Preview: Ways with words, Dartington Hall, Devon

Adventures in a world of words
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The Independent Culture

There are plenty of ways in which to lose yourself on Dartington Hall's majestic 1,200-acre estate – even without its annual melting pot of authors and intellects. Yet if ever a literary event were endemic to its surroundings, in the heart of south Devon, then perhaps the Ways With Words festival is it, tapping into the estate's spirit of quiet exploration to offer something more than a mere collection of writers and their books.

"We used to call ourselves a literature festival, but now we've become a festival of words and ideas," says Kay Dunbar, one of the festival's directors. "It became obvious from the start that a lot of people who come are interested in ideas, in a good discussion, in a range of challenging concepts from politics to philosophy. It's important to me that it's not just writers reading from a book, which anyone could do, but that authors give something extra: where did that book come from? Why did you write it?"

Dunbar's ethos is born out by a rich programme that uses the written word as a starting point rather than a singular, closed book. Jonathan Dimbleby, for instance, uses his recent study on Russia as a platform for discussion on the resurgent world power, and there's further insight into global and political issues from the likes of Oona King and Martin Bell. A strong line-up of fiction writers includes Michèle Roberts and Kate Mosse, while Michael Frayn and Steven Berkoff bring on the theatrics.

Elsewhere, Brian Patten shares his superlative verse and there's also an intriguing strand on the art of living, which includes an appearance from Carl Honoré, whose book In Praise of Slow seems to fit Ways With Words perfectly.

"Honoré's philosophy is that people rush through life too much, that we're constantly putting ourselves under pressure," says Dunbar. "The philosophy behind the festival is to slow down, to think, to enjoy words and conversation. If anything, I'm encouraging people to take life at a different pace. Although there's a great buzz to Ways With Words, it's still about removing yourself from the trivia and rush of ordinary life."

11 to 20 July (01803 867 373)

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