In truth, it’s been a while since I went to a festival (a couple of months now), but a few things have been buzzing around my head and I felt I needed to share them.
I’d never been to a literary festival before. Not that I can recall, anyway, which seems like madness when you consider how important books and writing are to me. Still, having made the decision earlier this year to make more of an effort to go to any kind of literary event, I decided to give one a go. In the end, I gave two a go, and in the same week. They’re almost as bad as buses.
Not really knowing the form of these things, I half-expected it would be a case of arriving in a festival town and milling about mixing with readers and writers. That may be an option, but it wasn’t my experience. If anyone knows how you can do that, feel free to let me know.
The two festivals I went to were at Marlborough and Henley on Thames, both being relatively close to where my partner lives (I couldn’t see any convenient ones close to my home).
Aside from not being familiar with how a festival works, I also wanted to make sure I didn’t end up milling about and not mixing with anyone, so reviewed the programme and looked for speakers that might be of interest.
I’ll talk specifically about the experiences at the individual festivals in separate posts, but there were a couple of things that struck me from each one I went to:
The towns didn’t seem to make a massive deal of them
I could be wrong about this, but I kind of expected there to be more prominence given to the fact that a festival was taking place. In fairness, the time spent at Marlborough was a bit more rushed than we’d intended, so it’s quite possible that a steady meander through the town would have resulted in us seeing more signage.
Henley seemed a little more obvious, but largely due to the presence of their Festival Hub in the Market Place. I’m sure these constructions have a proper name. Possibly, it was a marquee of sorts – or a glorified tent – sturdy yet pliable, with glass doors and a solid frame, but roof and walls made of material not dissimilar to that used on sails for racing yachts. Anyway, that did offer a big clue, but you’d only know about it if you went to the Market Square.
In short, if you didn’t know about the festivals, it seemed to me that you’d miss the fact it was going on unless you happened to stumble into one of the venues being used.
The organisers use a wide range of venues
I suppose if you’ve got an international best-selling author turning up to speak, you don’t want to put them in an old scout hut. At the same time, if you’ve got an author no one’s heard of, or whose book is about something best described as ‘niche’, putting them on stage at the local theatre might be a little overwhelming for them.
So, with a combination of spaces ranging from bookshops (who’d have thought?), to halls attached to churches, schools and colleges, to actual churches, town halls and theatres, there was a range there to reflect the status of the author and the likely size of the audience.
What I would recommend, though, is making sure you know exactly which venue you’re supposed to attend. We were due at an event being held in a church hall and found ourselves at the wrong church – at the wrong end of town. It turns out my running days are not over yet!
In spite of my athletic efforts, the experiences were good, and there were some memorable moments that have made me determined to go to more in the future. I’ll elaborate on why very soon.