Ways With Words starts on 10 July 2009
Sheer bliss: how a festival should be
By Jemima Laing
One of the creators of Devon's leading literary festival talks about 18 years of the event and her joy at being recognised for her "outstanding contribution" to literature and books.
Kay Dunbar sums up the atmosphere of the literary festival she created 18 years ago as "like being a student again with all the fun and none of the pressure".
Kay Dunbar with her medal
Kay set up the Ways With Words festival at Dartington Hall with her co-director Stephen Bristow in 1991 and her work has now been recognised with a prestigious literary honour.
The Benson Medal was founded in 1916 by the academic and writer AC Benson.
Past recipients include eminent writers including JRR Tolkein, Lytton Strachey, Harold Nicolson, Anthony Burgess, AL Rowse, Philip Larkin and Ronald Blythe and many of them are among Kay's favourite writers.
She found out about the honour when she was teaching in France.
"I checked my emails and read that that the Royal Society of Literature had unanimously decided to offer me a Benson medal for 'an outstanding contribution to literature and books'," she explained.
"I thought it was a friend playing a trick."
She received her medal at a special awards ceremony in London on 1 July 2009 when her work was recognised by the Royal Society of Literature's President, Sir Michael Holroyd, who praised Kay's "creative appetite, informed enthusiasm and benign bookish evangelism".
2009 sees the eighteenth Ways With Words festival
She described receiving the medal as a "true honour".
Kay, who lives in Dartington, says the event has gone from strength to strength over the years.
"Eighteen years ago when we had the first Ways With Words at Dartington Hall in Devon we were pleased that we had 48 writers speaking and about 4,000 people attending.
"Now we have around 150 speakers and 15,000 visitors.
"This growth could have ruined the atmosphere of the festival but quite the reverse has happened; most people enjoy the buzz of the enthusiastic, friendly crowds and the amazing variety of talks and events that are on offer."
Since the first Ways With Words the pair have since set up and run two more festivals in Southwold and Keswick as well as residential writing courses abroad in France and Italy.
The 2009 festival gets under way on Friday 10 July 2009, bringing its usual eclectic mix of writers, poets, actors, politicians and broadcasters.
Graham Swift, Penelope Lively, Andrew Motion, Paddy Ashdown and Diana Quick are just some of the more than 150 contributors this time.
And the festival fringes will also be packed with masterclasses, workshops, poetry walks and readings.
And Dartington Hall is, Kay says, "a captivating setting" for a festival.
"Few people who visit Dartington Hall are untouched by its magic.
"Festivals should be festive and we think lovely settings, delicious food, places to relax, read and talk are crucial parts of the experience.
"Sheer bliss: that's what festivals are about."
Ways With Words 2009