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The best literary festivals to bookmark now

After a good booky-wook to get you through autumn? Here's the season's best local literary festivals and events to get you page turning.

book on grass

You wait two years for a live literary event and then loads come along at once! (Covid’s, not their fault, obvs). Here’s where to, er, book, this autumn if you want to catch up with an impressive author or two, then impress the dinner guests with your literary know-how.

An Evening with Ann Cleeves, The Town Square, Crediton, Weds 1 Sept

The Bookery kicks off a very literature-rich September here in Devon with Ann Cleeves (author of both Shetland and Vera, nothing to do with Henry VIII) discussing her latest novel, the second in her Matthew Venn series which is set right here in North Devon.

Budleigh Literary Festival, Weds 15 – Sun 19 September

Small seaside town, big literary festival – the Budleigh Lit Fest, now in its twelfth year, punches well above its weight, especially when you consider it’s mostly run by volunteers. Although it does have the town’s local luminary and author of Wolf Hall, Dame Hilary Mantel, as its Honorary President.

Dame Darcey Bussell is headlining (Strictly fans booked her out within minutes but you can watch her on their online catch-up). Other big names booking up fast include science writer Richard Dawkins, actress Celie Imrie, comedian Miles Jupp, and international best-selling author, Kate Mosse MBE.

We’re not short of erudition here as you’d expect with award-winning environmentalist and author Natalie Fee, author of the encouragingly-titled How to save the world for free and Lorraine Candy’s on her book Mum, What’s Wrong with You. (Check out the recent Muddy interview for her tips on bringing up teen girls.) And we bet Times columnist Mary Ann Sieghart and author of The Authority Gap will bring a fascinating perspective on the unseen bias at work in our everyday lives, in which she’ll be looking at the huge pay gap that still persists between men and women.

Looking to get kids off screens and into a good book? There’s a dedicated programme of events for kids, including Tracey Beaker author, Jacqueline Wilson (above) on her latest, The Primrose Railway Children, and Horrible Histories illustrator Martin Brown giving drawing advice – both suitable for 8-12 year olds. For teenies, book the free Bounce and Rhyme event on Friday 17 afternoon is hosted by Devon Life ed, Andy Cooper, who’s just written a cute picture book with illustrator Leigh Jackson, Harry the Hippopotamus, about a little hippo with a big problem.

Rather be writing than reading? Would-be novelists, don’t miss Louise Doughty, she of Apple Tree Yard fame, on 16 September sharing her tips on how to construct your novel and bring it alive with that trickiest of skills, authentic narrative.

Come prepared to flex the plastic: Waterstones has a pop-up on the green and Budleigh’s high street has a few good galleries, boutiques and cafes, plus a lovely pebbly beach perfect for scoffing some home-made gelato from The Ginger Bread House.

Appledore Book Festival, Thurs 16 – Sat 25 September

Appledore’s famous Irsha Street

After nailing it with their drive-in fest in 2020, Appledore Book Fest is back in 2021 with ten days and more than 80 events in their Skern Lodge marquee and venues around the very instagrammable village.

Events kick off on Thursday 16 September with the Reverend Richard Coles, the only vicar in Britain to have had a number-one hit single and appeared on Strictly Come Dancing, talking about his memoir The Madness of Grief.

Heavyweights include Jonathon Porritt on the climate emergency; Ruby Wax (above) on mindfulness; veteran actress Hayley Mills on her memoir Forever Young; radio DJ and presenter Sara Cox in conversation with festival patron Jeremy Vine (he’s also interviewing his brother comedian Tim Vine); and former Newsnight presenter Gavin Esler on How Britain Ends: English Nationalism and the Rebirth of Four Nations.

A few quirky ones too, including a ghost walk around Appledore with Terry Bailey; a crime writing workshop for would-be Conan-Doyles and a few for kids, including the sensibly prescient If I Ran the Country (given we could really do with some good future leaders in the making) in which author Rich Knight introduces kids to politics and the important decision making process that goes on within it (sleeves rolled up for factory tour or sleeves rolled down?).

International Agatha Christie Festival, Sat 11 – Sat 18 September

An annual festival for whodunnit fans across Britain to celebrate Christie’s life and legacy, with high profile speakers and performances of her plays and poetry, including Anthony Horowitz and Kate Mosse in Conversation about Agatha Christie at Torre Abbey on Sat 11 September.

Exeter Literary Festival, Fri 5 – 7 November

Shaping up nicely is this bookish mix of ‘talks, workshop, performances and the occasional surprise.’ Guests announced so far include: Ann Cleeves, creator of Shetland and Vera (above); Paul Atterbury, forty-year stalwart of Antiques Road Show; and local author, Hazel Prior, whose latest novel Away With the Penguins is a Richard and Judy Book Club pick for 2021.

The official opening event is A Greener Future? at the RAMM on October 9th with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Jonathon Porritt, Lucy Siegle, Natalie Fee and Professor Peter Cox. Chaired by Martin Wright of Positive News, it promises to be a lively afternoon of insight, discussion and debate among the UK’s leading green writers and thinkers, ahead of the crucial global climate summit in Glasgow.

The first event of the festival weekend takes place at Exeter Library on Friday, November 5th. Best-selling local author and blogger Sarah Turner, aka The Unmumsy Mum (read our Muddy interview here) will be in conversation with Westcountry author and father-of-four Simon Kettlewell, whose latest novel Eternity Leave, written from a stay-at-home dad’s point of view, was published in February.

Bookmark for 2022 – Ways with Words at Dartington near Totnes is a week-long deep dive into a raft of brilliant authors and a gorgeous setting in which to hear them. Get on their mailing list pronto for early bird tickets and goss about who’s on.

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