ONCE again the stars come out in Keswick for one of the nation’s most illustrious literary gatherings - Words by the Water.

The top festival will open at Theatre by the Lake on Friday, March 7 (2pm) with Newsnight’s Kirsty Wark discussing her debut novel, The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle.

Following on (3.45pm) is top-selling author Louis de Bernieres, best known for Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Apparently, Louis’ first love is poetry and he’ll read from his own work and discuss the impact of the Greek poets.

More high profile names from the world of television and radio will appear throughout the ten-day festival, which runs until March 16, including Sally Magnusson, Melvyn Bragg, Stuart Maconie, Count Arthur Strong, Jeremy Paxman and Andy Kershaw.

The festival will also bring figures from the world of politics to Keswick with Roy Hattersley, Jonathan Aiken, Ann Widdecombe, Alan Johnson and Melissa Benn among those journeying to the Lakes.

Saturday opens (11am) with Anne Pierson’s Cumbria Young Writers Award, introduced by Melvyn Bragg with Blake Morrison guest speaker.

Later (12.45pm) Pat Barker will join Melvyn on the stage of the theatre’s main house to reveal the mysteries of writing fiction and discuss their different approaches.

Also during the festival Germaine Greer will talk about the Queensland dairy farm that she took on in 2001 and how it awakened her to the impact of deforestation; Princess Michael of Kent will speak about her novel The Queen of Four Kingdoms; and leading historical novelist Philippa Gregory (The Other Boleyn Girl and The White Queen being among her gripping tales) waxes lyrical about Tudor Fiction.

Joanna Trollope is also on the star-studded bill talking about A Life In Fiction.

With more than 100 events in the five-star literary line-up WBTW director Kay Dunbar says festival goers have plenty to look forward to: “Visitors compliment the programme every year,” adds Kay.

“But many people are saying that this is the best line-up we’ve ever had, which is great to hear.”

A host of popular local writers will also be featured, including Keith Richardson, Chris Wadsworth and distinguished biographer, poet and novelist Kathleen Jones, who recently penned Norman Nicholson’s biography.

Award-winning poet and Cumbrian resident Helen Farish will judge the 11th Words by the Water Mirehouse Poetry Competition, and will present the winning poems during a special free event at Mirehouse on Saturday, March 15.

The closing date for the competition will be February 11.

Meanwhile, bursaries are available for young people to attend events at the festival for free. There are a limited number of free tickets for nearly every event in the programme.

Thanks to the Ways With Words Bursary Fund, young people aged 17-25 can apply for free tickets to attend any main house or studio event during the festival.

For more information about the poetry competition or the bursary scheme email admin@wayswithwords.co.uk.

For the full festival programme visit www.wordsbythewater.org.uk or telephone 017687-74411.