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Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Perspective: Five Festival Favourites

(This piece was first published on the Plymouth International Book Festival Blog)

There has been an explosion of literature festivals of all shapes and sizes in recent years. Some of these are planned and delivered by experienced agencies like Cyprus Well (subtle name drop), and some are born out of the good will of local people, who are desperate to showcase the work of local authors.

But the success of these festivals is by no means guaranteed, and sometimes people massively underestimate the time and effort involved in creating a successful literary festival. But instead of creating a list of what not to do (let's be positive) I thought I'd write a post on my favourite things to see at a literature festival.

1. Local Writers
There are more talented writers out there than you can shake a stick at, but many of these are overlooked by festival programmers who are keen to attract 'Big Names'. Now, I'm not saying big name authors don't help make a successful festival (Plymouth has its fair share of big names), but local writers are just as important. Often they are able to offer talks on local history or heritage, or specialist subjects that big name authors don't know about. It's also a chance to celebrate home-grown talent, and support the writers who need it most.

2. Participation
Listening to authors read from their work, and give talks on writing is extremely interesting, but can lead to festival fatigue (trust me, when you've sat through four authors in a day, it's exhausting!). In my experience, a great way to avoid this, is to make sure there are opportunities for more active participation. Writing workshops can provide a unique opportunity to interact with a professional writer and try something totally different.

3. Family Events
Too many literary festivals cater primarily for adults, which is a real shame. Why limit your audience? Much better to create an inclusive atmosphere for families, with author events and workshops aimed at different age groups. After all, how do you create your audience of the future unless you inspire them now?

4. Informality
This might seem like a strange one, but I can't stress how much more welcoming a festival becomes with a little informality. When I say this, I'm mainly referring to the authors. People don't want you to bring your author in and sweep them away straight afterwards. We want to meet the author, we want them to sign our books and have time to chat with us for a moment. We want to see the 'real person' who wrote that book we love.

5. Networking
One of the best things to come out of planning and delivering festivals is the local partnerships. A city-wide literature festival is the perfect opportunity for like-minded people to meet one another. This can happen naturally amongst audience members, but I think it's a really nice touch to have a networking event, whether it's for local writers, creatives, or arts organisations. It may sound corny, but working together is the best way for artistic activity to sustain itself.

In case you're wondering, Plymouth International Book Festival has all of my festival favourites, so don't miss out. Book tickets early to avoid disappointment!

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