The week of the Dorchester Literary Festival saw an extraordinary range of big-names visiting the county town, with many sold-out shows.

It began with Alexander McCall Smith, who admitted he suffers from “serial novelism: you write novels then you die. There’s no cure for it”. Which explains why he writes five or six every year.

Later in the week, Victoria Hislop described how her latest book Those Who Are Loved, set against the backdrop of the German occupation of Greece, has all the emotions she feels for the country, combined with all her knowledge. Impressively, we learnt that she’s recently written a children’s book – in Greek!

Raynor Winn urged her audience to live as one community, warning that the dividing line between success and disaster is surprisingly fine. She revealed that she originally wrote The Salt Path only for her husband, Moth, who had been diagnosed with a terminal disease; had she known it would sell more than 250,000 copies she might have left out a few of the more personal details. Joa Studholme, who designs the paints for Farrow & Ball, reassured her audience that when decorating a house there are no rules, then spent the next hour inspiring us to change the way we paint it.

Never a woman to wear just one colour, Prue Leith discussed the years she’s spent working to improve the food in our schools and hospitals, as well as advising that – with moderation – you can eat anything you want; although apparently there’s no such thing as moderation when it comes to hugs in the Great British Bake Off tent.

Also, with a twist on the usual format, Henrietta Lovell poured out tea, accompanied by a delicious cream tea supplied by The Posh Partridge, while urging us to ditch the tea bag – for environmental and humanitarian reasons. It also tastes better!

Once again, Dorchester has taken the festival to its heart. Colin Anderson and his wife from Poundbury were particularly thrilled. “We’ve bought £300 of tickets this week because an overnight trip to London would cost us the same to see just one show. You’ve brought London to Dorchester, so thank you.”

Next year’s festival takes place from 13-17 October – check out the festival website or Facebook page from February. Entries are already coming in for the Hall & Woodhouse Local Writing Prize, which has a closing date of 15 March – see page 26 for this year’s winner.

Jess Thompson

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