GRAND DAYS OUT

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This Season: for his highlight of the summer talks, Anthony Gardner picks the medieval backdrop of Dartington...

From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, July/August 2012

If live literature in Britain has a bastion, it is surely the Gothic fastness of Dartington Hall in Devon (above). Now in its 21st year, the Dartington Hall Ways With Words Festival has spawned offshoots from Suffolk to Cumbria, but none can quite match the original’s blend of grand surroundings and an intimate, irreverent atmosphere. This summer the medieval walls provide a fitting backdrop for Hilary Mantel’s erudite take on Thomas Cromwell’s England (see our Editors' Blog on Hearing Hilary Mantel) , and an unlikely one for a meeting of that most poised of interviewers, Joan Bakewell, and the queen of camp, Julian Clary. Also celebrating its 21st birthday is Jung Chang’s "Wild Swans": the author adds quiet gravitas to an impressive list of political writers, including the ever-combative Tariq Ali (assessing Barack Obama) and the ever-controversial Orlando Figes. Admirers of John McCarthy’s measured, eloquent radio broadcasts for BBC Radio 4 can hear him recount his travels through Israel and Palestine, while three distinguished Michaels fly different flags with self-deprecating wit: Holroyd on biography, Palin on travel writing, and Frayn on theatre and fiction.

Dartington Hall Ways With Words Festival July 6th to 16th. wayswithwords.co.uk

TALKS AT A GLANCE

Tom Stoppard (British Library, London, July 6th). Marking his 75th birthday by looking back on his radio plays with actors who have appeared in them, including John Hurt, plus John Tydeman, former head of BBC radio drama.

West Cork Literary Festival (Bantry, July 8th to 14th). A rare joint appearance by mother and daughter Anita and Kiran Desai should be the highlight of this Irish seaside gathering. Jim Crace and Kevin Barry will speak up for the men.

T.S. Eliot Festival (Little Gidding, Cambridgeshire, July 7th-8th). The poets Paul Muldoon, Daljit Nagra and Bernard O’Donoghue read and discuss Eliot’s “Little Gidding" in front of the church that inspired it. Richard Harries, the former Bishop of Oxford, debates whether Eliot’s faith made him a better poet.

Anthony Gardner edits the Royal Society of Literature's magazine, RSL. His first novel is "The River of Heaven"