpowder Plot, won the 2017 Historical Association’s Young Quills Award and the North Somerset Teachers’ Book Award 2017. Her second novel, THE BURIED CROWN, set during World War Two, and linking to the discovery of the celebrated Sutton Hoo Anglo-Saxon ship burial, came out in April 2018. Her latest, Tudor-set adventure, THE QUEEN’S FOOL, was published by Chicken House in February 2021.

Ally is married and lives with her husband and assorted garden wildlife in West Surrey.

Ben Dixon

Children’s Literature Panel

Ben Dixon is the author behind the world of Neil Peel. He grew up in Yorkshire, grew up a bit more in Leicestershire before moving to settle in Surrey. He studied Linguistics, Children’s Literature and French at the University of York. The Heroic Truths of Neil Peel is his first novel in a proposed series and is aimed at following on from middle-grade, with a target audience of around ages 11-15 years old.

The Heroic Truths of Neil Peel tells a comedic story of Neil Peel as he starts first first day at a new school. He faces bullies, takes part in a football match for the uncoordinated, tries to survive a visit from a devilish cousin who’s determined to ruin his Christmas, and even faces a brush with crime.

Ben spotted a huge gap in the children’s literature market for humorous work and used his 25 years of zany incidents witnessed while teaching young teens and even more so by scrapes from his own childhood when teachers left pupils to their own devices rather than interfering with pesky pastoral care to fuel his ongoing series.

Ben lives in Guildford with his wife, Sarah, and four children, Sophie, Isabelle, Max and Kiera.

Julia Armfield

Magical Realism Panel

Julia is a fiction writer with a Master’s in Victorian Art and Literature from Royal Holloway University. She lives and works in London.

Her work has been published in Granta, Lighthouse, Analog Magazine, Neon Magazine and Best British Short Stories 2019. She was commended in the Moth Short Story Prize 2017, longlisted for the Deborah Rogers Prize 2018 and was the winner of The White Review Short Story Prize 2018. In 2019, she was shortlisted for the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year award. Her debut collection, salt slow, was published by Picador in May 2019, and by Flatiron in the US. salt slow was longlisted for the Polari Prize 2020 and the Edge Hill Prize 2020 and was shortlisted for the London Magazine Prize for Debut Fiction 2020. Her story ‘Longshore Drift’ won a Pushcart Prize in 2020.

Lucy Hughes-Hallett

Magical Realism Panel

Lucy is the author of three works of nonfiction, including The Pike – Gabiele d’Annunzio which won the Costa Biography of the Year Award, the Duff Cooper Prize and the Samuel Johnson Prize. The Sunday Times called it ‘the biography of the decade’. After that success she turned to fiction, writing a novel and a collection of short stories.

The novel, Peculiar Ground, is set partly in the 1660s and partly in the mid 20th century. In it two largely realist narratives are bound together by hauntings, by eerie coincidences and by enigmatic fables.

In her collection, Fabulous, ancient stories – biblical, pagan or folkloric, are relocated to modern Britain. Orpheus becomes an elderly opera singer bewildered by dementia, Joseph is an immigrant from eastern Europe making a precarious living as a window cleaner, the Pied Piper works as a pest controller in a small Suffolk town

Inua Ellams

Magical Realism

Born in Nigeria, Inua Ellams is a poet, playwright & performer, graphic artist & designer. He is a Complete Works poet alumni and facilitates workshops in creative writing where he explores reoccurring themes in his work – Identity, Displacement and Destiny – in accessible, enjoyable ways for participants of all ages and backgrounds.

His awards include: Edinburgh Fringe First Award 2009, The Liberty Human Rights Award, The Live Canon International Poetry Prize, The Kent & Sussex Poetry Competition, Magma Poetry Competition, Winchester Poetry Prize, A Black British Theatre Award and The Hay Festival Medal for Poetry.

He has been commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company, National Theatre, Tate Modern, Louis Vuitton, BBC Radio & Television. His poetry books include ‘Candy Coated Unicorn and Converse All Stars’ published Flipped Eye, ‘The Wire-Headed Heathen’ by Akashic Books, The Half God of Rainfall by 4th Estate and The Actual by Penned in The Margins. His plays include ‘Black T-shirt Collection’, ‘The 14th Tale’, ‘Barber Shop Chronicles’ and ‘Three Sisters’ published by Oberon. He founded The Midnight Run (an arts-filled, night-time, urban walking experience.) The Rhythm and Poetry Party (The R.A.P Party) which celebrates poetry & hip hop, and Poetry + Film / Hack (P+F/H) which celebrates Poetry & Film.

Paul Vlitos & Collette Lyons

Creative Collaborations

Collette Lyons is a journalist and editor, the former content director of Elle, features editor of Stylist, and editorial director at Soho House. She has written for the Guardian and the Telegraph among others.

Paul Vlitos is the author of two novels and the programme leader for English Literature with Creative Writing at the University of Surrey. As half (with Collette Lyons) of Ellery Lloyd he is the author of People Like Her, a new novel from Mantle (UK) and HarperCollins (US). ‘Sharp, knowing and all too believable,’ according to Harriet Walker (author of The New Girl), ‘People Like Her is a gripping take on the murkiness of those who make social media their metier.

Martha Cook & Liz Bahs

Creative Collaborations

Martha Cook is a ceramic artist. She is known for her ability to integrate texture, form, and function. Using both wheel and handbuilding techniques, she finds joy working with clay in ways that reveal its true nature. Her work is enhanced by the spontaneity of atmospheric kilns – including high fire reduction, soda, salt and wood. Martha is currently the Assistant to the Pottery Director and an Instructor at Callanwolde Fine Arts Center in Atlanta, Georgia. She earned a BA in Art Education/Ceramics (University of West Georgia) and a MA in Ceramics (University of Louisville), where she was awarded a scholarship and graduate assistantship. While pursuing her passion for making pottery throughout her career as an art educator, she also earned an EdS in Leadership and Administration (Lincoln Memorial University). 

Liz Bahs is a Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Surrey. Publications include a new collection, Stay Bones, (Pindrop Press, 2020), and a pamphlet, Greyhound Night Service (Maquette Press, 2018), a sequence of haibun based around her fascination with the Chassahowitzka River in Florida. Her poetry has been widely published in international magazines and journals. Recent projects include two residencies at the Hambidge Center for Arts and Sciences (USA) as solo Writer-in-Residence (2018) and as a collaborative Fellow (2019) with the ceramicist Martha Cook. She is a member of an international Multi-narrative research group (based at University of Kiel, Germany), and has given papers at conferences including the International Conference on Narrative and Corroding the Now: Poetry + Science / Science Fiction (2019).  She writes poetry reviews for Frogmore Press and blogs about writing at: 

Previous Guests:

Andy Brown
Lulah Ellender
Julie Evans
Peter Fiennes
David Gange
Kari Gillespie
Genevieve Grant-Thompson
Beth Miller
Jacq Molloy
Jane Puddicombe
Monica Suswin

Sophie Mackintosh
Erinna Mettler
Beth Miller
Jacq Molloy
Courttia Newland
Jeremy Page
Kate Potts
Alison Rumfitt
Stephanie Saulter
Azad Sharman
Monica Suswin
Keston Sutherland

Melissa Addey
Gemma Connell
Jonathan Crewe
Marek Czubala
Stewart Ferris
Jennifer Good
Catherine Graham
Peggy Hughes
Tom Jenks
Ellie Kerr-Smiley
Charlotte Ledger
Holly Luhning
Jeanette Lynes
Rachel Marsh
Steven O’Brien
Kylie Rolle
M.E. Rolle
Michael Roke
Broc Silva
Jas Smith
Paul Vlitos
Laura Williams
Lydia Yeoman