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The South West’s leading literary festival announces its line-up for this autumn’s festival which runs from 14th to 18th September. Covering a wide variety of topics, including current affairs, best-selling authors and leading debut novelists, as well as events for families, it promises to be a highlight of the cultural calendar.


Headlining the packed programme is legendary actress Dame Sheila Hancock, Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s Middle East Editor, the broadcaster Simon Reeve, poet Pam Ayres, gardening expert Joe Swift and BBC Antiques Roadshow presenter Ronnie Archer-Morgan. Baroness Floella Benjamin will be delivering the annual Susan Ward memorial talk in memory of the Festival’s founder. The leading brain surgeon, Henry Marsh, will share his own experiences as a patient; acclaimed behavioural scientist and author of Sway, Pragya Agarwal, explores the myth of gendering emotions; the man at the centre of the Jeremy Thorpe scandal, Norman Scott, reveals the impact it has had on his life and explorer Benedict Allen whisks us off to undiscovered places.


Current affairs are brought to the fore by journalist Martin Sixsmith and top expert Orlando Figes as they consider what makes Russia the country it is, while Sir David Haslam, the former Chair of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and Council of the Royal College of General Practitioners, tackles the pressing issue of our NHS. The editor of The New Statesman Jason Cowley, and New Yorker journalist Rebecca Mead ask where England finds itself now post Brexit and with fractures in our relationships with home nations. BBC Disinformation reporter, Marianna Spring, reveals the troubling stories that result from the scourge of fake news, and the MP Andrew Mitchell blows the lid off life inside Parliament in a very febrile climate.


Top level literary writing is represented by the multi bestselling authors Robert Harris, Elizabeth Lowry, Miranda Seymour, Lyndall Gordon and Charlotte Mendelson – this year’s Festival Book Club Read. Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland shares his extraordinary new account of an escape from Auschwitz, whilst thriller writers Henry Porter and Graham Hurley have us on the edge of our seats. The programme also features this year’s most exciting emerging writers and a panel event about ghost writing and screen writing chaired by former BBC Spotlight presenter Justin Leigh.


The Festival will also feature two exciting musical events with a celebration of the sea – with readings and music from the Clifton Trio including a piece specially commissioned for the Festival. Patrick Gale and Jim Causley will also mark the life and poetry of Jim’s distant relative Charles Causley, the subject of Patrick’s latest book, Mother’s Boy.


Writing workshops will be tutored by leading writers Jill Dawson and Nikesh Shukla, and paper artist Jennifer Collier will teach two workshops on creating beautiful things out of scrap paper and pages from books.


The wealth of local writers and notable people is celebrated with events including best sellers Graham Hurley and Unmumsy Mum, Sarah Turner, novelists Nina Stibbe and Patrick Gale. Local debut novelists include Joanna Quinn and Sophie Irwin, historian Andrew Chatterton, Daily Telegraph beer writer, Adrian Tierney Jones, tutoring a tasting; children’s writer Triona Harris, and artist Angie Seaway. Reading events include once again the East Devon Writers group and the Festival’s annual Open Mic poetry evening. Riverford veg box founder Guy Singh-Watson talks about food miles with food writer Orlando Murrin.


The Festival’s offering for families this year is especially exciting as tickets will be free or just £1 a seat to ensure the events are as inclusive as possible. Events are for ages two to 12 and authors appearing include Steven Lenton with his Genie and Teeny Series, Steven Butler creator of Spooked – The Theatre Ghosts, Kristina Stephenson’s Museum of Marvellous Things and music and word workshops with local group Wren Music. The acclaimed Aardman model making workshops, which sold out last year, return by popular demand with participants able to create famous figures from Nick Park’s iconic films. There will be free storytelling sessions and a drop-in activity tent marking the Queen’s Jubilee celebrating 70 years of children’s books.


The inclusive ticket price offer is part of the Festival’s charitable aims which include raising money to ensure as many children as possible own a book at home, to encourage a life-long love of reading.


“We are so excited by this year’s programme,” says Sue Briggs, Festival Committee Chair. “There is something for all interests and all ages, and we are looking forward to welcoming audiences back to the Budleigh and the Festival.”


The Festival, which has a hub marquee with café and pop-up Waterstones bookshop, is strongly supported by local businesses and donors, and is recognised as a partner by Exeter City of Literature. Tickets are on sale to Friends of the Festival from 18th July and to the general public from 25th July, from