Determined to deliver a Festival this year despite distancing restrictions, Budleigh Literary Festival has embraced technology with a superb line-up for its 2020 festival.


Between 16th and 20th September, audiences will be able to access free of charge an extensive programme of events from home, on the road, or wherever they are on holiday, listen to and interact with acclaimed authors, and engage in challenging topics and lively panel discussions.


At least two of these events will be filmed and recorded live in Budleigh in front of a limited audience, adhering to Government guidelines.


The digital platform will enable the Festival to reach a very wide audience, but it will remain steeped in the unique location that makes it so special. Audiences will have a real sense of Budleigh Salterton and the stunning Jurassic coastal setting, with extra local content available to add to the sense of place


Headline speakers include Festival President Dame Hilary Mantel who will be talking in person to BBC special correspondent, James Naughtie, in her first face-to-face interview with an audience since lockdown about The Mirror and the Light, her hugely-acclaimed finale to the Booker prize-winning Cromwell trilogy. She’ll also be sharing details of her new book of reflective essays, Mantel Pieces, for the first time.


On the same day, James Naughtie will be delivering live the annual Susan Ward Lecture about his book On the Road, reflecting on a career spent reporting on the United States, and considering the state of a country reeling from a disastrous Covid-19 response and widespread Black Lives Matter protests ahead of November’s Presidential elections.


Writer, QI presenter and former Great British Bake Off compère Sandi Toksvig will be taking us along the Number 12 bus route and musing about life, thoughts shared so brilliantly in her memoir Between the Stops. Helen Macdonald, winner of the Samuel Johnson and Costa Book of the Year Prizes for H is for Hawk, will be sharing her views on our place in the natural world from her much anticipated new book, Vesper Flights.


International highlights include former US Ambassador Sir Kim Darroch speaking exclusively to the BBC’s Security Correspondent Frank Gardner about his explosive book, Collateral Damage, on the realities of working with Trump’s White House. Acclaimed investigative journalist, Luke Harding, will be talking to Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland about his revealing new exploration of Russia’s global influence today and, in a time of diplomatic conflict, broadcaster and documentary maker, Michael Wood, takes us to China to explain its history and influence today.


Closer to home, we join the Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage, with an exclusive reading from his shed in the Pennines, and we welcome back best-selling author, Raynor Winn, who will be bringing us her new book, The Wild Silence, about life after The Salt Path. Nature broadcaster, Kate Humble, will be looking at the concept of happiness after a year lived simply in the Herefordshire countryside, and the author of the acclaimed The Last Act of Love, Cathy Rentzenbrink, will ask us to reveal the books that have influenced our lives. Local writers Graham Hurley and Mark Diacono, winner of the Guild of Food Writers Award, will join us to give an insight to their work and their love of East Devon.


More great writing comes in the form of literary fiction with Sarah Moss and Salley Vickers, who will be sharing their approaches to writing the dramas of everyday life, and Sunday Times best-sellers, Peter James and Mark Billingham, who will be celebrating their stellar careers in crime writing. Midsomer Murder creator, Anthony Horowitz, will reveal the twists and turns in his latest crime novel, Moonflower Murders.


The Festival will confront head-on the issues of identity and racism with speakers Pragya Agarwal, who questions our unconscious biases in her book Sway, and influential Chief Prosecutor, Nazir Afzal, who will talk about growing up in England and facing racist violence. Masterchef winner, Irini Tzortzoglou, and cookery writer and restaurateur Ravinder Bhogal will share recipes that they cherish from their own cultural roots.


Other events will look at our digital footprint that remains even after we die, epic cycle journeys, the reach of soft power, and the legacy and impact of caring for those we love.


Though unable to visit schools with authors, the Festival will continue its valuable charitable education outreach work by delivering bespoke free-of-charge virtual events for young people of all ages to enjoy. Authors recording special talks for the Virtual Festival include award-winners Onjali Q. Raúf, Juno Dawson, and Crongton series author Alex Wheatle OBE. New York rapper Devon Glover will be taking Shakespeare’s sonnets into a new dimension, and Emma Carroll will be reading chapters from The Somerset Tsunami. Horrible Histories illustrator Martin Brown will bring his Lesser Spotted Animals to life with readings and draw-alongs, and Matt Oldfield and twice winner of the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal, Emily Gravett, will delight younger children with stories and drawings.


‘Despite restrictions, it was unthinkable not to hold the Festival when it is such an important part of the town’s calendar,’ says Artistic Director, Annie Ashworth. ‘We intend the Festival to have a strong sense of its location, so we’ll be hanging out the bunting and banners as always and bringing some superb headline writers to our local audience, as well as welcoming people online who might never have discovered this beautiful corner of Devon.’


‘We aim to be flexible and to open up the Festival as much as possible depending on guidelines, but of course the safety of our team and audiences will be paramount. We are so grateful to our sponsors and supporters for enabling the Festival to happen this year – we can’t wait for September and to bringing the pleasure of the Festival to Budleigh.’


Festival President, Dame Hilary Mantel adds: ‘Dear readers, please bring yourself to our Festival this year. We can’t usher you to your seats in the usual way, but you are still warmly welcomed to our mixed and lively programme. Festival speakers, organisers and friends have been ingenious and determined to create a programme that will inform and delight. Support us with a donation if you can, but above all, be present, sustain our community of effort, be an active part of our celebration of the written and spoken word.’


Events run from 16th – 20th September, and it is free to register to watch the events online at Audiences will be asked to make a donation to support the Festival’s costs and outreach work, and the Festival will also be donating to the Society of Authors Emergency Fund to support writers whose livelihoods have been affected by the pandemic. Tickets for Dame Hilary Mantel’s event and the Susan Ward Lecture with James Naughtie, to be recorded on 14th September, will be available from from 1st August.


Photo: Sandi Toksvig © Debbie Toksvig