I received yet another Festival brochure through the post the other day. When I first started taking poetry seriously, back in the mid-nineties, there were only a small number of large-scale literary or poetry festivals a year. Cheltenham, of course. Hay-on-Wye. Ledbury. Brighton. Swindon had just started.
These days, it seems there’s a literary festival on somewhere in the UK every fortnight. Not a hole in the corner of the field affair, with mud-covered backpackers and dusty church-based events featuring local poets. These are mostly all singing, all dancing festivals with 9 - 8pm book tents, major authors on tap, Friends of the Festival specials, children’s events with quirky themes like ‘jungle balloonists’ or ‘pirate ballerinas’, plus, of course, the essential accessory for any self-respecting Lit Fest, substantial public and private funding.
This latest brochure - neat, attractive and very professional-looking - is for the Lowdham Book Festival, 22 - 30 June 2007.
It turns out that Lowdham is a village, no less, in sunny Nottinghamshire, and that this is their eighth literary festival. Clearly I’ve been sleeping for the past decade, because I had no idea that this festival existed until their brochure arrived. But they do exist and some of these events look rather tasty.
For a start, they have a festival bar and cafe - always a major pulling point for punters, who are invariably more interested in beer or cream teas than in the latest literary idol. Then there are various sporting activities which seem to have no connection with books at all (erm, tennis? three-legged world cup egg & spoon race? T’ai Chi?) followed by readings from a book of cricketing anecdotes and an anthology in which I myself have a poem, a book of sporting poetry entitled Not Just A Game.
But as far as individual poets are concerned, the Lowdham Book Festival is only featuring two this year, from what I could see. The first is Faber’s most recent acquisition Daljit Nagra, whose debut collection Look We Have Coming to Dover! is reviewed by me in the forth-coming summer issue of Poetry Review (due to be launched next month at - yes, you’ve guessed it - Ledbury Poetry Festival). The other poet on offer is Pauline Prior-Pitt, who will apparently be reading from her latest collection ‘Ironing with Sue Lawley’. Cue smiley face.
Other events which caught my eye include this:
Blog-Talk with Mike Atkinson
WI Hall, Main Street
Saturday 30th June
12.50 - 1.35pm
What do you write about? What is it safe to say? Why is blog writing different to other writing? Bloggers with book deals - how come they get them but I don’t?
-- I love this finishing time of 1.35pm. It reminds me of Maggie Smith’s cool contempt in the film version of Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie: ‘She thinks to intimidate me by the use of quarter hours.’ Okay, this isn’t a quarter hour, but you know what I mean. 1.35pm. Oddly precise for a public event. --
Then there’s this charming delicacy, which I would dearly love to attend:
Folklore in the age of stag nights & blogs, with Bob Trubshaw
Saturday 30th June
12.40 - 1.35pm (again!)
Bob Trubshaw, author of Explore Folklore and folklore publisher at Heart of Albion Press, argues that folklore is a continuous creation, not something frozen forever in the days of unicorns and morris-dancers. What are our current folk traditions? What will be saved for later generations? www.hoap.co.uk
There’s also a magazine launch clashing with this event, a bumper spring and summer edition of long-established lit mag Staple, featuring editor Wayne Burrows and guest poet Douglas Houston, plus local contributors.
So it seems as though the literary festival is bigger business than ever this year, collectively pulling in millions of book-browsers and poetry-lovers across the land, and its meteoric rise looks set to continue into the tail-end of this decade. Unless, of course, the advent of the London Olympics starts having a slow-down effect on the funding of literary events like this, as many writers and event organisers fear it might ...