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The Great Hall at Dartington, one of the premier venues at the Way with Words festival


The Ways with Words Festival, which takes place every year at the beautiful Dartington Hall Estate near Totnes, serves up a surprisingly satisfying contrast of idyllic surroundings and provocative, challenging ideas.

Its subtitle, ‘a festival of words and ideas’, tells you that this is far more than a succession of book-plugging authors on the publicity trail.

Warren Cottage in DartmouthWays with Words is one of the biggest events in South Devon, as well as one of the most significant literary festivals in the country. As it runs for 10 days between the 7th and 17th July, why not time your summer break around it?

This year’s programme is as eclectic as ever, covering practically every genre and including a wide variety of political and philosophical perspectives.

As the festival’s president, Roy Hattersley, put it:

“Ways with Words is unique. Nowhere else offers such a distinguished programme of speakers in such a sublime setting.”

Perhaps you’d like to hear more from the author of the 2015 publishing sensation, ‘The Girl on the Train’, or maybe you’re interested in how some of the world’s leading minds are making sense of the political upheavals taking place across the planet? Whatever interests you, there’ll be plenty going on at this year’s festival.

Highlights of 2017’s Ways with Words, Dartington

We’ve picked out five speakers not to miss at 2017’s Ways with Words.

1. Joseph Stiglitz, The Great Hall, Friday 7th at 1 pm

Politics and economics always feature strongly at Ways with Words, perhaps unsurprisingly given that the festival’s president is a former government minister. This year, there may be even more focus on these topics than usual, as leading writers and thinkers grapple with the fast-changing political climate, both here and around the world.

Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz’s illustrious career has included stints as the Chairman of President Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers and the Chief Economist at the World Bank. Now a Professor at Columbia University and the author of several bestselling books, Stiglitz has become one of the most influential commentators on globalisation, equality and democracy.

Stiglitz will be discussing the election of President Donald Trump and the recent rightward shift in American politics.

Other speakers on political and social issues at 2017’s Ways with Words include:

  • Sayeeda Warsi, author of ‘The Enemy Within: A Tale of Muslim Britain’
  • Anthony Barnett, author of ‘The Lure of Greatness: England’s Brexit and America’s Trump’
  • A. C. Grayling, author of ‘War: An Enquiry’
  • Former Home Secretary Alan Johnson MP
  • Former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg MP.

2. Jane Brown, The Great Hall, Friday 7th at 5 pm

The Dartington Hall Estate is far more than a beautiful backdrop for literary and philosophical discussions. It’s well worth learning something about the history of the ‘Dartington Experiment’, and the idealistic American heiress who transformed South Devon in the aftermath of the First World War.

In this talk, Dorothy Elmhirst’s biographer, Jane Brown, will explore the rebirth of Dartington Hall, including the once-dilapidated Great Hall where the event is taking place, explaining how the rural estate went on to attract some of the period’s greatest artist and thinkers.

For a little more information about the history of Dartington, take a look at our Dartington village guide.

3. Paula Hawkins, The Great Hall, Saturday 8th at 5pm

Paula Hawkins’ debut novel, ‘The Girl on the Train’, sold two million copies within three months of its 2015 release, turning the Zimbabwe-born author into an overnight star. In 2016, this tightly-plotted psychological thriller was turned into a movie starring Emily Blunt, with the action moving from Southeast England to the New York suburbs.

Following the publication of her second novel, ‘Into the Water’, Hawkins will be coming to Ways with Words to discuss ‘her writing processes, women and their relationship to each other, and how childhood memories make us who we are.’

4. Francesca Martinez, The Great Hall, Saturday 8th at 8 pm

Back in 2000, Francesca Martinez was the first female comic to win the Daily Telegraph Open Mic Award at the Edinburgh Festival. She has since gone on to become one of the most critically-acclaimed comedians on the national circuit.

Many of those who haven’t seen her on TV panel shows or heard her on BBC Radio 4 will remember her as Rachel from the kids’ TV drama, ‘Grange Hill’, a show she appeared on for four years during the 1990s.

In this show, entitled ‘Wobbly Manifesto’, Martinez claims that without diversity, there would be no evolution, no life, and therefore no human beings.

5. Kate Fox, The Great Hall, Sunday 16th at 2 pm

Kate Fox is an anthropologist whose interests lie very close to home. Her book, ‘Watching the English’, is a fascinating, at-times hilarious analysis of how we think and behave, from our queuing habits to our attitude to work.

In this talk, ‘From the Stone Age to the Digital Age’, Fox turns her attention to today’s communications technology and its impacts. Are we simply becoming shallower and more narcissistic? Are our attention spans shrinking or are we all falling victim to the ‘echo chamber’ effect?

Sidestepping these kinds of well-worn arguments, Fox argues that the use of new media actually reflects ‘our latest unconscious attempt to reproduce the social essence of the environment in which we evolved, the Palaeolithic.’

We highly recommend taking a close look at the festival brochure to find other talks that interest you. For book lovers, the hardest thing is – as always – deciding who not to see!

Argosy squareBook a summer holiday in South Devon this July and make the most of Dartington and everything this literary festival has to offer. Choose from around 400 luxury holiday homes just a short drive way from the estate, and make your next holiday one to savour.