PUTTING together the 2018 Salisbury Literary Festival has been dominated by events that none of us expected to consider – the Novichok poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal back in March. Suddenly, Salisbury was headline news around the globe, with the world’s media descending as the story unfolded. Programming a festival in those circumstances creates a number of questions – how do you respond to such events? It’s something that is right for the festival to address, but equally you want it to feel respectfully done. Getting the balance isn’t easy, especially when there was the ongoing uncertainty as we put the schedule together whether the Skripals would survive or not.

Another challenge, undoubtedly, has been the subsequent drop in numbers of people visiting Salisbury. The continuing ‘Salisbury in Lockdown’ headlines and footage of soldiers in hazmat suits is not great for attracting visitors. As those of us living in the city know, Salisbury is in good shape and perfectly safe but it is harder work persuading people to come and visit in the face of negative headlines.

The Skripal Affair has affected the festival in smaller ways, too: last year, we ran a promotion with the Book Fairies, where we hid books by festival authors around town for people to find. How can you run such a promotion when the official police advice remains, if you didn’t drop it, don’t pick it up? Then there was our short story competition, where we tried to find as neutral a title as possible: we’d settled on Down by the River, only for TV footage to show police combing the river down by the park for clues.

But there are positives too. We received money from the official recovery fund, set up to bring visitors back to Salisbury. That has allowed to have three headliners for this year (Val McDermid, Matt Haig and Jonathan Coe) and have a larger programme than for 2017. Among those are two of the country’s leading spy writers in the form of Charles Cumming and Mick Herron – a novelist’s take on all the year’s events will be fascinating to hear, and we think a fitting response.

We’re really excited about this year’s line-up. In a Bruce Forsyth way, they’re all my favourites but if I had to pick out three events to look out for, they’d be the following. Firstly, look out for Kate Summerscale with Richard Beard, whose award-winning memoir The Day That Went Missing is astonishingly powerful. Secondly, there’s Claire Fuller, whose novel Bitter Orange is one of the best books I’ve read this year, and is appearing with the brilliant debut Irish novelist, Caoilinn Hughes. Thirdly, we’ve teamed up with Fisherton Mill and Vanguard Readings for an early-evening event of fiction and food. That’s going to be tasty twice over – my only concern is that I’ll be too busy to be able to sit down and eat!

For tickets and information on all events visit salisburyliteraryfestival.co.uk