On Monday 14 September, internationally acclaimed author Dame Hilary Mantel – who is tipped to win her third Booker Prize this year and who is shortlisted for the 2020 Women’s Prize, with the winner announced tonight – opens the 2020 Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival.  Dame Hilary will be in conversation with BBC Special Correspondent James Naughtie – and this will be the twice-Booker Prize winning author’s first face-to-face interview since before the Covid-19 lockdown.


The Festival very much hopes that this event will take place in front of a live audience, but following last night’s Government announcement, the charity awaits the publication of further information about new laws being introduced from Monday.   The event has been organised to be Covid-secure, taking place in front of a limited audience of 120 people – less than a third of the venue’s capacity (St Peter’s Church, Budleigh Salterton).  Everyone’s temperature will be taken and the wearing of masks is mandatory.


If the new laws allow, it will be one of the very first literary festival events in front of a live audience since March.


Picturesque Budleigh Salterton is Dame Hilary’s hometown, and she is the President of the town’s Literary Festival.  The author will discuss The Mirror and the Light, her hugely-praised finale to the Booker prize-winning Cromwell trilogy and, for the first time, Mantel Pieces, her new book of reflective essays.  The event will also be recorded and shared as part of the Festival’s virtual festival, available online between 16 and 20 September.


Looking ahead to the event, Dame Hilary Mantel said:


“We offer a special welcome to our audiences this year, whether they are able to attend the festival live or online. I will be delighted to be able to present The Mirror & the Light in what will be only the second live event I’ve had the chance to offer, and I am hugely grateful for the hard work and ingenuity of our festival team who have made it possible.”


On the same day, James Naughtie will also discuss his book, On the Road, and the upcoming US election.  Again, this event has been planned to be in front of a live audience, adhering to all Covid-19 safety guidelines.


Recordings of both events will subsequently be made available as part of the Festival’s virtual festival. The programme features a host of leading writers including:  QI presenter and former Great British Bake Off compère Sandi Toksvig; Helen Macdonald, winner of the Samuel Johnson and Costa Book of the Year Prizes; former US Ambassador Sir Kim Darroch speaking exclusively to the BBC’s Security Correspondent Frank Gardner;  investigative journalist Luke Harding talking to Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland; broadcaster and documentary maker Michael Wood; Poet Laureate Simon Armitage; long distance walker and writer Raynor Winn; nature broadcaster Kate Humble; bestselling author Cathy Rentzenbrink and local writers Graham Hurley and Mark Diacono.


Plus acclaimed novelists Rachel Joyce, Sarah Moss and Salley Vickers; Sunday Times best-sellers, Peter James and Mark Billingham and Midsomer Murder creator, Anthony Horowitz.


In a strand confronting head-on issues of identity and racism, the Festival presents events with 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.


The Festival’s Artistic Director, Annie Ashworth, said:


“Staging a Festival this year has been an enormous challenge, and we really do hope that we are able to admit an audience – within the new Government laws – so they can enjoy such prestigious speakers. For many, reading has seen us through lockdown and it is wonderful to be able to celebrate books again together.”


For the full Festival programme and to watch events online, please visit:


Image: Dame Hilary Mantel © Els Zweerink