PHILIP Pullman's new book will be given its world launch at the 12th Oxford Literary Festival next month.

Mr Pullman will be opening the window into Once Upon A Time In The North, the long-awaited prequel to the His Dark Materials universe.

It will be one of the highlights of the Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival, which will feature more than 250 writers between March 31 and April 6.

Mr Pullman's appearance at Oxford Town Hall on March 31 will ensure a memorable launch for both his book and the festival.

But the 30,000 people who will be drawn to Oxford for the week-long festival, hosted by Christ Church, will have plenty to look forward to.

The playwright Tom Stoppard will be talking about his work with fiction critic Peter Kemp on Sunday, April, 6, while two intimate dinners with Martin Bell and Sir Mark Tully will offer a rare chance to converse with these two eminent foreign correspondents.

Speakers this year will include David Almond, Melvyn Burgess, Melvyn Bragg, Louis de Bernieres, Joanne Harris, Roy Hattersley, Charlie Higson, Shirley Hughes, Lisa Jardine, Oona King, Hanif Kureshi, James Naughtie, Sebastian Peake, Lionel Shriver, Sir Roy Strong and Fay Weldon.

As usual, local authors will be strongly represented.

This year's line-up will include the scientist and best-selling author Richard Dawkins, the former Foreign Secretary Lord Hurd and the poet and broadcaster Tom Paulin.

Nigel Newton, founder of the Bloomsbury publishing house will be speaking in Christ Church, a fitting venue as one of the best known locations used in the filming of the Harry Potter films. He will be speaking there on April 5 about the impact of the Potter phenomenon.

This year, for the first time, the festival will run a week-long creative writing course, based at Corpus Christi College, with Jem Poster as course tutor.

The week-long full-board residency will include master classes by John Carey, Joanne Harris, PD James, Peter Kemp and DJ Taylor.

The Guild of Food Writers will bring its annual gourmet lunch to the festival. The guild is inviting visitors to join its esteemed ranks for its Italian-inspired lunch at Christ Church, where Anna del Conte will speak on April 3.

The Oxford Times will again be among the sponsors of the festival, which will see the launch of two new partnerships.

The English Speaking Union, which is dedicated to creating a global understanding through English, will sponsor an annual address to be given this year by English language expert David Crystal.

Later, the Royal Society of Literature, which is devoted to the promotion and enjoyment of good British writing, will host a discussion in which Michael Holroyd and Maggie Gee will wonder out loud if would-be writers really need a university education.

BBC4, a new festival media partner, will host the BBC 4 Film Room, where films and discussion will take place.

For further information about the festival visit Tickets are priced at most events at between £6.50 and £16. Children's events are between £2.50 and £10.

Tickets are available from Tickets Oxford at the Oxford Playhouse, on 0870 3431001 or online at From March 31 and throughout the festival, tickets will be available from the festival box office at Christ Church.