Ricky Gervais among names added to Stories Festival

Ricky Gervais in after life
Ricky Gervais in after life

The Evening Standard in association with Netflix, has announced further line-up details for its inaugural Stories Festival which will take place at Picturehouse Central on 24-26 September 2021, with three days of inspirational storytelling in the heart of London.

Joining the previously announced stellar line up is Ricky Gervais and the cast of Netflix series After Life; Bridgerton author Julia Quinn, director Tom Verica and actress Golda Rosheuvel; best-selling author Robert Harris, and directors Dan Ojari and Mikey Please, who will give insight into creating Aardman’s forthcoming stop-motion animation feature, Robin Robin.

Ricky Gervais and the cast of After Life will guide you through the making of the Netflix comedy drama from script to screen. The panel session will explore Ricky's approach to writing and directing as well as how the cast come together to bring the script to life during filming.

Following Bridgerton season one's incredible global success, join best-selling author of the Bridgerton novels, Julia Quinn, Bridgerton director and Shondaland’s senior creative production advisor, Tom Verica and Queen Charlotte herself, Golda Rosheuvel who will discuss how the series made it from novel to screen. 

Best-selling author Robert Harris will be talking about the adaptation of his best-selling novel into the Netflix thriller, Munich - The Edge of War with director Christian Schwochow and producer Andrew Eaton.

Dan Ojari and Mikey Please, creators and directors of Aardman’s new holiday special, will be taking part in a lively interactive panel. The directors will give insight into stop-motion animation, and the techniques used, as well as providing a sneak peek of the puppets, including the main star of the film, Robin!

The festival will celebrate a diverse range of talent, including leading authors, poets, screenwriters, debut novelists and comedians. These storytellers will share their methods and unique approaches to live audiences across this weekend extravaganza. Tickets can be purchased at

The festival will also include live readings, talks and workshops from the likes of Dr Amir Khan (The Doctor Will See You Now), Anita Rani (presenter and author of The Right Sort of Girl), Ashley Walters (Star of Netflix series Top Boy), Bella Mackie (How to Kill Your Family), Candice Brathwaite  (I Am Not Your Baby Mother), Daisy Buchanan (Insatiable), Ed Balls (Former Shadow Chancellor and author of Appetite: A Memoir in Recipes of Family and Food), Holly Smale (Geek Girl), Jack Guinness (model and author of The Queer Bible), Jed Mercurio (Creator of Line of Duty), Rabina Khan (Lib Dem councillor and author of My Hair is Pink Under This Veil) and Will Young (To Be A Gay Man). The Festival will also feature a showcase from Stormzy’s #Merky Books (Penguin Random House).

The Stories Festival is the ultimate event to support and inspire the next generation of storytellers. From science, health and wellbeing, fiction and crime to poetry and children’s stories, every genre will be fully explored,  with more line-up details to be  announced. Further information can be found at

Full programme details below:

Friday 24 September

Munich - The Edge of War (13.00-14.00) 

Best-selling author Robert Harris is joined by director Christian Schwochow (The Crown, Bad Banks) and producer Andrew Eaton to discuss the upcoming Netflix thriller, Munich - The Edge of War. The panel will look at how they worked together to adapt Harris’ best-selling book into a German and English dual language thriller for a global Netflix audience.

Sex Education (13.15-14.00)

Laurie Nunn - the creator, writer and executive producer of Netflix’s award winning Sex Education - is joined by cast members George Robinson (Isaac) and Chinenye Ezeudu (Viv) to discuss and highlight the role of diversity and inclusion in the globally-loved show, from casting to key storylines and filming on set.

Cruel intentions: What makes a psychopath? (16.00-17.00)

Mark Freestone is the expert who created Killing Eve’s notorious Villanelle. The psychiatrist discusses his book Making a Psychopath with insights into seven complex and disturbing cases he has worked with. He is joined by forensic psychologist Kerry Daynes whose book What Lies Buried opens the case files of some of her most perplexing clients.

Top Boy (16.15-17.15)

A portrait of our times: Top Boy star, Ashley Walters, and the show’s creator, writer and executive producer, Ronan Bennett, are joined by previously-undiscovered actor, Araloyin Oshunremiand graduate of the Top Boy mentorship scheme, Kweku Panti-Amoa to discuss how they turned a story of urban gangland warfare into a defining piece of social commentary through complex characters and multi-dimensional narratives. 

No filter: Sex in the age of Instagram (16.30-17.30)

Love and lust, vulnerability and obsession are some of the themes covered in Daisy Buchanan’s Insatiable, Naoise Dolan’s Exciting Times and Megan Nolan’s Acts of Desperation. Here the three novelists present their frank, raucous and humorous observations on sex in the age of Instagram.

Writing killer characters with Mark Billingham and Bella Mackie (18.45-19.45)

Mark Billingham and Bella Mackie join forces to talk about writing killer characters. Mark’s latest novel Rabbit Hole is cunning, complex and claustrophobic, centering on Alice, who is trying to solve a murder on a psychiatric ward. Problem is she's also a patient. Bella's dark and twisted new tale, How to Kill Your Family features the murderous 'heroine' Grace, hell-bent on revenge.

The power of reading with authors Kate Mosse and Alex Wheatle (19.00-20.00)

Number one international bestseller Kate Mosse and award winning author Alex Wheatle invite you to join them in an intimate conversation hosted by The Reading agency. The two renowned authors will share their motivations, experiences and discuss how reading has the power to change lives. The Reading Agency is Charity Partner of ES Stories Festival and CEO Karen Napier will welcome guests to this exclusive event. The session will also include an exciting Quick Reads announcement…. hear it here first!

#Merky Books author showcase: Meet fiction’s new rising stars (21.15-22.15)

The #Merky Books imprint curated by Stormzy is dedicated to publishing fiction, non-fiction and poetry by a new generation of voices. Here Hafsa Zayyan, whose We are all Birds of Uganda won the #Merky Books New Writers Award is joined by fellow winner Jyoti Patel, author of coming of age novel Six of One and boxer, activist and model Ramla Ali, writer of motivational memoir Not Without a Fight:Ten Steps to Becoming Your Own Champion.

Otherworldly: Bringing fantasy fiction to the screen (The Witcher, Shadow and Bone) (21.30-22.30)

We delve into the incredible worlds of Netflix's The Witcher and Shadow and Bone with their creators, Lauren Schmidt Hissrich and Eric Heisserer. They will discuss the process of adapting the rich source materials that are Andrzej Sapkowski's The Witcher novels and Leigh Bardugo's Grishaverse novels into two of Netflix's most popular Fantasy series.

Saturday 25 September

Rob Biddulph and Peanut Jones (10.15-11.15)

Join Guinness World Record-breaking, award-winning and bestselling author/illustrator Rob Biddulph to celebrate the launch of Peanut Jones and the Illustrated City, the first book in his brand new middle-grade series for boys and girls. Fizzing with magic, danger, friendship and art, this exciting and funny adventure is just what you would expect from the creative genius behind #DrawWithRob. Find out more about the book, learn about Rob's artistic journey and take part in an exclusive live Peanut Jones-themed episode of Draw With Rob.

Young, passionate and fighting for the planet - the rise of generation green (10.30-11.30)

Three young and influential climate and environmental activists, Scarlett Westbrook, Izzy Warren and Mya-Rose Craig join forces to discuss the impact of climate change and the steps they are taking to not only draw attention to it, but to actively make a difference.

Robin, Robin (12.45-13.45)

Meet Robin Robin: Join Dan Ojari and Mikey Please, creators and directors of Aardman’s new holiday special, for a lively interactive panel. The directors will give insight into stop-motion animation, and the techniques used, as well as providing a sneak peek of the puppets, including the main star of the film, Robin!

Pride and joy: Will Young on his journey as a gay man (13.00-14.00)

Musician, actor and author, and first winner of the Idol franchise Will Young is interviewed by barrister. Will shares experiences as told in his book To be a Gay Man, revisiting his dark moments and regrets, showing the way forward for others who may have struggled with being gay.Join Will, in conversation, for a frank and lively discussion of sexuality, society, and self-acceptance. Looking back on a world where growing up being called gay was the ultimate insult and coming out after a lifetime of hiding his sexuality, Will explores the long-lasting impact repressing his true self has had.

Young, Gifted and Geeky (13.15-14.15)

Join Holly Smale, Waterstones Children’s Book Prize winner Elle McNicoll and debut author and illustrator Abigail Balfe for an inspiring conversation about disability representation in YA and children’s fiction. Be prepared to laugh, cry and revel in the brilliance of all three women as they strive to champion neurodiverse voices in this unmissable event.

Bridgerton - From Novel to Screen (16.15-17.15)

Following Bridgerton Season one's incredible global success, we discuss how the series made it from Julia's Quinn's pen to Netflix's 208 million subscribers. Joining this conversation will be best-selling author of the Bridgerton novels, Julia Quinn, award-winning executive producer of Bridgerton and Bridgerton director and Shondaland’s senior creative production advisor, Tom Verica and Queen Charlotte herself, Golda Rosheuvel.

Use and abuse? The ethics of AI (16.30-17.30)

The complex issues surrounding artificial intelligence are confronted in a two- part discussion with Jeanette Winterson and Brian Christian. Winterson’s 12 Bytes: How We Got Here, Where We Might Go Next is a series of essays on the uses and abuses of AI; while Christian's The Alignment Problem: How Machines Learn Human Values? looks at the collision between ethics and AI.

My life in recipes: Ed Balls’ family food journey (18.45-19.45)

Former Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls is interviewed by Evening Standard Editor, Emily Sheffield, as he shares his love of home cooking revealed in his part-autobiography part cookbook Appetite: A Memoir in Recipes of Family and Food. His book is a celebration of comfort food enjoyed since childhood and includes recipes that each tell a story.

Writing from the spectrum: How a late autism diagnosis shaped my work (19.00-20.00)

Comedy writer Sarah Gibbs wrote Drama Queen: One Autistic Woman and a Lifetime of Unhelpful Labels about being diagnosed with autism aged 30. She is joined by Holly Smale author of the best-selling Geek Girl series who was diagnosed with autism aged 39. They talk about the challenges and obstacles they faced.

Black British writing now (21.00-22.00)

Kadija Sesay, poet, editor and founder of SABLELit magazine, which publishes emerging writers of colour, joins Candice Brathwaite, author of I Am Not Your Baby Mother and her new book, Sista Sister, to address the complex issues facing Black writing today.

The power of poetry with Kayo Chingonyi, Sophia Thakur and Leo Boix (21:15- 22:15)

Three poets give their all in an evening of exciting and compelling stand-up. Performance poet and songwriter Sophia Thakur author of Somebody Give This Pen a Heart joins Latinx bilingual poet Leo Boix and prize winning poet Kayo Chingonyi. Boix’s debut collection of poems Ballad of a Happy Immigrant was published this year as was Chingonyi’s A Blood Condition. Together the three present their moving and thoughtful words on culture, home, memories, loving and belonging.

Sunday 26 September 

Super Powered: Greg James and Chris Smith present the Great Dream Robbery (10.30-11.30)

Join the bestselling authors of the Kid Normal series Greg James and Chris Smith for an event beyond your wildest dreams. Based upon their new mind-bending book The Great Dream Robbery - prepare yourself for a hospital heist, some banana-loving llamas and a talking cat called Bin Bag!

#MERKY SUPERHEROES (10:45-11:45)

Performance poet Sophia Thakur joins fellow writer Denzell Dankwah with tales from their inspirational book Superheroes which encourages and empowers young people from every background to become their own Superhero.

Dialogue Books Proof Party (12.45-13.45)

Dialogue are thrilled to present three of their new voices for 2022 in conversation with Cat Mitchell. Okechukwu Nzelu (winner of a Betty Trask Award and shortlisted for the Desmond Elliot Prize), Ione Gamble and Angela Chadwick (winner of the Polari First Novel Award) will be discussing their new titles for 2022, their journey to become a writer and what it means to them to be an inspiring new voice. Each ticket will come with a goody bag featuring a proof of Okechukwu Nzelu’s new novel Here Again Now and Angela Chadwick’s new novel Ungrateful. This is your chance to hear about these books before anyone else.

Under pressure: Stories from the NHS frontline (13.00-14.00)

BBC News Health Editor Hugh Pym chairs this panel looking at the challenges faced by the NHS. Dr Rachel Clarke is a palliative care doctor whose book Breathtaking: Inside the NHS in a time of pandemic gives a personal account of a doctor’s experiences during the COVID-19 crisis and Dr Amir Khan’s The Doctor Will See You Now tells of the ups and downs of his life as an NHS GP.

Graphic detail: Jed Mercurio and Prasanna Puwanarajah on on their new sci-fi thriller (13.15-14.15)

Creator of the hit TV series Line of Duty, Jed Mercurio, and Prasanna Puwanarajah are staging an event based on Sleeper, the first in their new series of graphic science fiction novels. A cross between the conspiracy thriller, space based science fiction and a western, it features a biologically enhanced, enforcement marshal, DS-5.

Netflix: Telling International Stories (16:00- 17:00)

A good story can come from anywhere and be loved everywhere - Non-English language titles have exploded over the last year and this panel explores how to engage a global audience. We will have insights from panellists including George Kay, the creator and writer of the Netflix hit series Lupin, Deborah Feldman, the author of the highly acclaimed memoir Unorthodox, which was adapted into Netflix's limited-series of the same name starring Shira Haas and Diego Avalos, Vice President of Spanish Series at Netflix, who is responsible for bringing the huge Spanish hit La Casa de Papel (aka Money Heist), to the world.

After Life: From Script to Screen with Ricky Gervais (16.15-17.15)

Ricky Gervais and the cast of After Life guide you through the making of this Netflix comedy drama from script to screen. The panel session will explore Ricky's approach to writing and directing as well as how the cast come together to bring the script to life during filming. Moderated by Boyd Hilton.

My perspective: Life as an Asian woman in Britain (16.30-.17.30)

Nikesh Shukla author of The Good Immigrant and Brown Baby: A Memoir of Race, Family and Home, chairs a discussion on the struggles facing Asian women in Britain today. Rabina Khan, writer, politician and councillor wrote My Hair is Pink Under This Veil about the challenges she has experienced as a Muslim woman in the UK. Anita Rani’s The Right Sort of Girl tells of her growing up as a second generation British Indian woman in 1980s Yorkshire.

My queer icons (18.45-19.45)

Model and activist Jack Guinness presents insights into his book The Queer Bible, based on the website The book is a collection of essays from queer icons ranging for Sir Elton John to Graham Norton who talk about the figures who have given them their creative inspiration. He is joined on stage by journalist Paula Akpan.

From page to screen: The art of adaptation (Heartstopper and The Upper World) (19.00-20.00)

Two of the most exciting emerging voices in literature discuss the inspiration behind their work and the process of adapting their stories for the small screen.

Hear from author and illustrator Alice Oseman, who secured her first publishing deal at 17, about crafting young adult stories with both drawings and words, and the process of translating her LGBTQ+ webcomic Heartstopper into a screenplay for an upcoming Netflix series.

Femi Fadugba - the breakthrough British-Nigerian author whose first book The Upper World is currently being produced for Netflix - will be discussing how his childhood in Peckham and studying Quantum Physics inspired his epic South London-based thriller - and his new role as executive producer on its film adaptation.

The Stories Festival associate partner is Netflix, books partner is Waterstones, venue partner is Picturehouse Central, poetry partner is Bushmills and charity partner is The Reading Agency


Listings details:

Dates: 24-26 September 2021

Location: Picturehouse Central, Corner of Great Windmill Street and Piccadilly Circus, Shaftesbury Ave, London W1D 7DH

Tickets: Child £8, Adult £15 (£12 for Picturehouse members), Student £12 (£9 for Picturehouse members), Family Tickets £32 (for four)


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