BudLitFest – Day 2

Budleigh Beach

Only two events today. It’s a hot sunny day, so between them I eat a sandwich on a bench overlooking the beach and read a book. Children are swimming in the sea and a man is selling fresh fish on the pebble seafront. Today is a very good day.


Day 2 – Saturday 19 September

Sarah Winman ‘A Year of Marvellous Ways’

It’s about the story of your life that you tell yourself.

This is an extra session for me. The original writer Liza Klaussman was forced to cancel at quite late notice and Sarah Winman stepped in to fill the space. This is fantastic news for me as I’m a huge fan, but it does mean that the room is only just over half full. It’s a real shame as Winman is interesting, engaging and articulate. So much so that I become completely absorbed in the talk and make hardly any notes.

What I learnt:

  • Winman is absolutely passionate about the importance of the arts and creativity in education as she believes Marvellous Ways coverbeing creative is what helps us to become well-rounded individuals.
  • Landscapes are very important in The Year of Marvellous Ways. Winman wanted to set the book in Cornwall, but she felt the Cornish landscape was masculine because of the rocks punching through the land, and Marvellous needed to be in a feminine landscape. She resolved this by putting Marvellous on a lake which was based on a creek she saw in South Carolina – and then dropping that in to Cornwall.
  • Winman was an actor and narrates her own audiobooks. Someone in the room specifically asks about this because her reading from The Year of Marvellous Ways in the session is so beautiful.
  • When the audiobook of When God Was a Rabbit was made Winman had to audition for the job of narrator; and the producer told her that she was doing the voices for her own characters wrong.

This was a really lovely session and I could have listened for much longer. I’m about 100 pages in to The Year of Marvellous Ways and I highly recommend it. It’s sweet, dark and very magical.


Hilary Mantel ‘The Mirror and the Light’

It’s in time’s erasures, in the white spaces between the lines, that the novelist goes to work.

The session at St Peter’s starts at 4.30pm and by 4pm there’s already a queue of festival goers snaking down the church drive. Inside, the church fills quickly and there’s a lively and expectant atmosphere for Budleigh’s beloved ‘bard’.

The lady next to me says; “For the last couple of years she’s told us that she hasn’t finished The Mirror and the Light yet. I wonder if it’s finished now.”

“I haven’t yet finished The Mirror and the Light!” announces Hilary Mantel as she arrives onstage.

Wolf Hall picture

I forgot to take a photo, so here’s a gratuitous picture of Damian Lewis and a cross toddler

What I learnt:

  • The Wolf Hall universe now includes books, tv programmes, a stage play, a CD of the stage cast singing and a cast football team called Wolf Hall Wanderers; who are yet to win a match.
  • The Wolf Hall tv programme was filmed using natural light and candlelight. Female cast members told Mantel that they spent large parts of their time on set afraid they were going to catch on fire. “Welcome to the Tudor World!” says Hilary.
  • Mantel was writing new material for The Mirror and the Light while she was working on the stage adaptation of Wolf Hall in New York. One night she wrote a new scene in flashback between Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Moore and gave it to the actors playing those roles. From that point on they played the roles slightly differently as they incorporated the new information in to their performances.
  • After visiting the set of Wolf Hall Mantel found herself stuck on a country lane while a convoy of trucks moved props to the next filming location. It occurred to her that very few authors find themselves in a traffic jam with the products of their own imagination.
  • Household accounts were an important primary source for Mantel’s research. She used them to understand how Cromwell managed his home and family. The accounts show what things are in the household, but not how they got there, so Mantel has to imagine what happened. In The Mirror and the Light she explains the appearance of a leopard.
  • Mantel is very, very, very funny. Her eyelash anecdote is hilarious and she seems to genuinely enjoy making the crowd laugh.

Two incredible sessions and my head is buzzing with new information. We have a walk along the seafront in the evening sunshine and then back home for wine and spicy chicken. Two days down; one to go…


BudLitFest – Day 1

Budleigh Beach Huts

This last weekend all the stars aligned and there was a festival for my favourite things (books) in my favourite place (Budleigh Salterton).

I got so excited about this that I booked tickets for eight events over three days and decided to review the whole lot.


Day 1 – Friday 18 September

Kaffe Fassett ‘Dreaming in Colour’

Anything worth doing is worth over-doing.

This is a fascinating hour. It starts with a chap in a jazzy shirt standing in front of a sedate audience and talking about knitting; and ends with a cluster of women jostling each other and murmuring with delight as they stroke the luscious, fabulous textiles spread out in front of them.

Kaffe Fassett quilt

What I learnt:

  • Colour can heal and can revive. At one point a lady in the audience testifies to the healing powers of Fassett’s work. Fassett describes his workshop sessions as being like ‘colour orgies’ and by the end of the session you can see what he means. There is a visceral reaction to the colours. It’s an almost spiritual experience.
  • Fassett thinks we should all just do it. He decided he wanted to be a textile artist working with colour so that’s what he became. He claims that he’s achieved it all with only 40 minutes of knitting tuition, so if he can do it anyone can.
  • There are no mistakes; “If you do something wrong, just repeat it on the other side.” Advice for knitting and for life.
  • Fassett has the true artist’s gift of being able to put things together which really shouldn’t work, but always do.

At the end of the session my friend Wendy, an artist and designer, leans over and whispers “I need to get my sewing machine out!”


Paula Hawkins ‘New voices’

Really sad and damaged women; that you really wouldn’t want to spend any time with.

This event was originally meant to be a two-hander with Renee Knight, author of Disclaimer. To be honest, I think that would have been a much better session. The problem with a whole hour on The Girl on the Train is that if there are people present who haven’t read the novel (about half the room) then you can’t really discuss more than the first chapter without giving vital plot points away.

Paula Hawkins

What I learnt:

  • Hawkins was a financial journalist, she moved into fiction when she was commissioned to write romances under the pseudonym Amy Silver. She decided to write a thriller when she realised that her romances were becoming increasingly more dark.
  • The character of Rachel is an alcoholic because Hawkins was interested in memory loss and the balance of guilt and responsibility. How can you feel the right amount of either if you can’t remember what you did? It also gave her a way of making Rachel vulnerable to manipulation.
  • Although Hawkins has been accused of misogyny the women are all without a job during the events of the novel because it best serves the narrative, not because she believes women shouldn’t have jobs. This is simply one story and one snapshot in the lives of the characters, and not representative of her views.
  • Characters don’t have to be nice for you to engage with the story and want to find out what happens to them.
  • Hawkins is working on her next book which will be about sisters and memory, and will be set in the north of England.



Love, rivalry, jealousy, ambition; those things never go out of fashion.

The final event of day one takes place at the suitably dramatic setting of St Peter’s Church at night – the only thing missing is candlelight. On stage were Andrew Graham, son of author Winston Graham and script adviser; Debbie Horsfield, script writer; Ruby Bentall who plays Verity and Heida Reed who plays Elizabeth. The event was chaired by Erica Wagner.

Poldark actors


What I learnt:

  • The first Poldark novel was probably conceived in June 1941 when Graham became a coastguard at Perranporth beach. This involved spending long hours watching the changing sea and listening to local stories told by the other coastguards.
  • Debbie Horsfield had never done an adaptation before or worked with historical material, but when she read the first two novels she realised that the themes were universal.
  • Ruby and Heida found the costumes incredibly restrictive. Ruby particularly was very vocal about the control of women through their clothes; “Those outfits were made purely to repress women. You can’t even climb the stairs without help!” Both actors found it difficult to understand living in a society where women had such little control over their own lives.
  • Winston Graham HATED the 1970s BBC adaptation of Poldark so much that he asked for the contract to be terminated. He felt the script didn’t include any of his dialogue from the book and he loathed their version of Demelza. He was reconciled to it in series two when a new director and script writer were brought in.
  • Elizabeth’s character was tricky and at first seemed too cold to a modern audience. The script had to be adjusted to make it clear that she lived a very restricted life and could not just pop to Poldark’s house to talk to him. Heida defends her passionately; “Even today, if you were engaged to someone else and an old flame came back after three years, you wouldn’t just leave them!”
  • When asked about dealing with filming and the Cornish weather, Heida recounts an anecdote about getting soaked during a scene where she shared a horse with Aiden Turner. An excited murmur ripples through the crowd.

I’ve also learnt that Poldark fans are very, very active on Twitter!

Poldark signed book