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Following the success of its interview with Jon Sopel this January, the Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival is planning two days packed with online events this spring.


Running over the weekend of 13th and 14th March, audiences from far and wide will be able to listen in to a varied programme featuring the authors of some of this season’s most exciting reads and considering topics with particular relevance to our lives at the moment.


Speakers include one of the most acclaimed modern historians in the world – the Reith lecturer Professor Margaret MacMillan who will be talking to Mike MartIn, Visiting War Studies Fellow at King’s College London, about our complex relationship with war and conflict and why we can’t resist it. Tim Marshall, former Diplomatic and Foreign Affairs Editor at Sky News, will talk about The Power of Geography, the anticipated follow-on to his hugely successful book Prisoners of Geography, looking at how ten different regions in the world are shaping global politics and power today.


Drama both real and imagined will include a fascinating exploration of the life and times of the notorious media tycoon Robert Maxwell whose life is documented by the journalist and A Very English Scandal and The Dig writer John Preston. Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland will talk about his alter ego as the best-selling author Sam Bourne – and his latest thriller To Kill a Man which centers on a scandal in The White House.


The much-admired author of Island Dreams, Gavin Francis, will reflect on the subject of his latest book Intensive Care, which explores the impact of the pandemic not just from his medical viewpoint as an Edinburgh GP, but the impact it has had and will have on our communities long after it is over.


The Festival welcomes back nature-writer Stephen Moss whose uplifting book The Accidental Countryside discovers rare insects hidden in Belfast’s docklands and the falcons that make London’s Shard their home, and marvels at how wildlife is adapting to new environments created by man. For sport lovers, former player Chris Bentley talks to Guardian Rugby columnist Robert Kitson about his book Exe Men which charts the extraordinary rise and recent success of the Exeter Chiefs.


Two of our most admired writers will also be joining the line-up. Dame Marina Warner’s acclaimed writing includes fiction, non-fiction and short stories and she is the first female president of the Royal Society of Literature. Her latest book, Inventory of a Life Mislaid, looks at her childhood in Egypt sparked by the discovery of an old map of Cairo and pieces together evocatively the reckonings and discoveries her Italian mother and English father made during the first years of their marriage. Lucy Jago’s first book, The Northern Lights, won the National Biography prize and in her highly-anticipated debut novel, A Net for Small Fishes, is based on the true scandal that rocked the court of James I, and is an exhilarating dive into the pitch-dark waters of the Jacobean court.


The Festival, as a charity, is committed to supporting literacy in the region and its programme includes three events available entirely free to school, families and children home-learning that will be available from 4th March – World Book Day – until 19th March. Authors and illustrators featured include the multi-award-winning Rob Biddulph, author of Odd Dog Out, who will be doing a draw-along based on his best-selling picture books.  The Waterstones Children’s Book prize winner Sita Brahmachari will be sharing When Secrets Set Sail and her World Book Day book The River Whale, exploring the themes of belonging for years 4 to 5. The author/illustrator behind the beautiful children’s books, including Where Bear?, Sophy Henn will be inspiring young readers with her reluctant super hero in her latest book Pizazz for years 2 to 4.


‘We are so excited to be able to bring such a packed programme of events,’ says Festival Artistic Director Annie Ashworth. ‘Despite live events not being possible yet and bookshops still closed, there are some excellent books being published and authors very keen to talk about them. Our audiences have been so responsive to adapting to online events and we are very pleased we can bring them even more to enjoy.’


Sue Briggs, Festival Chair, said: ‘This year more than ever, it is important for us to support those in our local community and beyond, and bring the joy of reading and literature and a little bit of escapism to people’s homes with our Spring Weekend of events. Our education outreach programme is at the heart of what we do, so we’re thrilled to be able to share some exciting events for World Book Day for young children too, to inspire a love of words and books.’


Ticket are £8 per event, except family events which are free to view, with the option to buy a ticket that includes a discounted and signed book, and are available now via the Festival’s redesigned website Books will be supplied by Winstone’s Books in Sidmouth, and event sponsors include Jurassic Kitchens.

Photo: Tim Marshall