The 1997 Ways With Words Literature Festival; In Association With The Independent On Sunday

FESTIVAL REPORT

Stretching over nine days, with around 200 writers taking part, the sixth Ways Words literary jamboree at Dartington Hall was a festival of two halves. The first few days were warm but sultry, with the clouds never quite deigning to clear over the lofty medieval roof of the hall. Then came day after day of boiling, phew-what-a-scorcher, glorious Devon weather. But with the likes of Jung Chang, Ben Okri and Alan Garner to enjoy, intellectual pursuits didn't lose their allure - although there were a lot of people stretched out under the trees between events.

Excitements on the first day inclu- ded a complete evacuation of the Great Hall during John Mortimer's reading, when the fire alarm went off. Weirdly enough, exactly the same thing had happened to him the previous night in Manchester ...

Blake Morrison and Anthony Clare probed the Bulger case in front of a rapt and utterly sympathetic sell-out audience. Clare took as his theme "the most regrettable sentence of the decade": John Major's statement that we should all understand a little less and condemn a little more. An emotional and absorbing debate led inevitably to detailed questioning from the audience, and the event ran over by half an hour, ending in a standing ovation.

Hermione Lee had to endure less sensitive questioning after her lively lecture on Virginia Woolf: "Why did you think there needed to be yet another biography on VW, and what made you think you were the person to write it?" Lee's robust defence of her subject sent Woolfophiles scurrying to buy.

Not all events took place in the Great Hall. Over in the Barn, Tim Smit regaled a packed house with the romantic story of the Lost Gardens of Heligan: from forgotten wilderness to one of Cornwall's top attractions in a few years. Rattling his way through before-and-after slides with machine-gun speed, he explained how he originally just wanted to find a piece of land to raise pigs on. He met a man who'd just inherited a wilderness and went to investigate, machete in hand. He found a lost world: the gardens, decaying hot-houses, silted-up lakes and ponds of a once-great house. One of the most poignant discoveries was the wall on which the gardeners had signed their names before going off to the Great War. Many of the names appear on the local war memorial. It was an enthralling, uplifting tale, laced with humour ("I've seen better ordered flowers on a roundabout in Newquay" was one visitor's verdict on the garden). At the end, the first question was an anxious: "What happened to the pigs?"

The festival celebrated the most beautiful, elevated language - but also the most earthy. Theatre supremo Max Stafford-Clark roped in his chair, Chloe Dunbar, and some festival helpers for a brief play-reading: expletives not deleted. Similarly uninhibited was Jah Wobble, who came to talk about William Blake, but managed to cover topics such as Shinto myths, Essex men, the evils of the music business and "the first time I took cocaine". "I thought poetry was for ponces," he said frankly. An appreciative late-night crowd showed no sign of being fazed at this unusual event, which included our own Martin Rowson talking about turning The Waste Land and Tristram Shandy into graphic novels. At the end, Wobble presented his bottle of champagne to a silver-haired lady in the front row, who hugged and kissed him and promised to buy all his albums forthwith.

Ben Okri was another star, discoursing to a spellbound audience about life, art and creativity. He took time out to stroll in the grounds and lie on the grass, thereby becoming the most-photographed writer of the festival. At midnight, he was spotted in the moonlit courtyard, still surrounded by an adoring crowd. Did he want to be rescued, we wondered, or was he happy with his guru status?

Jung Chang and Kate Adie were neck-and-neck in the fastest selling ticket stakes. Both provided drama in different ways. On the morning of her talk, Adie was bitten by a bug: her leg swelled up and she had to be rushed to Torbay hospital. Never mind the Gulf War, rural Devon can be hazardous.

A thrilling moment in Jung Chang's talk came when she held up a tiny pair of shoes, no bigger than baby bootees, which had been worn by her footbound, crippled grandmother. She also produced her copy of the infamous Little Red Book.

Finally Roy Hattersley wound up events with an enjoyable lecture on political novels "from Trollope to Tripe". The tripe, most ungallantly, turned out to be Edwina Currie.

So the festival is over for another year - and we're already planning the next, to take place at Dartington from 8 to 15 July 1998. But there are Ways With Words events all year round, including Seawords, a celebration of the sea in literature, to be held at the National Maritime Museum on 24 and 25 October, and the Sole Bay Literature Festival in Southwold, Suffolk, on 7-9 November. Don't miss out - return the coupon to be included on the mailing list.

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
    Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

    That's a bit rich

    The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
    Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference