Vince Gilligan, creator of Breaking Bad, is here for the Sydney Writers’ Festival. Tickets sold out in a minute, so if you were lucky enough to nab one and will be basking in the presence of the Supreme Creator of the Greatest Show Ever come May, congratulations to you. Every one else will just have to re-watch old episodes while wiping away tears of regret with their novelty Los Pollos Hermanos shirts.

That said, the program is full of incredible talent this year, and there are plenty of great minds to hear from on topics that go beyond the written word to cover anything from sadomasochism to leaving home. Here is our pick of the program.

1. From Russia with Love

The multicultural nature of Sydney means that many of us have a special connection to stories about new lands, mixed-identities and the anxiety of fitting in. Gary Shteyngart arrived in Queens, NY as a nervous, asthmatic seven year old from the enemy shores of the USSR. In his memoir Little Failure Shteyngart describes his life growing up as a despised Jewish Ruski. He has a story or two to tell – Such as the time he received a warning that wearing fur hats and coats from the old country might deter potential friendships – talking to NPR about the ordeal, he recalls, “The teachers would take me aside and say, "Look, you can't be this furry. You can't dress in these furs.”

This brilliant writer and satirist will present a session about his book, Little Failure, and also appear as part of a panel alongside fellow immigrants and the children of immigrants, who will share their touching and awkward stories of growing up in a new country.

2. The Life and Times of Alice Walker

In 1983 Alice Walker became the first African-American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her book The Color Purple. Walker is also a poet and activist; she joined the Civil Rights Movement after meeting Dr Martin Luther King in the early ‘60s. She continues to write and travel today and in 2009 she joined a group of 60 activists as part of a women’s delegation to Gaza. Walker has written children’s books, poetry, fiction and nonfiction on topics including female genital mutilation, war and spirituality.

Walker will be interviewed by Booktopia editorial director Caroline Baum and will appear on stage with musician Archie Roach.

3. The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins

Irvine Welsh has created some of literature’s most memorable and repulsive characters. He defined gritty realism in the ‘90s with novels such as Porno, Filth, the iconic Trainspotting, and short-story collection, The Acid House, making him a cult figure. At this year’s festival, Welsh will discuss his new, equally confronting novel, The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins, which features two of his most memorable female characters in what is described as, “One of the most bizarre, sado-masochistic folies à deux in contemporary fiction.”

Irvine Welsh will appear in conversation with Angus Fontaine, publisher of Time Out Sydney.

4. The Centre of Sydney

For many people, even those who have lived in Sydney their whole lives, the area beyond Parramatta Road and the M5 is a suspicious mystery zone full of hotted-up cars, unknown cuisines and potential danger. On this panel, hear five acclaimed writers and academics from Western Sydney – Michael Mohammed Ahmad, Luke Carman, Felicity Castagna, Fiona Wright and Lachlan Brown – discuss the myths and misconceptions many about the neighbourhood they call home in a provocative and enlightening discussion.

5. Curiosity Lecture Series

This series of lectures – covering topics as diverse as the defence of evil, taking time out in an age of relentless social ritual, art as therapy and why on Earth anyone would visit Brisbane – is an opportunity to hear discussions that are out of the ordinary. Topics covered by eminent writers and thinkers will also include love, food, Ghandi, the bush and legendary French thinkers.

Tickets and the full program at swf.org.au