THE 1996 WAYS WITH WORDS LITERATURE FESTIVAL

FESTIVAL REPORT

The Great Hall at Dartington, with its hammerbeam roof and mullioned windows overlooking the rolling lawns outside, hardly seemed the place for the witty and venal chitchat of political insiders - but Roy Hattersley proved otherwise. Opening the fifth Ways With Words literary Festival at Dartington with an hour of masterly storytelling about his 50 years in politics (his first anecdote centred on delivering pamphlets at the age of 11), he used his trademark self-deprecation to soften his delicious needling of famous figures. His jokes had a way of lingering in the air. He'd recounted how, coming back to his office one night, after a particularly dreadful grilling on the Nine O'Clock News during the Kinnock campaign John Smith greeted him chummily with the words: "Saw your thing. It was much worse than you thought." "Was it worse than I thought?" became a running joke throughout the week by performers with their applause ringing behind them.

The first IOS lecture, brilliantly delivered by Peter Hennessy, saw him at his nimble best in the face of some tough and well-informed questioning, notably from a black-clad teenage Goth and self-confessed member of the "Chemical Generation", with half a spider's web painted on her face. She proved rather a feature of the week's audience, challenging from the floor everyone including rock 'n' roll writers Giles Smith, Richard Williams and the Independent's Nick Coleman. This trio had also been leading lights of the sport's writing theme day - a new concept for this festival - where Richard Williams regaled a knowledgeable audience with the art of Ayrton Senna and the drama of hand-to-hand combat in motor racing.

Hand-to-hand combat of another sort was the theme of women novelists Clare Boylan, Helen Dunmore and Julie Myerson, in a session called Women Behaving Badly, which released some frank and fearless discussion onto the medieval walls. Boylan was not so much a writer as a stand-up comic as she read out a hilarious tale of menopausal revenge; Dunmore changed the tempo and kept the audience spellbound with a chilling extract from her new domestic thriller, and Myerson was brave enough to read out a sex-scene.

There were sell-outs for several star performers - Doris Lessing, dignified, fascinating and enigmatic as always; P D James, talking of how she turned to crime and of Jane Austen; while another criminal mind was open to scrutiny as the audience fought for tickets to hear Dr Anthony Clare and Ruth Rendell. Two luminaries gave packed lectures on days of personal significance: John Cole on his fortieth wedding anniversary, and biographer Michael Holroyd, who got an extra surprise at the end of his lecture: a cake with blazing candles and a mass rendering of Happy Birthday To You.

Michael Holroyd's chief subject was Augustus John, the bearded luminary who always patted the heads of children in the streets, just in case they were some of his. He was joined on the platform by Carolyn John, the artist's granddaughter, and when biographer Ray Monk spoke about his subject, Bertrand Russell, it was in the company of Russell's daughter Katharine Tait - and so the great figures of the past seemed somehow alive and among us.

Mary Wesley, local celebrity, presented first prize in the Penguin/Ways With Words autobiographical writing competition to Lionne Crossley for her sparky piece The Debutant. There was plenty of skittish comedy to be had with actresses Fidelis Morgan and Jill Benedict on women's wit, and the Writer's Guild lecture "Make 'em Laugh" given by David Nobbs of Two Ronnies and Reginald Perrin fame. More sombre themes were explored by David Owen and Martin Bell on Bosnia and, on the last Sunday of the festival Joan Brady and Polly Toynbee talking about the issues of death and terminal care raised by Brady's hard-hitting new novel. Ben Pimlott made us think about Her Majesty in a very new light; on the same day the Monarchy itself and New Labour came up for some vigorous discussion.

What else? Poetry, Marina Warner's lullabies, travel, how to get published, wine, gardening, aromatherapy, tabloids, and more. Weird weather was the subject of Paul Simons's excellent talk in Wednesday's science day, and raining cats and frogs was what it did on and off all week. In between showers, brilliant sunlight brought the audiences spilling onto the grass, and at night the full moon illuminated the fourteenth-century tiltyard in the gardens.

The sad news is that it's all over; the good news is that we are already planning for next year. The 1997 Ways With Words Festival will be held at Dartington on 11-20 July, extended to nine days and with an expanded programme to meet its rapidly growing popularity. The IOS will be announcing programme details and special offers; in the mean time don't miss WWW's other activities. The Sole Bay Literature Festival in Southwold in Suffolk (8-10 Nov 1996) features Malcolm Bradbury, Jane Asher, Hermione Lee, David Lodge and others; the literary weekend in Bury St Edmunds (22-24 Nov 1996) includes Antonia Fraser, Kenneth Baker and Jane Gardam. For bookings and further information, ring 01803 867311.

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power