CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Devon Life today CLICK HERE

A reading room of one’s own

PUBLISHED: 09:00 22 January 2014

Course leaders Leah Varnell and Naomi Ziewe Palmer

Course leaders Leah Varnell and Naomi Ziewe Palmer


We often forget about the enjoyment a good book can provide. ELLIS TAYLOR rediscovers a love for literary discussion


For many people it is simple for modern life to take over and for reading to take a step back. Books become a holiday luxury, or are rushed through without much thought.

When you are immersed in a good book it is often too easy to get lost in the plot and forget about the depth of the text, and as we progress away from opportunities of education, the possibility of a deeper reading seems to disappear.

However, a new literary retreat in Devon aims to challenge this by giving readers a break from everyday life alongside an informative and interesting course.

The Reading Room, created by Exeter College lecturers Naomi Ziewe Palmer and Leah Varnell, is suitable for all levels and encourages those with no or little literary history to give it a try. And best of all, there are no essays or exams!

2014 Course dates

Want to give the Reading Room a try? Here is a taste of their courses for 2014.

Literary Sauce and Spice

15 February 2014

A journey through sizzling poetry and sensuous prose

The Great Gatsby – From page to screen

15 March 2014

Explore the roaring twenties through this American classic

The Madwoman in the Attic – The mad, the bad and the dangerous to be

26 April

An introduction to the representations and treatment of women in Literature

Jane Austen’s World

24-25 May, this is a weekend course

Take a turn with Austen’s much-loved characters

The Romantics in Devon

28 June

An introduction to the romantic poets and their connections with Devon

Guests must be over 18 to attend. For booking and price details see

Overnight accommodation is available at

A dynamic range of day and weekend courses are available throughout the year, with each course focussing on a different topic. Previous sessions include the Romantics in Devon and the Gothic.

I was lucky enough to be invited to a Dickens-themed day course which looked at the classic novella A Christmas Carol.

I must shamefully admit that, despite currently studying for an English Literature degree, I had never read A Christmas Carol before my day at The Reading Room. In fact, I had only ever vaguely touched upon Dickens. So it is safe to say that I went into the session a little concerned, despite my experience in studying Literature.

The courses are held in a family run B&B in Chagford where guests can stay. Six of us attended the day course, which ran from 10am-5pm, and when we arrived we settled into the drawing room of Greenbank house, allowing us to relax on comfy sofas whilst a warm log fire burnt away.

"“A deeper reading of a literary classic had been opened up to the group”"

We were greeted with a goodie bag filled with Dickensian related treats, as well as a notebook and pen so we could jot down notes throughout the session. We also enjoyed a cup of fresh coffee and homemade mince pies as we introduced ourselves, making us feel at home.

All course material was also provided, including extracts of the novella and pages of information related to the topics we would cover throughout the day.

Discussion easily flowed, and no answer or idea was wrong. Each guest was free to speak up whenever they wished - there is no hand raising in the Reading Room! Aspects of A Christmas Carol and of Dickens’ life, which we had never considered or known, suddenly appeared.

In true student style, we had regular breaks to give our minds a little rest, and our bellies a large feed. A delicious homemade lunch was prepared by Greenbank owners Frances and Peter Goudge which set us up for an afternoon of more discussion and activities.

There was never any pressure to answer or get it ‘right’, and we were even given a choice in tasks which allowed for a small period of independent study. For our group, it worked out well as half chose to look at two Victorian poems, and the other half tried their hand at creative writing.

By the end of the day we were all full 
of new knowledge, buzzing minds, and satisfied stomachs. Not only had a deeper reading of a literary classic been opened up to the group, but in the process we had an extremely enjoyable experience.

The courses are always intimate, with groups not exceeding eight people. Book groups and private parties are also welcome to hold exclusive sessions with Naomi and Leah. They have also recently launched gift vouchers for the courses.


More from Out & About

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Devon is particularly stunning at this time of year and so we’ve picked out 18 stunning pictures that encapsulate the county during the festive period

Read more
Wednesday, November 28, 2018

From cosy pubs galore to winter beach walks, there’s plenty to enjoy in Devon at Christmas. We list 19 reasons you should come visit us this December.

Read more
Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Devon is a joy to explore with its beautiful beaches, pretty woodland and charming towns and villages. Made even more magical under a blanket of glistening frost, we pick 12 walks to blow away the cobwebs in the county this winter

Read more
Tuesday, November 27, 2018

A South Devon walk along a wreck-rich coastline with SIMONE STANBROOK-BYRNE

Read more
Tuesday, November 20, 2018

In the latest of our 24-hour tours of Devon’s best locations, we head to Britain’s Ocean City

Read more
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

With breathtaking beaches, rolling countryside, stately homes and unique villages, it’s no wonder high-profile film productions flock to Devon - how well do you know the movies that have set up camp here however?

Read more
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Whether it’s on our beautiful beaches, in our magnificent moors or within our stunning stately homes, film productions are constantly setting up in Devon. Here are 16 that you might not know used the county as a filming location

Read more
Friday, October 26, 2018

From angry spirits to headless horses and ghoulish monks, Devon has more than a few supernatural stories to get your skin crawling. We have picked 11 haunted places in the county

Read more
Tuesday, October 23, 2018

October is the perfect time to discover the joys of Exmoor. Jennette Baxter of Visit Exmoor suggests five great ways to enjoy autumn on the moor

Read more
Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Wild camping can be one of the best ways to escape the crowds for a night or two and lose yourself in the landscape - SOPHIE PAVELLE chooses her five favourite places to ‘wild-life’ camp in Devon

Read more
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

From sandy beaches and lighthouse-topped cliffs to views of the Jurassic Coast, the Devon coastline offers many perfect locations for a seaside walk. We pick 10 of the prettiest routes to take

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Take our quiz to find out how well you really know Devon

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

As the weather starts to warm up and the Devon countryside beckons, LIZZIE JANE of the National Trust in the South West offers plenty of walk ideas for you to try. Whether you want a relaxed Sunday stroll or a more strenuous hike, here are 10 walks across Devon (and beyond) to help you escape the crowds and head off the beaten track

Read more
Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The South West Coast Path is celebrating 40 years by calling on people to help raise £40,000. To show their support, teams from Devon’s top tourist attractions are preparing to take to the trail. CHRISSY HARRIS finds out more

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search