Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Literature Festivals time again.

Yes, spring is springing, and the festival season has begun. I'm off to Oxford on Saturday, to hang about in colleges and listen to wonderful writers talk about wonderful books. And I'll probably buy more than I intend - but what the hell, that's what literature festivals are for, isn't it?

Wait a minute. That's not what the organisers tell us they're for. They want booky people and booky writers to mingle, enjoy time together, celebrate being generally bookish. There are even parties and dinners to celebrate their bookishness.

Wait a minute. That's not what the marketing people tell us they're for. It's all very well for writers to be charming, to mingle with the hoi polloi, to blush and be graciously grateful for all the accolades heaped on them. Accolades - pah! The marketing men want sales. How else can they measure success?

Wait a minute. Those, like me, who pour over programmes and wrestle with decisions over who to see, who not to see, can I really afford to go to all these events - what do we want? Here I can only speak for myself. I want to learn, but I also want to be entertained. I've invested, not in a hard sell, but in an hour in which to get to know the writer and his or her work better. Of all the people I've seen at festivals, two stand out: AL Kennedy and Anne Enright. I bought books I'd not planned on buying, not because they spent an hour telling me how wonderful their books were, but because they came across as real people who were as interested in the audience as we were in them. And I figured that if they could do that, then they'd write great characters that would also interest me.

And the writers - what do they want? Sales, of course. Seeing someone walk down the street with My Book tucked under an arm is enough to send me reaching for the champagne. (Well, the prosecco, if you want to be picky). And maybe time away from the computer, time to mingle with people and talk about words rather than fight with them (the words, not the people). But it's more complicated than that. Literature festivals are not really time off, for the writer cannot arrive in his or her slippers. There are protocols, a dress code, trappings of respectability to be observed if anyone is to take you seriously. All of which is enough to send some writers hiding under the duvet. Who can blame them, with so many different expectations sitting on their shoulders.

And you - what takes you to literature festivals? And how can you tell if it's met your expectations?


  1. Been to Festivals...done Festivals an an author too. I think authors who 'can't speak well' shouldn't do them. AL Kennedy is a wit and raconteur, so very good fun. Others (unnamed) are quite dire!! I like meeting other writers and exploring the dictotomy between what they write and how they come over as representatives of their genre. Hope you have a great time!!¬

  2. Ah - someone else who likes AL Kennedy - she's a one off, and I think she's fab! I'll let you know about Oxford's efforts after the weekend.