This year’s Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival features an inspiring line-up of speakers and authors.

A plethora of famous names will be travelling to the seaside town for the event, which will also include three tributes to its late honorary president, Dame Hilary Mantel.

The first will bring together the acclaimed actor Ben Miles, who played Thomas Cromwell in the highly-praised stage production of Wolf Hall, her agent Bill Hamilton, and her lifelong friend Anne Preston in a unique event that shares memories of her as a friend, colleague and inspiration.

The second will feature Ben and his photographer brother George Miles who will talk about their experience working with Dame Hilary on the making of the Wolf Hall Picture Book for which they spent many years exploring the locations Thomas Cromwell visited and inhabited.

The third event will be a moving tribute, in which pianist Katherine Rockhill will be performing the original music created by Debbie Wiseman for the BBC series of Wolf Hall. She’ll be joined by the celebrated actor Anton Lesser, who played Sir Thomas More, and who will mesmerise with extracts from the novel.

Ben Miles first met Dame Hilary in the Royal Shakespeare Company's rehearsal rooms in Clapham in autumn 2013 when they were working on the RSC’s production of Wolf Hall.

He says: ‘The acting company had gathered at the rehearsal rooms to read through a draft of the stage plays of Wolf Hall and Bringing Up The Bodies. I emailed her soon after with a brief question about Cromwell. She responded with a 1,000-word answer.

‘Hilary's involvement developed over time in rehearsal. At first, she wasn't sure about her role and her place in the hierarchy of the rehearsal room. I think she established herself as invaluable to all of us when, after a couple of weeks, she issued an entire set of character notes to the cast about our respective roles. It was a transformative moment for everyone. Our understanding of the characters we were playing and the wider context of life in Tudor England was expanded exponentially.’

He adds: ‘The plays began to live in a way that they had not done before. Personally speaking, Hilary was my guide throughout the two years' run of the first two plays and the subsequent adaptation and performance of The Mirror and the Light. She gave me insights, encouraged me in my own thoughts, was open to new ideas and always kept a line of communication open with me. I have not had a closer and more creative relationship with a writer ever. Hilary was utterly invaluable to me in my creative process.’

Ben, who played Cromwell in the Wolf Hall trilogy, can currently be seen on our screens in three episodes of the Star Wars spin-off series Andor, streaming on Disney Plus. He plays a Russian ambassador in Ridley Scott’s new film Napoleon and other recent roles include Captain Peter Townsend in the Netflix drama The Crown, Montague Dartie in The Forsyte Saga and the Duke of Somerset in The Hollow Crown on television.

He says playing Thomas Cromwell in the Wolf Hall trilogy was one of the most challenging roles of his career.

‘It was taxing physically and emotionally. But creatively speaking, it was one of the most fruitful experiences of my career. This was essentially down to two things. Firstly, the genius of Hilary's writing. Her study of the man I was playing could not have been more detailed and empathetic. All I needed was right there in print in those remarkable novels.

‘Secondly, her generosity of spirit towards me was as unwavering as it was empowering for me as an actor. Her willingness to collaborate was extraordinary. She saw herself not so much as the author, but as the custodian of her stories. This engendered such a wonderfully creative exchange of ideas between us. There was no ego with Hilary; no ownership, no sense of authority on these novels - despite her vast knowledge and indisputable genius.’ 

When asked what he feels is so special about the Wolf Hall trilogy and what makes Dame Hilary’s works stand out, he says: ‘There are many special things about these three great novels for me. Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies were so loved by my mother. They were some of the last books she read before she died. I am so sad that she and Hilary never met.

‘Apart from the thrill of immersing oneself in that world - something which I most recently had the pleasure of doing when recording the unabridged audiobook versions of the trilogy - I think the experience of working and collaborating with one of the greatest novelists of our time is what makes these books so special for me. When reading The Mirror and the Light, I will come across passages which had their geneses in correspondences between us. It's a rare thing to have done, and one I will treasure always.’

Ben Miles will be appearing at Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival on Friday, September 22 and Saturday, September 23.

More at the festival 

A host of well-known authors and speakers will be heading to the East Devon coast for this year’s Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival. 

The festival, which takes place in venues across the town from September 20-24, has developed a reputation as one of the leading literary events in the South West. 

This year’s speakers include author, poet, playwright and broadcaster, Lemn Sissay; one of the UK’s most prolific storytellers Alexander McCall Smith; comedian broadcaster and author David Baddiel and political commentator and Guardian journalist Polly Toynbee. Writer and political strategist Alastair Campbell; acclaimed author Kate Mosse and Radio 4 presenter Natalie Haynes.  

There is a full programme for families, headlined by world famous illustrator Axel Scheffler, festival favourite Kristina Stephenson and Springwatch’s Megan McCubbin. The festival will also be celebrating 30 years of Horrible Histories throughout the weekend, including hearing from illustrator Martin Brown.