Friday, 12 July 2013

Lowdham Book Festival 2013

Lowdham Book Festival is over for another year, though with our monthly First Friday lectures, our winter weekend, an autumn season planned and the annual "Lowdham Lecture" it can be difficult to tell.
But the summer festival is always our best attended event, our highlight of the year, which this year featured 46 individual events. This summer was our fourteenth.
Family problems in Scotland limited my personal involvement in 2012 and we were unable to run our "last Saturday" that year, which has always been part of my contribution, so it was great to be fully involved and to bring that particular day back. My colleague Jane says that is "the heart of the festival". I am less sure on that, as the festival has no shortage of hearts, but it certainly felt great to have hundreds of people rushing from event to event or spending money at the - this year - 33 bookstalls. Ten or twelve of the seventeen events for adults on that day had house full notices up and the children's events were pretty busy. You can't always predict what will be popular - who would have expected 60+ people to turn up for a talk on women in the Sudan? But that is the nature of a day which provides a showcase for many regional writers and a leavening of authors from elsewhere. What else was popular? A talk on fairytale in fiction, on Vesuvius, the poetry of the first world war, John Clare, London Fiction... That day is the day we really do aim to merge the idea of a literature festival with a village fete so a lot of people come to meet their friends and just soak up the atmosphere. The most popular stall? Cleeve Press from Leicester showing off their letterpress printing, allowing people to print out their own cards, and Ed Herington to make up the illustration here.
We basked in sunshine, which always helps, but did miss the local allotment-holders stall this year, missing due to a bad spring affecting their produce. They'll be back next year.
I've heard good reports on the events on that day - but my role is to stand in the one position to say "the Methodist Chapel is down the road", "sorry, I don't have any Blutac", "Thank you for telling me the women's toilets are blocked..." and to clear the café tables in the spare moments. Thirteen years of that particular day and I've yet to attend an event. But the toilets have only blocked twice, so I can't complain.
Of the other events over the festival, my favourite day was the Victorian Day at Bromley House Library (Lowdham Book Festival on Tour) which was magical. We could only seat 40 people at this great venue, a Grade 2 listed building in the centre of the town, and the lucky 40 had a set of speakers whose contributions all flowed into one another - Michael Payne on Victorian Nottingham, Judith Flanders on Victorian London, Michael Eaton on the Victorian criminal Charlie Peace and Ann Featherstone on Victorian fairs and entertainment. Throw in a guided tour of this fascinating building, rather a lot of cake, and it was a day hard to beat.
What else? Impressed with Simon Mayo, enjoyed interviewing Kerry Young, Hazel O'Connor got two standing ovations... I could go on, but I do want to mention how much I enjoyed the reading of Will Buckingham, accompanied by his own playing of classical guitar. That was magical and rather unexpected.
Problems? Not a lot. One author missed a train and just got there in time; there was a technical problem on a highly illustrated talk which meant I had to interview someone at five minutes notice about a television programme I'd never seen and a book I'd never opened. It was an exciting five minutes preparing questions. No floods (we remember that year well...), no overhead power lines going down (another year to remember)... it all ran rather smoothly. Thanks, of course to the team - the front of house volunteers and the Warthog group that runs the music events during the Festival - and, especially, my colleague Jane Streeter and her staff from The Bookcase in Lowdham. One of the authors emailed afterwards to say "A very enjoyable day and the Festival was clearly a real success. Many congrats to you and Jane and all your helpers for an excellent job. It's really hard work putting on something like this and you all seemed to do both very well, yet in a stress-free and good-humoured way. Quite an achievement! I was delighted to be a small part of it." I'm a bit embarrassed printing this comment, but for once, let's boast.
Lowdham moves on... our First Friday programme is sorted. Our big event this autumn is a reading from War Horse with Michael Morpurgo and accompanying musicians John Tams and Barry Coope, in the wonderful setting of Southwell Minster. You can join Lowdham Book Festival's email list via or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
Meantime, I've got lots of new reading material.

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