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After a year of staging digital events, with only two live events possible last autumn, the Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival is planning a return to its full programme this September to delight audiences. Taking place between 15th and 19th September, the brimming programme includes some huge names in both fiction and non-fiction, and a wide and varied range of events and topics for all ages.


Headlining the programme with be former principal ballerina and Strictly judge Dame Darcey Bussell talking about her life of dance, comedy actress and best-selling novelist Celia Imrie on her latest novel, and leading scientist Richard Dawkins on the best of science writing.


Dame Joan Bakewell will be discussing the challenges of getting older, and Radio 4’s More or Less presenter and FT columnist Tim Harford will be delivering the annual Susan Ward Memorial Talk, in memory of the Festival’s founder, asking if statistics are always to be believed. Educationalist and modern historian Sir Anthony Seldon will explore what makes a great PM, while Theresa May’s former Chief of Staff Gavin Barwell will give us an exclusive peek behind the door of Number 10.


Leading experts in their field joining the programme include Richard Ovenden of the Bodleian Library and author of the acclaimed Burning the Books, broadcaster and journalist Mary Ann Sieghart on women and work, and an array of historians including Dominic Selwood on the history of Britain in 50 documents, Philip Parker on the world in trade maps, Saul David on the Special Boat Service, Tristan Gooley on reading the weather, and David Rooney on how timekeeping shapes our world.


Leading fiction writers appearing this year include Vera and Shetland creator Ann Cleeves, Best Marigold Hotel novelist Deborah Moggach, Women’s Prize founder Kate Mosse, and Apple Tree Yard psychological thriller writer Louise Doughty.


Anti-racism campaigners Kehinde Andrews and Anita Sethi will question the meaning of belonging, acclaimed novelist Cathy Rentzenbrink will search for the power of books in our lives while couturier Jenny Packham will ask what clothes mean to us.


New this year is a Book Group Event, with audiences invited to read ahead the debut novel The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex and then talk to her about it.


Crafters, book lovers and emerging writers can get stuck into workshops with Louise Doughty, letterer Lucia Leyfield and bookbinder Ursula Jeakins. Whisky lovers can taste a range of different flavours with the international expert Nick Morgan of the Whisky Exchange.


The programme is also packed with events for families lead by the multi-bestselling author Jacqueline Wilson who presents her latest book The Primrose Railway Children. Horrible Histories illustrator Martin Brown will be getting everyone drawing, and Katz Cowley shares her brilliantly successful The Wonky Donkey. All ages can get stuck into modelling characters including Shaun the Sheep from Nick Park’s hilarious Aardman Films under the careful guidance of one of the company’s leading model makers.


Though the Festival hasn’t been able to hold events in local schools this Summer term because of Covid restrictions, it will be taking Kehinde Andrews and comedian Tez Ilyas into schools in September to talk about issues including mental health and racism. The historical fiction writer Caroline Lawrence will also be talking about her very popular novels in a special transition event for year 6s from local primary schools. Schools involved include St Peter’s Primary, Colyton Grammar and Exmouth Community College.


The Festival aims to be entirely live and in person with its famous Marquee on the Green for refreshments and pop-up Waterstones bookshop, subject to any prevailing restrictions, with audiences very keen to attend live events after so long. The programme will also include, however, two online events with the highly respected biographer Victoria Glendinning talking about the John Lewis retail phenomenon, and historian James Fox on the history of colour. A selection of other events in the programme will be filmed and available for audiences to view online for several days.


The Festival is strongly supported by local businesses and donors, with the Exeter hearing organisation Audify once again this year’s Headline Sponsor.  Tickets are on sale to Friends of the Festival from 5th July and to the general public from 12th July, from


Image: Richard Dawkins joins the line-up for the 2021 Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival.  Photo © Jana Lenzova