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Why You Should Go To A Literary Festival

Way with Words Festival

Bethan Highgate-Betts reflects upon her internship at Ways With Words Literary Festival 


As one of four over-enthusiastic interns at the 2015 Ways With Words Festival of Words and Ideas, for the next month I will be sleeping, eating and breathing literature, or at least filing, tweeting and sticking literature-related things. 

From the 3rd-12th of July, Ways With Words comes to Dartington Hall, becoming a part of its glorious 880-acre country estate where authors, speakers and thinkers gather for the Festival of Words and Ideas.  This will no doubt be an exciting and perhaps stressful time for us interns, but it will also be an invaluable opportunity for writers, and people at the beginning of their careers like myself, to immerse ourselves in words and ideas.

Long hours and lonely settings; writing can be a solitary profession – even if you’re one of those New Age, canvas shoe-wearing, beard-growing, mac book-out-in-cafes writers – there still isn't a lot of interaction. As John Donne said, ‘no man is an island’, even if sometimes they like to think they are. It’s not often we get to turn off the laptop, put down the pen and stop staring at the same spot for more than 10 minutes. It is on these rare and momentous occasions that we strap ourselves into our best clothes and stumble blinking into the light of day, or at least the dim early evening. 

It’s good to be surrounded by like-minded people (that’s what people say anyway) and I am inclined to believe them. After all, other professions do it all the time; architects work with architects, doctors with doctors, even arts administrators tend to work in offices surrounded by other arts administrators. That’s why literary festivals are such invaluable opportunities, not only to get half a days worth of vitamin D, but also to meet other authors along with journalists, publishers and people who understand the weird and wonderful lives writers (and aspiring writers) lead.

Literary festivals are a networking smörgåsbord for writers and publishers. Not only are you thrust into relatively small spaces with the biggest and the best in the industry, you're also in a place where minds meet and ideas are shared. Here I can relax, have a cup of tea or possibly a couple of glasses of wine and discuss words, ideas, writing styles and writers with people who actually share my interests. Plus people do tend to be generally more receptive after having a cup of tea (or a couple of glasses of wine), and where else are you going to find this selection of authors, journalists, publishers, literary agents, marketing people… and wonderfully helpful interns, of course. 

If you’re looking for more structured networking opportunities here are just a few of them at Ways With Words:

  • Talks: Engaging, illuminating, on vastly ranging topics, by a wide range of speakers and usually including a Q&A afterwards, talks are a perfect opportunity to grill your favourite author/speaker for their top writing tips and secrets. This years speakers include Jane Hawking, Alan Johnson, Simon Armitage and Caroline Lucas.
  • Signings: Most events conclude with an opportunity to have your book signed by the author, this does give you the rare opportunity to talk to the speaker directly -no matter how fleetingly.
  • Specialist Talks: Many festivals include specialist talks on selected topics, this year at Ways With Words we have the Inspiration for Fiction series, a selection of talks offering an insight into the process of many well known and respected authors.
  • Workshops: More intimate spaces where sharing and learning with, and from, each other is encouraged. Joining us at Ways With Words this year is the fantastic Christopher North, taking workshops on writing outside. 

On completing her internship at Ways With Words Bethan Highgate-Betts, a graduate from Falmouth University,  will head straight to London where her play ‘Fallen Apple’ will be showing at the London Short Play Festival from the 16-18 of July. 

Ways With Words runs from 3–13 July at Dartington Hall, Totnes, Devon.